The Story behind the Stone – the families, estates and stories of Kirkmichael, Cullicudden, the Black Isle and beyond

A Dynasty of Shoemakers: the family of Alexander Urquhart and Helen Murray of Ferintosh, Jemimaville and Alness

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photography as set out below each image

The dumpy white memorial with its scroll face always looks a little odd amongst the granite headstones and sandstone tablestones of Kirkmichael. Its inscription simply says:

In / memory of / MARION / beloved wife of / H. URQUHART / bootmaker Alness / died 21 Oct. 1898

photo by Andrew Dowsett

Why was Marion, the wife of an Alness bootmaker, buried in Kirkmichael? It didn’t make sense. Her death certificate didn’t help:

Parish of Rosskeen Deaths
Marion Urquhart married to Hugh Urquhart Master Shoemaker died 21 October 1898 at Bridgend Rosskeen age 36 parents Alexander Urquhart Master Shoemaker (d) Helen Urquhart ms Murray (d) informant Hugh Urquhart widower (present)

Further research showed that both Marion and her husband Hugh had been born in the parish of Urquhart, and had no obvious connection with Resolis. Hugh’s parents were buried in Old Urquhart cemetery as you’d expect, and Hugh himself gets a mention on their stone there.

I had a bit more difficulty locating where the parents of the deceased Marion were buried. They weren’t in Old Urquhart for sure. I checked their death certificates and clearly they must have moved to Resolis as they had both died there about the same time in 1892! They weren’t buried in Kirkmichael were they? Feeling very foolish I had a look at my own records – and there they were. Their memorial in fact was a foot away from the white scroll stone commemorating their daughter Marion! How embarrassing.

photo by Andrew Dowsett


A Dynasty of Shoemakers

There seems to have been a plethora of shoemakers named Urquhart in the parish of Urquhart in the late 1800s. Marion was the daughter of shoemaker Alexander Urquhart and his wife Helen Murray. They had married in 1853 and Marion had been born in 1857. Hugh was the son of shoemaker Donald Urquhart and his wife Mary Murray. They had married in 1862 and Hugh had been born in 1865. With that background, Marion and Hugh were destined to be sole-mates. They married in 1887:

3 August 1887 Free Church Manse Resolis After Publication According to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
Hugh Urquhart shoemaker (journeyman) (bachelor) 22 usual address Jamimaville parents Donald Urquhart shoemaker Mary Urquhart ms Murray
Marion Urquhart shoemaker’s daughter (spinster) 27 usual address Jamimaville parents Alexander Urquhart shoemaker Helen Urquhart ms Murray
John McIver Free Church Minister, Resolis Kenneth McKenzie witness Donald McIntosh witness

Hugh naturally had become a shoemaker himself and had moved to Jemimaville. Marion’s family had moved to Jemimaville many years earlier (I calculate in 1858 or 1859), so they must have been in competition. Marion’s father was well-known for the quality of his work and Hugh too must have been skilled as he survived in his trade for the rest of his life.

Marion and Hugh had only one child, born at Jemimaville in 1888:

Parish of Resolis Births
Jessie Helen Urquhart born 7 May 1888 at Jamimaville parents Hugh Urquhart shoemaker (journeyman) Marion Urquhart ms Urquhart married 3 August 1887 in Resolis informant father present

There were to be no more children. Sometime before 1891 the family relocated to Alness, leaving Marion’s elderly parents in Jemimaville. I do not know for sure why they moved to Alness, but presumably they felt there were greater opportunities for a skilled shoemaker there. The family were to be shoemakers in Alness for another fifty years.

Alness in the time of Hugh Urquhart (who clearly did not have many sales with the youngsters)

Not long after Hugh, Marion and Jessie Helen moved to Alness, back in Jemimaville, in an outbreak of clearly a serious virus infection, both Marion’s parents died close together in time. The Ross-shire Journal of 22nd January 1892 reported:

Resolis – Sudden Death of Mr and Mrs Urquhart, Jamimaville.– Wide-spread sorrow has been caused by the deaths of Mr A. Urquhart, shoemaker – who fell a victim to inflammation of the lungs, following influenza, on Friday of last week – and of his wife, who fell a victim to the same malady the day previously. Both may be said to have reached the allotted span of threescore and ten years, and fell victims to the disease after a very short illness. The sad event has cast a gloom over the whole district, in which both were highly respected and esteemed, showing in their lives an example of true Christian piety. Mr Urquhart was a retired and very unassuming man, a man of peace, a kind friend, and a dutiful parent, while Mrs Urquhart, who was a faithful, loving, affectionate helpmate, and a devoted mother, also extended her genial kindness to many in the district. Few sick beds but Mrs Urquhart was found there, giving her assistance in comforting the sick, and consoling the dying, and the bereaved. Both Mr and Mrs Urqhart were natives of Ferintosh, and came to this parish over 30 years ago, taking up their abode in the village of Jamimaville, where Mr Urquhart carried on a successful business as boot and shoemaker, and by his superior qualities as a tradesman, and a true friend, he gained a large connection. Both were members of the Free Church, and very attached supporters, it being a rare occasion on which their places in the church were without them on Sunday. Mr Urquhart was collector for the Sustentation Fund, for the east end of the parish, for a number of years, and was always found ready to give his services in connection with the meetings held in the old Free Church, Jamimaville, where his familiar face will be greatly missed. The remains of Mrs Urquhart were interred in Kirkmichael burying-ground, on Saturday, and of Mr Urquhart on Tuesday last. Although the weather was exceedingly stormy a large number of people turned out on both days to pay a last tribute of respect to the remains of the deceased. Mr and Mrs Urquhart leave a grown up family of one son and three daughters to mourn their loss, and for them much sympathy is felt in their sudden bereavement.

The old Free Church in Jemimaville with which Alexander Urquhart was particularly associated; photo by Donald Fraser, Cullicudden

Their death certificates confirm they had succumbed to influenza, with the informant being son-in-law Hugh, who gave his address as Alness.

The obituary refers to a grown up family of one son and three daughters. One daughter, Alexanderina, had died in 1867 aged only 10 months. But of the children who reached adulthood, one daughter, of course, was Marion, who had married shoemaker Hugh Urquhart in 1887 and was now living in Alness. I note that another daughter, Helen, married a baker living in Farness, Walter Ross, in 1884 in Jemimaville. And the third daughter, Jessie, married another Alness shoemaker, George Cameron, in Balblair in 1903, maintaining the family connection with shoe-making. As for the son, Donald, I have been unable to trace him after he left Jemimaville, though the Kirkmichael headstone says he died in London in 1902.

Marion’s parents, as recorded in the Ross-shire Journal, were highly regarded locally, and their funerals well attended at Kirkmichael despite stormy weather. In due course, a handsome granite memorial was erected at the west side of the old section of the kirkyard, with an inscription which starts with:

In loving memory / of / ALEXANDER URQUHART, / shoemaker, Jemimaville, / who died 8th January 1892 / aged 67 years. / Also of his wife / HELEN MURRAY / who died 7th Jany 1892 / aged 71 years. / And their infant daughter / ALEXINA, who died in 1867

Hugh, Marion and young Jessie Helen had been living in Alness for quite a few years when Marion herself passed away, from diabetes. Her quaint, white scroll memorial was erected close to her parents, albeit with nothing in the inscription to indicate the connection.

The Kirkmichael Trust took action in 2018 to raise Marion’s memorial out of the ground and make it upright once more, as it had sunk downwards and tilted over to an alarming extent. It the process of doing so, half of an old sandstone inscription relating to a local Morrison family was found being used as part of the foundation. We replaced this with a blank piece of sandstone when raising and straightening, and the story of this small project is set out in the Appendix.

Over in Alness, the census returns show that Hugh’s business was doing well. In 1891, his house had three rooms with one or more windows while by 1901 there were six rooms with one or more windows, quite palatial for the time.

1891 Census Return, Parish of Rosskeen, Alness High St.
Hugh Urquhart head shoemaker employer 26 born Ferintosh G & E [Gaelic and English speaking]
Marion do. wife 30 born Resolis G & E
Jessie do. daur 2 born Resolis
Amelia Bell 15 general serv (dom) born Lanarkshire, Glasgow

Part of the reason for the success of the business may have been Hugh’s diversification into saddlery. He announced via the Ross-shire Journal of 13th October 1893:

Announcement by Hugh Urquhart in the Ross-shire Journal of 13 October 1893

Fifty years later, the business would be known as “Hugh Urquhart & Son, Saddlers, Alness” so this was an astute business move. Back in 1901, as I say, the size of house occupied by the family is shown in the census return of that year to have increased dramatically, and I note that one of Hugh’s cousins had moved in to keep house:

1901 Census Return, Parish of Rosskeen, Alness High St.
Hugh Urquhart head widr 36 shoemaker employer born Culbokie G & E
Jessie H do daur 12 scholar born Jemimaville
Jessie do cousin single 45 housekeeper worker born Culbokie G & E

Alness High Street, on which Hugh Urquhart had his shop, although the children obviously were used to doing without such luxuries

Later in that year of 1901 Hugh remarried, in Portsoy. His wife was one Annie Mackenzie and by 1911 there was a new wee family in Alness, as they now had Hugh, who would become the “& Son” of the company in due course.

Advertisement by the young Hugh Urquhart in, surprisingly, the Brechin Advertiser of 4 March 1947

Hugh junior would go on to marry Margaret Annie Brebner Smith at the Northern Hotel, Aberdeen, in 1931, when the groom was given as (what else) “Shoemaker (master)”. They are both buried in Alness Churchyard.

The Urquhart family headstone in Old Urquhart; photo courtesy of

The Urquhart family headstone in Alness Graveyard; photo courtesy of Ross and Cromarty Roots

Curiously, while his father, Hugh senior, takes his place at the base of the family gravestone in Old Urquhart cemetery, neither first wife Marion Urquhart nor second wife Annie Mackenzie is commemorated on this memorial:

Erected / in loving of / DONALD URQUHART / shoemaker, Culbokie, / who died 5th March 1899 / aged 72 years. / Also of his wife / MARY MURRAY, / who died 2nd Feby 1910, / aged 82 years. / Also his brother / WILLIAM URQUHART, / who died 24th Jany 1908. / Also their son DONALD, / who died 3rd April 1917, / aged 50 years. / And their son HUGH / bootmaker, Alness / died 1st March 1945, / aged 79 years.

To return to 1911, though, Hugh senior, his new wife Margaret and Hugh junior were present in Alness. Their house presumably was the same one as it is recorded as having six rooms with one or more windows. And note the association with the Mitchell family through their domestic servant, Rose Mitchell.

1911 Census Return, Parish of Rosskeen, Alness High St.
Hugh Urquhart head 46 G & E bootmaker (master) employer born Urquhart
Annie do wife 50 born Banff Ordiquhill
Hugh do son 5 born Rosskeen
Rose Mitchell servant 16 s gen. dom. servant born Invergordon

But where was daughter Jessie Helen? I feared the worst. It would have been too sad if the only child of Marion had passed away. But not a bit of it. She re-appears in 1916, marrying, in a break with tradition, an engine driver named Mitchell, from Bridgend Alness:

Inverness Marriages
24 November 1916 at the Caledonian Hotel Inverness after Banns according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
James Alex Mitchell Engine Driver (bachelor) 29 usual address Bridgend Alness Rosskeen parents John Mitchell Engine Driver (d) Margaret Mitchell ms Milton
Jessie Helen Urquhart domestic servant (spinster) 28 usual addresss Alness Rosskeen parents Hugh Urquhart shoemaker Marion Urquhart ms Urquhart (d)
(signed) John Macdonald Free Ch. Minister Rosskeen (signed) Stephen Hudson witness Jessie Ellen Ross witness

Jessie Helen and James Alex would go on to have many children over the years, but as this is getting closer to the present day than our usual Story behind the Stone we will leave the family at this point.

The family information on the headstone at Kirkmichael; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The family are commemorated on the handsome granite headstone at the west side of the ancient section of Kirkmichael kirkyard, including Marion, who is additionally commemorated on the small white scroll beside the headstone:

In loving memory / of / ALEXANDER URQUHART, / shoemaker, Jemimaville, / who died 8th January 1892 / aged 67 years. / Also of his wife / HELEN MURRAY / who died 7th Jany 1892 / aged 71 years. / And their infant daughter / ALEXINA, who died in 1867 / MARION who died at Alness 21 Oct 1898 / DONALD, / who died at London 7 June 1902 / Also their grand daughter / JESSIE HELEN who died 14. Feb 1959, / wife of / JAMES MITCHELL, Alness. / Also the said / JAMES ALEXANDER MITCHELL / died 4th March 1965. / “Blessed are the dead which die in / the Lord”


Appendix: Straightening the memorial to Marion

The odd lumpy stone with its face carved into a scroll, commemorating Marion Urquhart, was close to falling over.

As a makeshift foundation, two slabs of sandstone had been placed in the soil and lime plaster daubed on to hold slabs and memorial together. Over the years the small edifice had sunk into the ground and had began to tilt over, eventually to such an extent that the Kirkmichael Trust in 2018 took it apart to relay it, raising it out of the ground and making it level once more.

To our surprise, one of the sandstone slabs was a section of the top of a tablestone memorial, bearing half an inscription, albeit mostly obscured by lime plaster. The other half of the inscription is under a Morrison memorial, and there is enough visible between the two sections to show that it was a Morrison tablestone. Whether or not the Urquharts had permission to use the broken Morrison slab for this purpose is not known! We used an alternative piece of plain sandstone to erect the small memorial vertically once more, as set out in our pictorial story.


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