I love it when I stumble across an old Hamilton family that is from a generation or two gone past and are out of common knowledge or memory to people, and this one was a highly respected family who in their day, would have been known by many. I found this family by chance when I was asked to look in to the history of a house on Muir Street.
On the 5th of January 2017 Gordon Duncan sent me a document that he had found in the attic of his Muir Street home. He asked if I would consider looking in to the history of the building.
I love to take on these challenges and do the research for Historic Hamilton and must mention that I have particularly enjoyed this one!
When I looked at the document, I first noticed that it was written in 1813, and it was hard to transcribe, so to make the most of this little snapshot in time, I consulted an old colleague of mine from Edinburgh who used to work at the records office on Princess Street and is also a fantastic transcriber.
Linda Gordon transcribed this document over a couple of days and as I had suspected it was the deeds to the house. Why they were hidden in an attic for so many years will remain a mystery, however it is possible that the owner who was called Dr Thomas Wharrie could have placed the deeds here for safekeeping in the year 1813 and they could have lay hidden and undisturbed for 204 years, which I think is a fantastic find for Gordon Duncan and of course for Hamilton.
This property on Muir Street was probably built by Dr Thomas Wharrie, and it was even built before the reconstruction and upgrade of the Hamilton Palace, which was compete in the year 1842. When you take a wee drive past the house at Muir Street, then think of this, apart from the museum which is on the opposite side of the road and on the same street, you are looking at one of Hamilton’s oldest and inhabited buildings.
The document was written in ‘Old Scots’ and when transcribed it stated that the house was purchased or built by Dr Thomas Wharrie on the 17th of September 1813. The document was proof of ownership of the house and it laid out the boundaries of the land and garden. The great thing I find about this 204-year-old land certificate is, when this was written, it also takes in to account other people who lived in houses surrounding this building. The document stated that in 1813 the house had attached offices with a yard.
On the east side of the house the closest neighbour was a man named George Ward and there was a hedge separating both houses, and to the south of the garden was Common Green. On the west of the house, the next property was owned by a man named Roger Croft.
The annual payments on the house in 1813 was seventeen shillings and three pence Sterling. The local town clerk in 1813 was Archibald Hamilton and he stamped the document, while a man named John Reid also witnessed the signing.
So, as I have stated, I found that the house was once owned by a prominent family in Hamilton that went by the name of Wharrie. This family were a very well-known one in the town, and they had many friends in many high places, Dr Dykes of Woodhead was an example of this upper-class Hamilton Hierarchy. I had never heard of the Wharrie family and even the name is not a common one in the area. This was when I decided that I was going to research this family.
Thomas Wharrie was not originally from Hamilton, he was a man from Lesmahagow and he married Isabel or Isabella Brown on the 13th of March 1788 and nine months later the family’s first-born child arrived. Thomas James Wharrie was born on the 8th of December 1788 at Lesmahagow. I believe that there may possibly still to this day be family connections to the Wharrie family in Lesmahagow, as Thomas Wharrie had come from a very large, educated and well-off family in this area.
Thomas and Isabella moved to Hamilton between 1789 and 1796, and 3 more children were born, James 23/08/1796, Rachel 19/07/1799 and Jane 13/03/1808. Thomas would probably have come to Hamilton as a doctor where he could have more opportunities in a much bigger town.
What becomes of Thomas and his wife is unknown to me, as I can’t find any other relevant information on Thomas Wharrie or his wife Isabella Brown and the trail stops here. What I can tell you is that Thomas Wharrie died on the 30th of September 1839 and I have this information from his Will and Testament which I discovered.
Thomas Wharrie was a surgeon in Hamilton, and he states in his Will that James Brown Wharrie was his only son, so his first son Thomas has died at some point before his father and yet once more I can’t find any information stating the place of death, and apart from James Wharrie the only other family member that I have come across is his sister Rachel Wharrie, who married a man named Alexander Murdoch on the 2/01/1837 in Hamilton and yet again, there is no information on her or her husband and all that I could find was her death certificate. Jane died on the 26th of March 1872 in Dumfries.
Dr James Brown Wharrie was born on the 23rd of August 1796 in Hamilton and he was the second son of Dr Thomas Wharrie and Isabella Brown. He was to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Surgeon and Dr of Medicine in Hamilton.
He studied to be a surgeon in Glasgow and as well as being a doctor, Dr Wharrie also owned a lot of properties in the town, and one of his legacies that James Wharrie left for Hamilton, was the beautiful house that he built, and lived in. It was the grand handsome house called Avongrange at Castlehill, and this big house still stands to this day, and we all know it now to be called, ‘The Avonbridge Hotel’ this was Dr Wharrie’s main residence.
Castlehill Crescent which is now called Castlehill Gardens, was at the time Hamilton’s affluent street and on this part of Hamilton you would find a Crescent, having on the west side a few fine villas occupied by respectable families. Dr Wharrie’s house was the largest on the street.
He married a lady named Eliza Croil on the 08/01/1837 and I assume that this lady died shortly after they were married, because he re-marries, and as the usual family pattern continues, this lady, like the rest of his family, do not appear on any Old Parish Records and I can’t find a death or any evidence of her re-marrying. He continues to live at his father’s property on Muir Street which he inherited and is still here in 1841, this is at a time when he would probably be thinking about building his mansion at Castlehill Crescent.
James Wharrie re-married, to a girl called Margert Morley Drysdale who was the daughter of Major James Drysdale and Mary Watson Pew. Margaret was born on the 17th of August 1816 in Bothwell, and she was the eldest of her four sisters and two brothers. Margaret was 20 years younger than James.
Dr Wharrie started a family late in life and he was 55 years old before his first child had come along – I am assuming that due to his work commitments, starting a family was an after-thought and not high up on his list until he met Margaret Drysdale.
Avongrange House was built between 1855 and 1858 and the country mansion consisted of one Public Room, a separate Dining Room, six bedrooms, a large Kitchen and Offices which were presumably used for Dr Wharrie’s work.
Things were going well for Dr Wharrie, he was the Surgeon at the Hamilton prison (the prison was situated roughly where the roundabout is at ASDA) and not only did he have a highly paid job as a Doctor, he also had other income in the form of rents, raised from his properties that he owned around Hamilton. He owned two houses and four shop premises on Cadzow Street. He was happily married and now had his very own family which consisted of Thomas, James and John with another baby due to be born in October 1856.
The happiness of the new house at Avongrange on Castlehill Crescent was about to take a turn for the worse! His wife was due to have their fourth child and when little Margaret was born at 8:00am on the 26th of October 1856, sadly James’s wife Margaret died three hours later with complications during the birth. On a sadder note, James was the person who was present during the birth of his daughter, as he was the family doctor and he was also the doctor who certified his wife’s death.
When the 1861 census was taken, Dr Wharrie was living at Castlehill, and he had an adequate amount of staff living here, thus telling us a bit about his wealth. Living with Dr Wharrie were his three sons, Thomas JM Wharrie (10) James D Wharrie (8) and John B Wharrie (7) and his daughter Margaret Wharrie (4). He had a lady named Marion Williamson who was the children’s Nanny, he had a cook named Elizabeth Crawford, and finally he had a house maid that went by the name of Agnes Dobbie.
In 1864 Dr Wharrie was renting his house and shops at Cadzow Street to the following people:
• George Cooper, who was from Cumnock in Ayrshire, rented 58 Cadzow Street and he ran the shop as Tailor and Clothier business, he paid a total annual sum, of £24 and 7 shillings for the house and shop.
•James Keith, a Provost, and famous grocer and spirit merchant of Hamilton, was born in Edinburgh and rented the House and shop at 78 Cadzow Street. James Keith was using this premises as a grocer’s shop and was paying an annual sum of £45 & 5 Shillings. James Keith later became a councillor and his son Sir Henry Keith, followed in his father’s footsteps.
•The third premises consisted of a house and shop which was rented by J&T Thorburn who were confectioners and they were renting these premises for £17 & 3 Shillings.
•The fourth premises on Cadzow Street was a shop, which John Wilson was renting for £15 per annum, this shop may have been rented for a short space of time, as I am unable to find any records for this man.
•The fifth premises that was rented, was his family home that his father built on Muir Street, and the house which still stands today was rented by an Alex Henderson for the sum of £20 per annum. In today’s money, he would have a combined income of £14,616 or £1,218 per month, this in turn would have paid his mortgage at Avongrange, which was set at £95.00 per annum, or in today’s money £11,020 per year or £918.33 per month, this would have been a substantial amount of income as back then in 1864, when you think that the average coal miner earned 2/6 – 3/- per day.
Dr James Wharrie continued to work up until his death, he worked with the local judges of the Hamilton JP court which has been documented in many newspapers of the time. It was reported in the Glasgow Herald on the 2nd of November 1869, that he was present alongside John Meek Esq at the trial of a local man called Bernard Gourley, who was charged with keeping a dog without a licence and who was fined 25s. So, he was in fact a very well-known person in Hamilton.
Dr James Wharrie died at the age of 73 on the 1st of January 1871, at his house at Avongrange. He died at 6:00pm, the cause of death was recorded as Apoplexy or commonly now known as a Stroke. His oldest son Thomas was the person who registered the death.
After Dr James Wharrie died, all his children were still living at Avongrange House and Thomas was the head of the family at 20 years old. Thomas would have inherited a great deal of wealth from his father, as well as Avongrange and in 1871, he studied Law. Marion Williamson who was the children’s Nanny ten years before is still employed by the Wharrie’s and her title in the house now is a domestic servant, they also have one other domestic servant called Elizabeth Crawford living with them.
In 1881, Thomas and Margaret have both moved to Edinburgh, where Thomas is still studying Law and interestingly, they have Marion Williamson also living with them, she was their Nanny and is now their cook and Domestic Servant, this says a lot about the relationship that Marion had with the children, maybe she had taken on the role of their mother, as she was the only woman in the house, that had been there since their mother had died.
John Wharrie, is listed as the head of the house at Avongrange, he doesn’t seem to have a job, but is receiving an income from houses and interests in Hamilton. It would appear, that he is now solely benefiting from his father’s many years of hard work. The house is very large for just one person to be residing in, even though he does have a servant living there with him called Elizabeth Smellie, it wouldn’t be long now until the house at Avongrange leaves the ownership of the Wharrie family.
An advert appeared in the Glasgow Herald Wednesday the 9th of April 1879, and the house was up for let. It is unknown if this went ahead as John Wharrie is still living here in the year 1881. Avongrange remained in the ownership of Thomas Wharrie and it was leased out to various people throughout the years, one of the tenants being the Provost James Moffat. The house was eventually sold off between 1915 and 1920 to Sir Thomas Munro the County Clerk.
After their father’s death, the children of Dr James Wharrie all seem to leave the memories of Hamilton behind them, and when Avongrange is eventually let out they also leave everything behind. They were all born at Avongrange and lived in Hamilton their whole lives, but their father was the only person in the family who was respected, and it was all down to him for giving the Wharrie family the good and respected name that it held in Hamilton.
When Dr James Wharrie died, so did the respected family name and as the new generations of Hamiltonian’s had come and gone, the name Wharrie which was associated with Hamilton, was also gone and forgotten about. All that now stands as a reminder to this family, are the two grand houses, the first one built by Thomas Wharrie on Muir Street and the second house formerly known as Avongrange, where many Hamiltonian’s now enjoy a good Sunday dinner or Christmas and New Year party, which we now call ‘The Avonbridge Hotel’.
So, what happened to the rest of the Wharrie Family?
The Wharrie children all seem to have moved to Edinburgh, this may have been due to the eldest son Thomas studying Law and everyone going with him.
John Wharrie, after being the last to move out of Avongrange in 1881, moved to the house of his brother Thomas at 26 Inverleith Row. There he becomes unwell and dies of pneumonia. He died on the 26th of October 1884. His brother James is the person who registers his death.
James Wharrie also moves to Edinburgh and his occupation is a fund holder and living on his own means. He is still living off his inheritance and seems to have invested his money either in property or stocks and shares, and is receiving an income from this. In 1901, James is renting a room at 15 Atholl Crescent, which is also a few streets away from his brother Thomas, at Edinburgh’s West End. I have concluded that he moved to Edinburgh to look after his brother Thomas, as he is having mental health problems. Later, James pops up again, and I find him living his final days at 7 Castle Terrace which is also St. Marks Church, opposite Edinburgh Castle. He dies here, a single man on the 7th of May 1904. The cause of death is Pneumonia.
Thomas Wharrie the eldest son of James and as I mentioned moved to Edinburgh, residing at 26 Inverleith Row, which was a substantial family home in a very upper-class area of Edinburgh. He is having a tough time after his father’s death and is a frequent guest at various Lunatic Asylums. In 1891, he is an inmate at the Edinburgh Royal Asylum for the insane, this institute around this time was a private paying one, so he may have admitted himself and I must mention that he has an income and is living on his own means, so he is also like his brother James still living off the money that was left to him by his father. Sadly, Thomas like his brother, dies a single man on the 22nd of February 1915 at the Sunnyside Asylum for the insane in Montrose. It is unknown why he ended up over in Montrose.
I also found Thomas’s Obituary in the Hamilton Advertiser which was printed on the 27th of February 1915 it read:
“Obituary. —By the death on Monday at Montrose Mr Thomas J. Drysdale Wharrie. there has passed away and the last of the sons of the late Dr. Wharrie, who was well-known to a former generation of Hamiltonians. Dr. Wharrie was prison doctor in Hamilton up till the discontinuance of that institution in our midst. He built and occupied Avon Grange, presently the residence of Provost Moffat. Another link of the Hamilton bygone days has been surrendered.”
I had told you previously Margaret had moved with her brother Thomas to 26 Inverleith Row where she is living here in the year 1881. She then re-appears in the 1911 Census and is living at a place called Wallacehall in Glencairn, Dumfries. She is living with a family called McClelland and she is boarding with them. It is unclear as to why she is living with this family in such a far-away place from the likes of Edinburgh where her brothers were living, but one thing that is listed on the 1911 census is she is recorded as being of “Feeble Minded”.
There does seem to be a pattern evolving with the Wharrie children, but this could also be due to the complications of childbirth that killed her mother.
Again, another death close to her brothers, Margaret died on the 22nd of April 1916 at the house of the McClelland’s at Wallacehall. She died of heart failure and the person who registered her death was the owner of the house a Mr Thomas McClelland, his relation to her on the death certificate is ‘A Friend’.
Margaret’s obituary was printed in the Hamilton Advertiser on Sat 29th April 1916.
“The Late Miss Wharrie, the last we believe of a family well known to Hamiltonians of a generation ago has passed away in the death, on 22nd inst., Wallace Hall, Dunscore, of Miss Margaret Morley Drysdale Wharrie. She was the daughter of the late Dr. James B. Wharrie, who was prison doctor in Hamilton up till the discontinuance of that institution in our midst, and resided at Avon Grange, which he built. The funeral took place on Wednesday from Hamilton Central C.R. Station to the cemetery in Bent Road. Mr Thomas J. Drysdale Wharrie, who died at Montrose in February a year ago, was the last of the sons of the late Dr. Wharrie.”
It is still unknown to me as to why Margaret ended up living with this family in Glencairn, Dumfries, or what the connection to her was. There possibly was a connection to her aunty Rachel, who died here in 1872 so maybe a cousin? Margaret was the last of this well-known Wharrie family from Hamilton and when she died it was the end of an era.