Down Memory Lane, April 30 2021

From left to right: Alexander McNab, Grace McNab Bridge and Private Andrew McNab.
From left to right: Alexander McNab, Grace McNab Bridge and Private Andrew McNab.

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Family echoes of the McNabs of Argyll

When Tees-side woman Clare Frith started looking into her family history, her research revealed deep Argyll roots mingled with family tragedy and sacrifice.

Clare first contacted our sister newspaper the Argyllshire Advertiser looking for help researching her maternal great, great grandfather Alexander McNab. Online records showed his birthplace as ‘Inchial Argileshire’, which turned out to be the parish of Glenorchy and Inishail at the head of Loch Awe.

Alexander McNab was born there to Alexander senior and Margaret McNab in 1863 — one of a family of three brothers and four sisters — and moved south to Burnley in Lancashire in the 1880s. In Lancashire in 1888, he married Janet Wardrope, who came from Milngavie outside Glasgow, and they went on to have 12 children.

Going back a few generations, Clare’s research has traced Alexander’s great grandfather, John McNab, born in Kilbrandon in the area around Loch Melfort in 1760.

His son Peter, born around 1780, went on to farm in Connel and is recorded in the 1861 census as an 80-year-old, farming 75 acres at South Ledaig, though is described as a ‘smith’ in an earlier record.

Born in 1822, Peter’s son Alexander grew up to work in farming around Glenorchy. In the 1851 census he is recorded as a ploughman at Barbreck.

Alexander McNab, born in Argyll in 1863.
Alexander McNab, born in Argyll in 1863.

‘Our’ Alexander seems to have been a blacksmith when he moved from Argyll to Burnley to start a new life.

Sadly, two of Alexander and Janet’s family died as young children.

Later, however, they found themselves — like so many other families — caught up in the horrors of the First World War.

They lost three sons — Andrew, aged 25, missing in action, 1916; Alex, 27, missing in action, 1917; and John, 23, missing in action, 1918 — during the war.

Private Andrew McNab, one of three McNab brothers killed during the First World War.
Private Andrew McNab, one of three McNab brothers killed during the First World War.

The grief the family must have borne is unimaginable. The boys’ names are recorded on three separate First World War memorials in Belgium and France.

Clare said: ‘What a tragedy losing your sons. Andrew, Alex and John were brothers of my great grandma, Grace McNab Bridge.’

Alexander died in 1944 at the age of 81, after being hit by a tramcar in Blackpool during the blackout. He was living with daughter Grace and her family at the time. A short newspaper report from the time describes him as a ‘retired blacksmith’.

Clare was born in Blackpool and moved to Tees-side, via a spell in Dumfries, through her husband David’s employment.

Though her great grandmother Grace passed away in 1968, Clare believes she can detect echoes of the past in her own family today.

Clare's great grandmother, Grace McNab Bridge, as a young woman in the early 20th century.
Clare’s great grandmother, Grace McNab Bridge, as a young woman in the early 20th century.

She explained: ‘My son, who is in army, has just trained in music and learnt the bagpipes.

‘Little bits keep popping up. My other son is into blacksmithing, which is also in the family.’

And while she has never visited Argyll, Clare would love to at some point once Covid restrictions have eased.

‘I had a look at images of Loch Awe and have been reading up about the area. It looks amazing.’

If you have any other information on this branch of the McNab family, please email editor@campbeltowncourier.co.uk and this will be passed on to Clare.