Carsphairn Heritage Initiative

Postcard “The Last Spinner, Carsphairn”

The photo is of Jean McLellan (1832-1910, nee McAdam), dubbed ‘The Last Spinner, Carsphairn’ on this postcard dating from between 1902 and 1919. She is standing outside Greenfoot Cottage, where she raised eight children with her husband Alexander, a labourer at Woodhead Lead Mine.

The mine was operational for thirty-five years in the mid-1800s a few miles from the village, and the discovery of lead so close to home greatly inspired the son of Jean McLellan’s next-door neighbour. Alexander McKay (1841-1917), son of a wright and master carpenter, was a part-time cowherd and self-taught amateur geologist. He was a frequent visitor to the mine library, reading about geology and especially the Australian gold-fields. When he emigrated to New Zealand in 1863, he became a fossil hunter, then a government geologist. He is credited with being one of the fathers of New Zealand geology and has a dinosaur, a waterfall, cliffs in the Antarctic and a geology museum all named after him.

Not much is known about Jean McLellan’s life; she helped to raise her daughter Elizabeth’s illegitimate son and posed for several photos like this one in her later years. After her husband’s death she is listed as living with her son William’s family, still at Greenfoot. Forty years after her death the cottage was demolished and the site lay derelict for another forty years until being purchased by the Community Council and turned into a much needed community garden in 2011.

The Scottish Lowland muckle wheel shown on the postcard is one of three known examples in the village. One was presented to the Stewartry Museum, Kirkcudbright by Miss Alice Clark Kennedy of Knockgray in 1930, and is still on display. The last spinner recorded on the Census was actually Elizabeth Robertson in 1851. Also listed were two former spinners who had become paupers, Jane Johnston and Janet McCulloch.

There were two grocery shops and a post-office where the postcard might have been purchased. One shop is still a thriving business, the premises and adjoining house having been bought by the community in 1995. Its previous owners included sisters Di and Helen Lawrence, originally from Glasgow, who contributed many of the old photos in the Carsphairn Archive, including others of Jean McLellan posing with a spinning wheel with distaff and flax.

The postcard’s recipient is Peter Milroy, who moved with with his wife and nine children to the village on his appointment as village policeman in the early 1890s. It was sent from his son Hugh Milroy, from Liverpool, soon after Hugh and his brother Alec moved there to pursue their police careers, in around 1919. Hugh later became Assistant Chief Constable of Liverpool in 1940.

After PC Milroy, the village was served by several policemen, including in the late 1920s by a PC James Alexander McLellan, grandson of Jean McLellan, The Last Spinner, Carsphairn.