Photo-sleuthing – The Kirkconnel album

This was my first photo-sleuth project – a collection of over one hundred glass negatives, bought in 1998 at auction in Ayr, showing a beautiful Georgian house in the country. The occupants were young people in their twenties and the period was probably pre-WW1. The only clue was a car registration plate, LS 379, a Selkirkshire number from the early 1900s. The car was an Argyll, a Scottish car manufactured between 1899 and 1932.

The only other identifiable photo was of the South African war memorial (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) on North Bridge in Edinburgh.

I sent a picture of the house to a selection of local newspapers and to ‘The Scots Magazine’ but, while getting a number of replies, received no firm identification. As a last resort, I phoned a local library, explained the mystery and asked the librarian to open his copy of the magazine at page 57. He took one look at the photo of the house and burst out laughing, saying that his in-laws played bridge there every Friday night with the present owners…

Kirkland, Kirkconnel

The house was Kirkland, Kirkconnel, near Sanquhar, and the occupants were the Stewarts. The current owner (of the bridge foursome) kindly sent me up-to-date photos of the house. Armed with the address of the property, census records provided all the information I needed about the family – the six children of James Stewart (1853-1916) and his wife, Agnes Walker.

The Stewart family

I wrote a follow-up article about my findings. As a result, I was contacted by descendants of the Stewarts, naturally interested in obtaining copies of the photos. The interior of the house had been full of the most wonderful antique furniture which my correspondents still remembered from childhood.

Kirkland interior

When the brothers and sisters (none of whom married) left Kirkconnel, they moved to Port Seton, bringing that wonderful furniture with them. But the family encountered financial problems and the descendants recalled how the Port Seton house became increasingly sparsely furnished as the antiques were sold off.

When I last heard from them, the Stewarts’ descendants were tracing their family history. One of them made the heart-felt observation “How I wish I had paid more attention and been a little nosier!”

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