James Bryce McLennan (1869-1950) and Robina Birnie Lawrence (1868-1946)

On the 21st of August 1946 a portrait in oil of Mrs. J. B. McLennan (nee Robina Birnie Lawrence) by Alexander Spottiswoode Duthie was presented to Glasgow Corporation by Mr and Mrs J. Bryce McLennan, Hotel Swisse, Hyeres (Var), France, formerly of Ardoch, Blanefield 1 (2566)

Robina
Figure 1. Robina Birnie McLennan. © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

Robina Birnie Lawrence was born at Gowanhill, Rathen, Aberdeenshire on the 23rd April 1868. Her parents, William Jamieson Lawrence, a general merchant and Elizabeth Hall Morgan, the daughter of a shipmaster, had married at St. Clement’s Aberdeen on the 25th of November 1837. 2  Robina was named after her paternal grandmother.

The family remained at Gowanhill and by 1881 Robina had five older siblings and one younger. 3 Sadly, her mother Elizabeth had died of tuberculosis at Bridge of Allan in 1879. Her father was now a merchant, a bakery shop owner and a farmer. 5 However, he died in Aberdeen on the 29th of September 1885 6 and the business was taken over by Robina’s brother William. Gowanhill was now a shop and a farm and the home of William, Robina and their three sisters. The business also employed four ‘servants’. 7

James Bryce McLennan was born on the 26th of December 1869 at 68, Pollok Street, Tradeston, Glasgow. His parents were James McLennan, a ‘commercial traveller’ and Henrietta Bryce. 8 They had married on the 24th of December 1868 in Govan and went on to have seven children. (This was James McLennan`s second marriage; he had a son Andrew born in 1866 by his first marriage to Agnes Watt Logan. Agnes died, aged only nineteen, in the same year that Andrew was born. 9 By the 1881 census the family had moved to 88, Leslie Street, Govan and James` father was now a ‘wholesale wine and spirit merchant’. Ten years later, James was a commercial clerk aged 21 living at 20, South Crescent, Ardrossan with his family. 10  It was probably about this time that James joined his father in the wine and spirits trade. His great grandfather Alexander Bryce founded the firm of Alexander Bryce and Co. in 1812. 11 James McLennan, senior was born in 1838 in Coylton, Ayrshire, the son of an innkeeper. He moved to Glasgow in 1853 to work for a firm of bonded storekeepers. Twelve years later he was employed as a ‘traveller’ for Alexander Bryce and Co. Three years after the death of his first wife, James married Henrietta Bryce the granddaughter of Alexander on Christmas Eve 1868. 12  In 1875 he was appointed as a partner in the firm. The other partners were Alexander Kirkpatrick and Peter Clark both sons-in-law of Alexander Bryce. Alexander Kirkpatrick retired in 1875 and when Peter Clark died in 1882, James McLennan became sole owner of the firm and very wealthy. His eldest son by his marriage to Henrietta was James Bryce McLennan. Father and son were both members of the Trades’ House of Glasgow with James senior elected Deacon Convenor in 1884. In his memory a portrait bust was presented to the House.13 In 1892, as Deacon Convenor, James McLennan purchased part of the façade of the 1796 Adam designed Assembly Rooms (Atheneum) in Ingram Street then under demolition. He presented this to Glasgow and after being moved several times has, since 1991, been located at the entrance to Glasgow Green – The McLennan Arch. 14

On the 21st of December 1898 at the Free Church in Rathen, Aberdeenshire, James Bryce McLennan, wine merchant, married Robina Birnie Lawrence. James` address was Newhall, Dowanhill Gardens, Partick which was his parents` home at the time. 15 In the same year, or very soon thereafter, the couple took over the tenancy of Ardoch, an estate in Strathblane, Stirlingshire owned by Sir Archibald Edmonston, at a yearly rent of £40. 16 They then began to cultivate the garden at Ardoch, which was later to become a showpiece of the district and for which they became well known further afield.

On the 7th of February 1899 James McLennan senior died at his house, Newhall, Hillhead. 17 The firm was bought from the trustees of his estate by James and his brother Andrew and they continued to run the business successfully for many years.

With James having the business to run (in the census of 1901 his occupation is ‘wine and spirit merchant’) responsibility for the garden at Ardoch seems to have fallen, initially at least, to Robina. Within a few years the garden became well established so much so that it was open to the public and advertised in the Press. On the 11th and 12th of September 1909 King Edward VII visited Strathblane and a local newspaper reported: Mrs McLennan of Ardoch, noted for their (sic) fine gardens, which were opened to the public, had created a floral tribute in the form of a crown of red, white and blue flowers. 18

In 1911 when the couple had been married for twelve years, they were employing three servants and a chauffeur. James was still listed as a wholesale wine and spirit merchant. 19 However, in 1916 the firm of Alexander Bryce and Co was wound up 20 presumably giving James the opportunity to devote more time to landscape gardening. Robina and James continued to cultivate the garden and advertised ‘Open Days’ in the Glasgow Herald. This was usually accompanied by a report of the garden in glowing terms. Robina featured in articles in Scottish Country Life:

Ardoch 4
Figure 2. The Rock Garden at Ardoch, Blanefield. Its owner, Mrs. R. B. McLennan, is the well-known landscape gardener, who devotes special attention to this department of her art. Scottish Country Life, September 1930, p162, (Photo John A. Stewart).
KM_C364e-20160610121659
Figure. 3 Ardoch, Blanefield, Stirlingshire (from an old photograph)
KM_C364e-20160610121659
Figure 4. Ardoch in the Trees (from an old photograph)

The following notice appeared in the Glasgow Herald: 21

Advert

Mrs. McLennan advertised herself as a landscape gardener/garden designer and had a hand in designing gardens up and down the country. The following newspaper article dated 26 May 1933 is in the donor’s file at the Glasgow Museum Resource Centre as are the two old postcards shown in figures 3 and 4.

                                                               A DREAM GARDEN

BLANEFIELD COUPLE`S CLEVER WORK

There is a garden in Blanefield, so lovely that it takes your breath away, and so clever that it might have happened by some divine chance. It belongs to Mr. and Mrs. R. B. McLennan, who for 35 years have made it their life work.

Beyond a sweep of smooth lawn rises the rock garden, ablaze with azaleas and rhododendrons. In the water garden, a tiny stream runs between low banks into a brown pool edged with reeds and golden marigolds. Further on is the “pleasaunce”, a quaint, formal garden of circular green lawns and square flower beds filled with dignified yellow tulips.

Down a mossy path lies the last part of the 13 acres – the woodland garden – where the wild hyacinths lie like a blue mist among the long grasses and the clumps of fern, and the rabbits come out boldly to play.

Although the Blanefield garden was originally begun as a hobby, Mrs. McLennan and her husband have since taken up the work of landscape gardening as a profession. Mrs. McLennan has designed gardens from Inverness to Buckinghamshire.

Looking at the garden in the glory of a May afternoon, one could not but wonder at the beauty of it. If ever an enthusiasm justified itself, this one has. – M.                           

In 1938, the couple gave up the tenancy of Ardoch 22 and seem to have moved temporarily to The Old Cloth Hall, Cranbrook, Kent. The electoral registers for Cranbrook 23 confirm that they were occupants of the property in 1939, although whether they were owners or tenants is unclear. The property had extensive gardens which would have appealed to them. Their next move was to France. James B. McLennan was described as ‘an ardent Francophile and well-read in French Literature’. 24 In 1938, he presented a bronze statue of Robert Burns to the British Institute at the Sorbonne. Coming from Ayrshire, his ‘ancestors were well acquainted with him (Burns)’. 25 During the occupation the statue was hidden to prevent it being melted down by the Nazis. After the war it was restored and is presently on display at the Sorbonne.

20180122_155930 - Burns Statue at Sorbonne
Figure 5. Photograph from Erica Burnham, Head of Library, IT and Facilities, University of London Institute in Paris. (Used with permission)
20180122_155925 - Plaque on Statue
Figure 6. Photograph from Erica Burnham, Head of Library, IT and Facilities, University of London Institute in Paris. (Used with permission)

In gratitude for preserving the statue, the Burns Federation presented a set of the Scottish National Dictionary to the Sorbonne in 1946. 26

At some point the couple moved to France settling at Hyeres on the south coast. They were of course caught up in the Nazi occupation and Robina, in particular, suffered a great deal. In a letter written in 1947 on behalf of Dr T. J. Honeyman in reply to J. McLennan Boyd a nephew of the couple he mentions that Mrs McLennan ‘had gone through so much during the occupation and that she had been “such an outstanding figure in the history of landscape gardening’. He was also ‘particularly charmed’ by the merit of the painting. 27

Robina McLennan died at the Hotel Suisse, Hyeres, France on the 15th of August 1946. She was 78. James arranged for her body to be brought back to Blanefield and buried in the churchyard. He inserted a notice of her death in the Glasgow Herald : ‘Ruby (nee Lawrence) loving wife and companion for 47 years of James Bryce McLennan, late of Ardoch, Blanefield, Stirlingshire’. 28

Gravestone Ruby Inscription
Fig 7  Gravestone Inscription in Blanefield Cemetery. (Photo by author)

       The portrait was presented after her death perhaps as a memorial to her. The artist seems to have been a family member as one of Robina`s brothers was Robert Duthie Lawrence. In the probate of Robina`s will she is described as ‘Lawrence or McLennan Robina Birnie of Old Cloth Hall, Cranbrook, Kent and Hostellerie du Beau Rivage, Carqueiranne, (Var), France’. 29

After his return from France, James McLennan lived on in Strathblane  at the Kirkhouse Inn. He died there on the 3rd of March 1950 aged eighty His death was reported by a nephew John McLennan 30 and a notice appeared in the Glasgow Herald. 31

References

  1. Glasgow Museums Archives
  2. Scotland`s People, Birth Certificate
  3. ancestry.co.uk, Census 1881
  4. Scotland`s People, Death Certificate
  5. Scotland`s People, Census 1881
  6. Family Search, Find a Grave
  7. Scotland`s People, Census 1891
  8. Scotland`s People, Birth Certificate
  9. Scotland`s People, Death Certificate
  10. ancestry.co.uk, Census 1891
  11. https://jenjen999.wordpress.com/alexander-bryce-1788-1855-and-his-business/
  12. Scotland`s People, Marriage Certificate
  13. The Records of the Trades’ House of Glasgow, Craig R Bryce M.Sc., M.Ed., F.R.S.A. Trades House Honorary Archivist, MMXVII
  14. glasgowhistory.co.uk/Books/EastGlasgowDictionary/…/McLennanArch.htm
  15. Scotland`s People, Marriage Certificate
  16. Valuation Roll, Stirlingshire 1900 – 1901, Stirling Archives
  17. Scotland`s People, Death Certificate
  18. Stirling Saturday Observer, 18th September 1909 and strathblanefield.org.uk/history/KingsVisit
  19. Scotland`s People, Census 1911
  20. The Edinburgh Gazette, 9th June 1916, p 1067
  21. Glasgow Herald, 3rd June 1930, p1
  22. Valuation Roll, Stirlingshire, 1938-39, Stirling Archives
  23. findmy past.co.uk
  24. Letter from a nephew on file at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre
  25. Ibid
  26. robertburns.plus.com/MonumentsAyr.htm)
  27. Object File, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre
  28. Glasgow Herald 20th August 1946 p1
  29. clanmclennan-worldwide.com/genealogy
  30. Scotland`s People, Death Certificate
  31. Glasgow Herald, 4th March 1950, p1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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