The Cheeryble Grants

 Among the defeated remnants of the Jacobite army that withdrew from the bloody carnage of the Battle of Culloden were three Grant brothers from Glen Earnach in lower Strathspey. The youngest of the brothers was 13 year old William Grant who had joined the Jacobites in the company of his older brothers Alexander and Daniel in defiance of orders from their powerful clan chief, Lord Grant, a Government sympathiser who had forbidden his clansmen to join the Jacobite cause. Their disregard of the Clan Chief’s command meant that in the aftermath of the battle the Grant brothers could not return home. In an attempt to avoid the patrols of British soldiers and dragoons who were scouring the Highlands for Jacobite fugitives and their sympathisers the brothers sought refuge in the Speyside lands of Patrick Grant, Lord Elchies. Although a Lord of Justiciary in Edinburgh and expressing pro Hanoverian ‘loyalties’ Patrick secretly aided clan members in distress. He allowed Daniel and William to work a poor little croft at the Haugh of Wester Elchies on the riverbank opposite present day Charlestown of Aberlour. Alexander, was given a vacant croft on the South West slopes of Ben Rinnes thanks to Alexander Grant the laird of Ballindalloch. 

As the years passed Daniel took over a farm at Ballintomb a few miles south of Elchies. Alexander married Elspet Phin and moved to a croft in Glen Rinnes where he lived to be 103 years old. Known locally as ‘Auld Caernach’ he was the great grandfather of William Grant the founder of William Grant and sons the famous Speyside Whisky distillers. But young William Grant and his family are notable for their achievements far from the croft at Haugh of Elchies. William married Grace Mackenzie of Tombreck on the 4th. February 1767 at Inveravon Church. Prior to this match it was traditional for Grants to marry within the clan. A Free Press article about the family in 1907 described the couple as being: “A godly and pretty pair who were happily complemental and Grace was a woman of striking personality and extraordinary force of character.” William seems to have been a more relaxed and quiet type. Hard working and very strong physically. William is reputed to have been able to carry a heavy ‘knocking stane’ that was used to grind corn, around the kail yard at the croft. The couple raised seven children at Elchies and often had to endure harsh times when crops failed or the river Spey flooded their low lying fields. At such times, William took work as a cattle trader working as a drover for local livestock owners. He often travelled south to the great cattle Trysts at Falkirk and in the Scottish Borders. On occasion he was forced to drive the cattle far into the North of England to fetch a good price for his beasts at markets there. It was during these long droves that William became aware of the ever developing industrial revolution in England and the employment and wages that were available in the many wool and cotton mills that were being constructed in towns throughout the North. Grace would listen entranced by the tales he would tell upon his return to Speyside. She was an enterprising woman and following the total destruction of their crops and loss of livestock during a disastrous Spey flood 1782 Grace decided that enough was enough. The cattle trade had slumped and William could only find casual labouring work locally. The family was heavily in debt and their livelihood ruined, Faced with poverty and starvation it was time to seek better fortune elsewhere.  

Grace and William made the brave decision to seek their fortunes in the north of England. William’s tales of the opportunities for work in the burgeoning cotton industry here had lit a small ray of hope of a better life for the family far from the misery they endured at the croft at Haugh of Elchies. And so it was that in 1783 the couple sold all their belongings keeping only a horse and cart to aid them on their way southwards with their seven children James (15), William (14), Elizabeth (10) John (8), Mary (6) Isabella (3) and six month old baby Daniel. Neighbours and friends were shocked by this decision and thought them reckless to travel: “hunners o miles awa tae the sooth wi seeven bairns on their hauns “ With so little hope of success. Friends gave the family warm clothing and what little money they could afford before saying their sad farewells to the Grants. The first part of their trip covered the long 15 or so Achvochkie farm, the home of Grace’s brother William McKenzie and his wife. After a meal and some discussion between the adults Grace and the exhausted children slept while the men sat trying to decide the least arduous route for the family to follow. When the men retired, Mrs. McKenzie stayed up all night baking bannocks for the family and these she carefully placed in the cart along with a goodly supply of butter, oatmeal and eggs. When the Grants said that she had no need lose a night’s sleep to provide for them. Mrs. Grant looked Grace in the eye and said curtly. “Ye’ll hae a lang road afore ye and gey few hooses ” After a simple breakfast the Grants began their arduous trip of some 300 miles to Lancashire. It’s a formidable trip even with the benefit of the road system of today but 1n 1738, Scotland had little in the way of roads, merely dirty and muddy rough tracks. It was a tearful farewell for Grace in particular having to say goodbye to her brother. Unbeknown to her and William, neither would ever return to Speyside again. Their travel was by way of Kingussie and through the Drumochter pass to Stirling via Dunkeld, Perth and. Scone. Onwards to Falkirk, beyond which William was on familiar ground thanks to his experience of droving cattle by the Border towns of Galashiels, Selkirk, Hawick and Langholm to Carlisle. According to William Grant (the son) describing the trek some 50 years later, the family came to the valley of the river Irwell via Skipton. When they stopped on the road above Ramsbottom to survey the view before them. William the father exclaimed: “What a beautiful valley, May God almighty bless it! It reminds me of Speyside, but the Irwell is not as large as the river Spey” Being of good Christian faith the family sat by the cart the cart and offered thanks to God for their arrival and in the grounds of the Park estate. They were penniless, had no food, no shelter and no work. The family prayed earnestly for a change in their fortunes. The following morning it seemed their prayers had been answered when two gentlemen who were out shooting on the estate chanced upon them and engaged William in conversation. So moved by the family’s story and circumstances and impressed with the enterprise of their undertaking that they gave William two sovereigns and wished the family good luck. This random act of kindness was never forgotten by the family whose fortunes did indeed begin to improve from that day onwards though tragedy also lay ahead in the future. 

Thanks to a Scottish mill owner who William had become acquainted with on his trips south, the family found employment at Hampson Mill near Bury. The factory manufactured and printed calico and the owner, a fellow Scot, An old friend of William senior called John Dinwiddie helped them find a cottage just a short distance from the mill. Soon all were in work in the mill but William senior could not take to indoor labour and began a business selling oddments of material around the Bury area. The family’s circumstances continued to improve until one bleak and stormy morning in November 1784. With a gale raging young Mary set off that to start her shift at the mill which was on the other bank of the river Irwell. Mary was only 8 years old and when she failed to return home that night the Grants began a frantic search for no avail. It was a few days later that a neighbour told the family that he had dreamt that “Mrs. Grant’s daughter was lying in a pool in the river Irwell” The family went to the spot identified in the neighbours dream and sure enough they found poor Mary’s dead body in the river. It was assumed that she had been blown into the river by the gale and drowned

Two years later in 1788, the Grant’s eight child, a wee boy named Charles was born and the Grants were beginning to prosper to the point where they opened a family Drapery business in Bury. The Grants were by now a popular and respected family, a change from the suspicion which they were met when they first arrived in the Irwell valley with their strange Scottish tongue and ways. People noted the family’s love of music and when the Grants moved to a second, larger shop the crowds were drawn by their creative development of ‘in store entertainment’ advertised as: “A new invented Patent Barrel Organ with Bell, Drum and Triangle, with Four Barrels and Two and Thirty Tunes” The family were keen to develop their business but before they did there were debts to be settled up on Speyside. And in 1806 Young William and his elder sister Elizabeth made the long return journey to Aberlour. This time they made the trip in the relative comfort of a horse drawn carriage filled with bags of gold and bales of assorted shoes and clothing for their relatives. On arrival in Aberlour they made a public announcement that they had come to settle all the old family debt. They then settled all claims in full, they stayed in the area for a while visiting relatives. It should be noted that the Aberlour they returned to was not the town you see today (that was laid out by Charles Grant of Wester Elchies in 1812). Rather, it was a humble collection of poorly built houses many of them of the Turf built and heather thatched ‘Black House’ variety that was so common throughout the Highlands and Islands at that time. Indeed there is a story that Elizabeth spent one night sitting under her umbrella on a bed she was sharing with a cousin as the two women sheltered from the rain that was pouring through the heather thatch. When she returned home, Elizabeth, immediately sent money to her cousin to build a new house! The Grant family always remembered their humble roots in Speyside and continued to send warm woollen goods, money for the education of promising youngsters and to help friends set up their own businesses. Following the disastrous ‘Muckel Spate’ that devastated much of the area in 1829, they sent £100 to the flood fund. In 1800 the brothers William and Daniel started their own Calico printing business in Manchester and were noted for their generosity to their employees with regard to housing, clothing, good wages and working conditions that developed into William Grant and Brothers. This was all in stark contrast to the more brutal mill owners and other employers at that time. When they bought over a second mill in Ramsbottom they invested heavily in new machinery and good clothing for their workers. Their reputation for kindness and charitable acts was renowned throughout the commercial world of the Industrial revolution both at home and abroad. It is said that during the Grant Brothers time in Ramsbottom there were no pauper’s funerals. Their reputation came to the attention of the writer, Charles Dickens who is said to have dined with the brothers in Manchester in 1839 and was so taken with them that he presented them as The Cheeryble Brothers characters in his novel Nicholas Nickleby in the preface to which he wrote: “It may be right to say that there are two characters in this book which are drawn from life……Those who take an interest in this tale will be glad to learn that the brothers Cheeryble do live; that their liberal charity their singleness of heart, noble nature and no creatures of the authors brain, but are prompting every day some munificent and generous deed in that town of which they are the pride and honour”


  Some years after the deaths of their parents, William in 1817 and Grace in 1821, the Grant brothers purchased the Park estate overlooking Ramsbottom in 1827 on the very spot where the family first stopped to survey the River Irwell. The place at which two strangers had given them two sovereigns in a random act of kindness that the family never forgot, The brothers built Grant’s tower as a memorial to Grace and William Senior, a lasting tribute to the wee lad who fled the bloody aftermath of Culloden and his loving wife who both struggled through adversity and poverty to raise a family that made a great fortune during the Industrial revolution and two sons who found literary immortality far from their Highland home.