Select Page

Catherine Gray Simpson

Catherine Gray Simpson, future wife of William Eli Bradley, was born on the 6th September 1872 at 10 David Street in Bridgeton, Glasgow, the oldest child of James Rae Simpson and Catherine Gray Whitehill.

Catherine Bradley née Simpson 1872 – 1956

Catherine Gray Whitehill was James’s second wife – they married on the 7th June 1872 at 116 Rottenrow, according to the rites of the Presbyterian Church and Catherine was born in the following September. James was working as an apprentice printer in a pottery and Catherine as a steam loom weaver. They both gave their address as Bluevale Street, Glasgow.  This road is to the north east of the Annfield Pottery.


James’s first wife, Isabella née Chalmers, a bread seller, had died in childbirth (no medical assistance) in August 1868, soon after their marriage in Bridgeton the previous April, when they both gave their address as 9 William Street, Mile End. He was a pottery apprentice. At the time of her death, they were still living in William Street. In 1871, James was back with his parents in St John’s, Blackfriars in Elgin Street.


Although Catherine’s family seemed to have stayed in the same street (Rottenrow), James’s parents, David and Elizabeth, moved frequently, so the timeline and map should help to keep track of their movements!


The locations marked on the map are only approximate and have been worked out with the help of the Ward Maps of Glasgow which date from 1913.


Glasgow Timeline


Glasgow in 1878


Tracing records in Scotland before 1855 when registration became compulsory (in Scotland) is not easy. However, the later marriage and death records give the names of parents, including the mother’s maiden name where known, which at least gives many clues and/or confirmation.





The Whitehills


Catherine’s parents as named on her marriage certificate were John Whitehill and  ….. … read more ….





David and Elizabeth Simpson

Shipping in the Clyde by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836 – 1893) Wikimedia Commons

James was a pottery worker, as were his parents, David and Elizabeth, and his two brothers, Alexander and David. David senior is listed as a journey man potter in 1861, and a transferrer or printer on pottery on other census returns. Elizabeth was also a transferrer. David junior was a muffel [sic] boy in 1881 and Alexander was a bowl maker.


David was the son of Alexander Simpson and Janet Rae. They had married on the 7th June 1795 in the parish of Barony. Their son Alexander was born on 4th July 1796 and baptised two days later, also in Barony. David’s year of birth is always given as 1813, but I have found no trace of his baptism as yet, neither have I found any evidence of other children or death registrations for either of them apart from Alexander.


David Simpson and Elizabeth McKirdy are recorded as living in the same household in June 1841, at East Hamilton Street, Greenock. [Map: Greenock 1842]. At the time, David was listed as a printer and Elizabeth a transferrer. As he is later recorded as working as a printer in a pottery, it is likely that he was one then. At this time, there were two potteries in Greenock known as Greenock Potteries/Clyde Pottery, which were an amalgamation of Clyde Pottery and Ladyburn Pottery. Clyde Pottery can be seen on the 1856 OS Map of Greenock. The road is now known as Pottery Street which runs off East Hamilton Street near the junction of Port Glasgow Road [Modern map: Google].


Their oldest son, Alexander, was born in August 1841 and christened in August of the following year at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church – the column in the register to state whether he was legitimate is conspicuously empty.

Marriage record 1843

They married in June 1843 in the Church of Scotland at East Parish Church, in Greenock.


A son Joseph was christened in 1844, also at St Mary’s.  Their youngest son, David, was christened at St Patrick’s RC Church in Anderston in 1854. I have found no christening record for James and no further record of Joseph. There is a long gap between James, who is consistent in giving his year of birth as 1856 and David, so there may have been other children who I haven’t found as yet!!


David and Elizabeth are described as being in a mixed marriage in the registers, so David must have been a protestant since Elizabeth had been christened in the same RC church on April 2nd 1814 when she was a month old. Her parents were given as James McKirdy and Catherine McKirdy. (Catherine’s maiden name is given McKirdy on Elizabeth’s death certificate and also the christening of her sister Jane two years later.) As yet, the Catholic Marriage registers are not available online, so the trail goes cold here for the moment.

Baptism record 1814

The original St Mary’s RC Church was not built until 1816, so Elizabeth will have been christened at the Greenock Mission, its predecessor. The Mission had been founded in 1808 in a rented hall, Star Hall, for a congregation of about a hundred, who were mainly incomers from the Highlands and Ireland, and visiting seamen from the busy port.


We can imagine what a motley crew our spiritual ancestors were: boatmen, dockers, fishwives, servant lasses (these would consider themselves a cut above the rest), factory workers (including quite young children), street musicians, pedlars, beggars. There would also be a sizeable floating population (literally!) of visiting sailors from foreign parts, fishermen from as far away as the Isle of Barra down to sell their dried cod and ling, possibly some seasonal agricultural workers from Ireland, employed at some of the outlying farms: Bow Farm, Strone Farm, Holmscroft, Drums …………. and all the other varieties of human being that would pass through a busy seaport…..…….. (St Mary’s Catholic Church, Greenock).


…  with the Industrial Revolution beginning, and the consequent greater demand for food, local agricultural labour had to be augmented, and many of the extra hands at harvest time were immigrants from Ireland. Industry itself demanded more labour, and Catholics from the Highlands of Scotland as well as Irishmen helped to provide this additional labour….. (Colin Milne – The History of Gourock 1858-1958)


Whether it will ever be possible to trace Elizabeth’s origins is doubtful, even if and when we find her parents’ marriage. McKirdy (and variants) is a common surname in the Isle of Bute and Argyllshire, as it is in Antrim, Northern Ireland. Others’ research into the McKirdy surname suggests several complete lineages to follow up, but much of the online information is contradictory and some it probably far fetched.


By 1851, David and Elizabeth had moved east from Greenock and the family were living at 163 Main Street, Finnieston. The Verreville Glass and Pottery Works were nearby, as was the newly built St Patrick’s RC Church, Cranstonhill, where David was christened. According to Aileen Smart, “Many of the congregation came from Ireland or the HIghlands of Scotland”. In 1861, they were living further north in Bogside, Maryhill, Springburn. I haven’t yet managed to find out where Bogside will have been or the locations of the Hydepark & Springburn Potteries which were operating there between 1837 and c.1879.

Glasgow 1871 The Old Closes & Streets of Glasgow (1868-71) Thomas Annan, photographer Wikimedia Commons

In 1871 they had settled in 8 Elgin Street (now Turriff Street), St John, Bridgeton, Glasgow.


Glasgow had a large pottery trade at this time – in 1868, there were 14 potteries in the city employing over 5000 full time staff. As well as making fine china, these potteries also produced large quantities of sanitary ware which was exported to America and the British colonies, as well as other materials such as stoneware, fire bricks and building bricks. It seems unlikely that we shall ever know which potteries the Simpsons worked for once they had relocated to Glasgow, although it looks as though, like many other pottery workers, they moved frequently.


When David died of bronchitic asthma in 1873, from which he had suffered for years,  he was living at 113 Drygate, Glasgow and Elizabeth’s address when she died of congestion of the lungs was 41 Marlborough Street, Bridgeton.


David’s oldest son, Alexander, married Maggie Hyslop McGeorge in 1875. They had two children, David and Isabella. Alexander died of phthisis (certified 2 months) in 1880. The address was: 107 Rottenrow Glasgow, just round the corner from Tarbet Street. By 1881, Margaret and the children were in Dennistoun.  Their son, was a farm labourer, so had escaped the factory life, but died of typhoid fever, aged 16, in 1892. In 1901, Margaret and Isabella were in Main Street, Shettleston near Glasgow with Agnes (born 1894 and described as an adopted daughter). Margaret was a cotton factory spinner and Isabella a warper. Isabella married John Stobo, a mattress maker, in Barrhead in 1922 when she was 43 when Agnes was one of the witnesses as Agnes Herbert Simpson. Margaret died of senility, aged 88, at the same address in Barrhead, Isabella reporting the death. Isabella, already widowed, died of a heart attack in Barrhead in 1958. A Douglas Simpson, acquaintance, registered her death.


David’s youngest son, David, married Isabella Hamilton Patterson in 1885 and they had two sons, Alex(ander), born 1887, and David, born in 1889. In 1891, they were living at 138 Albert Street in Barony and David was an earthenware printer then. So far, I have found no trace of them after this.


In 1881, Catherine, James and their five oldest children were living at 5 Tarbet Street, Blackfriars in Glasgow. His occupation then was an earthenware printer and his younger brother David was living with them.

Transferware produced by J and MP Bell c1860

James and his family moved to Edinburgh between 1883 and 1887. By that time, he and Catherine had had 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls – Catherine was the oldest child and was aged between 11 and 15 years old. Their next son, John Whitehill Simpson was born in Arthur Street, Canongate in June 1887. On John’s birth registration, James’s occupation was a printer (Glass works). The Royal Holyrood Glass Works was situated in the Canongate, a little north of Arthur Street. Catherine’s brother Hugh had first been in Edinburgh in 1871, when he was working as a printer pressman and boarding in Canongate. He and his family were also nomadic and were back in Edinburgh when James and Catherine moved there …..… read more ….


By 1890, the Simpson family had upped sticks completely and were in London, where their next son, Andrew was born in Clerkenwell where they had settled. It was a courageous move to make with such a large young family, but presumably they needed to find work.  James found work as a glass warehouseman and in 1891 Catherine was also working as a warehouse girl.


Another boy, William, was born in 1893. They lived in at least three different places in Clerkenwell between 1990 and 1911, but all near each other. James was working as a warehouseman in a glassworks in 1911.


The descendants of James Rae Simpson and Catherine Gray Whitehill





The working life of a Glaswegian Potter


Glasgow had a large pottery trade at this time – in 1868, there were 14 potteries in the city employing over 5000 full time staff. As well as making fine china, these potteries also produced large quantities of sanitary ware which was exported to America and the British colonies, as well as other materials such as stoneware, fire bricks and building bricks.(2) It seems unlikely  that we shall ever know which potteries the Simpsons worked for, but it may well have been Bells. Their removal to London appears to coincide with the death of John Bell.


It is hardly surprising that diseases of the lungs caused the deaths of David, Alexander and Elizabeth, but David working until 60 years old may have been. In 1862 the Government of the day sent a Royal Commission to report on the “Employment of children in trades and manufactures not regulated by law”. The Commission’s first report was published in 1863 and concerns the pottery trade as well as several others. Glasgow Potteries

Week 10: Strong Woman

Week 10: Strong Woman

I have been fascinated by the story of my great x2 grandmother, Catherine Whitehill, born in Glasgow on the 31st May 1847. She had a tough life judging by where she lived, yet she raised 9 children to adulthood in 3 cities, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, at a time when infant mortality was high.

read more

The Bradley Diamond Wedding 1952

  We do not know who most of the people are in this picture of the guests at their Diamond Wedding Anniversary celebration in 1952. Were Catherine's Simpson siblings or her Whitehill cousins there? Perhaps William's siblings were guests. 1. Irene Lewcock née...

read more

Bradley Gallery

  These photographs all seem to have been taken at the same time. We can recognise Kate and William Bradley, Frank and Alma Bradley and Alice and Frank Lewcock. Who are the other people? Where were the pictures taken? What was the occasion? We think it might have...

read more

The Whitehills of Rottenrow

  Catherine Gray Whitehill's parents as named on her marriage certificate were John Whitehill and Elizabeth Christie.  In the census returns after her marriage, her year of birth is consistently given as 1847, unfortunately just before official registration began...

read more