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

John Macleod, 30 years Inspector with the Great Western Railway

text by Dr Jim Mackay; photography as given below each image

John Macleod had a long career with the Great Western Railway Company, despite dying relatively young. Born at Davidston, in the parish of Cromarty, but baptised in the parish of Resolis where his family worshipped, John spent his early years in the Black Isle.

Memorial commemorating John Macleod and his mother, Ann Morrison; photograph by Jim

Coat of arms of the Great Western Railway, drawn by Sandy JJ Gould; licensed under Creative Commons

Early days

His own father, Robert Macleod, died a young man in the late 1840s, but his mother, Ann Morrison, kept the family home together and provided for John’s education by working as an agricultural labourer. She was of the family of millers who had operated many of the mills of area, including the Town Milns at Tain, the Mill of Allan at Fearn, the Mill of Ardross and the Mill at Dalmore, and who had settled at Shore Mill in Cromarty, so she would have had the support of the wider family. A companion Story behind the Stone is devoted to the Morrison family of millers buried at Kirkmichael.

Robert had been a shepherd at the farm of Davidston, which lies on the braes above Shore Mill. Robert and Ann were married in Cromarty in 1844:

6 December 1844 Robert McLeod Shepherd at Davidstown and Ann Morrison at the Shore Mill were married

Ann’s father had died back in early 1842 and had been buried at Kirkmichael. The family however were keeping the mill going profitably.

Up at Davidston, Robert and Ann Macleod had John (1845) and Catherine (1847). They were both baptised in the Resolis Free Church, at that time located in the east end of Jemimaville. Following Robert’s untimely demise, Ann continued to live at Davidston as an agricultural labourer and can be seen there in the census returns: 1851 (with both children present), 1861 (with her daughter present) and 1871 (with her mother present).

The resilience of these families is astonishing. John, despite his widowed mother being just an agricultural labourer, obtained an education and set out to join the Great Western Railway at the far end of the country.

The Great Western Railway Company

The Great Western Railway linked London with the south-west and west of England, the West Midlands, and most of Wales. It had been founded in 1833 and ran its first trains in 1838. John Macleod joined in 1866 by which time it was well-established.

It had been designed and built by the Victorian engineering giant Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806–1859), who chose a broad gauge of 7 ft (2,134 mm) – later slightly widened to 7 ft ¼ in (2,140 mm) – for speed and safety. It is said that if the country had adopted Brunel’s wide gauge, 200mph trains would now be the norm. However, because it had to be compatible with other developing railways, by the time John Macleod joined it also operated 4 ft 8½ in (1,435 mm) standard-gauge trains. The broad-gauge services continued, though, with the last one operating as late as 1892, a few years before John Macleod died.

The Iron Duke Broad Gauge locomotive on the Great Western service

Normal Gauge on the left, Broad Gauge on the right; note that the third class carriage seen has no roof!

One of the last Broad Gauge trains in 1892, still serving when John Macleod worked for the company

The GWR was called by some “God’s Wonderful Railway” and by others the “Great Way Round” but it was famed as the “Holiday Line”, taking many people to English and Bristol Channel resorts in the West Country as well as the far south-west of England such as Torquay in Devon, Minehead in Somerset, and Newquay and St Ives in Cornwall. The company’s locomotives, many of which were built in the company’s workshops at Swindon, were painted a Brunswick green colour while, for most of its existence, it used a two-tone “chocolate and cream” livery for its passenger coaches. Goods wagons were painted red but this was later changed to mid-grey.

John Macleod and the Great Western Railway

The records of the Great Western Railway, held at the National Archives in Kew, show that John joined the company in 1866. He would have been 21 at the time. The records, although a bit cryptic, do track his progress with the company. They occur in two volumes, and an image of the more complete one is given below. On the opposing page it states that he was paid to April 1895 and left the service because he was “Deceased”.

Whilst we don’t know John’s role when he first joined in July 1866, in August 1869 he was a Goods Booking Porter in Cardiff, in March 1871 he became a Goods Canvasser in Cardiff, and in March 1872 he became a Goods Inspector there. Five years later, in August 1877, he became a Passenger Inspector.

In June 1880 he was re-located to Bristol Joint Station (shared by Great Western Company, the Bristol and Exeter Railway, the Bristol and Gloucester Railway, the Bristol Harbour Railway and the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway) now known as Bristol Temple Meads. He remained there as Inspector for a long time. The station was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Bristol Temple Meads, old station frontage; designed by Brunel. Creative Commons licence

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Engraving of the train-shed, Bristol Temple Meads railway station

John Macleod describes himself as a Railway Inspector in his 1871 census return, when he was lodging at Scott Street, Cardiff, so there seems to be a slight conflict with the Great Western record which says he became an Inspector the following year. In the 1881 census return he was living in the Bedminister area of Bristol:

1881 census return, Hampton Lea
John Macleod head married 38 Railway Inspector Scotland
Christiana do. wife married 33 Scotland
Annie do. daughter 6 Cardiff
Frederick Pearce lodger unmarried 22 Railway Clerk Glos. Wotton under edge

An original railway junction plan of Bristol from a few years later in 1911 shows the importance of the city as a rail transport nexus, and incidentally shows locations such as Bedminster and Totterdown at which John Macleod and his family resided.

Bristol railway junctions in 1911; source: Wikipedia

It was in February 1893 that he was relocated as Inspector to Weston-super-Mare, the railway station of which was again designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This was to be John Macleod’s final appointment.

Weston-super-Mare railway station exterior; it remains the same now as when John Macleod worked there; photograph by Chris McKenna; Creative Commons licence

The latter days of John Macleod

How often John Macleod returned to the north we do not know. It was he who informed the registrar of his mother’s death, so we know he was up north at that time:

Ann McLeod widow of Robert McLeod shepherd died 1 October 1890 Davidston, Cromarty aged 73 parents John Morrison meal miller (d) Elizabeth Morrison ms Duncan (d) informant John McLeod son Ryedale Villa, Bushy Park, Totterdown, Bristol

Either he or the registrar made a mistake with this entry, as John’s grandmother was born Elizabeth Bain not Elizabeth Duncan. You can see Totterdown on the junction plan, just to the south west of the centre of Bristol. Presumably John had free movement on Great Western services when he was not actually at work.

John’s mother was buried in Kirkmichael, where most of the Morrison millers are buried, and she is in fact commemorated on the same stone which commemorates John himself when he died unexpectedly when residing in the Station Hotel (where else) in Avoch in 1895. I do not know why he was at the Station Hotel at the time, but it was the hotelkeeper and not John’s wife Christina who informed the registrar.

John Macleod Railway Inspector (married to Christina Macleod) died 10 June 1895 Station Hotel Avoch (usual residence Clevedon Road, Weston-super-Mare (England)) married aged 49 parents John Robert Macleod shepherd (d) Ann Macleod ms Morrison (d) informant James Finlayson hotelkeeper and occupier (present)

This is the only record where I have seen John’s father called John Robert instead of simply Robert. The funeral was to Kirkmichael, and the notice was published the next day, in the Inverness Courier of 11th June 1895:

Died, at the Station Hotel, Avoch, on the 10th inst, suddenly, Mr JOHN MACLEOD, Inspector, Great Western Railway, late of Bristol and Weston Super Mare, aged 49 years. Funeral from Avoch at 11 A.M. on Wednesday, the 13th inst., to Kirkmichael Church-Yard.

Christina Macleod

We know very little of Christina Macleod, John Macleod’s wife. They married in Leaminster, Warwickshire, in 1873, and their marriage certificate provides the information that her father was one Alexander McLeod, a tailor, alive at time of the marriage. Her census return in 1881 simply says she was born in Scotland. I have despite much looking been unable to locate her with certainty in the census returns apart from on that occasion. Had John met her previously and the marriage at Leaminster was simply because she was working there at the time? No doubt it will become clear in time. I see in Boleskine, Inverness-shire, a tailor called Alexander McLeod with a five-year old daughter Christina in 1851, which is a very good fit; the family were still there, minus Christina, in 1861 but had moved to Inverness by 1871. However, I have been unable to confirm if this was the correct family. The information on the marriage of John and Christina (never as good in England as in Scotland) is as follows:

Marriage solemnized at Holly Walk Chapel Leamington in the District of Warwick in the County of Warwickshire / 5 November 1873
John McLeod 28 bachelor Railway Goods Inspector residing No. 45 South Street Cardiff father Robert McLeod (deceased) shepherd
Christina McLeod 26 spinster residing No. 11 Waterloo Place Leamington father Alexander McLeod tailor
Married in the Holly Walk Chapel according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Independents by Certificate by me Wm Jn Bain Congregational Minister in the presence of us Thomas Kennard Caroline Hickman

Holly Walk Congregational Church, Leamington, in 1850

Holly Walk Congregational Church, now converted to residential use; photograph by Stephen Craven; Licensed under Creative Commons


There was one child in the 1881 census return, Annie, born in Cardiff when John was Inspector there.

1881 Census – 2, Hampton Terrace, Bedminster, Somerset, England
John MacLeod Head Married Male 35 (1846) Railway Inspector Scotland
Christiana MacLeod Wife Married Female 33 (1848) Scotland
Annie MacLeod Daughter Single Female 6 (1875) Scholar Cardiff, Glamorganshire, Wales
Frederick Pearce Lodger Single Male 22 (1859) Railway Clerk Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire, England

I know not what happened to Annie thereafter, or indeed what happened to Christina following John’s death in 1895. Later that year Christina became the administrator of his estate, the summary of the administrative process identifying that the family called their house in Weston super Mare “Invergordon” which is rather touching:

Macleod John of Invergordon Clevedon-road Weston-super-mare railway inspector died 10 June 1895 at Avoch Ross North Britain Administration Wells 20 August to Christina Macleod widow Effects £162 2s.

The memorial erected to John and his mother in Kirkmichael is a neat and attractive sandstone headstone, just a few paces away from others of the Morrison millers family.

Erected / by / CHRISTINA MACLEOD, / in loving memory of / her dear husband / JOHN MACLEOD, / 30 years Inspector of the / G. W. Ry. Bristol, / died at Avoch 10th June 1895, / aged 49 years. / A faithful servant, / an affectionate husband, / a loving father, / and a bright Christian. / And of his mother / ANN. M. MACLEOD, / who died at Davidston.

The stones with red spots are Morrison memorials, with the memorial to John Macleod and his mother Ann Morrison in the foreground; photograph by Jim


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