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James Taylor (1778-1852) and Jean Taylor (1784-1866)

The Antonine wall marked the northern boundary of the Roman empire and ran between the Firths of Clyde on the west coast, and Forth on the east. A few miles before its eastern end the wall crossed the Grange Burn, a stream that ran up towards the Firth of Forth. Despite its size, the burn was strong enough to power at least one mill which sat a few hundred yards above the wall's crossing point. A walk from the wall along the burn brought you first to Bowshall (often called Bowhousehall), where a set of stepping stones allowed people to cross the stream, and then, shortly afterwards, to Bowsplank Cottages, three or four linked houses where the miller lived. Until the middle of the 18th century the area had been rural and unspectacular, with only a few scattered cottages, but it was soon to become the centre of Scotland's industrial revolution.


In 1750 Lawrence Dundas bought the Kerse Estates and set about transforming them. Described by James Boswell as 'a cunning shrewd man of the world' Dundas became one of the main backers of the Forth and Clyde Canal that would join the two forths and enable Scottish industry to thrive.  Building was started in 1768 and its eastern end would be where the Grange Burn flowed into the Firth of Forth. In 1770 Dundas built the third of his large granaries on the edge of the canal, and he housed the miller and his assistants in Bowsplank Cottages: and one of those first millers may have been Edward Taylor .


Falkirk in 1824


It is possible that Edward was living there when he married Elizabeth Potter in 1782, and certainly the area round the mill was starting to look very different from a few years previously. He was a widower (Note 3) with a son to look after, and Elizabeth, several years younger than he was, seemed an ideal bride. Just north of their house, Dundas had founded a town at the end of the canal, originally called Grangeburnmouth, but soon shortened to Grangemouth; and the first boat was built there just as Edward and Elizabeth were marrying. Over the next ten years they had four children and, not surprisingly, the boatbuilding industry would prove more of an attraction to the three boys than the mill. It is impossible to know whether any of the children started out as millers - or whether Edward himself became involved with ships - but, over the thirty years the family became more and more involved with the booming industry at Grangemouth which by 1797, only twenty years after its founding, was being described as 'of considerable extent'. Cargoes from all over Europe were brought into the harbour and then transferred to lighters on the canal to be taken throughout Scotland. Coal from Lanarkshire was then transported in the opposite direction; all of which meant that, in 1810, the village built its own Customs House and no longer needed the one at Bo'ness.

An early print of Grangemouth harbour

Edward and Elizabeth bought a house and land in Laurieston in 1795; it was less than two miles from Polmont, Grangemouth and Falkirk; and almost equidistant from each. Laurieston was also growing bigger quickly: an annual fair had been started in 1790 with horse racing and other entertainment for the general public, and organisations such as a gardening society and a Band were started at about the same time. In 1802, when she was only eighteen, their first child, Jean, married James Taylor, a quarryman from Polmont (Note 2). Judging from James' later career (and Jean's family), he was probably not a labourer, or certainly employed others to do it for him. The couple stayed in Laurieston and had already had five children when Jean's half brother, William, died in 1814 and mentioned his stepmother and all his surviving half-siblings in his will. William was, by now, a fairly wealthy shipmaster with part shares in at least two boats. He was based in Grangemouth where he had dealings with Alexander Hart, the builder of the very early steamship the Charlotte Dundas, as well as the other important shipyard owners. In his will Jean received £180 (when her brother James died in 1832 both he and Edward were described as shipowners of Bowshall)  (Note 4). Two of their ships, the 'Andrew and Kitty' from Leith and the 'William and Friends' from Grangemouth, were trading sloops, transporting goods to the British Isles from Poland and other countries in northern Europe. They appeared to be masters of their own ships as, in 1834, Edward Taylor appeared in court as a witness against a sailor on the brig, Vigilant, which he was skippering from Dundee to Grangemouth. The sailor was found guilty of stealing £48 (about £6000 in 2017) from the safe in the ship, which seems quite a lot of money to have on board.


It would appear that James and Jean lived in Laurieston for most of their life - their children were baptised there and they were there in 1841 - but James worked over thirty miles away in Dalkeith on the other side of Edinburgh at a quarry in Gowkshill. How this worked in practice it isn't possible to tell, but both the 1841 and 1851 censuses show him living in Laurieston. In 1841 Jean was working as a grocer, but her eyesight was fading and, by 1851, she was blind and a 'former grocer'. Perhaps it was the combination of an absent husband and blindness that led her to move even further away from Dalkeith and live with her daughter and family in New Monkland. In 1851 James was lodging with their old neighbour in Laurieston, another grocer; but there is no way of knowing whether this was a regular arrangement or not, so we can't make any judgements about James and Jean's marriage.


Jean 's (Note 5) daughter, Mary (the one she was living with in 1851) had married a baker, and it is possible they met through Mary's elder brother, James, who was by now a master baker himself. Despite her blindness, Jean would have led a comfortable life as her son-in-law had a respectable profession; and, when her husband died in 1852, he had insured his life for £100 which went to her along with his other possessions.  She also received another £50 when sister Mary died in 1858, but by now she had moved back to Falkirk to live with her son, William, and his family. Jane's mother had lived into her eighties, and now Jane did the same, dying in 1866 having been an actual widow for fourteen years; but possible living away from her husband fro longer than that..


1.Edward was described as a miller on two of his children's death certificates and a newspaper advertisement in 1850, advertising the sale of his land by his widow, described him as a 'farmer at Bowshall. There are other references in 1814 and 1828 to his children living at Bowshall. Thanks to MonicaL on Rootschat for finding the location of Bowshall/Bowhall/Bowhousehall and the nearby mill

2. Although Taylor is a common name, it is possible that James and Jean were cousins. Both had oldest brothers called William, suggesting that both their paternal grandfathers were called William, but no suitable baptisms have been found

3. His first wife died in 1780 but she is just called 'wife of Edward Taylor' in the burial register. She may be Janet Seatter who married an Edward Taylor in Orkeny in 1768 before having a William in 1769. No other children of the marriage can be found, so the facts fit. The main problem is that Stromness is quite a way from Stirlingshire; and it was Edward's children who were sailors (he wasn't as far as we know).

4.  Approx £15,000 at 2014 prices 

5. In 1851 and 1861 she is actually called Jane

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