Though devoid of those striking incidents which interest while they instruct the reader, the record of Mr Stow’s life may be of some practical value as an exposition…of the beneficial changes which an original and independent thinker may effect in any department of philanthropy to which his energies may be persistently directed.
Memoir of the life of David Stow (1868)
David Stow was born, conspicuously, on 17th May 1793: a plaque erected by the Educational Institute of Scotland a century later, and now on the corner of Stow and Causeyside Streets in Paisley, Renfrewshire, proclaims the fact.
Indubitably, therefore, Stow was Scottish by birth. He was educated at The English School and the Grammar School both in Paisley.
He lived all his life in Glasgow, owning many properties in the city, and he died at Bridge of Allan on 6th November, 1864. He was a silk merchant and subsequently manufacturer of worsted carpets, owning warehouses and providing employment on the south side of the City. He was also a landowner leaving, at his death, more by way of property than stocks and shares in his carpet factory.
He was an active member of the Church of Scotland being a deacon of the Tron Church, and an elder in St John’s and St Margaret’s Parish Churches. Following the ‘disruption’ of the Church of Scotland, he was one of the four founders of St Margaret’s Free Church in Elmbank Street, Glasgow. He stood for election to Glasgow City Council and was a Director of the ‘Scottish Provident Institution’ in Edinburgh. All his five children were born in Scotland, as was his second wife and most of his grandchildren. He was familiar with the Glasgow dialect.
He was closely associated with the establishment of infant, juvenile and senior schools and the foundation of two colleges for the training of teachers, all in Glasgow. His experiences formed the basis of his educational writings, often referred to as the ‘Glasgow’ or ‘Scottish’ System. He, and several members of his immediate family, are buried in the Gorbals cemetery.
Yet aspects of his life suggest that his English roots were also significant. David’s father, William Stow, was a bankrupt’s son, probably fleeing to Paisley in 1778-9, about fourteen years before David was born. Although by then domiciled in Scotland, William still enrolled his four sons as a Freemen in the city of Berwick-upon-Tweedcarrying on a family tradition of nearly two hundred years. Stow owned a house, Melkington Lodge, in Dunoon named after the family estates in England. When his father moved north, a significant uncle, also named David, remained in Berwick, along with at least two grandparents, eight other uncles and aunts and thirteen nephews and nieces. Stow’s first wife came from Islington. Stow’s eldest son, William, named after his grandfather, chose to move to England, where he married, where his three children were born and where he died. The two surviving grandchildren, though brought up by a step-father in Scotland, died in England. Stow’s second son, John Fairbairn, died in Southend. After Stow’s death, his third and remaining son, David George, and his family of eleven children moved to London. Many of the family occasions – births, baptisms, marriages and deaths – thus took place in England. Furthermore, Stow had regular business dealings in London and was in partnership with his two brothers, William Fenwick Stow and Matthew Kenyon-Stow, who were both merchants in Leeds. If it helps to define who Stow was we should probably consider his family as Anglo-Scottish, domiciled in Scotland for three generations only.
The family origins in Berwick-upon Tweed
Stow considered that his family originated in County Durham and William Fraser, his first biographer, states as much. While strictly true at the time of his birth, a parliamentary change in county boundaries during Stow’s lifetime placed the family estate firmly in Norhamshire, Northumberland, an alteration which has confused biographers ever since! Stow’s forbears held a large house and lands at Melkington, Cornhill-on-Tweed, just across the river from Coldstream. Almost certainly an earlier David Stow (1653-1733) purchased the Melkington Estate since he is the first to be referred to as ‘David Stow of Melkington’.The house, now a listed building, still stands on rising ground just outside Cornhill-on-Tweed. A serious fire is known to have occurred on December 23rd 1718 but the building survived to be passed, unusually, to the second son George (1684-1767). He presumably occupied the home with his wife Sarah and their four children, the eldest of whom was Fenwick, Stow’s grandfather (1716-1782).
The Melkington Estate gave the Stow family considerable prestige and status in the Parish of Norham and beyond. Families of Temples, Lundies, Blakes, Comptons, Selbys, Watsons and Fosters were all inter-linked with the Stows by marriage, connecting the lands of Norham, Twizeldale, Allerdean, Tillmouth and Ford.
Apart from their Estates, the families appeared to dabble in any entrepreneurial activities offered by improvements in transport and communication. Various members of these families rose in the ranks of the army, navy, civil service and church.
Indeed, the church was the focal point for the baptisms, marriages, and burials of many of these families – and inevitably of business also. The Stows, ignoring the large, imposing ‘St Helen’s Parish Church’ on their doorstep drove thirteen miles in the opposite direction to worship at the Commonwealth Church of the Holy Trinity. William Stow-Lundie erected a gallery over the portal to provide the family with sufficient seats and numerous Stows are buried in the most prominent tomb in the churchyard.
This church, of course, was situated in the prosperous town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. While Coldstream was the nearest large village to Cornhill, being but a mile and a half away compared with the thirteen miles to Berwick, the Tweed here defines the English-Scottish border and, in any case, was not bridged until 1767. Perhaps more importantly, Berwick offered far greater facilities, especially for merchants. The expansive river mouth provided safe harbour; the bridge spanning the river allowed easy access north and south; the military were barracked in the town ensuring a degree of stability; and the Spittal Head, promenades along the broad sea walls, and spacious and cobbled town streets attracted wealthy, leisured families. Berwick was the ideal situation for business.
The Stow family was clearly part of a small group of merchants who organised and possibly controlled Berwick-upon-Tweed for over two hundred years. They bought, rented and sold property, particularly on Holy Island; engaged in the shipping trade; and speculated audaciously before the banking (or bankruptcy) systems had been formalised. The names of the freemen, aldermen and mayors give a fair indication of the influence of these families who dominated the politics and social life of the town. The list includes, for example, David Stow (1653-1733) who was mayor for three years from 1701; Stow’s great grandfather who was mayor in 1721; and Fenwick Stow, his grandfather, who in addition to being a Justice of the Peace was mayor on four occasions after which David Stow, Stow’s uncle, took office six times.
The move to Paisley
This lifestyle of wealth and influence was to end abruptly.
Within three years of inheriting Melkington, Fenwick Stow, Stow’s grandfather, ran into financial difficulties. In the summer of 1767, hearing that there had been crop failures in Spain and Italy, he ordered substantial quantities of wheat and rye from America for onward sale. This venture left him short of £5,000, probably because of the loss of the ships ‘The Charming Jennet’ and ‘The Mary John’ in Lisbon.
At all events, by the following year (1768), despite pledging the Melkington Estate against the loan, he was declared bankrupt
Although this was announced in 1768, the legalities dragged on until 1778 when the Estate was sold. Fenwick sought sanctuary within the Abbey of Holyrood in Edinburgh – a right enjoyed by insolvent debtors and Berwick-upon-Tweed being then within the diocese of Holyrood.
Perhaps, as well as escaping the law, he was also glad to evade those who had lent him the capital for his ventures. William Johnstone Temple, for example, lost the £1100 which Anne Stow, his wife and cousin of Fenwick, had invested in the scheme. Temple was eventually forced to sell his lands at Allerdean as a result.
After any settlement, according to Fraser, Fenwick Stow’s remaining money was divided between at least two of his sons – William, Stow’s father and David, Stow’s uncle. Fenwick continued to live at a small farmhouse, ‘Greystonelees’, which still exists five miles north of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Its situation just within Scotland is probably significant, being outwith further pursuance by the law.
Fenwick Stow’s bankruptcy thus split up the family. All Stow’s aunts and uncles remained in Berwick along with the offspring of, by 1800, exceedingly numerous relations.
The Stows had large families and the branches of the family tree become increasingly expansive – but always throughout England. It is unlikely that Stow re-visited Melkington, yet his will states that he owned a ‘Melkington Lodge’ in Dunoon; and in 1844, sixty-six years after the Estate was sold, Stow’s nephew (his brother, Matthew’s, son) was baptised ‘Frederick Melkington’. It can surely be assumed that Stow would visit his Uncle David who, after a long and successful career in the navy, retired at the rank of Rear Admiral and settled in Berwick-upon-Tweed fulfilling many duties as a magistrate, including laying the foundation stone of the lighthouse. His uncle did not die until 1826 when Stow would be 33. Stow is named as a Trustee of his uncle’s will and was present in Berwick-upon-Tweed when it was signed.
The uncle was also named as a Trustee in his father’s will.Fenwick’s bankruptcy had other implications. When William headed north to Paisley, in 1779 at the age of 25, he was the eldest son of a bankrupt. There he met Agnes Smith,whom he married on 19th April 1783.
They had ten children of whom David was the fifth and second son. Despite William becoming a Provost and Magistrate in the town, the family was always comfortably off rather than wealthy. Stow was born and brought up in a thread and cotton warehouse rather than the more expansive lands of a Northumberland Estate. Indeed, his father became increasingly anxious about his financial affairs as the value of property slumped and the silk trade foundered. Codicils to his will refer to his mounting anxiety over the fate of his four unmarried daughters. He makes provision for his wife to have ‘privilege of access’ to ‘the necessary’ (that is, access to the outside toilet); he instructs his family to ‘live together in the cheapest way’ and the furniture, bed linen and plate are left, first to his daughters and then, when his brother in Berwick provides for them,to his two younger sons. Although William left about £5000, much of that was owed to him by members of his family, probably in property. Cash-in-hand, amounting to £398, had to be shared out among his wife and nine surviving children. It seems a far cry from Melkington. Nor were his children much better off. His eldest son, John, left about £741 including debts owed to him and the gold watch he inherited from his Uncle David in Berwick. Interestingly, Stow, his brother’s executor, refers to ‘The deceased (being) likewise possessed of funds in Canada amounting to about Five thousand, five hundred pounds but the particulars cannot at present be precisely stated’ which may well be the money still owed to his grandfather Fenwick, and which should have descended to first William and then his son, John. The four surviving unmarried daughters – Elizabeth, Mary, Margery, and Margaret – lived all their lives at 5, Stow Place, Paisley, existing on the rent from the furnished flat next door. Each of their wills, while leaving small sums to charity, ensures that the life-rent of the two houses passed to the surviving sister(s). In 1853, David, as the eldest surviving male, successfully established his right to the houses. Elizabeth, the last sister to go, left her remaining estate to William Fenwick and Matthew, her two brothers – but not, interestingly, to her third surviving brother. By that time, David had money of his own.
Stow’s early life
Very little is known of Stow’s early life. He started his education at the English School
‘I remember being taught English reading in a parochial school in which were children of the weaver, the mechanic, the chief magistrate of the town, the clergyman, and the merchants, sitting in the same class and learning the same lessons’.
Fraser notes that later he attended Paisley Grammar School regularly and received an ‘ordinary English and classical education given in such institutions to pupils of his rank, and he held an honourable place in all his classes’.
Fraser’s description of Stow continues: ‘A fair-haired and beautiful boy, quick in the glance of his eye, and with a countenance of highly intellectual caste, he delighted rather to observe the amusements of his companions and witness their happiness, than to mingle with them’
The school Stow would have attended was the third to be built on the same site. It was newly opened on Church Hill in 1802, when Stow was nine. ‘The lower floor was used for the school, while the upper floor was the Rector’s house. The only drawback was the lack of playground but otherwise no expense was spared in its construction’.
Stow was later to write disparagingly of the education he received, contrasting the dull, mechanical repetition of meaningless words with his own methods. His later insistence on the importance of ‘the uncovered classroom’ (the playground) may have been prompted by personal experience. He also opted to have the Rector’s house above the school in his own plans.
The move to Glasgow
Stow probably left school at the age of fourteen when at least some of his peers would go on to university. Instead, he worked at a loom,either with his father or his eldest brother, both of whom had premises in Causeyside Street.
In 1811, however, at the age of eighteen, Stow was ‘extensively engaged with a commercial firm’
in Glasgow. The move to Glasgow could suggest that there was no room for another son in the family business in Paisley, or that Stow was sent to the industrial capital to extend the business, or that the demise of the silk industry in Paisley was already becoming apparent,or simply that since his sister Anne had married into the silk trade, there was an obvious position available for her brother in her husband’s firm.
The firm he joined was Wilson, Hervey and Co., situated at 115, Trongate. The Wilsons and the Herveys were clearly friends as well as partners. John Hervey, along with John Stow (Stow’s brother), witnessed the registration of the Wilson’s second child.
Fraser refers to Stow, at this time, as a clerk in a counting house but by 1817, both Stow and Wilson had become partners in the firm of Wilson, Stow and Company and, according to the records of the Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Glasgow, admitted as Burgesses:
‘Stow, David, merchant, one of the partners of Wilson, Stow and Company, silk merchants, 115, Trongate, (admitted Burgess and Guild Brother by purchase – August 11th, 1817’.
(For more about Stow’s working life see ‘Stow’s Business Interests’.)
Stow’s family life
At the age of 28, Stow married Marion (or Maryanne) Sarah Freebairn, on March 12th 1822 in St Mary’s Church, Islington (although the marriage was also registered in Scotland). Fraser describes her as ‘a young lady of decided piety, highly accomplished, and of great personal attraction’.
David and Marion had five children: William, Sarah, John Freebairn, David George, and Agnes. William was born on 12th September 1823. His baptism and the registration of his birth was witnessed by James Playfair, who was a member both of the Glasgow Infant School Society (GISS)and the Glasgow Educational Society (GES), and by William Buchanan, similarly a member of GES. William nearly died in infancy through ‘active inflammation of the lungs’,causing his parents great emotional and spiritual distress. ‘We have been visited’, Stow wrote, ‘with a fatherly correction in the near prospect of the loss of our dear and only child, William’.William, however, survived to adulthood. He became a student at Glasgow University from 1837-41:his name, along with those of his two brothers, is recorded in the Matriculation Albums of the University 1728-1858. In the Census of 1841,when he was 18, he was living at home in Sauchyhall (sic) Street but by December 14th 1841, he was enrolled as a Pensioner in Peterhouse College, Cambridge, becoming a scholar in 1842. In 1846, at the age of 23, he graduated from Cambridge University with a Bachelor of Arts to which he added, in 1851, a Master of Arts.
He became Curate in Sherborne, Dorset in 1848, Parish Curate of Dilton Marsh, Wiltshire from 1848-50, and eventually succeeded to the vicarage of Avebury with Winterbourne-Monkton in 1850 through the offices of the Marquis of Lansdowne, a friend of his father.
It was William who often replaced his father at the Normal Seminary when on vacation, and during his father’s illness: ‘He pleased and maintained a good feeling with the masters, he kept all in order conducting the strangers and explaining the system’.
He introduced Stow’s system into the parish school while at Dilton Marsh in Wiltshire, which received a glowing inspector’s report. Stow’s pride in his son is reflected in a letter to Kay-Shuttleworth, dated Glasgow, December 26th, 1843, where he discusses the idea of ‘my son’s writing or inspecting schools under the Church of England or Government’ as a way of filling in time until he was old enough to obtain a curacy. The common interest in education shared by father and son must have deepened the suffering caused by William’s death on April 23rd, 1852 at the age of twenty-eight. During his illness, Stow wrote daily to his son including March 11th 1852, the day of the baptism of ‘dear little Charles George’, his grandson. His final letters, recorded verbatim by Fraser, in which he expounds Biblical exegesis, are profoundly emotional and devotional. William died at 13, Hans Place Chelsea, on 22nd April, 1852 surrounded by his father, his wife and his three children to whom he gave a Bible each, with a request that they be signed by their grandfather.
His time at Avebury is attractively recorded in the Record of Vicars beside the chancel and he is buried in the graveyard just outside the church door. His gravestone records that he was the husband of Catherine and son of David Stow and concludes with a partly obliterated text.
William had married Catherine Bannister and had three children: Marion, Charles George (as above) and William David. After William’s death, Catherine remarried, a William Burnley, and settled in Edinburgh. Burnley was thirteen years older than Catherine, and a West India Merchant. The Scottish Census for 1861 records Marion Stow, his stepdaughter, and William D. Stow, his stepson. ‘Dear little Charles George’ died in infancy, but Stow had his remaining two grandchildren near him in Edinburgh. He made a contribution to their education and left them a total of £5,000 in his will.
Stow’s second child, Sarah Rebecca Stow, was born on 23rd July, 1825. Her baptism and the registration of her birth were witnessed by John Wilson, Stow’s brother-in-law and Partner in the business; and by James Playfair described above.
The English Census for 1841 records a ‘Sarah Stow’ who was born in Scotland and was now at school in Euston Square, St Pancras, and since there is no record of a ‘Sarah Stow’ in the Scotland Census for 1841, although her parents and brothers are all mentioned, it seems likely that this is Stow’s daughter. A letter written by Stow to his children on December 31st, 1840 ‘See that you three unite together in prayer’ also suggests that one of the four surviving children was not at home. In 1873, at the age of 48, she suffered the first recorded attack of what was probably some form of bi-polar disorder although her condition was diagnosed as ‘insane’. She was admitted to Dr Winslow’s private asylum, Brandenburgh House, in St Pancras, London.
They had ‘59 patients, 39 male and 20 female, the patients in the most part belong to the middle and upper classes, and the payments are generally liberal’. Sarah appears to have been required to leave Dr Winslow’s asylum for financial reasons.
The second recorded attack took place in January 1884: two months later she was admitted to Glasgow Royal Asylum at Gartnavel by her nephew, David Frederick Stow of Greenvale, Dunbarton. Her next of kin is recorded as David George Stow, her brother, of 17, Springfield Road, St Leonards, Surrey. He stood surety for her fees as a private patient. She was recorded as ‘of unsound mind and a proper Patient to be placed in an Asylum’. The records show that she was unmarried, and an Anglican which suggests that she spent most of her life in England although she lived in Charlotte Street, Ayr, prior to her admission to Gartnavel Hospital. She died on June 23rd 1886, at the age of 60. Her hospital records may simply suggest she suffered from depression or may sum up a sad story.
John Freebairn Stow, the third child, was born in 1827. His baptism was witnessed by John Wilson, as above, and John Stow, Stow’s elder brother. This son also took a degree at Glasgow University and then entered his father’s business. Fraser records that he ‘was becoming by the frankness of his disposition and his integrity in business transactions, a favourite in commercial circles’.
He also took part in Sabbath-School teaching and, on his death, a ‘touching tribute was paid by the society of which he was a member’.
There seemed ‘nothing ominous’ in John going to Brighton for a holiday, yet ‘Mr. Stow was ‘confounded by the sad announcement that his son was dying’.
John died in Brighton on Christmas Eve, 1852 aged 25, just eight months after his elder brother. ‘Mr. Stow’s anguish was intense’.
Fortunately, Stow’s third son, David George Stow, outlived him. David George was born on 1st November 1828: his baptism was witnessed by James Playfair and Allan Buchanan, (a member of GISS and joint-founder member, with Stow, of St Margaret’s Free Church of Scotland). As his two brothers before him, David George attended Glasgow University. He is also described as a ‘Worsted Spinner and Carpet Manufacturer’. On 25th June 1850 he married Jessie Crum Smith. In a little bit of family history, the minister officiating at the ceremony was his brother, Rev William Stow, minister of Dilton Marsh in the County of Wiltshire. Jessie and David George had eleven children, providing Stow with a quiver full of grandchildren of whom he would have known six.
David George and his wife were able, periodically, to offer Stow a home at Bridge of Allan. This son wrote to the Congress of the Educational Institute of Scotland, held at Paisley on 5th January 1893, at which John G. Thomson gave the Centenary Address: ‘Mr. Thomson kindly sent me the handbook-programme, and I need hardly say how deeply I, and all the various members of our family, are interested in the contents thereof and feel intense gratification at the great honour to be paid to the memory of my sainted and revered father’.
David George probably retired after the disastrous fire at his father’s Port Eglinton factory in 1874 for he died at Southend, Essex, on 22nd February 1895.
Agnes Stow was born on 10th October 1830 and baptised the following November on the 14th. Both the registration and baptism were witnessed by John Wilson and James Playfair (as above). She died on 26th July 1831 aged nine months and was buried beside her mother and, in the fullness of time, with her father.
Marion Freebairn and Elizabeth McArthur, his wives; William and John Freebairn, his sons; Charles George, his grandson; John, Elizabeth, Mary, Margaret and Marjorie, his brothers and sisters; John Wilson his brother-in-law; Mary and Marjorie his aunts and David his uncle; and Elfrida Susan and George Herbert his nephew and niece. There may have been more, for example Sarah Wilson who is mentioned in a letter from Stow to Thomas Chalmers as being seriously ill, but searchable death records do not start until 1855.
Stow’s first wife, Marion, died of typhoid on July 30th 1831, nine years after their marriage and four days after the death of their nine month old daughter. At their mother’s death, Stow was left with four children to bring up on his own: William then aged eight, Sarah aged six, John Freebairn aged four and David George aged three
‘The tempers and dispositions of my children are varied’, writes Stow with a wry smile, ‘and the nature of the provocations, or mutual misconceptions, requires the utmost delicacy on my part, more, indeed than in my own strength I am capable of performing; but I do my best and God has been pleased to bless my endeavours. My children do not always steal, or lie, or quarrel, or fight, or deceive, or exhibit the strong propensity of selfishness’.
And Fraser observes: ‘Happy in the tenderly reciprocated affections of his children, he clung to them with increasing tenacity as the years advanced. To him home was ever a sanctuary, in which he found refuge from the disappointments and cares of life’.
The ‘cares of life’ were many since although Stow married again, Elizabeth McArthur from Rothesay, in the Barony Parish Church, Glasgow on 9th March, 1841, even this peaceful period was short-lived. Elizabeth died in 1847.
And what of Stow himself? All the portraits, even that in his old age, illustrate a confident, personable and imposing man with a broad brow and regular features. His success both in business and in education suggests that he was intelligent, strong-minded and resourceful, able both to take the initiative and to cope with the routine grind of seeing projects through to fulfilment. He could be litigious, contesting his own non-election as a councillor the election of a Glasgow Provost,
and, ironically, the ownership of goods by a bankrupt.
Indeed, his apparent reluctance to speak about his relatives may suggest an embarrassment at being the grandson of a bankrupt, while his lack of a university career may account for his self-importance at times. Fraser describes him as ‘ardent in his temperament, generous, sensitive’.
Dr Thomas Morrison, Rector of the Free Church Training College in 1893, who knew Stow from 1852 to 1864, recalled his enthusiasm, earnestness and devotion to work. Morrison described him as ‘gifted with fine sensibility, and a most chivalrous sense of honour, simple as a little child, free from all affectation and generous to a fault’.
As a writer, Stow could master his arguments logically, although he was much given to the use of repetition for emphasis and self-advancement. The frustration and, sometimes, intolerance, expressed in his writings perhaps reflects his determination and a degree of inflexibility. But he had a lively streak of humour and was able to recount stories of his own experiences with children with flair and amusement.
Despite his love of his educational work, Stow must have been a lonely man. During his life-time he suffered the deaths of seventeen near relatives including two wives, two sons and a daughter, a grandson, a brother and four sisters, a brother-in-law, two aunts and the eponymous uncle, and a nephew and niece.
Stow’s double spate of writing falls first between the two marriages, and then after the deaths of his second wife, and his sons – perhaps the loneliest periods of his life. He was also a sick man. After the death of his wife ‘the affliction pressed on him with such weight as to unfit him for a year for his ordinary Sabbath-School and other labours’.
In his old age, Fraser records that he was ‘shut out from an active share in the work of the Normal College and spent his time chiefly at Bridge of Allan’, where ‘he was sustained and cheered by the sympathy, affection and tender solitude of his only daughter and his only surviving son’.
He died on November 6th, 1864
at the age of 71. The death certificate records that he was living in ‘Bombay House’ and that he possibly (‘uncertain’ is recorded) died of softening of the brain and paralysis of the right side.
George Insh Pratt writing in ‘The Life and Work of David Stow’ – the Commemoration lecture to the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow, December 22nd 1937 – noted caustically: ‘The tomb of David Stow (is) crumbling to ruin in the most desolate and deserted corner of the most desolate and deserted burial ground in Glasgow’. He adds, prophetically, in view of the present position. ‘It will not be long, we feel, till the reproach of this crumbling tomb is taken away’.
In 1938, Robert Houseman,
Stow’s most recent biographer, photographed the Stow family vault in the Old Gorbals Cemetery, Glasgow. This cemetery, situated on Commercial Road, between Old Rutherglen Road and Caledonian Road, still exists although the surrounding area has been extensively redeveloped since Houseman’s time. It is now laid out as a park, and most of the individual headstones are lost or removed. It is a fitting icon of the neglect which the name of David Stow has suffered over the succeeding centuries.