The story so far (November 2016)
What better place to start a narrative of our family history than an article published in the “Scottish Gardener and Northern Forester” on August 8, 1908? This was written by Alexander Sweet (1843 to 1921) and provides an interesting insight to certain elements of the family history.
There is a reference to James Sweet in the article; he was born in 1756, died 1841. He was a son of George Sweet and Ann Lyon. George was a servant and gardener to Major Dalrymple of Nunraw in the Borders and was one of ten children. A notable sibling, for our purposes, was Thomas Sweet (1758 to about 1848), more about him later. The article refers to the reading of the will of their father and that the “house, orchard and fields” were left to Jean Sweet (1763 to ? ) who married Archibald Hogarth in 1807, a notable name in the Borders to this day. This is the property “Sweet Holm” now known as “Orchard Cottage” (renamed by the Nichol family). Jean in turn left the property to Ann Sweet (1801 to 1879), daughter of Thomas Sweet (above, 1758 to about 1848) who by this time lived in Glasgow. She married her cousin Robert Sweet and both of them emigrated to Australia in 1854 with their family.Sweet’s Cottage, Woodchester, Australia The article refers to losing sight of James Sweet, but he does appear on the 1841 census living with his wife Margaret at Bridge Foot, Kelso and was aged 85. Ann and Robert Sweet sold Sweet Holm to Dr Turner, who in turn sold it to Wauchope a major landowner and father of the Boer War veteran. According to the article, this ended the Sweet association of two hundred and eighty years with Yetholm; this would place them in the borders from around 1557, the story is that the Sweets left Kent, England at the time of Bloody Mary, which would be around 1555, although I have not been able to verify this as yet.
George Sweet, who left Sweet Holm to Jean, was a grandson of another James Sweet, born in 1680. (This the farthest back I have been able to trace the family tree.) He married Janet Martin in Bowden in 1702 and they had four children. The eldest being William Sweet born in 1703. William married Jean Tully in 1719 and they in turn had six children, one of whom is George Sweet, referred to in the above paragraph. It is interesting that there are no Sweets in the Borders any longer.
Our line is descended from George’s brother, Thomas Sweet (1758 to about 1848) who was grandfather to Alexander Sweet, the author of the article. According to Alexander Sweet’s Northern Forester article, Thomas set up in business with his cousin as Sweet, Copland and Co in Glassford Street, Glasgow (see Robertson connection below). The Jones’s Directory for Glasgow 1787 has an entry for Thomas Sweet at Bell’s Wynd, Glasgow (now Bell Street):
“Sweet Thomas, manufacturer, ware room north side Bell’s Wynd”.
There is also an entry for:
“Hogg, Copland, Sweet & Co. merchants, counting-house, wareroom corner house north-side, Bell’s Wynd, 2d flat above No.22.”
Katherine Robertson’s father, John, was a brother to Jean Robertson who married William Copland in 1786, confirming the family connection being in business together. The business, however had its problems and was declared bankrupt in 1789. note 1. There are a number of court cases in which Thomas is suing for sums due and the inference is that he was managing a number of out-workers, I believe he was a weaver. This method of working is mentioned in Tom Devine’s book “Scotland’s Empire”; The old image of the master weavers buying their own yarn and working it up in their own cottages was being replaced by a new system. Merchant manufacturers in Glasgow, Paisley and Dundee and other centres supplied yarn to weavers working at home or in small factories. They provided credit and advance payments and it was easy to become enmeshed in a circle of debt which brought with it growing dependency.
Some time between 1806 and 1811, he ceased to be a manufacturer and became Quarter Master or Billet Master for the Burgh of Glasgow until (I presume) his death in 1848. There is an amusing anecdote:
Excerpt from the Extracts from the records of the Burgh of Glasgow, 19 June 1827:
“There was produced a petition from Mr. Thomas Sweet, quarter master for the city, praying an augmentation of salary, on the ground of additional expense now incurred by him in making surveys of inhabited houses. Which petition having been read, remit the same to the committee of finance, with instructions to have a conference with the justices of the peace for the county, with the view of theses magistrates making an allowance to the quarter master for acting in the suburbs without the royalty.”
I don’t know if he got his pay rise but his successor earned £55 per annum.
The role of the Quarter Master was to ensure the billeting of soldiers was carried out. “Recruiting Parties, Dragoons and other Soldiers, who are not quartered in the Barracks, are billeted on the inhabitants [of Glasgow], whose house-rent amounts to £3 and upwards, per annum, unless the possessors are legally exempted… The list is regularly exhausted over the whole City, before any person is liable to have soldiers billeted on them a second time; persons whose rent is £3, and under £5, are liable to have two men billeted on them for any number of days under a week, and those whose rents are £5 and upwards, are liable to have two men billeted on them for two weeks, or the residue of the month, which may happen to be seventeen days.” note 2
Thomas became a Burgess in Glasgow in 1785 and possibly through this connection, he met John Robertson who was a successful Merchant and Burgess in Glasgow. John’s father, also John Robertson, along with his brothers William and James were deeply involved in the merchant class of Glasgow. Thomas married Katherine Robertson (abt1750 to abt1813) in 1787 and they had eight children.
They had one son who did not survive, the first surviving child was also a son, George Sweet (1796 to 1847), who married another Catherine Robertson, daughter of James Robertson, (James was Thomas’ cousin). George became a wine merchant based in St Andrew’s Square. Catherine and he had eleven children; William Copland was witness at the christenings of nine of them and Copland appears in name selections for seven Sweet children. One of George and Catherine’s children was James Robertson Sweet (1823 to 1902) a painter and decorator who in turn had nine children with Annie Lang. One of the children of James and Annie was Charles Sweet (1864 to 1945), he was a photographer with several studios in Rothesay between 1893 and 1914. I have three photos taken by him. His last studio was at 19 Battery Place, Rothesay which is now a guest house. One of Charles’ siblings, George Sweet (1852 to 1923) was a landscape artist; according to the National Gallery of Scotland “George Sweet was a minor Glasgow landscape painter active between 1876 until he died in 1923. He was a member of the Hamilton Art Club and exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy and Glasgow Institute”. There are five of his paintings exhibited on the Art UK website. (Note 3) Another brother, John Lang Sweet (1854 to 1928), was a painter and decorator, while another, James Sweet (1856 to 1901) started as a clay tobacco pipe salesman but then became a grain merchant with his own business. Thomas Sweet (1859 to 1912), a further brother, was also a painter and decorator in Dunoon and William Copland Sweet (1860 to 1893) was a fruiterer in Govan. (One of James’ four sons by Mariah Bryce, had a career in insurance with his employer being acquired by what is now Aviva. (note 4) John appeared to carry on his father’s grain business. Robert was employed by Robert Howie and Sons, Grain Merchants and Timber Merchants, Dunlop (note 5) while George was a commercial traveller.)
Returning to Thomas and Catherine Sweet, two further sons, John (1791 to ?) and Alexander (1793 to ?) went to Jamaica to work on their uncle John Robertson’s plantation in Black River Possibly the Robertson Plantation, Black River, Jamaica. I have lost trace of them. Thomas and Catherine’s first daughter, Catherine Anne Sweet (1796 to ?) married George Fyffe and they had seven children. Thomas Sweet (1799 to 1818) died single. Their last born, Anne Sweet probably returned to Yetholm after her Aunt Jean left her Sweet Holm (see above). Anne married her cousin Robert Sweet (1798 to 1866) in 1835 and emigrated in 1854, with their four children, to Woodchester, near Adelaide, Australia.
A further son of Thomas and Catherine, James Alexander Sweet (1797 to 1864), married Margaret Gardener in 1823 by whom he had three children, the last of whom was born in 1830, the same year as his wife Margaret died, perhaps of complications at birth. He married secondly, Mary Ann Graham in 1831 and they had five children. A son, Thomas, who moved to Australia and died from pneumonia in 1854 aged 21 in Melbourne hospital, his parents were not recorded on the death certificate. Another son, Wallace Graham Sweet (1835 to 1883), attended Glasgow University, was ordained in 1873 and was the first minister of Barrowfield Church in Glasgow in 1879, but he too had a sad ending as he committed suicide on board the SS Manitoban en route to Montreal; he possibly had a drink problem according to newspaper accounts at the time. He left a widow but no children. (note 6) The eldest daughter of Alexander and Mary Ann Graham Sweet was Christina Sweet (1837 to 1927) and she married Hugh McBride (a ship draughtsman) in Edinburgh; she died in Leith. Her sister, Anna Sweet (1841 to 1911) married John Crawford (1832 to 1889). He was a colour-maker and they lived in Holmhead Cottage, Cathcart. She too had a tragic death; she “died of a fracture of the spine and haemorrhage result of accidentally falling over quarry face a height of about 30 feet”, she had been missing for three days. Finally, their youngest son, Alexander Sweet (1843 to 1921) who began this saga with his article in the “Scottish Gardener and Northern Forester”, published when he was 65 years old, is of our direct line. He had his book “Villa and Cottage Gardening” published in 1889 (it ran to several editions) when he was aged 46. However before I detail his background, the bad luck that this family endured also affected the father, James Sweet, who was a sub post master and grocer: he died by drowning in the River Cart near Cathcart Bridge at 5pm on 27th October 1864.
Alexander Sweet lived in Lindsay House, Cathcart with his wife, Barbara Dunn Wright (1842 to 1925), a teacher, having married in 1870. He was employed by the Union Bank of Scotland in Glasgow, bank records confirm the following: “Alexander Sweet entered the service of the Union Bank of Scotland on 16 May 1864, at Glasgow office, as a Clerk in the Accountants Department. His first pay was £1.10.0, paid on 2 June 1864. This was increased to £2.18.4 on 2 July 1864. He was a Clerk in the Accountant’s Department all his working life in the Bank. His monthly salary rose from £1.10.0 in 1864, to £22.18.4 in September 1911. When he retired, his annual salary was £285. He was paid an allowance of £185 per annum after he retired. (He may have retired on 2 April 1920)”. In 1905 the rent for Braehead was £40 per annum so he must have had a good disposable income.
They had eight children, one of whom (James Robertson Sweet) died aged five in 1878. They lived initially in Lindsay House, Cathcart which can still be seen next to the Cathcart Bridge. They moved to a home called Braehead, Cathcart between 1883 and 1886. Lindsay House had four rooms, to bring up the seven children born there between 1871 and 1883, whereas Braehead had eight rooms. Braehead, at that time, had a very large garden running down to the river, this has now been separated from the main house and has been built upon. The gardens of the main house still show vestiges of a garden landscaped for pleasure, there is a Ginseng tree next to the house, which I understand is difficult to grow, possibly confirming Alexander’s passion for gardening. He retired from the bank in 1921 and moved to Craigshields, Skelmorlie, and died having only a few months there; I visited Craigshields a few times to see Aunt Mary.
The eldest child of Alexander and Barbara Sweet was Mary Wilson Dunn Sweet (1871 to 1959). She was single and looked after her parents until their deaths (Barbara died in 1925), she also acted as housekeeper while they were at Braehead. I remember visiting her a few times when I was very young and playing in the garden at Skermorlie. Archibald Macintyre Sweet (1874 to 1937) was a shipping clerk and died unmarried at Craigshields, Skermorlie. Wallace Graham Sweet (1876 to 1953) was my grandfather, he married Jean Brown of Sydney, Australia and died at Troon; it was from this marriage that our parents’ generation was born: Alexander (Alistair), Wallace, Barbara, Jean, Archie and Alison.
The next of Alexander and Barbara’s children, Catherine Robertson Fyffe Sweet (1879 to 1956) married Robert Grant; it was their daughter, Catherine Robertson Grant, who married Donald Ross, and built my sister Hazel’s former home, Tigh Geal. Following Catherine Robertson Fyffe Sweet, Alexander and Barbara had Alexander Sweet (1881 to 1927) he was with the Eastern Telegraph Company at Carcavelhos, Aden, Seychelles, St Helena, Ascension, Azores, Port Said and died in Malta; he was unmarried. Jean Barr Sweet (1883 to 1976) came next and married John Houston; she was a typist and he was a marine engineer becoming a surveyor with Lloyds Register of Shipping. They had a son, John Gray Houston (1917 to 1988), I remember he and his family visiting us in Troon. They also had two daughters, one of whom, Barbara Dunn Houston (1912 to 2002) married Eric Ross Birkett (1905 to 1998) who began the Sweet family tree many years ago and was Company Secretary to John Menzies, the newsagent company. Finally, William Johnstone Sweet (1886 to 1928) who was a banking agent in a number of locations before finally at Alloa for the Union Bank; he used to visit us with Aunt Ena and their Yorkshire Terrier that drank tea from a saucer!
Wallace Graham Sweet’s children are all now dead, Jean being the last to die at 101 years of age.
There is a great deal more anecdotal history that I have picked up in my research and many branches of the tree beyond this extending now to 450 people. However I hope this provides a flavour of the main Sweet line from 1680 to the present day.
The Robertson connection
William Robertson (born circa 1700) of Kindeace and Catherine Ross had six children, one of whom was John Robertson, known as “John of the Bank”. John married Katherine Hutchison, sister to Hugh Hutchison of Southfield, Maybole, Ayrshire who bequeathed a sum of money to John’s grandchildren of the marriage of his daughter Katherine Robertson and Thomas Sweet. This John Robertson had four sons and three daughters by Katherine. Three sons are mentioned in “Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship” as being successful merchants in Glasgow: John, James and William. Their names are so common at that time that it is dangerous to be too emphatic about their precise business interests but there are several indications that they were well regarded and successful. Their names appear in various enterprises but I have not found any philanthropic bequests or non-commercial interests, indeed I have not found a will for any of them.
The “History of Govan” (note 7) tells us that “in the year 1783 Mr. John Robertson, merchant in the city, purchased the estate upon which there was a small dwelling house probably erected in 1701”. This was Craigiehall a fifty two acre estate, which he renamed Plantation to reflect his west Indian investments. He was cashier of the Glasgow Arms Bank for many years. He was also a partner, with his brother William, in the Smithfield Iron Company, which, established in 1734, was conducted by his descendants until about 1850. He had a slitting and rolling mill at the mouth of the Kelvin and owned a cluster of houses at the “Pointhouse”, while he established the first regular ferry at the Kelvin mouth across to Govan. In Glasgow his warehouse stood on the Broomielaw, a short distance west of Jamaica Street, and the present Robertson Street was carried through his property, taking its name from him. Plantation was sold in 1793 to John Mair, a mason from Paisley. John Robertson purchased a Burgess-ship in 1775. In addition to Smithfield Iron Co, John also had interests in Muirkirk Iron Co, Spinningdale Cotton Co, and Glasgow Cudbear Co. (note 8) Besides his large private business of West India merchant, he was a partner in the works commenced and carried on by George Macintosh and others for the manufacture of cudbear, cashier of the Glasgow Arms Bank, and principal proprietor of the firm designated the ” Smithfield Nailree.” Nor did he neglect his public duties, as he appears as a Director of the first Board of the Chamber of Commerce, and Preceptor of Hutchesons’ Hospital. (note 9)
At the latter end of 1750 a second local bank in Glasgow was formed under the title of the Glasgow Arms Bank. The firm was Cochran, Murdoch, and Co. The partners, who were highly respectable, consisted of the following, viz:, Andrew Cochran, John Murdoch, George Murdoch, Robert Christie, John Campbell, John Murdoch, junior, Laurence Dinwiddie, John Hamilton, sen., James Donald, William Crawford, sen., Thomas Dunsmore, John Jamieson, John Bowman, John Brown, John Glassford, William Crawford, jun., Robert Scott, sen., George Carmichael, Archibald Ingram, James Ritchie, Archibald Buchanan, Thomas Hopkirk, merchants, Robert Findlay, tanner, Robert Barbour, weaver, and John Wardrop, writer all in Glasgow. (note 10) Cochran was Provost Cochran, whose cautious and wise policy in the memorable 1745 had won for him the respect and confidence of all classes of the community; and John Murdoch, who succeeded to the Provostship in 1746 and 1747, and who was also Provost in the year the Bank was opened. (note 11)
In 1763 the firm was changed from Cochran, Murdoch, and Co, to Spiers, Murdoch and Co. The partners were- Alexander Spiers of Elderslie, John Bowman, Peter Murdoch, Andrew Blackburn, Robert Donald, and John Robertson, all merchants in Glasgow; and George Murdoch, Comptroller of the Customs, Port-Glasgow. It was afterwards changed to Murdoch, Robertson, and Co.; the partners of which were – John Bowman, merchant Glasgow; George Murdoch, late Comptroller of the Customs, Port-Glasgow; John Robertson, and Peter Murdoch, merchants, Glasgow, formerly partners of Spiers, Murdoch, and Co,;- Mr. Spiers, Mr Blackburn, and Mr Donald, having retired. (note 11) In 1793, the Glasgow Arms, Merchant’s Bank, and Messrs. Thomson’s Bank, failed but all of them paid in full. The trustee for the creditors of the “Arms” was Mr Walter Ewing McLea, merchant in Glasgow, father of James Ewing, Esq of Levenside. In 1793 no fewer than 1956 bankruptcies passed through the Gazette, of which number 26 were banking companies.
In the Edinburgh Gazette Nov 5 to Nov 8 1816 there was this notice:
Notice to the creditors of the late John Robertson, Banker and Merchant in Glasgow.
The trustee on the estate of the said John Robertson being now about to pay such of his creditors whose debts were owing previous to the original sequestration of his estate in 1792.
With regard to the two oldest of Glasgow’s indigenous banks, “The Ship” and “Glasgow Arms”, it may be remarked that the latter company removed, about 1765, from their antique office in Bridgegate, to a two-storey land, No 55 King street, east side. The house is still standing, a few doors south from Prince’s Street. The cashier lived above the bank. After being there for about twelve years, “The Arms” again moved, in 1778, to more commodious premises in the west part of the town. In March of that year, they purchased a tenement, then newly erected, in Miller Street (the second from the bottom, east side), from George Ferrie, wright, who had feued several stances from John Miller, of Westerton, maltman in Glasgow, after whom this fine old aristocratic-looking street got its name. they paid £1,340 for this property.
At this time the cashier was John Robertson, who resided above the banking-office. The accountant, Mr Broadie Wyllie, who is well remembered as a gentleman of extremely methodical habits, resided in his country house, still existing, on the east side of the “Byre’s Road”, Partick (a curious specimen of the suburban retreats of ancient men of business, with its “corbie” gables, and thatched roof), and was so punctual in his movements that people along the road used to say they could tell the very hours, from Mr Wyllie’s precision in passing their door, on his queer-looking pony, to and from the bank. They had one teller, Mr William Walker (afterwards Session-Clerk), and three subordinates. (note 12)
The John Robertson referred to in these extracts may be John Robertson Senior (who married Katherine Hutchison) or John Robertson Junior (who married Elizabeth Murdoch) in my family tree. I have not yet been able to separate successfully the interests of each. John Senior was in partnership with Murdoch and it was his daughter (Elizabeth Murdoch) who John Robertson Junior married in 1766. They had eight children including a son, John Murdoch Robertson and Catherine Robertson, who married Thomas Sweet in 1787.
The Spinningdale Cotton Co was established with, among others, David Dale (who went on to found New Lanark). Dale established cotton mills in places as far apart as Oban, Stanley in Perthshire and Spinningdale in Sutherland. Spinningdale, the most conspicuously philanthropic of these ventures, was established with the specific intention to create industry, wealth and employment in the Highlands. (note 13) The intention at Spinningdale was to produce shawls, simple coarse fabrics and handkerchiefs…made from raw materials imported into Glasgow and shipped monthly from Leith or Edinburgh. (note 14)
William was in partnership with his brother John at the Smithfield Iron Company or the Smithfield Nailree (see above). The Jones Directory of 1787 has the following entry:
Robertson William, merchant, at the nail-work, Broomielaw.
“Expansion of the Iron industry in Scotland at the end of the eighteenth century was the result of the invention of new ways of applying steam power to the furnaces, forges and mills. The local availability of coal and ironstone led in 1787 to proposals by John Gillies (of the Dalnotter Iron Works), William Robertson (of the Smithfield Iron Co.) and John Grieve (of Bo’ness) for the setting up of iron Furnaces and forges in Muirkirk, some twenty miles south of Glasgow in the hills on the Lanarkshire/Ayrshire border. These three were joined in 1788 by Thomas Edington, manager of Cadells of Cramond (for by now the Cadell family had bought the Crammond Iron Works from the Carron Company) with the result that the following year saw the establishment of the Muirkirk Iron Works” (note 15)
The first ironworks in Ayrshire, at Muirkirk, was founded in 1787 and continued in production until 1921. The remains of the blowing-engine house, furnace bank and foundations of three furnaces are spectacular. There are also considerable remains of the works canal. (note 16)
James Robertson was cashier for the Merchants’ Bank in Glasgow in 1792.
The John Tait Directory 1783-84 refers to a James Robertson, accountant. Merchant Bank.
The entry in the Jones Directory of 1787 is:
Robertson James, treasurer to the Merchant Bank, 3d flat Paterson’s land, south side Argyle Street.
Alexander is a cousin to John Robertson and is mentioned in the will of Hugh Hutchison of Southfield, Maybole, Ayrshire.
The Jones Directory of 1787:
Robertson Alexander, writer, 3d storey Paterson’s land, south side Argyle Street.
1 Scots Magazine for Sunday 1 February 1789 under a heading of “Bankrupts”:
Feb 22 Hogg, Copland, Sweet & Co., manufacturers in Glasgow and John Hogg, Thomas Sweet and William Copland as individuals.
2 Annals of Glasgow A brief account of the City from its origin, till 1816. James Cleland, L.L.D.
4 1936-37 Glasgow post Office Directory
Sweet, J Robertson. Agency manager (The National Insurance of Great Britain Ltd, 145 St Vincent Street C2) House: 12 Barrington Drive C4.
5 In the Glasgow Postal Directory for 1904-05 (at least) there is an entry for John Sweet of J Sweet & Co grain and oatmeal agents and merchants with premises at 41 Robertson Street and a home at 4 Cromwell Square, Strathbungo
6 Terrible suicide of a Scotch clergyman. Extract from: Evening Times, 23 August 1883.
Death of W.G. Sweet who jumped overboard from SS Manitoban in Belle Isle Strait, 6 August 1883.
Manuscript note on mount regarding Sweet’s drinking habit and resignation.
7 History of Govan by T C F Brotchie 1905 Chapter XI
8 Tobacco Lords; T.M.Devine. John and William were partners (with others) in Robert McKay & Co SRO CC9/7/84/2 53.
9 Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship by George Stewart 1881
10 Paisley Herald of 15 Sept, 1855
11 Glasgow, past and present: illustrated in Dean of Guild Court reports, and …
12 By James Pagan, Aliquis, Robert Reid, J. B., Guild Court (Glasgow, Strathclyde). Printed by J. Macnab, 1851 – Glasgow (Scotland)
13 Glasgow, past and present: illustrated in Dean of Guild Court reports, and … By James Pagan, Aliquis, Robert Reid, J. B., Guild Court (Glasgow, Strathclyde). Printed by J. Macnab, 1851 – Glasgow (Scotland)’
14 New Lanark New Lanark
The Life and Times of George Dempster 1712 – 1818
15 ‘Glasgow’ by David Daiches 1977.
Alexander is a cousin to John Robertson and is mentioned in the will of Hugh Hutchison of Southfield, Maybole, Ayrshire.
The Jones Directory of 1787:
Robertson Alexander, writer, 3d storey Paterson’s land, south side Argyle Street.