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Issue 34 - Gordon Brown

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 34
August 2007


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Gordon Brown

In recent issues we have looked at how you can find out about your ancestors through genealogy. In a new series we look into the ancestry of some famous Scots. First up, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Being Scottish and the leader of the United Kingdom takes some balancing act. New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has done it by stressing his loyalty to the Union between Scotland and England while taking a calculated and deliberate decision with his wife Sarah to have his children born not just in Scotland, but in Fife, where they have a home and where Brown serves as a Member of Parliament.

This is significant because although he was born in Giffnock in the west of Scotland, James Gordon Brown comes from a long line of Fife farmers.

From the birth of John Brown in the parish of Ballingry in 1804 to that of John Ebenezer Brown in Largo in 1914, the direct line of descent is associated with the land, most being described variously as farm labourers, ploughmen and farmers. Unlike their acclaimed descendent, his father apart, they all married young and in the manner of the times, were survived by several offspring.

John Ebenezer, Gordon’s father, was the first to step out of his almost pre-destined agricultural occupation and took Holy Orders to become a minister of the Church of Scotland. The Rev. John’s mother, Rachel Mavor, was the daughter of James Mavor, who progressed from being a mason at the time of the 1870 marriage in Burntisland to being a ‘builder employing 17 men and three boys’ by the time of the 1881 census.

On his death he was said to have been a ‘house builder’ and clearly his was a success story. He also found time to remarry after the death of his first wife, his second being a spirit merchant. Evidently her occupation was not considered to be a barrier to the union, and on his death she was the sole beneficiary of his estate, with no mention made of his children.

Gordon Brown’s parents, John Ebenezer and Jessie Souter, married in Aberdeen in 1947, his bride being from a family who had long been established in the rural Aberdeenshire parishes of Insch and Auchindoir. Jessie’s father, John, was a timber merchant and was descended from a family of masons and carpenters.

Gordon Brown’s long wait to reach the top of British politics culminated with a charm offensive designed to keep the peace between his followers and those of his predecessor Tony Blair. You wonder, then, whether he is aware that his great grandfather James, who lived from 1837 and 1919, was the son of William Souter and Margaret Booth. Booth is the maiden name of Tony Blair’s wife Cherie, and given the reputed chill between her and the new Prime Minister, you can imagine Gordon’s consternation over whether they are actually related.

On his mother’s side and a few generations back Gordon has an English connection. The father of John Souter’s wife, Jessie Manson, proved to be the illegitimate son of an English-born and London-trained surgeon. Jessie’s father was Francis Manson, and he was born in Inverkeithney, Banffshire, to the unmarried Jessie Cruickshank and Alexander James Mason. Jessie had been a lady’s maid who subsequently married a farmer named Alexander Murison and lived in Fyvie with him and his three children. It seems that there was little social stigma attached to illegitimacy at the time. Banff had a notoriously high illegitimacy rate and it was not uncommon for unmarried mothers to settle into a conventional relationship later in life. Indeed an illegitimate son was proof of the fertility of a potential bride.

The ‘reputed’ father Alexander was a man of great intelligence and appears to have been in general practice as a surgeon in Scotland. His illegitimate son seems to have been adopted and it is not known if son and father ever knew each other.

Perhaps the intellect of Gordon Brown’s father, the Church of Scotland minister, combined with that of his great-great grandfather surgeon Alexander Manson, were instrumental in propelling him to the very top job in his chosen career of politics. Certainly, his chosen career has taken him far from his family roots.