Chapter Thirteen: The Fitba’ King – Alexander Stevenson
I was a hopeless footballer and cannot recall my father ever once playing with me. Poor Andrew had no chance, his father’s skills confined to drabble rather than dribble and his keepy-uppy a woesome three! All that said, the national game does stoke my fire of excitement, like in 1998 when, in the opening match of the World Cup, Scotland played Brazil and at one stage were drawing one-all before losing two:one – now that was exciting! I can even remember going to Hampden to the Rous cup between Scotland and England – which Scotland lost, but it was funny to hear the Scottish crowd shout ‘Jimmy Hill’s a wanker!’
Alexander Stevenson (1847-1916) was a self-made man forged in the Carron Works of Victorian Falkirk. He was the grandfather of ‘G,G’ (Constance Gibson) but she was just eight years old when he died. Wind the clock back, and I would love to ask my Granny what she knew of Alexander. But Granny died before I was interested in our family. In family history, stories die so quickly, if not captured they are lost. Time is indeed a fickle friend.
Falkirk and Carronside are now the haunts of Andrew and Rachel’s mum, for it is at Graeme Road Practice, Bainsford, that she now practices as a General Practitioner. It is a challenging job with high morbidity but made all the more worthwhile for being so. Do a good job and you save so much in the way of human misery, pain & distress.
Alexander would never have made a good doctor! Why, well his handwriting was just far too good! His signature and declaration on his Testament survives to show the most beautiful script I have ever seen. Yes the superlative in this case matches the script: beautiful. It is all the more remarkable when you realise that Alexander was to a large part self-taught.
Named after his father, Alexander Stevenson (1847-1916) was to become a most successful man, who developed from very humble beginnings. Born and raised in Fisherow, Falkirk, the son of a Foundry Furnace man, he initially worked alongside his father in the Foundry.
The Falkirk Herald, Wednesday, May 8th 1907:
“Mr Alexander Stevenson, whose interesting and successful career we sketch today, is a native of Carron, and is the son of a respectable, though humble, son of toil, who was for many years employed as a furnaceman at Carron Iron Works in connection with the making of the famed Carron cold-blast iron.”
“Mr Stevenson was taught in what was known as the Carron Old Club-Room School, and augmented his education by afterwards attending Mr Robertson’s school in Bainsford and the evening classes taught in Grahamston by Mr Grossart.”
At the age of eleven Alexander Stevenson went to work, his first employment being in filling the baskets at Carron Furnaces. The conditions of labour then were vastly different to what they now are, and Alexander had a task to fulfil, which considering his tender years, would now seem to be impossible of accomplishment. The Factory Acts were not then in operation, and there was, therefore, no restriction imposed either with regard to the age a lad went to work or the hours of his employment. Alexander was employed a fortnight on the night shift and fortnight on the dayshift alternately – twelve hours a day, and seven days per week.
What a start for an eleven year old. How did he find time to write so well and to develop a calligrapher’s hand? And that, in no fear of understatement was the least of his successes.
Alexander, still a boy, progressed to work which was much more to his liking, and he learned the trade of an irondresser under a Mr John Anderson, one time a member of Falkirk Parochial Board. When Grahamston Iron Works started, he was engaged by Bailie Mitchell, and was his foreman irondresser for a number of years. He subsequently filled a similar position in Gowanbank Foundry. Later he entered the spirit trade.
Andrew was just a toddler learning to speak when I first started my quest for Alexander. The usual rounds of graveyards – the yardstick of all family historians – was undertaken. Poor Andrew will he ever forgive me for such grisly adventure – staring down at stank, moss-covered tombs. As a youngster I was taken to Glenmuick Churchyard by my father. With my sisters I was dispatched to read tombstones – luckily I had a good sense of humour as we collected a stack of ‘Peter Gordons!’ They are ‘all bones’ Catriona testily reminded me! So I apologise to Andrew now – sorry for the tombstones.
A further clue was to be had, as my Aunt, Helen Brink remembered when as a child, during the war years, she attended a funeral to Alexander Stevenson’s son. She thought she remembered that the tombstone was an ‘Angel.’ Fortune was shining on Camelon Cemetery that day and shone specifically on Sian, for it was she that amidst literally Legions of Victorian Monuments found the Stevenson tombstone: ‘Here is the Angel!’ she shouted across the sleeping rows.There was some mirth when the tombstone was found – not for any material condition, but because of the name on one of the lower inscriptions, for one of Alexander’s sons, was called ‘Thomas Train!’ Andrew you see was besotted by Thomas the Tank Engine. His wooden Thomas went everywhere with him, and to his parents, the trains became as much their friends as they did to Andrew. Yes we loved Thomas the Tank.
It was only later, that I discovered the origins of ‘Thomas Train,’ learning that in his early days, having moved on from the Foundry, that Alexander Stevenson was appointed to represent, as a traveller, the firm of Thomas Train and Co., a well-known Glasgow wholesale house. He ultimately started business on his own, but not before respecting the opportunity his employers had given him by honouring them in the name of his fourth son.
It was of some interest to me to note that Thomas Train died in Port of Spain, Trinidad. A stamp and a letter to the Register House on the island revealed more. Thomas was a Brewery Manager and was overseas on business. His wife Annie Foster and young son Alexander were back home in Scotland. How long Thomas had been in Trinidad is impossible to say, but more than a few weeks seems to be indicated by the circumstances. Thomas died at number 1 Henry Street, Port of Spain on the second Sunday of August 1931, he was just 47 years old. The cause of death was acute Hepatitis secondary to malarial fever. That was a nasty end for this young man. It is hard to believe that they managed to ship his body back to Falkirk. To do so mummification would have been required. And that, as you say, is the not so happy tale of ‘Thomas Train.’
Thomas Train was one of ten children born to Alexander Stevenson and Fanny Callander who were married on the last Friday of April 1867 at old Fisherow in Falkirk. They were to have a long embracing marriage passing into their fiftieth year, though Alexander sadly died months short of what would have been their glorious Golden Wedding celebration.
Figure 1: The Wine & Spirit store in Bainsford, Falkirk
Their first son Alexander went on to study Divinity at Glasgow University but died as the result of Typhoid aged just 23 years. Their next child Peggy, born in 1869, married a commercial traveller and their daughter Lexie became my granny’s favourite cousin. ‘G.G’ used to explain how she went to stay with Lexie at Bucksburn Aberdeen and how they enjoyed dancing (and the boys!) at the Beach Ballroom on Aberdeen’s Beach Boulevard. I used to tell my Gran how he I had also danced there during my time at Aberdeen University and how the dance-floor used to bounce “Oh yes” said ‘G,G’ and her eyes would light up!
The next child that Fanny gave to Alexander was Bessie (1871-1942), she married a Hotelier of the name George Wright in 1895. One can only assume that Alexander Stevenson, her father, did not approve as Bessie was more-or-less written out of his Will, and was the only child of his to be dismissed so. Heartache lurks behind that for sure.
“On death of Fanny Callander, my wife, or remarriage, divide residue equally to children, share & share alike, except in the share of Mrs Elizabeth Pollock Stevenson or Wright, my daughter, which is hereby restricted to her share of legitim only, or what she could legally demand from my moveable estate.”
Bessie did not have luck. She had four children, but not one of them had issue, therefore she had no grandchildren to enjoy. Her youngest daughter, Elsie Wright, died in 1977 and my parents were given her gold VW Passat. This was a godsend for my family as my parents, at this point, had absolutely no money, certainly not enough to pay for a replacement for the Morris Traveller which was so old that the woodwork had grown fungus. Yes those were the days when cars had wood (yes I can recall that – gosh how I get old!)
The next child born was Willie. He was born at Walkens, Grahamston in January of 1873. He was never to marry but nevertheless had a keen eye for the ladies. ‘G,G’ did not like him and called him an ‘old rascal.’ He used to bet and liked to drink. He was on occasion known to share a round with Rab Scott (who was at this time estranged from his wife Constance – ‘G,G’). Willie Stevenson trained as a solicitor and had his time in civic duty just like his father and was appointed Provost of Falkirk Burgh. In 1934 he declared open the newly built Kincardine Bridge.
The Falkirk Herald, Saturday 27th May 1944
THE LATE MR WILL STEVENSON:
Former Provost of Falkirk.
Mr William Stevenson, solicitor, Falkirk, former Provost of the Burgh, died at his residence Ella House, Major’s Loan, Falkirk, on Monday evening…
In May 1901 ex-Provost Stevenson established himself in business as a solicitor in Falkirk. From then until 1933, he occupied premises at 2 Bank Street, and from there he removed to his firm’s present premises in Kirk Wynd.
Figure 2: The Auld Fire Engine of Bridge of Allan, Captained by William Cousine (on the very top of the engine)
Willie served as a Magistrate for five years, and was convener of the Fire Brigade Committee. At the time he took over the convenership the fire engine was of the horse-drawn variety, and the firemen were involved in the laborious task of pumping the water by hand. At that time the fire station premises consisted of a small place underneath the hall belonging to Lodge St. John (No.16). The Brigade in these days was called out by policeman going through the town blowing whistles. When the Brigade was taken over by the National Fire Service in 1941 there were two powerful motor fire-engines, modern fire-fighting and life-saving equipment, while the firemen were called out simultaneously by electric bells installed in their homes.
The previous picture illustrates the sort of Fire Engine, horse-drawn, that served when Willie Stevenson came to be convener of the Fire Brigade Committee. The attentive may have seen this photograph before, as it was part of the manuscript drawn up by me in 2003 and called: ‘The Medicine is in Aberdeen.’ This was the Fire Engine of William Cousine who built Mossgrove (though he called it Moss Cottage.) This, the family home of Andrew and Rachel, was built in 1880 by William Cousine, he was the small (under 5ft), rotund, ruddy cheeked, ginger-whiskered Captain of the Fire Brigade – indeed the village’s first official fireman. Apparently he was a bombastic man, unmarried and unpopular with the villagers. He used to shout orders to his men from the top of the horse-drawn fire engine.
In November 1934 Mr Stevenson was elevated to the Provost’s chair, and held the office for three years. As civic head of the burgh, he carried out his multifarious duties with acceptance to all classes. He was kindly and courteous to all who approached him, and in many quiet ways he did much good.
Figure 3: Willie the Provost of Falkirk
The next child to come along to Alexander Stevenson and Fanny was Robert Adam, or ‘Bob’ as he was known. Bob Stevenson (1875-1951) was to become a Grocer in Falkirk, following in his father’s footsteps. In 1906 married Jessie Alston from Broughty Ferry. Later on in life they moved to Newtonmore and ran the Balvaig Arms Hotel. When he died in 1951 he left a massive estate to his wife and his Rolls Royce, RS 4695, manufactured in the year 1935. One wonders what became of that fine car as the couple had no children to leave it to?
Fanny was the next child born; she married the solicitor David Mungo and lived between 1877 and 1932. They had no children together. Fanny was buried under the Angel, beside her mother & father in Camelon.
Alexander Stevenson was for a short period a hotelier, little detail is known of his involvement, but for a while he owned and ran the Station Hotel in Shotts and it was here that his seventh child Ellen Callander Stevenson was born in August 1879. She later married Wilfrid Lawson Gibson, Civil Engineer & Surveyor from Dunblane. Their first child ‘Connie’ (Fanny Elizabeth Constance) Gibson was born at Balhaddie House on the 26th March 1908. Connie was my dear granny (see chapter 17.)
Figure 4: Ellen Callander Stevenson
Ellen Callander Stevenson (1879-1961) is remembered by her granddaughter Margaret Scott, as like auld ‘Ma Broon’ she had a rotund mxyodematous appearance in old age and relied, in her later years, very heavily upon her daughter. However two more youthful images have been preserved – one of Ellen by the sea in flowing dress, and the other sitting aside her father in horse and trap at the gates to Callander House.
Figure 5: Alexander Stevenson with his daughter Ellen outside Callander House
Three more children were to follow Ellen; Thomas Train has been dealt with; next there was Polly (1883-1966) who’s son Billy Scott and was another favoured cousin of my Granny. The final child was Ross Callander Stevenson (1884-1930). Granny recalled that he wore a wig, was a great sportsman (like his father,) but that he died young to Tuberculosis.
Later, but probably not much later, Alexander entered the spirit trade. He had at least two properties in Falkirk, one was at 106 Graham’s Road, and one property in Glasgow at 145 Eyegate.
In 1891 Alexander Stevenson first entered public life as a member of Falkirk Town Council. He was then elected as an interim Councillor to fill a vacancy in the representation of the West Ward. At the election following, the ratepayers of the ward appointed him for a full term to the council, although his seat was contested. On the conclusion of that term of office he was again to represent the ward. At the succeeding election, when he fell to retire, he failed to retain his seat. Later, however, he was approached by an influential action of his many friends in the North Ward, and asked to place his service at the disposal of the ratepayers of that portion of the burgh. He consented to do so, and, after a stiff contest, ousted the sitting member. He was said to have ‘represented the North Ward faithfully and well, and to the satisfaction of a large section of his constituents.’
Alexander Stevenson was not just a self-made businessman but also a man of benevolence and of charitable inclination, so that when the sad consequences of a disastrous fire which occurred in Gairdoch Street, Carron Road in 1905, were made known:
“Mr Stevenson speedily organised a relief fund. So whole-heartedly did he enter into this most laudable work that within a week he, unaided, collected the sum of £125, and the unfortunate families, whose homes and effects had been destroyed by the fire, were saved from imminent destitution.”
The value of Alexander Stevenson’s service as a Town Councillor representative of the North Ward were fittingly recognised by the ratepayers on the 17th of January 1906, when, at a banquet held in the Union Halls, he was presented with a ‘beautifully illuminated and appropriately worded address,’ and Mrs Stevenson was made the recipient of a valuable silver candelabra.
In his twelve years on the Council Board Alexander saw “Falkirk double its population, divided into wards, Camelon annexed, and the electric light introduced.”
Alexander Stevenson was the keenest of sportsman. In this connection he had a reputation which was a national one, chiefly because of the prominent position he has occupied in Scottish Football circles. Indeed for five years he was President of the Scottish Football Association, where he gave “dignity to the chair, and his practical commonsense policy and experience were of the utmost benefit to that body.” He was one of the association’s committee, who, by their acumen, saved the situation for the association when its very existence was threatened at the time of the Ibrox disaster. Outside of that body he interested himself greatly in the affairs of the Falkirk Football Club, and was twenty years it’s President.
Alexander appeared in an editorial of the Falkirk Weekly Record, on the 24th September issue 1904. It was entitled: S.F.A. PRESIDENT – Falkirk Councillor and His Work Among Workers. – An Advocate of Fresh Air and an All-Round Sportsman. In the article he answered questions put to him:
“Like most bairns, I always had a fondness for the Falkirk Football Club. I resigned office a few years ago, after being its president for twenty years, and am now its honorary president. I have been asked to join other local clubs, but nothing will induce me to leave Falkirk. The club has had its ups and downs, but has steadily made ground. The district is ripe for a First League Club, and once in the upper circle, a Falkirk Club would not lack support.”
The centenary of the Scottish Football Associations inception was held in September 2003. When it was broadcast, I could not help thinking of Alexander, and how as the signatee amongst five, he brought this professional body into being, and one that now oversees a multi-billion, multi-media game. So great has been the meteoric rise of Football, that surely Alexander would have been utterly dumfounded by its progress! If Falkirk could make it back to the Premier Division, the dreams of this ‘bairn’ would surely be complete!
It is worthy of note that of the six clubs that formed the SFA none were of the Glasgow clan and indeed the list that formed was, by today’s guide, somewhat surprising . It demonstrates how the game has changed since the SFA was brought into being on the Twenty-sixth day of September, Nineteen hundred and three.
- Dunblane Football Club
- Falkirk Football Club
- Greenock Morton Football Club
- Arbroath Football Club
- Royal Albert Football (Uddingston)
- Partick Thistle Football Club
Alexander was an all round sportsman and the editorial has sentiment that is rather forceful if not boastful. He was a keen bowler at Bainsford Bowling Green and gifted a handsome trophy, known as “The Stevenson Bowling Trophy,” for competition annually amongst the local bowling clubs.
Alexander was also a keen curler and a member of Falkirk Curling Club; he golfed at Prestwick, as a member of the St Nicholas Golf Club; and for ‘nearly twenty years’ he hunted with the Linlithgowshire and Stirlingshire hounds. The article continued “Mr Stevenson was a frequent prize-taker at the leading agricultural shows with his famous trotting horse, ‘Yankee Boy,’ which proved itself to be one of the fastest American trotting horses ever seen in this country.”
Apparently from an early age Alexander exhibited a talent for music, and at the age of twelve he joined the Carron Flute Band. He sponsored the Falkirk and District United Trades Band and donated them a ‘valuable silver tea and coffee service.’
The following gives a glimpse of his robust character:
“Councillor Stevenson worthily maintains the quaint motto of Falkirk – and he is not to be thwarted in any enterprise on which he has set his heart. The fighting spirit is strong within him, yet withal he is one of the most genial of men, and round the social board, the ‘Baillies’ musical contributions never fail to entertain the company. Indeed he can sing a very good Scotch song”
The chapter will close with the words given to the Falkirk Reporter in September 1904. They are the very expression of Alexander then aged 57 years.
“All my life.” Remarked the Falkirk Councillor. “I have taken a keen interest in outdoor recreation. There is nothing like plenty of fresh air for prolonging life. I live as much in the open as I can, and feel as active in body and as buoyant in spirit as at any part of my life. I am just off to the golf links at Prestwick, where I have resided during the summer months for the last eight years. I claim membership in the St. Nicholas Golf Club, and although I took to the game late in life I can hold my own with any gentleman of my age and am never frightened to face an opponent.”
“In the winter months I am early astir when the ice is keen and greatly enjoy the ‘roarin game.’ I have been in the semi-final for the Falkirk Curling Club’s rink prize competition two years in succession, and am one of the most regular players in the club.”
“The game of quoits was a popular pastime in the county when I was a lad. I used try my hand at the game, and at the time ‘Duggie’ Osprey, Murray, and ‘Tummoy’ Reid were dons at the sport. These men could hold their own with the best players in Scotland, and used to play for big stakes.”
“Another good old-fashioned sport, much in vogue in those days but long obsolete, was the game of bullets. The Carron iron-workers and miners of the district used to make the welkin ring with their shouts at the ‘bullet’ matches on the Falkirk Tryst ground. It was a case of man against man, and he who sent the iron ball the furthest was declared the winner. On account of the danger on the public highways the authorities latterly prohibited the game.”
“Most of my married life has been spent in Falkirk, and I enjoy nothing better than a game of bowls among the working men on the Adrian Bowling Green. I was president of the Adrian Club for two years, and they have made me hon. President. I represent the ward in the council.”
“From boyhood days onwards I have always lived up to the golden motto, ‘Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves.’
Figure 6: Ella House, Falkirk
On the first Friday of October 1916 Alexander Stevenson died in the house he had built for his family. He was in his seventieth year. At Ella House an impressive funeral service ‘was there engaged in by the Rev. A. Ross Taylor, minister of Grahamston Parish Church. The cortege thereafter moved off to the place of interment, where the Rev. Mr Taylor and the Rev. A. MacAra, minister of Denny Parish Church, conducted the burial service, the coffin thereafter being deposited in its last resting place.’
Figure 7: In the back garden of Ella House
1 = Fanny Callander (Alexander’s wife)
2 = Ellen Callander Stevenson (Alexander’s daughter)
3 = Constance Gibson (Alexander’s granddaughter)
4 = Willie Stevenson (Alexander’s son)
Love in Age
Now that we have had our day, you
having carried, borne children,
been responsible through the weaning years
in this moment and the next
and still the next as our love
spreads to tomorrow’s horizon,
we talk a little before silence.
Let the young make up their love songs,
about which subject they are securely ignorant.
Let them look into eyes that mirror
themselves. Let them groan and ululate
their desire into a microphone. Let them
shout their proclamations over the tannoy
– a whisper is enough for us.