Robert Byres was born circa 1750, based on his given age of 54 years at his death on 28th at Philpstoun Gate and burial in Abercorn Cemetery, West Lothian, on 30th November 1804. 1 It is believed that "Philpstoun Gate" was the gatehouse or lodge to the south of Philpstoun House, at that time belonging to the Hope family of Hopetoun House (and Estates); but previously owned by the Dundas family. No record of Robert's birth, baptism or marriage have been found so far.
Robert first came to light as the father of William; before which he first appears in the official records as the father of his first known child - a daughter named Catherine born on the 5th and baptised at Kirkliston Church on the 12th April 1777. 2 The baptism entry shows Robert's partner or wife as Isabell(a) Reid. No further trace of daughter Catherine has been found.
Isobel Reid was the 5th daughter of William Reid and Catherine Shields, born on 28th May at Philpstoun village and baptised on 3rd June 1750 at Abercorn Church. 3 Isabell's father, William, is known to have been a (black)smith by trade, from baptism entries for some of his other children.
Map showing a part of West Lothian as surveyed by John Adair ca. 1737.
(Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)
Robert Byres and Isabell (Isobel) Reid would have a further eight children.
Their second and third children, possibly twin daughters named Agnes and Isabella (also known as Bell), were born circa 1780. 4 No official record of their births or baptisms have been found to date. It is believed they were born, or were baptised at Bathgate, West Lothian.
Robert and Isabell's first son Thomas is recorded as born on 17th and baptised on the 23rd June 1782 at the Kirkliston Church. 5 No further trace of son Thomas has been found. He may have even joined the British Army of Navy during the Napoleonic wars from 1803-1815.
Their next daughter named Jean, was born on 20th and baptised 29th February 1784; this time in the church at Uphall. 6 The baptism entry in the register is the first mention of Isabell as a “spouse” to Robert, suggesting that they were either common-law “wed” or officially church married, although no formal record has been found to date.
In a reasonably rare occurrence, Robert and Isabell were to have a second set of twin daughters named Helen and Janet, born on 19th and baptised on the 23rd July 1786. 7 Robert is mentioned as being “at Magdalenes”, believed to be the Magdalenes property shown on early maps as located on the eastern fringe of Linlithgow.
A contemporary account of St Magdalene's describes -
There is said also to have been a monastery of Dominicans or Black Friars here. Some remains of a religious house, probably this, may still be discerned in the E. part of the town. ... St Magdalane's, on the E. of the town, was a hospitum, or place of entertainment for strangers. It had originally belong to a set of Lazarites; but, on their extinction or secularisation, was applied to this purpose, according to the beneficial institution of James I. The eminence, at the bottom of which this hospital stood, is still designed pilgrim-hill. 8
A modern interpretation of this location is -
The Hospital of St Mary Magdalene is first mentioned in 1335. The suggestion that it provided for pilgrims is apparently mere guesswork, based on the fact that there is a "Pilgrims' Hall" in the vicinity. According to a charter of 1528, this was a poor's hospital, with a chapel and a cemetery. Spottiswoode states that this hospital was "formerly governed by the Lazarites". There is no evidence of this. There are references c.1251 to land held by this order in the territory of "Kathlac" (possibly Cathlaw: NS 9872), but no connection between this land or this order and St Mary Magdalene's hospital is indicated. In origin this may have been a hospital for lepers as payments to the Lazar House, as distinct from the alms-house, of Linlithgow are recorded in the mid-15th century. 9
Robert and Isabell's second son, William Byres was born on 30th of September, probably in the village of Philpstoun, and baptised on the 18th of October 1789 at the Abercorn Church. 10
The couple had their last known child and a son also named Robert, born on the 21st of June, also probably in the village of Philpstoun, baptised on the 23rd of June 1793 at the Abercorn Church. 11
Father Robert, is stated as being “in Philpstoun” for the birth of the last two children, and as most of the children were baptised nearby, it has been guessed that Robert was most likely a farm labourer, working around different farms within a reasonable distance of, and with the family possibly living in the central location of Philpstoun village.
Tragedy was to strike in the second year of the new century, with their fourth daughter Jean, dying young as a 16 year old teenager in Philpstoun, as there is a death / burial entry in the registers of Abercorn Church on 5th June 1801. 12
Robert and Isabell's daughter Agnes, was the first of their prodigy to marry – Walter Thorburn – on 28th of July 1804 at Kirkliston.13 At the time, Agnes was living in the parish of Abercorn, probably at Philpstoun village, and Walter was living in Kirkliston parish. Walter and Agnes would have one known child – a daughter Isabella born circa 1806. 14
Tragedy was to again strike, with the death of Robert snr at Philpstoun Gate on 28th, and burial in the Abercorn Cemetery on the 30th of November 1804, at the relatively young age of 54 years. 15
At this time, the family would have consisted of wife Isabell (54); Isabella or Bell (24); Thomas (22); twins Helen and Janet (18); William (15) and Robert jnr (11).
Within a short time, their third daughter Isabella, also known as Bell, would marry John Dunlop circa 1805. 16 No official record of their marriage has come to light so far, and John and Isabella would successfully have their own family of nine children.
Daughter Helen was the next bride to walk the church aisle – wed to Colin McBeath, a labourer, possibly around the year 1814. 17 No record of their marriage has been found.
The youngest son of the family, Robert jnr would marry Catherine, also known as Kate, Henderson, both "in Philipston" [sic]; at Abercorn on the 4th of June 1815. 18 Both Robert jnr and Catherine are stated to be “in Philpstoun this Parish”. Robert jnr and Kate, had their first child, a daughter named Isabella, probably in honour of Robert jnr's mother, born at Abercorn on the 10th, and baptised at the same parish church on the 22nd March 1818. 19
A more heart-wrenching tragedy was to strike, with the sudden death of mother Isabella Reid at Philpstoun Gate on 8th, and her burial in the Abercorn Cemetery on the 10th of August 1819; at the respectful age of 69 years. 21
With most of the children married off and possibly living elsewhere, this event would set the stage for some momentous future decisions and actions.
Philpstoun Gate at the entrance to Philpstoun House.
(Image courtesy of Google Maps Street View)
- 1. GROS : OPR Deaths 661/00 0030 0489 - Abercorn
- 2. GROS : OPR Births 667/00 0020 0174 - Kirkliston - Witnesses were Will(iam) Reid and Lewis Potter
- 3. IGI Batch No C116614 Source Call No 1066610 - Abercorn - Witnesses were Robert Arklan (?) and John Thomson
- 4. Based on their stated ages at time of their deaths - 75 and 82 years respectively
- 5. GROS : OPR Births 667/00 0020 0190 - Kirkliston - Witnesses were John Bisset and John Shankley (?)
- 6. GROS : OPR Births 672/00 0020 0120 - Uphall - Witnesses were William Douglas and (?)
- 7. GROS : OPR Births 668/00 0040 0439 - Linlithgow
- 8. Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-1799 - Linlithgow
- 9. RCAHMS - St Magdalenes Hospital
- 10. GROS : OPR Births 661/00 0030 0111 - Abercorn
- 11. GROS : OPR Births 661/00 0030 0120 - Abercorn
- 12. GROS : OPR Deaths 672/00 0484 - Abercorn
- 13. GROS : OPR Marriages 667/00 0020 0467 - Kirkliston
- 14. Based on her age given as 72 at her death in 1878
- 15. GROS : OPR Deaths 661/00 0030 0489 - Abercorn
- 16. Based on the 1806 year for the birth of their first of nine known children
- 17. Based on the 1815 year for the birth of their first of six known children
- 18. GROS : OPR Marriages 661/00 0040 0226 - Abercorn
- 19. GROS : OPR Births 661/00 0030 0209 - Abercorn
- 20. GROS : OPR Marriages 698/A00 0020 0076 - Ratho
- 21. GROS : OPR Deaths 661/00 0516 - Abercorn