Throughout his memoir, John Urie doesn’t mention the home and family he set up with his wife. Instead he tends to focus on his own life and experiences. From the Scotland Census (Ancestry), however, I discovered that he had a 4 children (3 sons and a daughter) and a wife, Margaret. From this and his profession as a photographer, I assume that John neglected to go into too much detail about his family for the sake of privacy which he understood fondly through his professional career. Perhaps, however, he wanted to focus on his popular and exciting personal life more for the sake of entertainment.
However, he John does discuss his birth family and their formative influence in his early life.
First of all his father. Like John, his father was also named John and even more interestingly, our John named one of HIS sons John. It was very common to name the first born son after his father but I think it is also indicator of how family oriented John was and the legacy of his family he recognises and respects. John’s father was a typical working class man. As John mentions, “My father was a handloom weaver in Paisley” (10). But John’s future prospects of following in his fathers footsteps were cut short by the financial decline of handloom weavers. On the left is a chart showing the steady decline of wages following John’s birth in 1820 (click to enlarge). The figures essentially show the weekly wage drop from around 26 shillings/week to 13 in the space of 28 years. I think this is a staggering decline in this trade that a person like John would recognise and look to pursue more upcoming trades, which he did with photography. But it was common for a father to introduce his child to this sort of work. As Scott (2007) mentions, “many women and children also became involved in the weaving trades“. However, his father’s work was something that John would have cherished regardless, but not because he enjoyed it. As he mentions on page 13, “but in a short time I rebelled against weaving altogether. The work was too monotonous, and I determined that I would be something better than a weaver”. John’s father gave him the chance to find his own preference in his work by exposing him to this type of work, and without this experience, John perhaps wouldn’t have became a photographer.
Moving away from work, John’s father was also a big influence in John’s established interest in local clubs. He mentions how his “father was an enthusiastic member of the Encyclopedia Club” (27) and he was “his companion in most of his outings”. It was actually his mother who instigated and convinced John’s father to take him to these clubs but nevertheless, his family was his clear inspiration for his club enjoyment which we know he enjoyed greatly. I particularly like part of John’s memoir mentions “I can remember the men kept up a continual stream of talk about the Reform Bill, Johnny Russell, Earl Grey, and other political leaders of the time” (29). This to me is a very influential part of John’s childhood. The education, the society, the people would have been very influential on John’s ideals. As he mentions, the sort of conversations consisted of ” talking about James Watt and the steam engine, the Jacquard loom, and the spinning jenny” (29). The talks of inventions especially would have been very influential with John’s photography and he later reflects on the changes in photography technology, much like he discussed here at the clubs.
A common theme of Scotland at this time was the aspect of poverty and hunger. We could have assumed that John would have experienced these but according to another book John Urie wrote “Glasgow and Paisley: Eighty Years Ago“, “I never suffered from hunger at home, but I have often taken the piece of scone or oakcake given me by my mother and shared it with some youngster poorer than myself” (11). So evidently, there was poverty in Paisley during John’s childhood but not for him and the fact that John opted to share leftover food demonstrated the close society of “50000” people in the town. John clearly loved Paisley and Glasgow. Perhaps my favourite quote of his came in this book when he elegantly said “In fact, when I think of the energetic, aggressive, enlightened townspeople of dear old Paisley, I feel proud to call myself a native”. In a sense, John is moulded by Paisley and he is clearly very thankful for it.
- Urie, J. (1908). Reminiscenes of eighty years by John Urie. Paisley: A. Gardner, 1908
- Urie, J. (1910). Glasgow and Paisley: Eighty Years Ago. Paisley : A. Gardner, 1910
- Scott, John Jesse. (2007). The Scottish Handloom Weavers, 1830–1850: Politics, Economics, and Identity.
- Assistant Commissioner’s Report from South of Scotland, P.P., 1839, (195), XLII, p. 14-20
- Parish: Glasgow St Enoch; ED: 11; Page: 4; Line: 8; Roll: cssct1881_230