Dundee Family History · Sinclair Family History

Alexander Reid Sinclair, from poor boy to property investor.

Alexander was born in 1854 in Lochee, the son of John Sinclair and Elizabeth Hutcheson . John was a machine engineer at Cox’s jute mill in Lochee. Alexander was the sixth of nine children, born in quick succession and by the end of the 1850s, John Sinclair had risen to mill manager at East Mill in Blinshall Street.

In 1860 the family were living in Lochee High Street, the Cox’s jute mill was right behind where they lived.

Lochee High Street, the Sinclair’s house is the right hand door. You can see Cox’s stack, the mill chimney, looming behind the house.

But, on 9th March 1860, having been ill for thirteen days, John died of typhoid. The family go from relatively prosperous, to poor overnight.

By April 1861, at the time of the census, Elizabeth is caring for eight children aged from 1 -18 and her sister-in-law Margaret is living with them (as she was in 1851). By 1871, Alexander has got a job as a mechanic at Cox’s Camperdown Works.

Logie Street
Logie Street, in the shadow of the graveyard.

On 16th July, 1875, during the Dundee holiday, Alexander married Charlotte Sandeman. He was living with his mother at 110 Logie Street at the time of the marriage and Charlotte, just round the corner, at 18 Union Place. Alexander’s sister Maggie and Charlotte’s brother George, were the witnesses and the wedding took place at Charlotte’s home. Since both her parents were dead, she was living with her aunt.

wedding alexander sinclair
Wedding of Alexander Sinclair to Charlotte Sandeman at her grandmother’s home.

Their first child was a daughter, born two years later and they called her Elizabeth Hutcheson Sinclair, although she was always known as “Lizzie”. Her middle name came from Alexander’s mother’s maiden name. A year later, a second daughter was born, Charlotte Sandeman Sinclair and she was known as “Lottie”.

In 1881, a son, named after his father, Alexander Reid Sinclair, was born. The family called  him “Sandy”. The family are listed in the census as at 2 Gellatly’s Buildings, which is at the North West end of Lochee. In 1883, their son George Sandeman Sinclair is born, followed by his brother, David, in 1888.

The census of 1891 has the family living at 26 Pitfour Street, then a new tenement, opposite cottage houses built by Charlotte’s grandfather. (by a strange twist of fate, one of Alexander and Charlotte’s great granddaughters lived in the same street as a student in the 1990’s, but was unaware of the family connection) Alexander is now working as an iron turner.

pitfour street
A 19th century plan showing Pitfour Street marked in red.

Around 1900, Alexander gets a huge promotion and becomes manager of Larchfield Works in Walton Street. The mill belonged to James Prain and produced spun jute. With this job came a house and the family moved to 200 Scouringburn.

walton street mill 2
An aerial view of the Scouringburn (now called Brook Street) and Larchfield works can been seen around the nearest chimney to the front of the picture.

The mill was a sprawling series of buildings, in the heart of Dundee’s jute mill area, poor housing and poor people, all working harder than they were able lived all around. The life of the city surrounded them.

The Scouringburn was so called because it was the stream used for washing clothes, but by this time the water was underground. For some reason the council renamed the street “Brook Street” in the middle of the 20th century.

The 1901 census tells us that all the now working children are still living at home. Lizzie is a draper’s assistant, Lottie an assistant teacher, Sandy a clerk, George a blacksmith’s apprentice and David an engraver’s apprentice.

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In 1907, Lizzie married a pharmacist, John Robertson, in Victoria, Australia. He was Scottish, so we have to assume they had met in Dundee before she travelled across the world to marry. She never returned and died there in 1962.

In 1910, David emigrated to the USA, arriving in Buffalo and ending up in Glen Ellen, California. I intend to tell his story separately, but again, he never returned to Dundee and died in the USA in 1967.

Sandy and George still lived with their parents at the mill house. Lottie met a young architect, William Gauldie and had a long courtship with him, before marrying him in 1911 and moving to the small village of Invergowrie on the outskirts of Dundee. William seems to have been quite hard to tie down. In 1898 he started his own business and it was expanding throughout the first decade of the 20th century. With the help of his brother, James Hay Gauldie, an Edinburgh lawyer, William decided to build some houses in Invergowrie to rent, to pay for one for himself and his new wife. His father in law to be and brother both invested in the project. Where Alexander got the money to invest from is not recorded.

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All three boys were called up for World War I. George died on 24th April 1918.

Lizzie had no children and it was not until December 1918 that Lottie and William produced their only son, William Sinclair Gauldie, who is pictured with his Sinclair grandparents at the top of this page.

In 1922, the Sinclairs made the unusual move of retiring and left the Scouringburn for Invergowrie. Sandy, now a commercial traveller, came with them. They moved into a small house in Errol Road, designed by their son in law.

Gowrie Cottage and two others in Errol Road, designed by William Gauldie

Lottie had found adapting to a quiet life hard, especially compared to the hustle and bustle of the Scouringburn. Her brother’s death and the birth of her son had meant that having her family close was a great comfort. Sadly, in 1924. Sandy died of cancer.

Alexander and Charlotte lived on in Invergowrie until his death in 1930 and her death in 1935. They are buried in Balgay Cemetery. The three children who outlived them are missing from the headstone.

Sinclair grave Balgay
Sinclair Family grave, Balgay cemetery, Dundee. Alexander, Charlotte and Sandy are buried here and George is mentioned on the stone.

To read more stories in the series, click here.


6 thoughts on “Alexander Reid Sinclair, from poor boy to property investor.

  1. Thank you! Do you happen to know if James Prain had a business premises prior to Larchfield works and do you happen to know the exact year Larchfield was built?


  2. This is a wonderful piece of work, having really enjoyed reading what I have seen so far. I found your blog whilst researching James Prain Snr (1803 – 1890) of James Prain & Sons Larchfield Works, Walton Street. I was wondering where you got your picture of Scouring Burns, including Larchfield and if I also may use it? It is for a project you may have heard of called the McManus 168 where groups of volunteers are researching the original donators for the creation of the Albert Institute Dundee – this is being done as part of the 150yr anniversary of McManus Galleries. many thanks in advance! Judy Robertson

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Judy! It ought to be better referenced, you are quite right. Unfortunately, this is a photo which is ‘just lying around at home’ and so I don’t know who took it. I have found it on the Canmore website this morning though, via this link-https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/568227677969650773/ My intention is to reference each post with proper links, which I have started, but not finished! So, you can either use it from here or from there, it is up to you. I know quite a bit about the Prains…….


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