Glamorous in flannel

Happy New Year!

Tidying up after visitors in this house always seems to involve books in some way.  Today I came something that I’d forgotten about and which seems appropriate for this freezing weather:

Flannel dressing-gown with silk revers, trimmed with lace
Flannel dressing-gown with silk revers, trimmed with lace
At this cold season of the year I cannot conclude without drawing attention to some of the useful and homely flannels suitable for dressing-gowns, blouses , etc. Viyella, I certainly think, takes first rank.  It is obtainable in such fine makes, and does not thicken or shrink in the washing.  It is brought out in a variety of such pretty shades and designs, a happy contrast to the old idea that the  real virtue of wool was indissolubly wedded to a tone of dirty blue-grey, or else to a terrible fiery red, suggestive of almshouses.

The wise manufacturers of the day know well that they must forge ahead with Dame Fashion, who is changeable as the winds, and fickle as a butterfly.  Consequently, new patterns in this said Viyella are ever being brought to our notice, and we now can obtain most delightful and really smart garments, sufficiently warm and cosy in texture to satisfy the demands of the most rheumatic or invalid.

(The Lady’s Realm, January 1899)

The brand name Viyella was registered in 1894 to describe an innovative fabric made of 55% Merino wool and 45% cotton and which was the first fabric to be given a brand name.  The name Viyella came from the Vi Jella valley, near Matlock in Derbyshire where the company of William Hollins had a spinning mill.

The original company was founded in 1784, and still exists today under the name of Viyella and you can find a short history here


Scottish trade directories go online have just announced the addition of the Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory of Scotland for 1889 to their collection of trade directories.

From their announcement:

Familyrelatives is proud to announce the addition of over a quarter of a million Victorian Scottish Trade Directory records online. continues to add to its collection of Trade directories by releasing Trade and individual records dedicated to Scotland.

Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory is an impressive record of all aspects of life in Scotland in 1889. Apart from Topographical and Postal Information it contains lists of professionals, landowners, Gentry, farmers, factors, London and Provincial Bankers and a fascinating array of advertisements at the time accompanies the text.

The Slater’s Directories form a unique collection of 35 Scottish Counties with invaluable occupational and commercial information for 1889 at the peak of Victoria ‘s reign. The directories with over a quarter of a million entries contain all the major professions, trades and occupations including taverns and public houses as well as the nobility, gentry and clergy. Even the addresses are identified….

Towns and parishes are detailed for each area and the introduction contains key information including the number of inhabitants (taken from the 1871 census) with a geographical and topographical description and the local history. A description of the main trades, produce, manufacturers and industries of the area or town are also covered.

These directories are part of their subscription service and are not available to pay-per-view users.  The subscription service costs £30 (50 USD) per year and covers all their records; pay-per-view costs £6 (10 USD) per 60 units valid for 90 days or £12 (20 USD) per 150 units also valid for 90 days.

For a comparison of the records covered by the two different payment options go to


Too late for a Scottish passport!

Among the records in Edinburgh City Archives are records of passports issued by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh (class SL165, dates 1845-1916).

Apparently Edinburgh Town Council issued passports, or certificates of good character, to its inhabitants from at least the 17th century. They were issued by the Lord Provost under his authority as Admiral of the Firth of Forth.

The idea of a compulsory identity document which had to be carried by all travellers was first introduced in 1792 in revolutionary France where all travellers had to carry state-issued identity documents with them 1

Britain required travellers to have a passport to enter or travel in the country from 1793 to 1826.

From 1794 to 1858 all British passports were issued by the Secretary of State and were only issued to friends and acquaintances, or to someone recommended by a London banker 2.

At this time the more important the passport looked, the more important it was considered to be; wax seals and fancy lettering with a long list of titles which stressed the importance of the official who issued the passport all added to this impression.   In 1850 a British Treasury official commented that those that came closest to the ideal were issued by the “Civic Chief” of Edinburgh 3

The Illustrated London News puts it nicely:

It seems that the municipal head of “Auld Reekie” rejoices in a vast multiplicity of obsolete titles – “Lord High Admiral if the Firth of Forth” is one of the smallest, but all of which are stated at most imposing length in the passport, the effect being to inspire all manners of frontier officials with a deep and pervading awe for this dreadful potentate, and a corresponding degree of civility towards the lucky personages armed with his most imperial mandate. Add to these characteristics a number of vast seals of antique and venerable aspect, and nearly as big as saucers, and the charm is complete. 4

No wonder, in 1855, the Edinburgh Christian Magazine writes:

To peep across the Channel you need not obtain through Lee the bookseller or Coutts the banker in the Strand any passport from the Foreign Office… The passport of the Lord High Admiral of the Firth of Forth known commonly amongst us in Scotland as the Provost of Edinburgh we have always found quite sufficient for such short excursions and is moreover a few shillings cheaper than any other. 5

Seemingly Edinburgh continued to issue its own passports to at least 1913.

I’d love to see one of these impressive documents – I don’t suppose any of you have come across one?


  1.  Documenting Individual Identity: The Development of State Practices in the Modern World by Jane Capaln and John Torpey (Eds), 2002, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0691009124
  2. Identity & Passport Service website downloaded 8 Dec 2009
  3. see #1
  4. Illustrated London News, September 6, 1851 quoted in #1
  5.  The Edinburgh Christian Magazine April 1855-March 1856, Vol VII, page 144 from

Scottish registers of aliens

Although the various registers of aliens held by The National Archives in Kew have been fairly well covered in family history magazines, I’ve never heard of any similar records held in Scottish archives…. until today.

As usual, I was looking for something else, and came across a mention that the Edinburgh City Archives (ECA) catalogue had gone online at the Scottish Archives Network site SCAN. There was also a link to their website and it was when exploring this that I came across a mention of a register of aliens in Edinburgh dating back to 1794.

It appears that the register is in 2 volumes:

  • The first is declarations given by foreigners about their place of birth or country they came from, their occupation, the length of time they have been in the country and how long they intend to stay in Edinburgh. Most of these declarations date from 1794. (ECA Ref: SL115/1/1)
  • The second consists of forms asking a series of questions about the alien’s name, origins, status, occupation and age. They also include the port of arrival and their current address. These forms date from 1798-1825. (ECA Ref: SL115/2/1)

Best of all – there’s an index which you can download in PDF format from

However, it’s not an alphabetical index. Bear in mind I haven’t actually seen the registers, but from the format of the index I’m assuming that the names are in the same order as they appear in the register. There are almost 70 names in the first register and about 130 names in the second.

I had a further dig in the SCAN and NAS online catalogues…

and it appears that there are some further registers of aliens scattered around archives across Scotland:

(I’m not sure if these 2 are the same register catalogued twice)

I didn’t come across anything described as a register of aliens in the NAS catalogue, but there are some items that might be interesting:

  • Deaths of Enemy Aliens in Internment Camps; Transmission of Special Certificates of Death GRO5/1208 (covering 1916-1917) and GRO5/1209 (covering 1918-1944)
  • Edinburgh (Saughton) Prison registers Male Aliens 1939-1943; Female Aliens 1939-1941 (class HH21/71/44)
  • and a series of papers in class HH31 which include statistical returns and case papers on enemy aliens in WWI

Who knows what else is out there in archives which don’t have their catalogues online?

And just to top things off, Polish Residents in Scotland: A Statistical Sourcebook based on the Census of Scotland, 1861-2001 Edited by Jim Lipka is online at


It’s all his fault

I got interested in family history because of this man.

Robert Dunlop
Robert Dunlop

His name is Robert Dunlop, he was born in Ayrshire in 1848, the oldest of seven children born to a colliery engineman and his wife, and he was my great-grandfather on my father’s side of the family.

I never met him (he died in 1921 – long before I was born!) but I’d always been aware of him because a portrait of him was propped against a wall in my parents’ bedroom and he was the only member of the family I’d ever seen who shared my red hair.

In 1988 my mum received a letter from someone who was researching for a PhD and had come across his papers in the National Museum of Scotland. She had written an article about Robert and thought that his family might be interested in reading it before it was published. My father had died two years before this and we realised that we knew very little about that side of the family, so that letter was the trigger that set me off.

Apparently Robert’s mother didn’t want him to follow family tradition and go down the mines so, when he was 14 she had him apprenticed as an iron moulder in Kilmarnock. Five years later in 1867, the iron master had the existing apprentices locked out and took on some new ones. A disgruntled Robert persuaded the foundry clerk to show him his indentures and promptly burnt them. He must have run away then to the big city, because a couple of months later when his new foreman in Glasgow told him that “a lame man with a tall had and a policeman” were waiting to see him, Robert jumped over the wall and fled.

Ann Hunter
Ann Hunter

He moved to Airdire and on 1 March 1870 he married my great-grandmother, Ann Hunter.

Robert seems to have settled down then as he took up photography and fossil collecting, started going to chemistry evening classes and even won the Queen’s Prize for Scotland, later teaching evening classes himself. By 1884 Robert had been appointed manager of the Stanrigg Oil Works in Airdrie.

Between 1872 and 1882 Robert and Ann had had nine children, including a set of twins, unfortunately only three of these children survived to adulthood.

In 1899, Robert was employed by the Pumpherston Oil Company – a forerunner of BP – to set up a new oil shale plant in New Zealand. Some time round about then, this family photo was taken.

The Dunlop family about 1899
The Dunlop family about 1899 Robert and Ann (seated centre-left), daughter Elizabeth (left), sons David and Walter (right), Walter's wife Janet and their three children - Robert, Agnes and Annie. The youngest child in this photo - Annie - was born on 31 January 1898.

Robert was to set up this oil shale plant in Orepuki, in New Zealand’s Southland and on 8 February 1899 the family left London aboard the SS Kaikoura for the 90-day trip to New Zealand.

From local accounts, the oil shale work seems to have had a huge impact on the area. Robert obviously had faith in the new works as he bought 260 shares in the New Zealand Oil & Coal company which had been set up to finance the enterprise.

However the oil works was not a commercial success; and in 1902 it closed suddenly with very little notice. The official reason given for the closure was the government’s removal of the import duty on kerosene – locals blamed it on a conspiracy by the American oil companies.

Robert and his family returned to Scotland in 1903.

In 1911, when he was 63, Robert was appointed caretaker of the Pittencrief House Museum in Dunfermline. He died on 21 April 1921 and his will shows that he had kept his shares in the New Zealand Oil & Coal Company until his death.

Robert Dunlop after his return to Scotland
Robert Dunlop after his return to Scotland

This is the last photo I have of Robert and we don’t know when it was taken. If anyone knows anything about old scooters – I’d be grateful if you could help.


Historic Irish maps go online

One of the hardest things to do when we find an ancestor in an unfamiliar state, county or country is to get an idea of how the physical locations relate to each other – or it is for me, but then I could get lost in my own back garden!

Online and paper-based modern maps can help, but we really need maps of the area in our ancestors’ time.

Ordnance Survey Ireland (the national mapping agency for the Republic of Ireland) has historic maps for both Northern Ireland and the Republic online.  The series available are

  • 6 inch mapping series (1:10,560) colour 1837-1842
  • 6 inch mapping series (1:10,560) greyscale 1837-1842
  • 25 inch mapping series (1:2,500) greyscale 1888-1913

In addition there’s also a pdf version of Samuel Lewis’ 1837 Topographical Directory of Ireland to download.

Check it out at

(with thanks to John D Reid over at


Make do and mend…with a parachute

We’re all familiar with the stories about WWII parachutes being made into underwear or wedding dresses, but a new twist to this tale has appeared.

A Scottish airman who was shot down over Belgium buried his parachute and escaped through France to re-join the RAF.  Two years later, a family who sheltered some of his colleagues recovered the parachute and used it to make a First Communion dress for their daughter Paulette.

Over 60 years later, Paulette has now traced the airman’s family to let them know just how his parachute was used.

You can read the full story and see a photo of the dress at


Mitchell Library lectures

The Mitchell Library in Glasgow
The Mitchell Library in Glasgow

The Mitchell Library in Glasgow is running a series of family history lectures starting on 14 November and running through into December as part of the Archive Awareness Campaign.

The lecture subjects are:

  • An introduction to Irish family history
  • Census substitutes
  • School archives
  • Family and estate records
  • Poor law archives
  • Archive sources for family history
  • Church archives

To find out more, go to

We will remember them: William McKenzie Combe

Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium
Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium

William McKenzie Combe, son of Angus McDonald Miller Combe and Mary Ann McKenzie; husband to Isabella Rankine and father of Mary McKenzie Combe.

Born on 12 March 1895 at 11 St John Street, Edinburgh.

Enlisted on 19 July 1915 in Edinburgh  Private 251006, 5/6th Battalion Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment).

First entered active service on 21 September 1915 in the Balkans. Transferred to France and Flanders on 15 March 1916.

Wounded on 12 July 1917, France & Flanders.

Died of wounds on 14 July 1917, aged 22.

Buried in Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium.  Awarded 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Summary of WWI records available online

Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal
Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal

Since Remembrance Sunday is tomorrow, now seems a good time to pull together a summary of the World War One records that are available online.

Medal Roll Index Cards

These were generated by the Army and list a man’s entitlement to campaign medals. There are over 5 million cards and they are the nearest approximation to a nominal roll of those who served in the army in WWI. Generally everyone who served overseas was entitled to a campaign medal. The rolls include RAF personnel who, before 1918, were members of the Royal Flying Corps. Royal Navy and Royal Naval Air Service personnel are not included.

Available online from (pay-per-view) and from (subscription or pay-per-view).

Descriptions of the various formats & abbreviations used at

A small proportion of cards have additional information on the back. This can only be viewed at

Service Records


  • About 60% of the service records of those soldiers (not officers) who served in the army during WWI were destroyed by bombing during WWII. The remaining records have been digitised and are available at
  • Pension records for soldiers who claimed a disability pension for service in WWI are also available at They are unlikely to include records for soldiers who had no dependants or who re-enlisted for service in WWII.
  • Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps
  • Service records for more than 7,000 women who joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (1917-1918), later Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (1918-1920) are available at


  • Royal Marines Service Records
    Service records of those who joined the Royal Marines, 1842 -1936.
  • Registers of Seamen’s Services
    Service registers of more than 600,000 seamen in the Royal Navy, 1853 -1923.
  • Royal Naval Division service records
    Service records of more than 50,000 officers and men who joined the RND, 1914 -1919.
  • Royal Naval Officers’ Service Records
    Service records of officers who joined the Royal Navy, 1756 -1917.
  • Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Service Records from WW1
    Service records of those who served in the RNVR during the First World War.
  • Women’s Royal Naval Service
    Service records of more than 7,000 women who joined the WRNS (1917-1919).

These are all available from


  • Royal Air Force Officers’ Service Records
    Service records of officers who served in the RAF during the First World War.
  • Women’s Royal Air Force
    Service records of women who joined the WRAF, 1914-1919.

These are all available from


Other records

  • Selected First World War and Army of Occupation War Diaries
    Selected War Diaries of British and colonial units serving in theatres of operations between 1914- 22.
  • Prisoner of War interviews and reports, First World War
    Interviews and reports of over 3000 individuals from the papers of the Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War.
  • The Victoria Cross Registers
    The Victoria Cross was instituted by Royal Warrant on 29 January 1856 for award to members of the Royal Navy and the Army who ‘shall have performed some signal act of valour…’
  • Aliens Registration Cards
    Aliens registration cards of those living in the London area from 1914.

These are all available from

Gallantry awards and officers’ promotions

The award of a gallantry award, an honour and the promotion of military officers was gazetted, or listed, in the London Gazette. It’s also possible to trace an officer’s career in the armed forces through promotions listings. Once you’ve found the relevant service number it’s easier to search using that rather than the name of the officer. Available from (free).

I’ve tried to cover all the major sources for the British armed forces which give details of large numbers of men rather than individuals, but I’m sure to have missed some. If you know of other sources, do add them in the comments.