Stewart Paterson

05/08/2014 15:53

My grandfather’s grandfather was a mole-catcher

 His name was Stewart Paterson and although he seems to have remained a mole-catcher all his life he was also a bit of a property developer.

He was born in 1832 at Cairns of Drimmie in the parish of Bendochy. This is just north of Blairgowrie in Scotland’s main fruit growing area. His father James Paterson was a farm labourer who was born in 1801, and his mother was called Emily. There were six other children in the family – two older than Stewart (John and Hugh) and four younger (Fyfe, Isobel, Margaret and James)[1].

The family lived on a farm called Cairns of Drimmie. Stewart’s fathers earnings will have been about £12 a year, which according to the local minister at the time  was the going rate for a farm labourer at that date in that parish[2]. If Stewart went to school he will have had to pay school fees of 2 shillings and 6 pence a quarter to learn reading and writing[3] (the equivalent of 13p a quarter in decimalisation currency – not a trivial amount for a family with lots of children and the breadwinner earning only £12 a year.).

When Stewart was in his early teens the family moved from Bendochy to Legerwood in the Scottish Borders, about 120 miles away. Legerwood is about 7 miles north of Galashiels, and 2 miles north of Earlston.

Stewart left home to go to work sometime before he was 17. He moved about 10 miles east of Legerwood  to the farm of Newtonlees in the parish of Edam just north of Kelso. He was employed as a mole-catcher. The farmer he worked for was James Ross and Newtonlees was a 606 acre farm employing 24 people. Stewart lived in the main farmhouse[4].

By spring of 1851 the family (minus Stewart) were living at Legerwood, but by this time James was a widower[5]. The date of Emily’s death is not known. She may even have died before the family moved from Bendochy to Legerwood. Living with them was James’s 28-year-old unmarried niece Christian as a “House Servant”. So it would seem that the niece had been brought down from Perthshire to keep house for James and the family since Emily was dead. (Although John and Hugh were adults by this time the oldest girl, Isabel, was only 12 and could not be expected to keep house. Of course John and Hugh as males would not have been expected to do house keeping.)

The next we hear of Stewart is the calling of his marriage banns on the 26th November and the 3rd of December 1854[6]. He was described as living in the parish of Legerwood – so he must have moved back there from Newtonlees sometime after April 1851 and before December 1854. He is also described in the banns as a “General labourer” – he may not have liked that since he seems to have taken pride in calling himself a “mole-catcher” all his life. He was marrying Helen Mason who lived at Pyetshaw in the Earlston parish. So the marriage will have taken place in late December or early January. (Helen was the daughter of Alexander Mason and Isabel Dodds[7].)

Stewart and Helen’s first child was Isabel who was born in 1856. (She was my grandmother’s mother. She married Robert Johnston a Berwick-upon-Tweed tailor and clothier.) Their second child, James, was born in 1859. At the 1861 census[8] they were living at Standingstone, Earlston and with them at that time were Stewart’s unmarried older brother Hugh (also a mole-catcher) and Helen’s mother Isabel who was 63. (Isabel had been a widow for more than 20 years.[9])

Around 1870 Stewart built a home for himself, and a number of adjoining cottages at the part of Earlston’s main street which was known as East End[10]. It is unclear whether he himself was involved in their building or if he employed others to do this work.

Between 1861 and 1871 three more children were born (Alexander in 1862, Emily in 1867, and John in 1869) and at the time of the 1871 census the family were living at 92 Main Street, Earlston presumably in the house which Stewart had built. Living with them was Stewart’s father James (71).

Helen’s mother Isabella died on the morning of 3rd September 1872 at the age of 73 Stewart registered the death the next day[11].

At the time of the 1881 census their address is recorded as High Street, East End, and of their children only Emily and John were living with them. They also had Janet Murray (16) living with them as a “General Servant Domestic”.

Helen died on 6th October 1884 at the age of 49[12]. She is buried in the Earlston churchyard.

Stewart remarried sometime before the 1891 census. His new wife was called Jane Sanderson, and she was twenty years his junior. (She had lived at 66 Main Street, Earlston with her parents and three sisters at the time of the 1861 and 1871 censuses[13]. But they had moved to Galashiels by the time of the 1881 census. Jane worker in a woollen mill in Galashiels.) They had two children, David[14] who was born in 1892 and Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) born in 1895 – who I remember as “Auntie Lizzie” and I remember visiting the family home, built by Stewart, in Earlston a number of times in the late 1940s or early 1950s, (In fact Auntie Lizzie was my grandmother’s mother’s half-sister, so I suppose that makes her my father’s aunt.)

In the 1901 census[15] their address is given as “115 High” and as well as Stewart and Jane in the house were David and Lizzie, and also Helen Hunter who was Stewart’s grand-daughter.

Stewart Paterson died in 1908 at the age of 75. He seems to have died a comparatively rich man. My Uncle Arnold remembers his father, my grandfather, telling of being called to Earlston on Stewart’s death to collect £300 left to various family members[16]. Presumably he left other sums to his more immediate family and there was also the houses he had built. So it would seem he left wealth equivalent to at least £200,000 today – not bad for someone who started his working life as a sixteen-year-old  mole-catcher.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Afterword - What happened to some of the others mentioned?

David Paterson – son of Stewart and Jane. Went to fight in World War I with the Royal Canadian Regiment and was killed in Flanders in on 3 August 1916 aged 25. He is buried in the Menin Road South Military Cemetery, Belgium. He is commemorated on the war memorial in the centre of Earlston.  (There is no information as to why David was with the Royal Canadian Regiment. Perhaps  he had emigrated to Canada?)



Isabel Paterson – Stewart and Helen’s first child. Moved to Berwick-upon-Tweed around the age of 19 or 20 and married Robert Johnston. The extract below is from the 1881 census. Robert Johnston went on to run a very successful tailoring business in Hawick, Glasgow and Oban.


“Auntie Lizzie” – lived the rest of her life in the family home which had been built by Stewart. My parents, in 1932, spent their honeymoon there. With my parents I visited her there a number of times in the late 1940s or early 1950s. She died in January 1978 at the age of 82[17].


Jane Sanderson  - Jane, Stewart’s second wife, was still living in Earlston at the time David was killed in 1916. The Canadian records of David’s death mention her. She died on 30th November 1928[18]. (Jane’s father continued to live in Galashiels – he was 74 and a gardener at the time of the 1901 census.)

James Paterson – Stewart’s father moved to he parish of Gordon (4 Middlethird) and at the age of 60 he was still working as an agricultural labourer and had his daughters Isabella and Margaret living with him[19].

...and the houses that Stewart had built? – They are still there. The main house, the one that the family lived in,  now has the address 2 Church Street. The cottages are 1 Church Street and 3,4 and 5 Church Street. 4 Church Street is up for sale at the time of writing this for offers over £200,000.  2 Church Street last changed hands in 2004.


[1] The 1841 Census

[2] From the 1843 Statistical Account of the Parish of Bendochy

[3] It would have been 6 pence a quarter more if he learned arithmetic also  (maybe he did and that’s why he was good at looking after his money). From the 1843 Statistical Account of the Parish of Bendochy

[4] The 1851 Census – with his surname spelled “Patterson”

[5] The 1851 Census – with Fyfe spelled “Fife”

[6]  see

[7] And Isobel Dodds was the daughter of John Dodds (Hedger) and Helen Currie

[8] 1861 census

[9] Described as a widow in the 1841 and 1851 censuses as well as the 1861 census

[10] The present address of the house Stewart Paterson built is 2 Church Street. The adjoining cottages are, on the west side 1 Church Street, and on the east side 3,4 and 5 Church Street

[11] Her death is recorded as being from Senile Debility & Paralysis Agitans Death Register of Scotland - Film Number 0300346 - 1872 Deaths Berwick, Parishes 726-757

[12] Date information from the Paterson headstone in Earlston churchyard

[13] The 1961 Census

[14] David died in 1916 in the First World War. His name is on the War Memorial in the centre of Earlston

[15] The 1901 Census. Parish: Earlston; ED: 1; Page:  23; Line: 18; Roll: CSSCT1901_413; Year: 1901.

[16] Reported by my cousin Irene Johnston in her recent book about her father’s early life

[17] Date information from the Paterson headstone in Earlston churchyard

[18] Date information from the Paterson headstone in Earlston churchyard

[19] The 1861 census



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