Alnwick, History Society

Bailiffgate Museum, Alnwick.
Bailiffgate Museum, Alnwick.

Family travels

Gordon Downie was guest speaker at the October meeting of the Alnwick branch of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society. His talk traced the lives of his ancestors and their journey from Glen Isla, in Scotland, across the world.

The name Downie has a variety of forms and means a “dweller by the hill”. There are Downie/Dounie place names for hill forts in many parishes across Scotland.

Glen Isla is a traditional highland parish in the county of Forfar, in Angus, with Scottish Black houses, Cupar Abbey and a now ruined castle. Despite the harsh conditions, inhabitants appear from gravestones and church records to have been long-lived.

It was from here in the mid 1700s that the Downie family moved away, probably for political or economic reasons.

Some Downies made the 200-mile journey down to Holy Island, while others settled in Newbiggin as tailors. Others established themselves in North Shields and Tyneside as seamen, ship’s chandlers and fish merchants.

A Thomas Downie joined the 83rd Regiment of Foot as a soldier and travelled to Nova Scotia, leaving his wife behind.

Nearer to home, another Downie became a chemist in Tyneside, producing his own ointments, the pots of which can still be found and are collectable.

Even closer to home were the Downies of Alnwick, with their shop in the 1950s in Narrowgate.

With descendants in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it is obvious that the Downies travelled far from their Glen Isla home.

The next meeting of the Alnwick branch of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society will be on Tuesday, November 1, at 7.30pm, at Bailiffgate Museum. The speaker is Mike Fraser, talking about Sir Charles Trevelyan of Wallington: A Socialist of Modest Means.