What’s in a name?

When our daughter Alexandra was born we went to some trouble to find her a name which was not associated with anyone in either family, a name which would be hers alone. We didn’t advertise this decision, and we were amused to hear that her great-grandfather was very puzzled as to where the name came from, as there is a strong tradition of naming patterns in Scotland.

He may have been confused, but so were we when he triumphantly announced “They’ve named the baby after uncle Eck!” Nobody had heard of uncle Eck, but I may have found him… and his grandfather, who is Alexandra’s 4th great grandfather was another interesting character.

William Court was born in Masham, Yorkshire in 1833. His home town lies close to the A1, but in the days before dual carriageways and bypasses, the Great North Road would have run through the town. As a young man he worked as a labourer, and his father was a coachman. I like to think that he dreamed about heading up the road to Scotland one day.

For by the time he was 22 in 1855 he had indeed made the journey and lived in Glasgow, where he worked as a (horsedrawn) vandriver. On October 22nd he married Helen Kirk, daughter of David Kirk and Margaret Penman, from Clackmannanshire.

Their first child, Margaret was born in 1856 followed by Thomas and David. David was the father of Alexander – uncle Eck?

By 1871 four more children had been born, and William had become a Fish Dealer. The family had moved into the Gorbals area of Glasgow. Death was much more commonplace, and of the 8 children born to the couple, 4 died either in childhood, or as young adults. And on 25th September 1874, William’s wife Helen Kirk died of TB. She was 37 and the couple had been married almost 20 years.

William married Helen Anderson on 14th April 1875, and in May 1876 she gave birth to a daughter, Helen. But the child died of bronchitis at the age of 4 months, and a year later, in August 1877, William lost his second wife to TB.

In 1879, William’s daughter Margaret, aged 23 and married to Thomas Sloan, died of TB.

In 1880 William married for the third time. His bride was Elizabeth Johnstone, who was born in 1858, so was 25 years younger than he was. She came from Lochboisdale on the Outer Hebridean island of South Uist. The couple married in Glasgow, but both gave separate addresses on the island as their normal residence. William described his occupation variously as a fish curer and fish dealer, so perhaps he travelled backwards and forwards, or perhaps Elizabeth’s description of the wild place she came from set his itchy feet tickling once more. The photo is from a visit we made to Uist in 2014.

William and Elizabeth had three children,  and lived in Glasgow according to the census returns of 1891 and 1901.

Elizabeth Johnstone Court died in Glasgow in March 1911, of TB, she was about 53.

William died in Lochboisdale in 1913. He died of an intestinal obstruction, and his death was notified by Mary Johnstone, William’s sister-in-law.

William lost 3 wives and 2 children to TB, which makes me wonder if he was a carrier of the disease.

Incidentally, William was the first of my Scottish husband’s ancestors where I found a link to England. When I looked at the origin of the surname, I found that Masham was established as a ‘peculiar’ parish, which is to say it falls outside the jurisdiction of the diocese of York. even though geographically it sits within it.

But the best bit, is that Theakston’s Old Peculiar beer was named in honour of this, and the surname Court was said to be associated with the peculiar court.

Not sure this translates into free beer for life, but it might be worth a try!



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