Cumnock People


James Keir Hardie was born in Legbrannock, Bothwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland on 15th August 1856. His mother was Mary Keir from Airdrie in Lanarkshire and father William Aitken although his mother and father never married. Mary Keir met and married David Hardie, a ships carpenter from Carron, Stirlingshire in 1859 in Bothwell, Hamilton, Lanarkshire. They went on to have 7 children, half siblings of James Keir Hardie.

He started off life as a miner at a very early age then a Secretary of the Miners Union and journalist, founder of the Labour Party and first Labour M.P. He moved to Cumnock shortly after he married Lillias Balfour Wilson of Hamilton in 1880. In August 1881 the newly formed Ayrshire Miners’ Association (of which James Keir Hardie was secretary) called a strike for a 10% wage rise. Hunger forced the men back to work after 10 weeks and the Union could no longer afford to pay Hardie.

It was a difficult time for his family but his luck changed. A local minister who acted as a weekly contributor to the Cumnock News became ill and Hardie took over the job for 4 years. He wrote a weekly feature Black Diamonds which he signed The Trapper.

In 1887 Hardie launched a monthly journal “The Miner”. Hardie had known eviction and wished for security for his family. A supporter, Adam Birkmyre offered Hardie a loan and “Lochnorris” the family home was built. In 1886 Keir Hardie became the Secretary of the Ayrshire Miners Union and on 26th August 1888 founded the Scottish Labour Party. He was elected MP in 1892 representing West Ham until 1895. In 1900 he was re-elected MP for Merthyr Tydfil in Wales and was still their MP at his death on 16th September 1915.

It was in Cumnock that he formed his political philosophy. Many of his speeches and writings were composed in the solitude of his summerhouse at the bottom of the garden, overlooking the River Lugar. The Lochnorris Collection was presented to Cumnock and Doon Valley District Council in order to form a permanent memorial to James Keir Hardie and his family. Hardie and Lilias brought up James, Duncan and Nan at Lochnorris, living there until his death on 26 Sep 1915 in 8 South Park Terrace, Glasgow, Scotland.

Hardie’s wife Lillie died in 1924. Nan married Emrys Hughes in 1924 and they lived at Lochnorris, both becoming active in local politics. After her death Emrys Hughes remarried in 1949 to Martha Cleland and it was she who bequeathed the Lochnorris collection to Cumnock and Doon Valley District Council in 1982 before selling Lochnorris in 1983. She died later that year.

Keir Hardie Family Album is HERE

Keir Hardie Memoir is HERE

Nan Hardie Hughes, socialist, political activist and Provost of Cumnock was born Agnes Paterson Hardie in Cumnock on 5th October 1885, the eldest daughter of James Keir Hardie, socialist and politician, and his wife, Lillias (Lillie) Wilson. Keir Hardie had two sons, James and Duncan, but it was Agnes who became his political heir. She developed an unusual political awareness and insight into labour politics and socialism, augmented by contact with many of her father`s associates.

On 8 August 1924 Nan married Emrys Hughes (1894–1969) acting editor of Forward and a well-known journalist. He was active in the labour movement and an advocate of Keir Hardie`s attitudes towards pacifism and socialism. Nan placed herself mainly at his disposal, acting as housewife in Cumnock and supporting her husband`s ambitions in the Labour Party. She was involved in Hughes`s successful attempt to become Provost of Cumnock.

In the 1930s, however, Nan became more active in municipal politics, with a particular interest in housing and welfare provision. In 1933 she was elected to Cumnock Town Council, and she became Convenor of Cumnock Public Health Committee the following year. In 1935 she succeeded her husband as Provost and the two of them initiated a major programme of slum clearance and council-house building. Opposition from the chief landlord in the area, Lord Bute, was eventually overcome, with the result that by the start of the Second World War three-quarters of Cumnock`s population had been rehoused in low-rent, partially furnished accommodation. Nan`s also helped to make improvements in the leisure and welfare facilities in Cumnock – these included an open-air swimming-pool and park. As a magistrate of the juvenile court in the late 1930s, she was able to encourage the participation of youth within the community through sports activities rather than imposing draconian sentences. A measure of her popularity in the area was her appointment during the war as joint chairman of the Cumnock Red Cross and War Work party. This enabled her to officiate at all public meetings and to help to alleviate the wartime exigencies imposed on the inhabitants.

In 1946 Emrys Hughes was elected as Labour MP for South Ayrshire, with Nan having relinquished her council duties during the campaign tour. When he became ill soon afterwards, Nan again absented herself from duties, only then to fall seriously ill herself. This illness ended her public career. She had served unopposed on Cumnock town council for more than 11 years, playing a part in the transformation of the area`s welfare and housing facilities.

She was described as having a distinctive and well-defined bone structure and her face had a forthright and warm expression. In later years her white, wavy hair was offset by broad, dark eyebrows. Nan died in Ballochmyle Hospital, Mauchline, Ayrshire, on 27 June 1947, and her funeral took place in Cumnock, attended by many prominent members of various local government bodies in Ayrshire; she was buried at the New Cemetery, Cumnock. Emrys Hughes continued his career as a journalist and an MP. They had no children.

Cumnock Chronicle Friday October 31 1975

Obituaries – Ex-Provost J K H McTurk – a lifetime of service
The town of Cumnock suffered a deep sense of loss with the passing at Ballochmyle Hospital on Tuesday morning of ex-Provost James Keir Hardie McTurk, aged 56. A native of the town and a member of a family with a long history of civic service he was honoured in April 1972, by being given the Freedom of the Burgh as a mark of community respect. The granting of the Burgess Ticket at that time marked 25 years unbroken service to the Town Council and this continued to the present with Mr McTurk’s membership of Cumnock and Doon valley District Council, on which he was Vice-Convener.

A son of the late Mr and Mrs George McTurk, Keir was educated at the local Academy and he later took up employment in the Public Assistance Department of Ayr County Council where he served until 1948, with the exception of six years’ war service with the Royal Navy during which he sailed with many of the Russian convoys to Murmansk in the dark days of heavy naval losses. He was mentioned in dispatches and his Royal Navy connection was one which continued to be a source of quiet pride in post-war years and was evidenced by his subsequent membership of the Fo’c’sle Club in Cumnock.

After the war Keir entered the employment of the Department of Health and Social Security as a Civil Servant and he continued in this work until being admitted to Ballochmyle Hospital on October 8.

In 1947, at the age of 28, he was elected to Cumnock Town Council, topping the poll as he did on each occasion he stood for re-election. He filled the various offices of the council, ultimately serving as Provost from May 1963. In 1966 he was elected to represent Cumnock on Ayr County Council, thereby following in the footsteps of his father, Mr George McTurk, O.B.E. He was a member of many County Council committees, such as education, social work and finance.

He served as Chairman at various times on Cumnock Municipal Bank, the Joint Cemetery Committee, the Horticultural Society, the Working men’s Club and the Senior Citizens’ Club. Mr. McTurk was for many years a member of the River Purification Board in Ayrshire, ultimately becoming chairman. In this position he spared no effort in the board’s drive to safeguard the condition of Ayrshire’s rivers. He was also associated with the Cumnock Academy Parent-Teacher Association and served on the local Education Sub-Committee. He served on the local bench as a Justice of the Peace and he became a valued member of the Juvenile Court Panel in Cumnock. A lifelong member of Old Cumnock Parish Church, he was an Elder of that church for many years and served for a time as Treasurer before succeeding his late brother, Mr William McTurk, as Session Clerk.

On the occasion of being made a Freeman of Cumnock it was said of him “He has an intimate knowledge of the intricate machinery of most public bodies and has educated himself in the conduct of public affairs to a pitch and level few can aspire to. This has involved a great deal of determination and a singular strength of purpose. Some things in life are easily acquired – but this Burgess Ticket is not one of them. It has been well and truly earned. Many men have contributed much less and have been awarded a Knighthood for their efforts.”

Mr McTurk is survived by his wife, Betty Burgoyne, a New Cumnock lady, to whom the sympathy of the community is extended in her sad bereavement.

Death intimation
McTurk – At Ballochmyle Hospital, Mauchline, on 28th October 1975, Ex-Provost Keir McTurk, J.P., dearly loved husband of Betty Burgoyne, The Hillocks, Cumnock. Service at Cumnock Old Church, on Friday, 31st October, at 2:15 pm, funeral thereafter to Cumnock Cemetery at 3 pm.

James Keir Hardie McTurk now has a memorial stone and bridge named after him. They are situated behind Tower Street between the two car parks that link New Bridge Street with Ayr Road.

Elsie Menzies, MBE and Justice of the Peace

Cumnock Chronicle 21st June 1996
Menzies – peacefully at home on 18th June 1996, Elsie Lily Hill Menzies M.B.E., J.P., aged 70 years, beloved wife of the late William and dearly loved cousin of Cath and all the family.

Town is rocked by Elsie’s death

One of Cumnock’s most well-known and best-loved residents, Elsie Menzies, MBE, passed away on Tuesday morning at her Glaisnock Street home. Elsie’s death has come as a great shock to her family and all who knew her through her tireless dedication to helping various community organizations. She was at 70-years-old, still very active in her work within and around Cumnock including collecting doe Bosnia and distributing EC free foods.

Elsie lived in Glaisnock Street for about 20 years, latterly with her cousin Cath McFarlane. Born and brought up in Cumnock, Elsie previously lived in Hearth Place.

In June 1992 Elsie was granted an audience with the Queen to be presented with the Member of the British Empire award for her community service. She was also honoured by the former Cumnock and Doon Valley District Council in April this year for outstanding community service over the past 20 years. Elsie’s various projects and involvement were not confined to charities. She served on the last Old Cumnock Burgh Council and was also a Justice of the Peace.

East Ayrshire Council leader David Sneller was a personal friend of Elsie and her family and he said “It was a great shock for me today to hear of the death of Elsie Menzies. I had known Elsie for many years and her death has hit me as severely as the loss of a family member, so highly was she regarded not only by myself but by everyone who knew her. Elsie was an active and tireless worker for many local causes throughout her life. Among the many organizations which benefited immensely from her involvement were Age Concern, the Women’s Guild and the local Twinning Association to name but a few. It is hard to imagine Cumnock without Elsie. When I first thought of standing for the council she was one of the first people I came to see and she always supported me. I would like to extend my condolences both personal and on behalf of East Ayrshire Council to her family at this sad time. Elsie was loved and respected by a huge number of people and her passing will be felt by everyone – not only in her home town of Cumnock but throughout the whole of Ayrshire”.

Elsie’s cousin Cath said she will be best remembered for her work around the town and added “She was called Mrs. Cumnock and will be remembered by people for everything she did for the community. It would be hard to narrow her interests down to one thing – there was so much”.

Elsie was District Commissioner for the Guides, was named Citizen of the Year in 1982, was the first appeals organiser for the Ayrshire Hospice, secretary of Cumnock Age Concern for 40 years and was also a past matron of the Eastern Star. Elsie was a member of Cumnock Old Parish Church where Rev. John Paterson says she was a stalwart of the parish. Her husband William was church treasurer up until his death and Elsie took up the post through his illness and for some time afterwards.

Mr. Paterson said “She has raised all sorts of monies and always been there in many ways to take the church out into the community. I am personally very grateful to Elsie as she introduced me to many people in the community when I first came to Cumnock and made my settling in much easier. You couldn’t know how much she actually did unless you stood beside her because she did so much in so many ways. She was breathtaking.”

Elsie was also involved with Cumnock Congregational Church through her work with the elderly in the community and Rev. Matt Sullivan said “She was a terrific worker with a terrific concern for a wide range of people in Cumnock. She did so much for individuals and her house was always full of people and she had real concern for everyone. Elsie’s work was incredible and she was always helping people and trying to see them through their problems – that was her real strength. She will be sadly missed by the community. She did all the extra things that were needed – and went that extra mile so often. Her death is a tremendous loss to the community and to the town”

Elsie’s funeral will take place at Cumnock Old Parish Church at 11 am on Friday and then at Masonhill Crematorium at 1pm

27th June 1996
The Provost referred to the recent sad and untimely death of one of the area`s foremost citizens and supporters, Mrs. Elsie Menzies MBE who had passed away last week. The Provost described Mrs. Menzies as someone who was the very backbone of her community and had been closely involved in a number of organisations both local and national which had brought benefits to so many. Mrs. Menzies had served as a Councillor with the Burgh of Cumnock until she retired from Local Government in 1975, and thereafter continued to serve as a Justice of the Peace. The Provost referred to just a few of the local groups such as Age Concern, the Women`s Guild and the local Twinning Association which had gained from her involvement; and such service to her community had resulted in the award of an MBE in 1992.

The Provost commented on the attendance at Mrs Menzies` funeral last Friday which in his opinion summed up her popularity and the respect in which she was held far better than the he could. The Provost stated that he was sure that all Members and Officers would wish to join with him in recording deep sadness at Mrs. Menzies` passing and in sending condolences to her family. As a mark of respect for the contribution which Mrs. Menzies had made to the community the Provost asked everyone to join with him in standing to observe one minute`s silence.

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