George Young Blair – J.P. Esq. 1824 – 1894
George Young Blair was born on 10th March 1824 on a farm named Drumrack and baptised on 9th April in the village of Kilrenny, near Anstruther in Fife (1).
In his early working life, George Blair became intrigued by all things mechanical and by the 1851 Scotland Census (2), he was listed in the occupation of Engineer Pattern Maker in the Lanarkshire area. In August 1853 George married Marion Thom in Govan who, at the age of 22, worked in a baker’s shop in the civil parish of Barony, Lanarkshire (3). Two years later the young couple had their first son, also called George Young Blair. After occupying various positions in major marine engineering firms in Scotland, George Blair came south to take up the position of manager of the engineering department in the Jarrow shipbuilding works of Mr Charles Mark Palmer and Co. It was in Jarrow that the Blair family increased, with the addition of John Thom Blair, who was born in March 1857. George Blair only worked in Jarrow for a short time for the Blair’s third child, a daughter named Agnes Calder Blair, was born in Stockton in January 1858. The births of John and Agnes, the move to Stockton and the prolific diseases of the time probably took their toll on Marion’s health, as she died in July 1858 (4).
George Blair was attracted to the post of manager in the Locomotive Engine works of Messrs Fossick and Hackworth and according to the 1861 England Census was living in Norton Road, as a widower with three young children. He was not on his own with the children as he also had a servant and his mother-in-law to keep house. Sadly his daughter, Agnes Calder Blair, died in January 18625.
During that summer he fell in love with Margaret Borrie, the daughter of a fellow industrial Scot, Peter Borrie, of ‘Peter Borrie & Co of the Tay Foundry, Dundee’, and in the autumn of the same year they married in Middlesbrough6. Margaret was ten years younger than George.
The happy family moved into a palatial mansion on Stockton High Street, befitting a family of their position, only to be saddened in 1865 when Mr. Blair’s second son, John, died in January, aged 8 years. In October 1877, George Young Blair Jnr. died at the age of 228. George and Margaret had one son, Peter Borrie Blair, who died in 1891 whilst in his mid-twenties, and three daughters, Mary Young, Florence Jean and Margaret Amy. Margaret died in February 1888 and in April 1891, George Blair married again, to Mary Ann (Marian) Bower, who survived him; they had no children.
George devoted himself to the design and construction of marine engines. These, for him, were a natural progression of the locomotive engines being built at Fossick and Hackworth’s which were then comparatively in their infancy. George saw that marine engines would ultimately become of great significance to Stockton. He increased his knowledge and rose within the firm to such an extent that when Thomas Hackworth left the company around 1864, Blair entered into partnership and the firm continued for some time as Messrs Fossick and Blair9. George Fossick left the partnership, leaving George Blair to become the sole owner of the works. This enabled him in 1865-6 to make a change from locomotive to marine engine building, a move marking his foresight and commercial enterprise. George formed a new firm of Blair and Co.10 employing, when at full capacity, about 2,500 workmen.
George Blair employed a proficient group of middle management staff, inspiring and encouraging them to develop their own skills and raise the profile of the firm. Strict in his discipline to others, he was quite as strict with himself. Among his workmen generally he was popular and respected. They knew his peculiarities but they also knew his worth as an employer and liked him as a man. There were therefore very few labour troubles at Blair and Co.’s works. Blair’s was one of the industrial mainstays of Stockton, as it was subject to the ebbs and flows which periodically affected other works.
George Blair did not involve himself greatly in civic life, spending most of his time developing his business (including looking after the welfare of his workers) and in the process building up his family’s fortune. He was a Justice of the Peace and for fifteen years he was a member of the Tees Conservancy Commission11 as a representative of the Stockton Ship owners. It would seem he was also a member of the Stockton Guardians as following his death, his wife Marian wrote to the board a letter of thanks, which was relayed to the members in October 189414.
George Blair was a life-long member of the Presbyterian Church. When first he came to Stockton, in the late 1850s, he joined the congregation in the little Independent Chapel in West Row, and, in 1861 when the congregation built St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tower Street at a cost of £1,10015, he contributed to the building fund, and became one of its most regular worshippers and supporters. After he built his country residence at Hutton Rudby, he would regularly drive into Stockton on Sunday mornings to attend services at St. Andrew’s. He contributed to the church’s local funds and gave £200 towards the cost of an organ for the church.
Blair gave financial and other assistance to the poor around him in Stockton, however he disliked having his generousity publically acknowledged. During the colder seasons of the year he frequently sent loads of coal to the poorer and more needy people, and he was always ready to respond to any special appeal that was made to him to assist in any case of want or necessity.
At home George Blair spent time with his family; he also enjoyed reading and loved music. George Blair kept the large mansion opposite to the Parish Church in the High Street as his town residence; Drumrauch Hall was built for him as a country residence in his later years. The Hall occupied a beautiful situation, on the banks at the River Leven in Hutton Rudby, with a fine view of the Cleveland Hills.
Goerge Young Blair died in 1894, aged 70 years and was survived by his wife and three daughters (22). Mary Anne (Marian) Blair was 30 years younger than George and lived the rest of her life at Drumrauch. She died in 1943, aged 88, having out-lived most of her husband’s family (24). The eldest of the three daughters, Mary Young Blair, married Mr. Percy Sadler17, eldest son of Colonel Sadler, J.P. of Southlands, Preston-on-Tees, who eventually assumed the name of Blair, and became the head of the family. They had six children – Percy, Winifred Rachel, Margaret Florence, George Young Blair, Katherine Mary and Marian Elspeth Sadler. Florence Jean Blair (George and Margaret’s second daughter) never married; her sister, Margaret Amy, married Smollett Clerk Thomson and lived in Scotland most of her life.
The Funeral of George Young Blair
The Stockton and Thornaby Herald, 29 Sep 1894, described the scene as follows:
The remains of the deceased gentleman were quietly conveyed to their last resting place in the picturesque churchyard on the banks of the River Leven at Hutton Rudby on Tuesday afternoon. One of the latest wishes he expressed was that his obsequies should be conducted in a quiet, unostentatious manner. His desire that there should be no flowers and that the funeral should be private, was respected so far as possible; but it was only natural that a large number of persons should desire to be present at the performance of the last solemn rites over the body of one who had been so long, so intimately, and so honourably connected with the social and industrial life of the district.
Mr. Blair was a man of strong personality, and by his indomitable energy and force of character he had built up an industry and made for his firm a name which will long hold a prominent position in the engineering world. It was only to be expected, therefore, that the funeral should be attended, not only by his own immediate relatives and friends, but by gentlemen who had learnt to respect and esteem him during his long business career, by his neighbours and by his officials and many of his workmen. Large numbers of people from Stockton and elsewhere journeyed to Drumrauck to pay a last tribute of respect to one who was beloved and respected by so many.
All the officials and a considerable number of the workmen of Messrs Blair and Co. were also present, the works having closed all day as a mark of respect. The private carriages which formed part of the cortege were those of Mr. Wrightson, M.P.; Sir Raylton Dixon; Colonel Sadler; Mr. Richardson, M.P.; Colonel Ropner, Mr. C.A. Head and Mr. R.H. Appleton; in accordance with Presbyterian custom, a service conducted by the Rev. J. Bogue, M.A., of Stockton, was held in the Hall before the interment. The service was attended by the deceased gentleman’s family and immediate friends, and also by a large deputation of the office-bearers from St Andrew’s Church, who desired to show in this manner their respect for the high qualities of Mr. Blair’s character. It was headed by the workmen and officials of Messrs Blair and Co., who were immediately followed by the hearse bearing the coffin (which was of oak, with massive brass mountings), containing the remains of the deceased gentleman. Next followed the carriages containing the chief mourners and the most intimate friends. The chief mourners were :- Mr. Percy Sadler-Blair, son-in-law; Mr Bower, of Newcastle, father-in-law; Mr Peter Borrie, brother-in-law; Messrs Albert and Walter Borrie, nephews; and Mr. Robinson Borrie. None of the lady members of the family attended the funeral obsequies, though they were present at the preliminary service.
The procession slowly wended its way though the village of Hutton Rudby to the ancient parish church, and as the mournful cavalcade passed along every blind was drawn in token of sympathy with the sorrowing relatives. At the churchyard gates the mourners were met by the Rev. J. Johnson, rector of Hutton Rudby, and the Rev. J. Kyle, vicar of Hylton, who officiated in the church and at the graveside, the rite being performed in the presence of some hundreds of people. In this manner, simply, quietly, but impressively, was conveyed to the last resting place the body of one who has done as much as any man to develop the industry and commercial life of the district. His loss will be deeply felt, and his place will be difficult to fill.
George Young Blair’s Will
Blair died leaving his widow, aged about forty, and his three daughters, who were in their mid-twenties.
His Will22, dated 29 March 1893, appointed J Stothart, (or Stoddart) bank manager of Stockton, Walter Nichol, bank manager of West Hartlepool, and James Bell Stothart, solicitor of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, to be his Executors and Trustees.
He left some annuities and legacies, and the Hall, with its 13 acres of land, cottages, stables, coach house, conservatories, greenhouses, etc was left to his widow and daughters, for so long as two of them wished to remain living there. If Mrs Blair wished to live elsewhere a residence at a rent not exceeding £40 a year was to be provided. The residue of the property was in trust for his wife and children, each child taking a share twice the size of Mrs Blair’s, who was to take only the income from her share during her life. The personality of the estate (that is, not including the houses and farms) was valued at £88,648-18s-2d.
N.B. The relative value ranges from £9,145,000.00 to £104,800,000.00.
Blair Family Graves
In All Saints Parish Church, Rudby, the west window is dedicated to the memory of Mary Young Blair. Nearby is a brass plaque in memory of her son, 2nd Lt. George Young Blair, who is also commemorated on the tablet listing the village dead of the First World War, located on the village green.
Outside, in the churchyard, near the south-east end of the church are the graves of the Blair family. A most prominent monument marks the final resting place for the majority of the family:
In loving memory of Margaret, wife of George Young Blair d 25 Feb 1888 aged 52 years. Also of their son Peter Borrie Blair d 15 Jan 1891 aged 24 years and of George Young Blair d 22 Sep 1894 aged 70 years. Also of their daughter Florence Jean Blair d 24 Feb 1917 aged 47 years. Also Marion wife of George Young Blair d 13 Feb 1943 aged 88 years. Also Mary Young Blair d 5 Dec 1935 and Winifred Rachel Blair d 3 Feb 1951
On a separate stone stood upright against the larger monument has an inscription as follows:
In loving memory of Percy Alexander Field Blair b 5 Sep 1866 d 22 Dec 1906 and his little daughter Margaret aged 9 yrs d 30 Aug 1901. Also his infant son.
The names of the following Blair family relatives are inscribed on a simple grave close by:
In loving memory of Margaret Amy Thompson wife of Smollett C Thompson b 27 Sep 1870 entered into rest 17 Apr 1907. Also the above Smollett Clerk Thompson d 19 Apr 1915 aged 53
There are two grave stones close by, which are the final resting places for two of his nieces, inscribed:
In loving memory of Katharine Mary Roche b 22 May 1897 d 3 Sep 1964. In loving memory of Marion Elspeth Sadler dearly beloved wife of Maurice H Jones d 5 Feb 1934
Thanks are expressed to the following for background information: Alice Barrigan; George Young Blair & Drumrauch Hall, Stockton & Thornaby Herald, 29 Sep 1894 – The Late Mr G. Y. Blair – obituary.
- 18240409 – Baptism – George Young Blair, Kilrenny, Fife
- 1851 – Scotland Census – George Blair, Lanarkshire
- 18530819 – Marriage – George Blair & Marion Thom – Govan, Lanarkshire
- 18580715 – Death – Marion Blair Nee Thom – P3C6 – North & South Shields Gazette
- 18620302 – Death – Agnes Calder Blair – Stockton
- 18620904 – Marriage – George Young Blair and Margaret Borrie – St Hilda’s M’Bro
- 18650203 – Death – John Thom Blair – Stockton
- 18771030 – Death – George Young Blair Jnr. – Stockton
- 1861 – Ward’s Directory – George Y. Blair – Manager of Fossick and Hackworth
- 1867 – White’s Directory – Blair & Co. (Lim) .
- 18911028 – Tees Conservancy Acts – P1C2 – North Eastern Daily Gazette
- 18750627 – George Young Blair, Qualified Magistrate – P3C1 – The Gazette
- 18741120 – Extra Municipal Election at Stockton – P3C3 – The Gazette
- 18941025 – Letter to Stockton Guardians – P4C3 – Northern Echo
- 1867 – White’s Directory – Churches Page 644
- 18910115 – Death – Peter Borrie Blair – Stockton
- 18880807 – Marriage – Mary Young Blair and Percy Alexander F. Sadler – Stokesley
- 18990812 – Florence Jean Blair to marry Frederick Wilson Horsfall – P3C6 – Leamington Spa Courier
- 18990727 – Marriage – Margaret Amy Blair and Smollett Clerk Thomson — P6C3 – The Yorkshire Post
- 18890404 – Marriage – George Young Blair and Marian Bower – P4C2 – The York Herald
- 18910405 – England Census – WRYRG12_3518_3520-0418
- 18941210 – The Late George Young Blair, His Will – P3C4 – The Northern Daily Mail
- 19430213 – Death – Marian Blair – Cleveland
Stories from the High Street participant: Martin Stabler.
The ‘Stories…’ project is part of the Council’s wider “Grants for Heritage Buildings’ programme, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Council, to help promote awareness and understanding of the town’s heritage.
Visit www.stockton.gov.uk/grantsforheritagebuildings for further information on the project.