Diary/Photo Journal

 Week of March 08, 2009

Last week, we spent much of our time visiting history of various Scottish families and this week, was spent visiting my family.  Our first and foremost destination: Commonhead.

Commonhead is the name of the estate that my Great-Great Grandfather (Peter Storrie Wright) and Great-Grandfather (James Wright) built in Greenock (near Gourock), Scotland (west of Glasgow) in 1879.  This estate was sizeable and built at the "head" of two roads or "commons" hence "Commonhead".  As my G2-grandfather and G-Grandfather were both slaters, slate and cement merchants, they actually had their hands in the building itself.  I guess I would say that this is my family's castle - Commonhead Castle - I like the sound of that!

Greenock and Gourock, neighbouring towns that do not seem to have a definable border, blend into one another and slope downward into the ocean.  When Commonhead was built, it sat like a lone sentinel atop the hill, surrounded by its gardens and farmland.  The only other building close to Commonhead was the Ravenscraig asylum where the mentally infirm were hospitalized (and yes, I do see the irony).  These two magnificent buildings had neighbors, albeit a good distance away, and their views were far-reaching and inspiring.

Views into the bay near
Greenock and Gourock
View coming down the street
from Commonhead

Commonhead is seen on a late 1800's map




I first visited Commonhead  in 1998 and I was excited to see it once again.  Previously, I was fortunate to have quite a bit of time to investigate a local museum library that specializes in genealogy and I found some real treasures concerning my Father's Scottish side of the family.  Gerson and I retraced my footsteps and we reviewed 100+ year old documents as though they were written yesterday.

Before Commonhead - 70 Roxburgh St.

census:  Great-great grandfather Peter
Great-great grandmother Elizabeth
Great grandfather James and Great Aunt Mary

1871 census: G2 grandfather Peter and G2 grandmother
Elizabeth, G grandfather James with his siblings, Mary,
Janet, Peter and Elizabeth (and a servant Elizabeth Strange)

Commonhead - Larkfield Rd.
census: G2 grandmother Elizabeth with G grandfather James and sister Janet.  All other children (and father Peter) died in the last ten years.

1891 census: G Grandfather James
G grandmother Jessie (James' wife)
G2 grandmother Elizabeth
and James' son, Peter Glen Storrie Wright

Besides finding several census records, I had also viewed postal directories.  We found these once again and when added to birth and marriage announcements, we compiled a bit of memorable treasure.

Marriage announcement
for G Grandfather James
and G Grandmother Jessie

Birth announcement for my
grandfather, Claude Thomas
Wright (at Commonhead)

Postal Directories and
my family's advertisement
for their "Slater, Slate and
Cement Merchant"

and, after Peter died

Gerson and I found Commonhead easily enough and walked up the 130 year old driveway.  At one time, the driveway encircled the home, allowing the horse-drawn carriage the ability to drop off its passengers at the front door and to continue on around to the "garage".  The horse(s) would then be guided out to the back "field" until called upon again for further service.

Great Great Grandmother
Elizabeth (and yes, I agree I look
like her)

Great Grandmother Jessie
with sons Claude (my Grandfather, Claude,
and Ray (might be nickname for Ramsey))

Commonhead (from the back)
Possibly circa 1950's

We knocked on the door and as no one was home, we began to take pictures of the ornate front entryway.  Lo and behold, up drove the owner of the downstairs' "flat" (as the home was converted to two flats many years ago) and she was more than welcoming for us to go inside.  The idea of walking in the same footsteps of my G2 Grandparents and my Great Grandparents and being where my Grandfather was born and raised sent happy chills down my spine.

As we surprised the owner and she was not prepared for visitors (a single mum with two boys and a very lived-in home) she was gracious enough to let us visit the lower front section of the home where most of the custom plaster work was displayed.  We were not disappointed as the ceilings were rimmed in elaborate plaster crown moldings that held soul-piercing faces of lions.

Commonhead has another
Wright on its doorstep

Ornately carved sentries
(the lion theme is repeated
throughout the home)

The livery/garage

Commonhead Castle looks proud
on its perch

Fantastic carving of lions protect
the home

After speaking with the downstairs' owner, Angela, we were given the freedom to wander what was left of the immense estate and take photos at will.  What we gingerly did not disclose, was that I brought some of my Father's ashes to Scotland with the intention of spreading them at Commonhead and at the Wright family burial plot nearby.   We found the perfect (what I prefer to call) "witness" tree as this tree has probably been overseeing the home for half a century and its location was just outside the bedroom window where my Grandfather was born.

Even though land that was once extensive gardens and farmland has now been reduced to what would be considered a large residential lot, Commonhead still holds her charm and dignity.

Back views of Commonhead

Spreading my Father's
ashes at the base of
a witness tree (a witness
tree is one that is old
enough to have "witnessed"
history of the home)

The window is the original window that was at the top
of the stairway (leaded
glass and decorative

What is left of the gardens
and open land

Unfortunately, the land that has been compromised is owned by the "Council" which is the local governing body.  This group of officials have erected a number of "Council" houses that allow multi-family occupancy in subsidized housing.  At present, local developers are asking the owners of Commonhead to sell to them so they can raze the building and raise even more of those monolithic monsters (sigh).

Entry hall - Look carefully
at the ceiling and you can
see where they cut the crown
and installed the wall where
there stairs were (to allow
the private upstairs entrance
from the back)

Ornate trims abound

plaster work

and more lions watch
over the home


Commonhead's owner also told us of an elderly woman that used to be a caretaker for the home and the woman just happened to live next door.  We decided to stop over and see if she had any historical tidbits about Commonhead and we found the 84 year-old, Betty Divine, at home.  Unfortunately, she only took care of the home within the past 20 years and even though she loves the home, she could not add anything more to what we already knew.

View to Commonhead

View of the drive and
original gate pillars
Ms. Betty Divine
Ravenscraig Asylum

The Scottish love their "chips"
(french fries)

After we completed our sentimental journey around Commonhead, we journeyed down the road to the Greenock Cemetery to visit my G2 Grandfather and my G Grandfather (and various cousins).  The burial plot was for Peter Storrie Wright in memory of the children that did not make it to adulthood.  The last entry was my G Grandfather, James, as he died in 1918.  Within a few years, all of James' and Jessie's children emigrated to Canada and Claude, my Grandfather, eventually into the United States.

Greenock Cemetery and the Wright
Family plot

Spreading my Father's ashes

A reflective time, yet happy

My Father joins his
Grandfather and Great

After a long, emotional and soul-wrenching day, we returned to Lanark and made ready for our departure to England the next day.

Having spent the past several days walking in my Father's ancestor's footsteps, it was time to wander around my Mother's family.  Fortunately, I still have a live relative or two in Manchester, England and Chris (and her husband, Adrian) are much more lively than my Father's side.

Our first stop was in Carlisle, England, and even though we were only looking for a nice place for lunch, we found a beautiful Cathedral that provides lunch where the priests' used to dine. 

Carlisle Cathedral -
originally built in 1122
and reconstructed through
the 14th - 18th centuries

Incredibly elaborate

Beautiful entrance and
massive hall

Original door from 15th

Enormous organ pipes

From Carlisle, we hastened directly to my Cousin Chris' home in Hale, Altrincham, just outside of Manchester proper.  I first met and last saw Chris and Adrian (Wontner) in 1998 and we seemed to pick up right where we left off, which was laughing and all talking at once. 

Chris is my Mother's first cousin and this is how the bloodline is drawn:  my Mother's Father, Thomas Woollen, was the brother to Winnie Woollen, Chris' Mother.  In other words, my grandfather was Chris' uncle.  As my Mother and Chris were both only children, my Mother used to think of Chris as more of the sister she never had.

Chris and Adrian live in a beautiful, early 1900's home that has a wonderful garden and of course, a fantastic workshop for Adrian.  As Adrian has been involved in racing cars for many, many years, his workshop has hosted a variety of his personally built race cars.  And, in keeping with his passion, he presently is in the middle of rebuilding a crashed "project" race car.

Back view of the Wontner Manor
with Adrian and Chris (in the kitchen)

Adrian, Chris, Louise and Gerson

The third picture shadow proves that
England does get sunshine once in a while

Adrian's present race car restoration

Adrian will make the first
car look like the other
three he either built or

As we were visiting my Mother's stomping grounds, we had to make a jaunt over to Blackpool and walk along the sidewalks that were visited by my Mother on special occasions.  As Blackpool was where the "working class" vacationed, my Mother was extremely fond of the beach town. 

Blackpool is a bit worn out today; however, with a little imagination, one can see beyond the peeling paint and faded exteriors and see a vibrant and happy place for my Mother and her friends to come for a day or a weekend.  Without the luxury of Ipods or video games or cable TV or any number of electronic, computer oriented gadgets, Blackpool was exciting and amazing. 

And, when there was a time that it took my Mother approximately four hours to get to Blackpool, she would be astonished to know it took us only 40 minutes on the motorway.  How times have changed!

One thing to remark upon is that when I brought my Mother to England in 1998, we also visited Blackpool.  For lunch, we ventured south to a small enclave called St. Anne's wherein we had lunch in a wonderful little dark pub.  Within a few sips of our pints, me mum had this pensive look on her face so I asked what she was thinking.  She stated that she "had never been there before" and I asked if she meant that that was the first time in the pub.  My Mother said "no" and that what she meant was that she had never been in St. Anne's before because "we were not allowed to go to St. Anne's". 

I inquired further as to what she meant and she explained that our family being part of the "working class" did not go to St. Anne's because it was of a different, higher class neighborhood.  She went on to describe how she would walk the Blackpool promenade to the border with St. Anne's and then turn around to return to where "(she) belonged". 

The look on my Mother's face was her realization that she had "made it".  She could proudly walk into St. Anne's and buy her own lunch without being intimidated by class or anything else.  She later told me that that was why she loved the United States as she never felt she was of any classification other than the human kind.

St. Anne's church - beautiful
in its Gothic detail

Just a nice view of St. Anne's

I was looking forward to my
fish, chips and mushy peas - Yum!

The Winter Gardens was where
me Mum and her friends would
go to dance in the ballroom

One of Blackpool's piers and
low tide

Famous Blackpool Tower

We had a wonderful day walking in my Mother's tracks and on the way home, we stopped in to see a childhood friend of my Mother's, Miller Parker.  Millie and my Mother go back to their teen years together and I have known Millie since my childhood. 

We had a terrific, albeit too short, visit and Millie's daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters and great-grandson also stopped by.  It was so nice to see everyone healthy and happy and Millie was as kind and vivacious as I remembered her. 

Another day, another family trace as we went back to where my Mother was raised and to the local Benchill Pub, where my Grandfather Thomas Joseph Woollen spent many an evening with his pints.  My Mother's childhood home, 159 Hollyhedge Road, was still there and a very nice woman enjoys it today.  Unfortunately, the Benchill Pub has been long since gone; however, because the building was truly a beautiful structure, the pub was ousted and a housing assistance group now occupies the restored building. 

Millie's family:
Daughter Michelle, granddaughter
Kimberly, Daughter Lisa, Louise
and Millie herself

Benchill Pub restored and as
it was in its heyday (also was
known as the "Roundabout Hotel")

159 Hollyhedge Rd

and where my Mother told me she had her first kiss
(of course she said
she tried to avoid
it - yeah right)

The next stop in visiting my Mother's family was to pay respect to my Grandfather's grave, located in the Southern Cemetery in Manchester.  We stopped in the office to obtain a copy of the written ledger that displays my Grandfather's name and I have to point out an amusing truth about its pages.  If you look closely at the following picture of the ledger, you will see that all men are described by their profession and all women, by their marital status.  Even as late as the mid-1960's, women were characterized by their marital position and not by their accomplishments.

How far we have come in my lifetime!

Southern Cemetery - the moss
just adds to its beauty

Trees that have witnessed
scores of loved ones walking
its paths in remembrance

Thomas Joseph Woollen, newsreader, aged 57...

Thomas Joseph
Woollen, died
September 29, 1965

(again with the
September death)

Just a quick note about my Mother's maiden name of Woollen.  It was actually Gott-Woollen; however, in the years leading up to World War I, the "Gott" was dropped as it sounded "too German".  I get the idea that tracing one's genealogy can be rather difficult with twists and turns such as this.

Soon after we visited my family, we spent some time (again, albeit too short) with several of my Mother's friends.  We were fortunate to catch Vin and Joan in their beautiful home and then have a wonderful dinner with Pat, Bert and Pat's sister, June.  As I have known all of these terrific people since my childhood, I have a special fondness for each of them.

Joan, Louise and Vin
We had such a nice visit
Bert, Pat, Louise, Gerson and June
Bert snuck past us and paid for the dinner...he's
darn quick when he wants to be

Now, for the event that made this a week almost too unbelievable and to explain it, I will have to go back in travel time a bit.

In 2004, while hiking in the mountains above Chalten, Argentina, we met a couple of fellow Californians, Larry and Marylyn McGuinness.  Since then, we have been bonded in a brilliant friendship and I believe I have been adopted by them as I am now an orphan.  As Larry has been privy to our coming over to the UK, he insisted that we contact his brother in Manchester (yes, Larry is from my Mother's hometown - small world!). 

A few days before we were to arrive in Manchester, England, we contacted Larry's brother, Wilf McGuinness, and made arrangements to meet with him and have a bit of a tour.  "A tour of what?" you may be asking yourself.  Well, an up close and personal tour of the Old Trafford Stadium that houses none other than my Mother's favorite football team (and also Gerson and my favorite English team) MANCHESTER UNITED.

Larry had informed us that his brother, Wilf, had played for and coached with Man U in the 1950's and who would have thought that Wilf, our New Best Friend (NBF), was and is an icon within the Man U organization and within the history of the team itself.  I do not think we went five minutes in the Man U museum without our NBF Wilf being asked for his autograph or for a photo to be taken with him.  We truly were in the company of a celebrity and we thoroughly enjoyed being Wilf's entourage.

Manchester United!!!!

With our New Best Friend
Wilf McGuinness (just search
his name and see all that you get!)

Man U has won a few championships

Gerson proudly stands next to the
extraordinary Pele (a Brazilian)
and Anderson (another Brazilian
playing for Man U)

Wilf in 1957 and in present day
sharing his memories with fans
(he was part of the famous
"Busby Babes")

This page would not be complete without mention of the tragic event that transpired on February 6, 1958, in Munich, Germany.  As fortune would smile on Wilf, he was sidelined because of an injury and he was not able to join his team for this flight.

(liberalized from Wikipedia)

The Munich air disaster took place on February 6, 1958, when British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, West Germany. On board the plane was the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the "Busby Babes" (named for manager Sir Matt Busby and because these were Manchester United club-groomed lads in their teens and early twenties), along with a number of supporters and journalists. 23 of the 44 people on board the aircraft died as a result of the crash. The injured were taken to the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich where 16 survived.

The team was returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, but had to make a stop in Munich for refueling, as a non-stop trip from Belgrade to Manchester was out of the "Elizabethan" class Airspeed Ambassador aircraft's range. After refueling, the pilots, Captains James Thain and Kenneth Rayment, attempted to take off twice, but had to abandon both attempts due to boost surging in the port engine. Fearing that they would get too far behind schedule, Captain Thain rejected an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take-off attempt.

By the time of the third attempt, it had begun to snow, causing a layer of slush to build up at the end of the runway. When the aircraft hit the slush, it lost velocity, making take-off impossible. It ploughed through a fence past the end of the runway, before the port wing hit a nearby house and was torn off. Of the 44 people on the aircraft, 21 were killed instantly and several others were knocked unconscious. Fearing that the aircraft might explode, Captain Thain set about getting the remaining passengers as far away as possible. Despite this, Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg remained behind to pull survivors from the wreckage.

An investigation by the West German airport authorities originally blamed Captain Thain for the crash, claiming that he had failed to de-ice the wings of the aircraft, despite statements to the contrary from eyewitnesses. It was later established that the crash had, in fact, been caused by the build-up of slush on the runway, which had resulted in the aircraft being unable to achieve take-off velocity.   Thain's name was eventually cleared in 1968, ten years after the incident.

Twenty-one of the 44 people aboard perished in the crash, while a further two were to succumb to their injuries in hospital. Seven of the players who had played in Belgrade a day earlier died instantly: Geoff Bent (25), Roger Byrne (28), Eddie Colman (21), Mark Jones (24), David Pegg (22), Tommy Taylor (26) and Liam 'Billy' Whelan (22).

Duncan Edwards lost his fight for life 15 days later on February 21, while the careers of Johnny Berry and Jackie Blachflower were ended as a result of the injuries they sustained.

Also, we must not forget the other casualties of that ill-fated flight.  Journalists Alf Clarke, Don Davies, George Follows, Tom Jackson, Archie Ledbrooke, Henry Rose, Eric Thompson and  Frank Swift perished in the crash and also killed were: Walter Crickmer (club secretary), Bert Whalley (chief coach), Tom Curry (trainer), Capt Kenneth Rayment (co-pilot), Bela Miklos (travel agent), Willie Satinoff (supporter), Tom Cable (steward)

Gerson sitting in between the
two Brazilian Man U players,
Rafael and Fabio

We got to peek into Ferguson's
special room (ie: the coaches room)

Our NBF Wilf is always charming
and entertaining

The newspaper article about the tragic flight

The players in red were the players that were
killed in the crash.

(Wilf was in the upper row, second from left)

We were treated truly golden during the amazing tour through the stadium and we even got to walk down and out the tunnel that the players burst from on game day.  Our NBF even regaled our group of tour-goers with humourous stories of games and players past.  The magic day was topped off with our indulgence in the Man U Megastore and a quiet lunch in the stadium restaurant.

Coming through the
player's tunnel and
Gerson was pumped

Manchester United
enough said!

Our NBF, Wilf, and Gerson

The stadium holds 76,200 adoring, passionate fans

Wilf and Gerson with
Bobby Charlton (Scottish),

Gerson and Louise sitting
where the players sit during

We returned to Chris and Adrian's with Cheshire Cat grins and spent the evening talking about our NBF Wilf and how wonderfully we were treated.  We had an excellent dinner out with my cousin and could hardly sleep that night for the excitement we expected from the following day.  "What excitement" you ask?  Well, our NBF Wilf managed to get us two tickets to the Manchester United (yeah!) vs. Liverpool (booooo) game which just happens to be one of the premier rivalries in all of football history.

Our dinner with Adrian and
Chris - what a great time!

The horses are geared up to
maintain order (check out the
protection devices)

Just a few fans, and a few more

And a few more at the pubs (at
11:00 a.m.)

The Liverpool fans were heard loud
and clear

A quick stop at the Man U Megastore
was a Mega-nightmare

We squeezed into the stadium and before negotiating the stairs to our seats, we indulged in some pre-game rituals: beer and meat and potato pie.  While loitering in the food/drink court area (as alcohol was not allowed in the stands), we met a Scottish man, Graham and his young son, Liam, who had driven all the way from north of Inverness, Scotland (about six hours) to watch this Man U game.  Now that was devotion!

We were there!

Gerson with the devoted Scottish
fans, Graham and his son, Liam

Beer and meat and potato pie
very nice indeed

The players walked through "our"

The game is to begin

I like this picture of the referee
running to get into position for the
start of the game

Within seconds of sitting at our seats, we were swept up with the crowd and the various chants being hurled at the players and especially, at the Liverpool fans just under and to the side of us.  I do not know what was more fun, watching the game or watching the fans (on both sides).  I am still trying to figure out some of the more colorful words.

Missed opportunities for Man U were much too common

At least the penalty kick was successful

Where's an empty seat?  Find me any empty
seat...you won't - capacity filled at over 76,000

Liverpool fans celebrate a goal and stood up the entire game

A packed stadium only
to sadly see Man U get
their bums kicked
4 - 1

but still an awesome day

After we settled into the loss, we headed out of the stands and into the exclusive Euro Room where our NBF, Wilf, was hosting a 500 (about $750) a plate luncheon for people to watch the Man U game while being treated very well.  We enjoyed watching Wilf do what he is best at and laughed along with everyone else at his humourous stories and witty comments.

And, in keeping with our VIP treatment from our NBF, Wilf escorted us to his house to meet his endearing wife, Beryl.  Beryl was so gracious to receive us after just having surgery on her upper lip (nothing too serious, but stitches in one's lip is nothing to smile about, literally!).  We chatted for what seemed like minutes when we realized it had been well over an hour and Wilf chauffeured us back to my cousin's home (which coincidentally, was less than five minutes away).

Man U Player, Nani, signing
autographs and people waiting
for the other players to exit

Our view from the Euro Room
Wilf plying his trade

Beryl, NBF Wilf and Gerson


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