A friend once ran an antique shop on the island of Arran. He had an eye for interesting pieces, often picked up at Glasgow auctions, and one day he had on display a Victorian embroidery sampler, found rolled up at the back of a chest of drawers. The talents of the young seamstress clearly lay outwith sewing – in fact, she had given up halfway through and stopped in mid sentence. She had however stitched long enough to identify herself – Louise Clinkskill.
With a surname like that, her family background rapidly revealed itself. Louise’s father was James Clinkskill, born in Cupar, Fife around 1811, a mechanical engineer running his own business. Her mother was Maria Catherine Josephine Michel, born around 1813 in the Moselle region of France. Their eldest son, James, moved to Canada and settled in Saskatoon. There he became Mayor and was involved in the founding of the University of Saskatchewan.
Louise was the second youngest child of the family. In 1888, she married John Woodburn, a sugar merchant from Mauchline in Ayrshire. They moved to a fine mansion, ‘Carlston’, in Bridge of Weir, where Louise had four children – James, Lillias, Josephine and a fourth, unidentified, child. After the death of her husband in 1914, Louise moved to ‘Westfield’, a smaller property in Bridge of Weir, where she died in 1941.
Sometime after I had bought the sampler, I was in Glasgow’s Great Western Auctions on one of the viewing days, looking, as ever, for photograph albums. On opening a likely looking album, I was transfixed – a series of photos captioned ‘Louise Clinkskill’. After these pictures, the album contents moved on to portraits of uniformed seafarers. I was not optimistic about being able to buy the album as collectors love photos of men in uniform, and on the day of the auction, it sold for far more than my modest budget.
Afterwards, I explained the situation to the owner of the auction house and asked if I could pass on a note to the purchaser in the hope that they would photograph the picture for me. She (bless her!) went a step further and got a member of her staff to photograph all the pictures of Louise for me before the album passed to its new owner.
So now Louise’s sampler and her photo hang side by side on the kitchen wall, reminders of an extraordinary co-incidence and of the kindness of a stranger.
[The main photo shows ‘Westfield’, Bridge of Weir.]