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TRUE ACCOUNT OF JAMES BELL. A 17th Century PROVOST OF GLASGOW, AND HIS FAMILY., J. Bain (Mar., 1895), pp.141-148.

“THE connexions and descendants of this provost have been misrepresented by John McUre, the city historian, and also by the anonymous writer of a series of papers in the Glasgow Herald of June-July, 1864,* who apparently had access to the old provost’s “Coumpt Book,” and not only preserved all McUre’s errors intact, but added a few of his own. There were various families of the surname of Bell in Glasgow in the 17th century, and one was then prominent in the city, but what relationship (if any) they bore to each other is now not easily traced. Being interested in one of them, I have at times made some researches, in the course of which it is evident that McUre’s account of Provost James Bell’s children is very incorrect. In his long genealogy of Archibald Lyon and his descendants, McUre says –  

‘The said Isobel Campbell [a sister of Blythswood] was married to James Bell late provost of Glasgow, uncle to Sir John. Their issue are Patrick, their only son, Grizal, Janet and Dorothy Bell. Patrick was married to Margaret Hamilton daughter lawful to the deceased James Hamilton of Dalzell. He died without issue. His estate, which was very considerable, fell to his three sisters. Grizal the eldest, was married to Mr. John Wilkie of Broomhouse descended of the family of Fouldoun in the Merse, and has one hopeful son, who has acquired the said estate of Fouldoun. Grizal was again married to Alexander Bell of Antermainy. Their issue is Alexander Bell, but died. Peter Bell succeeded to him, and was married to Annable Stirling, a lawful daughter of the family of Craigbarnet, an ancient baron in Stirlingshire. Their issue is John Bell now of Antermainy, a physician who was long abroad, and lately come home. Dorothy was married to Mr. John Young one of the professors of philosophy in the University of Glasgow, and had only one son, Mr. James, who died.’ 

The printed Retours of General Services of heirs give a rather different but doubtless truer account of the provost’s children. On 3rd April, 1657, “Issobell Bell, spous to Mr. John Wilkie of Broomhous, Grissell; Bell, spous to Alexander Bell writer in Edinburgh, and Dorothie Bell,” were served heirs portioners of James Bell, late Provost of Glasgow, their father, and on the same day, to “Patrick Bell merchand, their brother germane.”1

McUre is thus all wrong. He married Grizel to her eldest sister’s husband, and presents her with a son James Wilkie, who was in fact her nephew. Isobel, the eldest daughter, whom he calls Janet the second, died before the 5th October, 1657, when her son James Wilkie was served her heir general (Retours). The Broomhouse of which his father “Mr. John” is designed, puzzles me. The late John Buchanan, LL.D., who accepted McUre’s version as fact, says (Dr. Gordon’s Glasgow, p. 742) that Broomhouse was an estate three miles east of Glasgow, near the toll-bar of that name. I know that district well, and never heard of any “estate” there except the toll-house and its garden. 

There is another Broomhouse in the county of Berwick which has been owned by a branch of the Homes from an early date; and quite by accident I, some years ago, discovered a third estate of Broomhouse (a long way off Glasgow, however) in Islandshire or North Durham, and oddly enough it has been owned by a family surnamed Wilky or Wilkyn from 1628 till 1832 (Raine’s North Durham, 1852, p. 233). Their pedigree, as stated there, shows not the remotest connection with Glasgow. They were originally Berwick burgesses, and Mr. Raine says, “in all probability a branch of the Wilkies of Foulden in Berwickshire” – an opinion evidently grounded on his notes form the Guild books and parish registers of Berwick, which are as follows:- 

‘In 1609, John Wilky merchant, admitted burgess. In 1615, John Wilkyn, alderman. In 1632, Thomas son of John Wilky of Foulden, bound apprentice to John Wilkie of Berwick, burgess. In 1654, Sir John Wilkie’s horse won the cup at Berwick. On 30 December 1673, Sir John Wilky knight in Foulden, was buried at Berwick. (He was married at Berwick on 31 October 1661, to Mrs. Dorothy Orde, who was buried 16th October, 1672. Their daughter Mary, was buried 8th January following.)’ 

If these extracts of Mr. Raine’s are correct in stating that one of these Wilkies was “of” (i.e., owner of) Foulden, they are irreconcileable with the printed retours of Berwickshire down to the year 1700. The barony of Foulden belonged to the Ramsays of Dalhousie from some date before A.D. 1580, in which latter year John Ramsay was served heir of his father, George Ramsay of Dalhousie, in the barony (Retours). From them it passed to George Home, Earl of Dunbar, who in 1606 had a charter of it from James VI. (Reg. Mag. Sigill.) 

On 13 July 1620, it was apprised by Sir Henry Wardlaw of Pitreavie knight, for a debt of 5750 merks due by the then owner, James Arnott junior, merchant burgess of Edinburgh, and on 15 Feb. 1621 by John Seyton of St. Germans for a further debt of 2500 merks. (Reg. Mag. Sig. 1620-1633, Nos. 51, 131.) 

During the remainder of the 17th century, till these printed retours end, there is no further notice of the owners of the barony of Foulden. But from 1583 to 1699 a family named Ramsay, the first of whom, William Ramsay, was styled “incola de Newbottill,” his successors being styled “of Nunlands,” owned the ecclesiastical lands of the barony. These were first acquired in feu by the above William Ramsay “in Newbottill” from Alexander Ramsay, the rector and vicar of Foulden, with consent of John Ramsay of Dalhousie, the patron of the church, in 1583. 

No person named Wilkie occurs in these retours in any way connected with Foulden during the above period; and this fact is inexplicable if there is any truth in the following accounts, both evidently based on McUre’s unsupported assertions, yet at variance with each other.  

The first of these is by the anonymous writer in the Herald, of 1864, who says, “William lord Ross, lord lieutenant of Renfrewshire  in 1715, was married to Agnes, daughter and sole heir of Sir John Wilkie of Foulden, who was the only son of Grizal Bell our provost’s eldest daughter, by Mr. John Wilkie of Broomhouse her husband.” He goes on to say that their second daughter, Elizabeth, became heiress of her brother, William, the last Lord Ross, and married John, third Earl of Glasgow, whereby “the blood of our truly eminent provost is perpetuated in the Earls of Glasgow.”  

The other account is in the late Mr. R. R. Stodart’s Scottish Arms, vol. ii. P. 237, where, after adopting McUre’s unproved statement that James Wilkie, son of Mr. John of Broomhouse, acquired Foulden, and adding [of himself] that through him it has descended to the present family – [which is clearly impossible, as the Glasgow James Wilkie is already shown from the retours never to have owned it] – Mr. Stodart proceeds to say – 

‘Foulden had previously belonged to another branch of the family, of whom was Sir John Wilkie, knighted in 1648, who married Agnes daughter of James lord Carmichael by Agnes Wilkie, and had a daughter and heir Agnes, who married in 1676 William lord Ross, and had issue.’  

McUre’s John and James Wilkie were clearly different men from Mr. Stodart’s Sir John Wilkie of 1648, and Mr. Raine’s Sir John Wilkie, whose horse won the Berwick cup in 1654, for the Glasgow John and James were their contemporaries, the latter being served his mother’s heir in 1657.2

This disposes of the Herald writer’s story, for it is thus clear that the Berwick Sir John was flourishing alongside of his supposed mother Grizel Bell, and her husband and son John and James Wilkie. The Sir John Wilkie described by Mr. Stodart is evidently quite another man from the Berwick Sir John. This Berwick knight married an English woman, Dorothy Orde – Mr. Stodart’s knight married a Scotch woman, Agnes Carmichael. 

Wood’s Douglas’s Peerage, it may be observed, does give the marriage (on 7th February, 1679) of Lord Ross to Agnes, daughter and heiress of Sir John Wilkie of Foulden, but gives no authority for it; while it is certain that as neither Lord Ross, his wife, nor her father occur in the printed retours, none of them could have been owners of Foulden. In whatever way the present family acquired it, it cannot have come to them either through Lord Ross or McUre’s James Wilkie, neither of whom had anything to do with it.  

Coming to the real and only marriage of Grizel Bell, the provost’s second daughter (called Janet by McUre), the chronicler has confused the facts. Alexander Bell, her husband, was a writer in Edinburgh in 1657, as the retour says, not then “of Antermony,” which he must have acquired afterwards. Their son was not Alexander, for the printed retours of Dunbartonshire show that on 20th October, 1676, James Bell was served heir of his father Alexander Bell of Achtermainzie, in the 8 merk land of old extent of Achtermainzie, composed of certain lands in the parish of Campsie, united into the barony of that name; and on 2nd December, 1685, that “Mr. Patrick Bell minister of the word of God at the church of Port in Monteith,” was served heir to his brother James in the barony of Antermainie. This reverend gentleman is no doubt McUre’s “Peter,” and also the “Peter Bell esq.” of the tombstone inscription noticed presently. He married Annabella Stirling a daughter of the Laird of Craigbarnet, and John Bell of Antermony the Russian traveller was their son. McUre was a contemporary of most of these people, for he was born about 1656; but if the following inscription on a tombstone in the Cathedral churchyard (Gordon’s Glasgow, p. 712, as checked for me from the stone itself) is correct, he has omitted some whom he should have noticed. It runs thus –  

‘This is the burying place belonging to Provest James Bell’s heirs portioners. 1734. Within this tomb lye the remains of Katharine Brown, who died Aug. 24th 1761, Annabella Brown, wife of Alexander Wylie maltman, who died March 25th 1766, and Grizal Bell their mother who died June 4th 1766, daughter of Peter Bell Esq. of Antermony, grand-son of Provost James Bell; also of Alexander Wylie, who died March 15th 1793, aged 67 years.’ 

This Grizel Bell (by marriage Brown) was evidently a sister of John Bell of Antermony the traveller, who outlived her, dying in 1781. 

I have found nothing about Dorothy Bell, the third daughter, beyond the fact that she was unmarried in 1657 – probably then a woman of mature age. 

It follows from the above (1) that none of the provost’s heirs either owned the barony of Foulden, near Berwick, or transmitted the worthy man’s “eminent blood” to the Earls of Glasgow; (2) That there were four Wilkies, all contemporary or nearly so, viz., Mr. John of Broomhouse (wherever it is), his son James, one Sir John said to have married an Agnes Carmichael, and another Sir John styled “in Foulden,” whose wife in 1661 was a Dorothy Orde – unless these two knights were the same man under different aspects! (3) That if either Mr. John or his son James had a daughter Agnes, she could not carry Foulden to any one – still less could Agnes, daughter of the Sir John who lived about Lanark, or Mary the daughter of the other Sir John of Berwick, as she died a child under ten.3

McUre also dignifies Patrick Bell another provost of Glasgow (a brother apparently of Provost James Bell) with a knighthood, and says that Charles I. named him a commissioner for the treaty of Rippon;** also that he died of the plague in London in 1640. His knighthood is mythical, for when his son James Bell was served his heir general on 8th December, 1643 (Retours), the father is simply called “Patrick Bell, merchand, formerly provost of Glasgow.” If he had been Sir Patrick” he would undoubtedly have been called so. It is not easy to see how Charles I. could nominate him one of the Rippon commissioners, for they were appointed by the Scottish estates in opposition to the king! Nor could he have died in London in 1640, for the town council records show that on 14th August, 1641, Patrick Bell was empowered by his brethren in council, to supplicate the king, then in Edinburgh, as to dividing the parsonage of Glasgow from the bishopric, and providing a minister in place of the bishop – and on 4 December in same year he was sitting on the town council, and was also Dean of Guild. On 26 February, 1642, he was in London, for the town council deputed him to endeavour to get remedy for the plague of unpunished thieves, then infesting Glasgow. These town council records show the impossibility of his commissionership for Charles I., for they abound with references to the collections ordered in the city, of plate, money, &c., from the inhabitants, in aid of “the common cause,” i.e., that of the Scottish estates against the king. 

I am not at all sure about the knighthood conferred by McUre on Sir John Bell of Hamilton Farm, a son of this last Patrick. He begins to appear as a public man in 1642 – was provost from 1658 to 1660, commissioner to the parliament at Edinburgh in the latter year, and again provost in October, 1681, when James Duke of York visited Glasgow. On that occasion it might have been inferred he would be knighted. But so far as the printed minutes of council inform us, he is not styled “Sir John” after the Duke’s visit, merely plain “John” or “Provost John” Bell. Nor is he there designed of Hamilton Farm, as would naturally be expected, if its owner.



1 As James Bell was on the Town Council as early as 1594, and Dean of Guild in 1611, he must have been an aged man in 1648, when the last notice of him as ex-Provost occurs. (Memorabilia of Glasgow.) 
2 It is not unlikely he is the James Wilkie who appears among other burgesses of Glasgow in the Treasurer’s accounts on 23 May 1690, as being paid £6 for “rubbors(?) to the town’s use.” (Memorabilia.) 
3 To increase the confusion, in the Complete Peerage of “G. E. C.”, James 1st lord Carmichael, so created 27 Dec., 1647, who died 27 Nov., 1672, at 94 (thus born 1578), is said to have married Agnes, sister of John Wilkie of Foulden – the date or authority not given. 
* Article from the Glasgow Herald, dated July 30th, 1864.  

**  I wanted to find out more about the Treaty of Rippon (Ripon) and came across this interesting info on the Union of Scotland and England: 
“At the accession of James I., a Presbyterian king, the Puritan members of the Church of England hoped for some relief from obnoxious ceremonies; but their most reasonable requests were contemptuously rejected. He told them that they must conform, or he would harry them out of the land. Under Charles I., persecution more and more increased till the meeting of the Long Parliament, when the situation was reversed, and Laud was sent to the prison to which he had consigned so many conscientious men. The Scots, in defence of their despised and insulted worship, had invaded England, and when their Commissioners were treating with the king at Ripon, Commissioners from the Long Parliament arrived for a similar purpose. It was at this point that the Scots and English began to co-operate. In 1643 – a year after the civil war had begun – English Commissioners appeared at the General Assembly in Edinburgh and proposed a league between the two kingdoms. As the Scots desired a religious covenant also, the Solemn League and Covenant was subscribed by both nations. It was in consequence of this conjunction that Scottish Commissioners went to the Westminster Assembly – an English Council called by the Long Parliament to reform the English Church. We do not know what reforms the English divines might have made in the Church of England, nor what kind of polity or worship or discipline they would have established without the aid of the Scots, but we do know that it was in consequence of this treaty that the Scots gave up their ancient Book of Common Order and adopted the Westminster Directory. 
It may be well to review the situation at this juncture. The grand aim of the Court had been to reduce the Church of Scotland to the English pattern, and in this there was some progress made, for bishops had been established in Scotland for twenty-eight years.”
– ‘Christian worship: ten lectures delivered in the Union theological seminary, New York, in the autumn of 1896‘, Union Theological Seminary, pp.259-260.
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