The Forrests

R. D. Gemmill December 1999

William and Elizabeth Forrest

The 1881 Census

Dykehead, Douglas - 3/4 April, 1881

Household Member Position Status Age Occupation Birthplace
William Forrest Head married


Shepherd Crawfordjohn 1
Elizabeth wife married


George Son unmarried


Colliery Engine Keeper Douglas
Charles Son unmarried


Shepherd Douglas
Alexander Son unmarried


Scholar Douglas
Maggie Daughter unmarried


Scholar Douglas

The above house had four rooms with one or more windows 2

1 Only the Parish is recorded

2 Used as a measure of accommodation, for rateable value purposes.

William Forrest and Elizabeth Williamson both came from farm-worker's families in Crawfordjohn. William's parents were John Forrest and Margaret French, but there is no record confirming John's occupation. Elizabeth was the daughter of Robert Williamson, described as a "farmer" and Jane Tinto.

If George was their first child, they may not have married until William was over 30, and this may indicate that they waited until he found a relatively secure position as a shepherd on the extensive "Douglas" estates, with a house at Dykehead, which "came with the job".

Dykehead was a small, remote house approximately 300 yards east of the road from Glespin to Crawfordjohn, about 3 miles south of Glespin village. It had two main rooms, two "attic" rooms, each with dormer windows, [probably] some kind of scullery at the back of the building, and an outside toilet. Without "running water" it depended on a small stream close to the back of the house. There would also have been some kind of "garden" for growing some of the family's food.

David Forrest, the second son, born in 1863, is not included in this Census return. A possible explanation for this is that on the night of 3/4 April 1881 he was temporarily living and working at another estate farm. Several of his poems "Poems and Verses" [privately published in 1938] contain brief references to the fact that he left school at 12 to start work as a shepherd, and, while it is easy to assume that he began his apprenticeship at Dykehead, he neither confirms nor denies this.

George and Elizabeth Forrest

Marriage Certificate

On 18th June, 1886, at Stewarton. After Banns according to the Forms of the Church of Scotland

George Forrest [Engine man, Pithead - Bachelor], age 27, of Inches, Douglas, 1 son of William Forrest [Shepherd] and Elizabeth Forrest m/s Williamson married to Elizabeth Summers [Dairymaid - Spinster], age 24, of Stewarton 2, Dalrymple, daughter of Samuel Summers [Gas man] and Jessie Summers m/s Glendinning

Officiating Minister: John Wallace, Minister of Dalrymple

Witnesses: Andrew Forrest and Isabella Summers

1 i.e. in the Parish of Douglas

2 Probably the present-day farm called West Stewarton, a few miles from Dalrymple village

George Forrest was a Colliery Engine man, a semiskilled but important job since he was responsible for the maintenance and operation of the steam engine(s) which powered the "cages" used to raise and lower men and coal in the main shaft(s) of the colliery.

By 1886 he was living in one of the "pitmen 's houses" [perhaps as a 'lodger"] close to the mines which had been developed around the village of Glespin. "Inches" was a cluster of miners' houses a mile or so west of Glespin, near Inches Station, a "halt" on the railway between Douglas and Muirkirk. [Coal from the Glespin mines was taken by rail to Muirkirk then used in the flourishing Iron furnaces or sent to other parts of Ayrshire] Ordnance Survey Maps for the period show a number of "coal pits" on the hillside south of the present Douglas-Glespin-Muirkirk road, near the farm called Carnacoup, and others close to Glespin Village. No trace of the railway, the coal-pits or the hamlet of Inches remain.

Samuel Summers is listed as having a different occupation whenever his name appears on records ["farmer", "general labourer "and "gas man"], and he must have changed jobs several times during his working life. In 1886 he was a "gas man" [probably at Maybole, a few miles away] This was a period when Britain was suffering what contemporary records describe as a "serious economic recession" [It began c 1875 and its effects lasted almost until the introduction of conscription in 1916. This, together with the "revival" of Agriculture to counter the effects of the German U-boat campaign during the First World War, finally reduced the long-term "under-" and "un-" employment figures in Scotland] Samuel presumably had been made redundant from farm work, though he and his family were still living at West Stewarton at the time of the wedding. Though Elizabeth Summers may have been a Dairymaid Farm Servant in the Dalrymple area, she could have worked "away from home" before her marriage. Numbers of young women in rural areas did this, mainly for economic/financial reasons, but also because often they simply wanted to "get away".

Jobs like that of "dairymaid" were, together with others under the general heading of "Farm Work", usually fixed at "Hiring Fairs". These were annual [occasionally biannual in some areas] events where farm owners would recruit workers for the coming year. Since George Forrest was unlikely to have had reason or opportunity to be in the Dalrymple area for any length of time it may be that the couple met when Elizabeth was working somewhere reasonably close to 'Inches". The marriage took place at West Stewarton rather than in the Parish Church at Dalrymple. "House-weddings" were still far more common than "Church-weddings" in the rural Scotland of the 1880s. While Isabella Summers was a sister of the bride, the other witness, Andrew Forrest must have been a relative, perhaps a cousin, of the groom.

The Family of George Forrest and Elizabeth Summers

The 1891 Census

3 Craigknowe, Glespin, Douglas 5/6th April

Household Member Position Status Age Occupation Birthplace
George Forrest Head married


Stationary Engine Keeper Douglas
Elizabeth wife married


William Robert son unmarried


Samuel Somers (Sic) son unmarried


Robert Mitchell boarder unmarried


Grocer Wanlockhead, Dumfries

The house had two rooms with one or more windows.

George and Elizabeth may have started married life in Glespin, or perhaps moved there from Inches before William was born, presumably to a larger house, though it was also in a 'miner's row" [Now long demolished].

3 Craigknowe must surely have been crowded, due to the lodger, Robert Mitchell [who probably worked in Glespin or Douglas] but his rent would have added to the Forrest family income.

Birth Certificates

Family Member Date and Time Place
William Robert Forrest 14/4/1887 at 10.50 p.m Craigknowe Cottages, Douglas 1
Samuel Somers Forrest 3/5/1889 at 6 p.m Craigknowe Cottages, Douglas
James French Forrest 24/1/1892 at 5.30 am Craigknowe Cottages, Douglas
George Forrest 27/1/1894 at 9 p.m Craigknowe Cottages, Douglas
Robert Forrest 10/10/1897 at 11 p.m Craigknowe Cottages, Douglas
Jessie Glendinning Forrest 6/1/1900 at 4.10 am Craigknowe Cottages, Douglas

1 Again, only the parish is recorded.

There is no record of birth for Douglas Forrest [b. ]

The Forrests at Arden

The 1891 Census

Arden Cottages, Alexandria 5/6 April 1891

Household Member Position Status Age Occupation Birthplace
William Forrest Head married


Shepherd, unemployed Crawfordjohn
Elisabeth [sic] wife married


Charles son unmarried


Shepherd Douglas
Alexander son unmarried


Van Driver, unemployed Douglas
Maggie daughter unmarried


Tailoress Douglas

The above house had three rooms with one or more windows.

At some time in the [late?] 1880s William and Elizabeth Forrest left Dykehead and moved to Arden, a scattered hamlet on the shore of loch Lomond, about 8 miles north of Alexandria and Bonhill Most of the houses in Arden at that time were occupied by workers on the local estate and its farms.

The reason for this move may have been that Charles was now the main wage- earner. William was 67 years old, and may have been 'retired" rather than simply "Unemployed" as the Census claims. As a "tailoress", Maggie probably relied on bespoke work, done at home in Arden.

Once again, there is no mention of David Forrest even though his own references to his early life clearly show that he spent some years working as a shepherd at Auchindennan. [One of the farms on the road from Arden over the hills to Helensburgh is today still called "Auchindennan"] As with the 1881 Census, it is possible that he was living elsewhere in the area at the time of the 1891 Census, as would have been the case if he was married by that time. [No date for his marriage is available]

Apart from a very brief reference to "living beside the Afton" [with no indication of when this may have been] the scant evidence of his poetry strongly suggests that he lived and worked at Auchindennan foe a number of years, so at this stage, the most plausible conclusion is that by coincidence, and for whatever reasons, he was neither present at Dykehead in April 1881 nor at Arden Cottages in April 1891…(See Poem titled "Auchindennan" in "Poems and Verses")

What was the Mansion above the A82 overlooking Loch Lomond and its islands in the 1890s is now a Youth Hostel, which features as the "Big House" in STV's "High Road" soap-opera.

There are road signs for the hamlet of Arden on the A82, though it is now virtually part of the Duck Bay leisure complex, and the likely site of 'Arden Cottages" is a derelict terrace of one or two double-storey houses [being renovated, Summer 1999] very close to a number of wooden "holiday chalets"

Death Certificates


On 30th November, 1892, at 8.30 am, at Minishant, Maybole

Samuel Summers [General Labourer] - Married to Jessie Glendinning, died aged 56, son of John Summers [no occupation given] deceased, and Elizabeth Summers m/s McLellan, deceased.

Cause of Death: Tumour of Mediastinum, 4 months [Aneurism?]


Certified by G. McKerrow, Surgeon

Informant: George Forrest, son-in-law, Glespin, Douglas.

He and his family had moved to Minishant, but the date for this is unknown, though his ill-health may have been a factor. His widow [and at least one unmarried daughter 1] must have stayed on at Minishant for some years after his death, since his granddaughter Jessie Forrest recalled childhood visits to her grandmother in Minishant.

1 See Death Certificate for Jessie Glendinning Summers, 19/9/1917


On 8th August, 1894, at 4.35 p.m., at Arden, Alexandria

Elisabeth [sic] Forrest [Married to William Forrest - shepherd] died aged 66, daughter of Robert Williamson [Farmer-deceased] and Jane Williamson m/s Tinto [deceased]

Cause of Death: Malignant Disease of the Bowels 6 Months

Certified by A McLelIand 3 MB

Informant: Charles Forrest Son [present]

Once again, there is no mention of David Forrest as "Informant" of his mother's death, and this reinforces the idea that he must have left the "family home" by 1894.


On 13th November, 1896, at 7.10 p.m., at Eastview, Kirkton Avenue, Carluke

William Forrest [formerly a Carrier - Widower of Elizabeth Wilson [Sic]] died aged 72, son of John Forrest [No occupation given] - deceased, and Margaret Forrest m/sFrench - deceased.

Cause of Death: Cerebral Haemorrhage, 2 hours.

Certified by: Robert B Barr, MB, CM

Informant: Thomas Forrest, Son, Clyde Street, Carluke.

Elizabeth "Wilson" is simply a clerical error by the Carluke Registrar, but other anomalies are more difficult to explain - William is described as a "Carrier" and although he may have been working as a carrier at the time of his death, there is no collaborating evidence available to confirm this.

There is nothing to indicate who owned "Eastview" Kirkton Avenue today is a short street of fairly "well-to-do" houses [mostly bungalows and semi-detached villas] and though most of them have been built after 1896, there is no reason to suppose that the street was any less prosperous at that time. It is possible that "Eastview" may have belonged to one of the children rather than the elderly and widowed William.

The major question however is the identity of "Thomas Forrest". No son of that name is listed in either the 1881 or the 1891 Census. The simplest explanation may be further carelessness by the Registrar - as well as mistaking William's wife's maiden name, he/she may also have misrecorded either the name of the Informant or his identity. If "Thomas" is correct, "son" cannot be, and vice-versa.

Just plausible perhaps is the theory that Thomas may have been a son-in-law, husband of Maggie, William's daughter, but for his surname to be Forrest stretches coincidence for quite a distance.

A further factor is that "Douglas Forrest" son of George and Elizabeth [b 190? died 1922?] was christened "Thomas Douglas Forrest" Clearly, he was not the informant in this case however.


On 9th February, 1908, at 8.0 a.m., at Brown's Buildings, Ferniegair, Parish of Hamilton George Forrest [Colliery Engine Keeper - married to Elizabeth Summers] died aged 48, son of William Forrest [Farmer] and Elizabeth Forrest m/sWilliamson [both deceased]

Cause of Death: Influenza 7 days. Acute Lobar Pneumonia

Certified by: T Steele MB, CM

Informant: Samuel Forrest [Son], Present. 103 Glasgow Road, Hamilton.

There was an important colliery at Ferniegair in 1908, and the Forrests had moved there from Glespin six or so years earlier; either because George's job at Glespin ended for some reason or; more likely, because he could earn more at Ferniegair, which was a much bigger colliery.

Brown's Buildings were "company houses" in the village of Ferniegair They no longer exist, but were located behind the present-day row of three-storey tenements on the main Hamilton/Larkhall road. The colliery was between the railway, which ran parallel to the road, and the River Clyde.

Influenza was far more of a "killer" illness at that time than it is [usually, for people as young as 48] today. Effective medication, particularly penicillin - based treatment, had not yet been discovered. A decade after George's death an influenza pan-epidemic swept through Europe and a large area of the rest of the world [carried by demobilised troops returning home after the end of the First World War in November 1918], to kill over 30 million victims.

With the rest of the family, Elizabeth had to leave the company house in Ferniegair; and she moved to a flat in Duke Street, Hamilton. There she earned a living as a seamstress, and supplemented her income by taking in boarders. In due course, her sons bought "Ivy Hill", a small detached house in Hamilton's Low Waters Road, for her.


On 19th September 1917 at 1.30 p.m., at Eastmuir, Glasgow

Jessie Summers [widow of Samuel Summers, Farmer] died aged 78; daughter of Robert Glendinning [Farmer-deceased] and Mary Glendinning m/s McGuftie [deceased]

Cause of Death: Arteriosclerosis, 2 years

Certified by: George Wilson MB, CM

Informant: Catherine Summers [Daughter] Present.

Eastmuir was part of Shettleston, by then an eastern suburb of Glasgow.

'The town of Shettleston, which includes the suburbs of Eastmuir and Sandyhill [sic], … is a somewhat dingy and poor place, inhabited chiefly by colliers and agricultural labourers" [The Gazetteer of Scotland, Pub. 1884]

There is no evidence available to show ~ why Jessie Summers and her daughter were living in the Shettleston area by 1917, though a reasonable guess maybe that Catherine was working in the area at that time


On 7th July, 1944 at 5.30 am, at Mill well Farm, Chapelton

Elizabeth Forrest [Widow of George Forrest-Colliery Engine Keeper] died aged 82; daughter of Samuel Summers, General Labourer - deceased, and Jessie Summers m/s Glendinning - deceased

Cause of Death: Acute Bronchitis; Uraemia

Certified by: A Bancewiez NB ChB

Informant: Samuel Forrest [Son] 21 Miller Street, Hamilton

In the mid 1930s Jessie Forrest, [youngest child of George and Elizabeth] who was a Primary Teacher in St Johns Grammar; Hamilton, married Archibald Gilchrist, a farmer. After a brief period spent on a rented farm on Loch Lomond side, Archie, as the elder of two brothers, inherited the family farm of Millwell, a few miles from Chapelton.


1. Documents in Register House, Edinburgh

From 1855, all Births, Deaths and Marriages in Scotland were legally required to have an appropriate Certificate, made out by a local Registrar Copies of these are available in Edinburgh, but the information in this Report concerning the Forrests at Dykehead is based on the 1881 Census rather than Birth Certificates [which were not found *] Consequently, only the "main" names are used, and other Christian names are not shown. The same difficulty applies in the case of the material based on the 1891 Census.

Censuses were carried out at 10 year intervals, starting in 1841. For every house in the country, the name, age, marital status and occupation of each person in the house on the day of the Census had to be recorded. In addition, the number of rooms with windows was also noted, as a guide to the size of the property for rateable value assessment. Only those people actually in the house on the day of the Census were included, so that, for example, a teenage son or daughter who normally lived there but was away for some reason on the "day" would not be recorded Here may be the explanation for the absence of David Forrest from the records shown in this Report - he was old enough, even in 1881, to have been "working away" from his family, or may have been absent for some other reason

The fact that people changed their occupations can also be confusing. In this Report, William Forrest is described as a "shepherd" and a "carrier" on different Certificates, and Samuel Summers is, variously, a "farm worker" a "gas man" and a "general labourer" Such variations reflect the job insecurity which characterised Scotland, especially in rural, mainly agricultural areas, for most of the thirty years after the start of the economic recession [and increasing mechanisation of farm work] in the mid- 1870s.]

As is frequently the case, some records are today incomplete: most commonly because they have simply been "lost" but in some cases details may never have been recorded, in spite of the law. One or other of these difficulties may explain the absence of Birth Certificates for the children of George and Elizabeth Forrest at Dykehead.

A further difficulty lies in the accuracy shown by the Registrar and whoever was the "informant" for a particular Birth, Death or Marriage. Carelessness and or too "casual" an approach by a Registrar creates variations in the spelling of names, as, for example the confusion between "Elizabeth" and "Elisabeth" or "Williamson" and "Wilson".

At present, only the Censuses up to 1891 have been fully filed in Register House.

2. Parish Records

They are the only source of information for the years before 1855. Many are now lost, as a consequence of churches being merged or simply going out of existence altogether.

Usually, the Session Clerk was responsible for recording Births, Deaths and Marriages in the parish, though sometimes the Minister himself would do so, and there are cases where the "prejudices" of a Minister or Session Clerk, e.g. against people not belonging to the "Established" church, such as Roman Catholics, or even members of the "Free Church" after the Dissolution in 1843, meant that details were simply not recorded. Often, the same problem occurred regarding illegitimate births.

The fact that informants may not always have been fully literate often meant that names were written "phonetically", thereby causing sometimes considerable spelling variations. Even where this did not happen, the habit of repeating the same Christian names over the generations can also cause confusion.

3. Other sources used.

Descriptions of particular places, the economy and the lifestyle in Scotland during the 1880s, come mainly from the "Gazetteer of Scotland", published by Thomas Jack, Edinburgh in 1884, with additional information from 'A History of the Scottish People: 1830-1950", by

T. C. Smout [Fontana 1988] and the Third Statistical Account of Scotland [The County of Lanark] compiled 1948.

Details of the Dalrymple area, Muirkirk and Glespin were supplied by Mrs Anne Geddes, Local History Librarian, The Baird Institute, Cumnock, Ayrshire.

Reprints of old Ordnance Survey Maps, and current OS Maps covering Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Dumbartonshire

4. Areas in need of further research

David Forrest

The absence of his name from the Census records, together with the lack of Birth and Marriage Certificates, makes him a somewhat "shadowy" figure in this Report. "Family" sources [inevitably somewhat limited and vague now] suggest that he owned some kind of farm in the later stages of his working life, though he himself makes no reference to this in any of his poems [other than a very brief mention of having lived "close to" the Clyde and the Afton. The latter may indicate that his farm was somewhere in Ayrshire] At any rate, he was well enough off to be able to afford to buy "Dunlossit" in Carluke's Clyde Street when he retired in the late 1920s.

Thomas Forrest

If the Thomas Forrest of Clyde Street, Carluke, in 1896 was indeed a "son" of William and Elizabeth Forrest the only sustainable "explanation" [other than a clerical error] must be that "Thomas" was a "second" Christian name of either David, Alexander or Charles but there are no Birth Certificates to confirm this, and it may be thought a little strange that the 1896 Death Certificate is the only occasion when the name Thomas is mentioned. That said however; "Thomas" must have been a "family name" of some kind, since it was given to Douglas Forrest

Douglas Forrest

The absence of his Birth Certificate is puzzling. If as suspected, he was born around 1902/3, the family would have been away from Glespin and living at Ferniegair by that time, but this does not fully explain the fact that neither his Birth Certificate nor any Death Certificate [c. early 1920s?] has been found, particularly since there are Birth certificates for his brothers and sister. Although he had "Thomas" as one of his given names, he cannot possibly have been the "Thomas Forrest" listed as the Informant in the Death Certificate for William Forrest [1896] as a "son".