From Moniaive to Morpeth –

James Fergusson
James Fergusson

WHILE searching the annals of the Morpeth Herald, a name kept appearing over the years and possibly because of the ...sson ending of his surname it caught our attention.

It was decided to see what we could find out about this man who seemed to play a major role in the life of Morpeth, one Mr James Fergusson.

He was born at Damhouse, ie Cottage Row No 1, Moniaive, Dumfriesshire in 1837, the third son of John Fergusson a stone dyker.

He had eight brothers and sisters, three of whom died in their first year.

He attended the Moniaive Free Church School and served as a pupil teacher.

From here he went to Moray House Training College in Edinburgh, received an appointment as second master at Free Abbey Academy in Dunfermline, then following a tutorship for a while, became headmaster of the Lochmaben Free Church School.

In 1864 he came to Morpeth and became headmaster of St George’s Presbyterian School in Cottingwood Lane for more than 28 years.

It appears that James Fergusson was head-hunted from the school in Lochmaben by Dr James Anderson of the Presbyterian Church in Morpeth, and as Mr Eric Ross remarks in his History of St George’s (1993): ‘Morpeth gained a valuable citizen.’

This free school, the only one in Morpeth at the time, had 168 pupils on its register in 1866 and produced many students who went on to achieve great things in their life.

On his resignation from the school in 1893 an indication of his standing within the community of Morpeth can be measured by the generous gifts of five valuable books and a cheque for £161.

Before moving to Morpeth, James Fergusson married Georgina Somerville at St Giles Edinburgh in 1863.

They had six children, the first named John was born (1864) in Scotland, the remainder in Morpeth — Margaret (1866), George (1867), Mary (1869), James (1871) and lastly Georgina (1872).

Sadly both the last daughter and her mother died in the same year, 1872, possibly as a result of problems at birth.

Georgina Somerville was born in Edinburgh in 1836 and lived at Dalrymple Place with her parents George, a shoemaker, and Margaret, nee McDonald.

There is a record of a Georgina Somerville, aged 23, in the 1861 census, employed as a domestic servant to John Hutton Balfour, Professor of Medicine and Botany, Edinburgh St Barnard.

While she was living in Morpeth she wrote an article for the Morpeth Herald on The Gaols of Morpeth.

And so why did James Fergusson’s name keep appearing so regularly as we searched through the papers?

Foremost, he was a successful and respected headmaster both by his pupils and the community for many years.

He was secretary and librarian of the Morpeth Mechanics Institute for 36 years.

On arriving in Morpeth he first gave time to the Young Men’s Mutual Instruction Association, giving lectures and writing papers for their weekly meetings.

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Of matters relating to the church, he was a church elder at St George’s Presbyterian Church, greatly involved with the starting up of the Bullers Green Sunday School and Mission, and very much in demand for his lectures and addresses on literary, historical and antiquarian topics.

He was also actively engaged in municipal and county elections — a staunch Liberal, he supported and became good friends with Mr T Burt, the Parliamentary representative for the Wansbeck Constituency, being Chairman of Mr Burt’s Morpeth Committee.

Perhaps James Fergusson will be best remembered for his journalism and writings. In addition to the local papers, especially the Morpeth Herald, the editorials of which were occasionally by him, he wrote many articles for national papers, among them The Scotsman, Yorkshire Post, The Daily News and Pall Mall Gazette.

Possibly most important of all, Mr Fergusson wrote many books and articles on local aspects of Morpeth and the district, many of which can still be found in local libraries today.

James Fergusson lived his last years at 19 Howard Terrace, Morpeth, with his sister Janet and died in 1915. The usual ceremony in St George’s Church could not be held, the building being in the occupation of the military, and so the service took place at the parish church. A large and representative funeral took place, an indication of the esteem to which he was held, the coffin bearing the inscription: “James Fergusson; died April 20th, 1915, aged 77 years”.

Mr Harle and Mr Davison wish to thank the Mackay family for their help and access to the Herald archives.

Anyone with further information about Mr Fergusson, or any of the subjects covered in Herald The Past, should e-mail the historians at