Old Aunt Maggie

Although I always referred to Old Aunt Maggie as my aunt, in reality she was my mother's aunt and therefore my great aunt. My earliest recollections of her were, as a small boy, being ushered into her living room and being overawed at her old age, then being told she could not see me, because she was blind. It was the first time I had ever seen a blind person. She would feel my head; take hold of my hands, then to be told by cousin Maggie, that I was Maggie 's boy Walter. I can't remember if I was ever referred to as Walter Holden, but, being described as Maggie's boy, added to my confusion; I had never heard of my mother being described as Maggie, she was just Mum to me. To reduce some confusion with these Maggies, the picture alongside shows Old Aunt Maggie with her daughter - known by my mother as 'Cousin Maggie', in their garden behind the shop in Lower Burnmouth.

Then, for many years, there was some mystery in my mind as to who Cousin Maggie was, I couldn't think of her as a cousin because she was an old lady; cousins were thought to be about the same age as myself, so I tended to call her Aunt Maggie. My mother would often say, "Oh, she is not your real aunt, she is my cousin"! I must have been in my twenties, when I learnt that cousin Maggie was in fact the illegitimate daughter of old Aunt Maggie. Both were known in Burnmouth as Maggie Fairbairn, they were well liked, more so because they ran the shop in Lower Burnmouth and were known to one and all. So it was that, when I took up the interest in family history, I wanted to know more about old Aunt Maggie. Eventually I mapped out the family tree of the Fairbairns, where she is shown as my Grandfather William Fairbairn's eldest sister, born about 1849, according to her age shown on the family grave at Ayton . In searching for her in Burnmouth census records, she initially appeared in the Martin household in 1851, where she was recorded as the one month old daughter of my Great Great Grandfather Alexander Martin. Records were double checked in New Register House, Edinburgh, to attempt verification of this relationship, but reasoning made it obvious that she could not have been the daughter, quite apart from the fact that she was recorded as Margaret Fairbairn. However the1861 census for the same household, showed her to be the 11year old Grandaughter of my Great Great Grandfather Alexander Martin. I reason that she was the child born out of wedlock to my Great grandfather Walter Fairbairn and Margaret Martin. Although they did not marry until about 1852, it does explain why the child Margaret should appear in the Martin household initially and as a cover up for the illegitimacy in 1851, when she was recorded as a daughter.

It was when I was when I was quizzing my Uncle Adam, about Old Aunt Maggie, that he told me that she once lived in an upturned boat near the well, at Partinhall. I have a photo of this old boat and it would appear that it was used as a fisherman's store. In my very earliest of childhood recollections, I can remember such a boat near the well, one such upturned boat is shown in the picture on the left. The well was where all the Partinhall households obtained their fresh water. It was the clearest, freshest and coolest water I had ever tasted, straight from the burn, even although it was collected in the "well". Having resolved her true identity, my other quest was to find out more about cousin Maggie, the illegitamate daughter of Old Aunt Maggie. There was no census record of her at a Burnmouth address for the years 1871 and 1881; she would have been 21 and 31 years old respectively at these census dates. Her daughter (cousin Maggie) first appears as a 2 year old grand-daughter in the Fairbairn family with her widowed grandmother Margaret, in 1881. I found her birth certificate showing her date of birth to be 22Dec1878. Only her mother was named on the certificate,her uncle Robert Fairbairn named as being present.

So, where was Old Aunt Maggie between the census years1871 and 1881? The answer came in some research I did in New Register House, Edinburgh in July 1995, when I looked at the birth certificate of "Cousin Maggie". Sure enough, she was shown as being the illegitimate daughter of Margaret Fairbairn who was described as a housekeeper. So, was she in service somewhere? Again the Edinburgh records showed that there was a Court case over the paternity of Cousin Maggie and in a separate "Correction of Entries" document, dated 18May1880, the father was named as Matthew Lindores, a carter for the Chirnside Brewery. At that time Old Aunt Maggie was described as a Domestic Servant at Bridge of Allen, Stirlingshire. So, I, her great great nephew, the illegitimacy confirmed, father named and Old Aunt Maggie's abode between 1871 and 1881 established solved the mystery. Cousin Maggie was looked after by her grandmother, whilst her mother continued in service. It was probably quite convenient for her Aunt Anne, in this family to assist in looking after her 2-year-old niece. Anne was unmarried at the time, 22 years old with one older brother (Alexander) and two younger brothers (William and Walter); William being my Grandfather. So cousin Maggie was to be brought up in a Fairbairn household, whilst her unmarried mother continued to live with the Martin family. Considering that my Grandparents were in fact second cousins, one a Fairbairn and one a Martin, it is perhaps not so surprising that they felt quite at home in either household! Bearing that in mind, neither would it be surprising to find that in the 1891 census, old Aunt Maggie was recorded as Margaret Martin aged 41 and shown as the shop assistant to her widowed Aunt Elizabeth who was described as a grocer in the village of Burnmouth. Elizabeth was known to my uncles and aunts (and presumably also to my mother) as old Aunt Bess and they also knew she had the shop in Burnmouth before old Aunt Maggie.

So it was that the shop was "handed over" to her when Elizabeth Martin died in 1915 and it would probably be about that time that cousin Maggie, still a young girl of 12 in 1891, joined her mother to assist in running the shop under the name of "M.Fairbairn, licensed to sell Tea and Tabaccs." An old photo showing old Aunt Maggie possing clothes outside her shed on the sea wall, with two girls close by, one, in all probability, being her daughter Margaret. When she became blind, her daughter continued to run the shop and look after her. She died on 23 Feb 1940, an old lady of 91. Cousin Maggie then aged 61 needed help and so it was that my aunt Bessie (this time a rightful aunt), assisted to run the shop until Cousin Maggie died in 1954.

This story about Old Aunt Maggie would not be complete without a reference to the boat "Maggie Fairbairn", which I knew so well as a little lad at Burnmouth. She was so often moored alongside a similar yawl called the "Braw Lads" and from a distance I could not tell the difference. This picture shows the "Maggie Fairbairn" and amongst the crew was my Grandfather William Fairbairn. He is standing just above the figure "1" and the skipper at the time was his older brother Alexander (Sandy) Fairbairn (my Great Uncle). As far as I have been able to establish, the yawl was named after my Great Grandmother Margaret Martin who became Margaret Fairbairn when she married my Great Grandfather Walter Fairbairn. This probably came about when she was widowed in 1869, my Great Grandfather apparently died on his way to the harbour one day. The Old Aunt Maggie of my story was her eldest daughter. The picture depicts the boat when still a sailing boat, it had an engine installed in later years and was bought from the Fairbairns by Duncan Anderson.