9. Margaret Barclay: Feisty and Fearless

My great-grandfather John Weddell married three times. His third wife, Margaret Barclay, is my great-grandmother and a direct ancestor.

Margaret Barclay was the eldest child of John Barclay and Annie Russell. At the time of her birth, her parents were not married making her and the 3 brothers that came after her illegitimate. John and Annie did not marry before then as she had not divorced her previous husband. His death in 1912, however, allowed them to legally marry which they did in the December. Just 9 months later, their youngest son John completed their family.

I don’t know much about Margaret before her own married life. I don’t even know how long she had known my great-grandfather before she married him. Almost exactly one year after the death of his second wife, John and Margaret married. John was 50 years old by this time and Margaret was 23 years old. After that, Margaret assumed the role of mother to those of John’s children who hadn’t already flown the nest. John and Margaret had four children of their own, losing one just a few days after he was born. Margaret named him Dennis, after one of her brothers. After her husband’s death in 1937, Margaret continued to raise their large brood. Some of the older children, from my understanding, still visited their siblings and their step-mother. Some only lived a few down down so some of the young aunts and uncles grew up at the same time as their young nieces and nephews.

I wrote last time about my Granny Rae and her amazing relationship with her brother. Margaret had a similar relationship with her youngest brother Johnny. The stories I have heard about them all describe their relationship as a strong bond, somewhat protective of each other. The photos I have seen certainly show them looking like they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.

I must say that Margaret is not what I expected. For whatever reason, I expected some sweet housewife type with an apron permanently tied around her waist. My granny was quick to set me straight. Margaret, I learned, was a very small woman. Very slim and barely 4’10” tall. She was certainly lovely but boy, could she be feisty! Granny  told two brilliant stories which I’d like to share. George, one of John’s eldest sons, was a soldier and stayed with Margaret and his younger siblings when he was on leave. He liked to joke around and often teased Margaret, playfully of course. One day he was pinching her waist while she was cooking. Despite warnings, he continued until little Margaret snapped. She grabbed the nearest implement, a broom, and chased George around the house with it. When she didn’t know where he’d disappeared to she realised he had taken refuge under the big bed. She turned the broom around and prodded under the bed firmly with the broom handle. The soldier hiding under the bed yelped as the broom jabbed him hard and cried for mercy. Margaret continued until her anger had gone and George had learned his lesson.

The other story my granny told with great delight happened during the war. An enemy plane had bombed an area nearby and the vibrations of the bomb hitting the ground had shattered one of the windows in the house. Being active wartime, the chances of it being repaired were small due to materials and workers being prioritised for war, so the window was covered in newspapers and sheets as a temporary measure. Some time later, the window was eventually replaced to Margaret’s delight. Her delight was short-lived as the very same day another enemy plane flew very close to their home and dropped another bomb. The newly-fitted window shattered instantly. Margaret was furious. My granny, a young girl, followed her mother from their house to Holyrood Park (a short distance away) as Margaret marched towards the planes. The German soldiers were climbing out of their landed plane and Margaret marched straight towards them. Not phased by the guns the German soldiers were carrying, she began beating the soldiers with her trusty broom. “You broke my window! Again! It’s just been put in!” (I am under no illusion that slightly more colourful language may have been used but I was told the PG version.) Margaret, consumed with rage against the men who broke her new window, continued to beat the soldiers with the broom as they tried to cower away from her. Apparently, by the time local soldiers (or police, my granny didn’t know which) arrived to arrest the German soldiers, they surrendered quite freely as they sought an escape from thi tiny woman with her broom.

It amuses me greatly that both of these stories show the strength of this tiny woman. Both stories involve soldiers who wronged her and literally felt the consequences. In later life, Margaret rarely ventured outside her house. I recently showed my mum a picture of Margaret in her own garden. My mum was surprised such a picture even existed as she couldn’t remember a time when Margaret would have left her front door.

Margaret died in 1982 in Edinburgh. I would have loved to have known her. She sounds like a great character. I certainly don’t know of anybody else who could put the fear into grown military men!

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