The 4th UK Sorbie gathering was held on Saturday 7th July 2007 at St. Machan’s Church Hall, Larkhall, and was a great success with 90 persons in attendance. It was six months in the planning and a tall order to surpass previous events but the consensus was that it was the best yet. The day also took on an international flavour with five families in attendance from Australia, Canada and USA. In addition we were delighted to meet a large number of new Sorbie descendants that have only contacted us in the last two or three years.
Larkhall is in the real Sorbie heartland with 55 family members living within only a few miles radius. In total there are around 180 Sorbies in Scotland and another 125 in England. Worldwide there are an estimated 400. It was felt appropriate to hold the event in the village which has featured so prominently in numerous generations of Sorbie family history and also the pages of this website.
Larkhall claims to be the largest village in Scotland with a population of some 17,000. It is situated on the lip of the Clyde Valley fourteen miles south east of Glasgow and three miles from Hamilton. Its development was due principally to a growth of handloom weaving in what was originally an agricultural area. Weaving gave way to coal mining at the advent of the Industrial Revolution, however today both weaving and mining have demised leading to the growth of much smaller businesses such as engineering factories and distribution companies.
On the day itself we had a very welcome break to the extremely inclement weather which had been an unwanted feature of the 2007 British Summer. The warmer conditions were well received by everyone, especially our 17 overseas visitors.
As the attendees arrived at the church they were welcomed by Ross Forrest aged 17 who is from local village Netherburn and has won a number of piping awards. A student at Larkhall Academy, he will be playing for the Queen at Balmoral Castle in September.
On entering the hall everyone signed in and were handed a 'Programme of Events' sheet which gave the running order for the day. Once they had taken their seats Tom 'Tamaur' Sorbie made the welcoming address to the gathered Sorbie 'cousins'. This included his own story of how he made the short journey from Stonehouse to Larkhall when he was married in 1962 and has lived there for 45 years ever since. He also gave some background on how the 'Sorbie Quest' came about and previous Sorbie gatherings. Tom was instrumental in arranging the gathering and making it such a success.
Tom also told some humorous stories and read out a poem that he had written especially for the occasion :
Larkhall is our meeting place again
Travelling by plane, car and train.
Australia, Canada, UK and USA.
A warm welcome we should say.
Once again we meet together.
For entertainment and a blether.
All will enquire about the Tree.
With ten thousand names to see
Persons found and then related.
The Cousins will be very elated
Famous Sorbies we have listed
Their lives, full and very gifted
Mitchell Sorbie footracer for instance
Could beat the best at the distance
What would our Ancestors have to say
About our Sorbie Gathering of today
Let us all enjoy the Meeting
And what should be our Greeting
“Sorbie Few, but Sorbie True".
Following Tom's speech Andy Potts took to the floor and gave a report on the work over the last two years in developing the Sorbie tree and website. The tree especially has come on in leaps and bounds. It has now become a very important research tool connecting the Sorbies with all the major Stonehouse and Lanarkshire families. People married and intermarried and it became a very tangled web which takes a lot of unravelling. The family tree if printed and laid end to end would now stretch over a quarter of a mile!
It has grown in size from 3,500 at the time of the first UK gathering in 2001 to 9,500 in 2005, hitting a current total of 11,750. It includes nearly every Sorbie family up to around 1920 and has now reached the point that we can connect in 99% of individuals if they tell us the names of their Sorbie grandparents.
The website continues to bring in important contacts all over the world and is the single most important vehicle in getting the message out that we are an effective and well organised family group. Tom Sorbie then surprised Andy by presenting him with a framed "In Appreciation" Certificate and Shield from the Worldwide Sorbie Family kindly put together by Tom and also Ron Sorbie of Australia. They were very well appreciated.
Next came a vocal performance by Stonehouse resident Ann Anderson. Ann has a beautiful voice and set the tone perfectly by singing some traditional Scottish songs such as "The Dark Island" and "Isle of Tiree" before an appreciative audience.
One of the success stories of the gathering was the linking together of close family members, many of whom had never met before. An example of this was Carol Craig née Sneddon of Heriot in the Scottish Borders who has been researching her own branch of the Sneddon family. She mentioned that her great grandfather James Sneddon married Marion Sorbie in Stonehouse in November 1877. Also in the room was Denis Laughton visiting from Calgary, Canada and he remarked that he had the same gt.grandparents. Carol's grandfather was Thomas Sorbie Sneddon and Dennis' grandmother was his sister Agnes Wyper Sneddon.
It was worth the whole event just to see their faces when they realised they are actually 2nd cousins. Quite a surprise to say the least! They subsequently met up again after the gathering to exchange information, stories and general recollections of family members.
Following Ann's vocal recital Tom Sorbie took the attendees on a tour of the church itself. It was built in 1835 as a single storey building but in 1888 another floor and Galleries were added. The steeple was built about 1895. It is a 'Class B' listed historical building and the denomination is Church of Scotland. The Hall itself was built in 1903 and the Church and Hall were refurbished about 15 years ago. This is Tom's own church and his role is Property Officer overseeing repairs. The current Minister is the Reverend Alastair McKillop. It is an interesting fact that the Canadians at the gathering were not the first. During World War 2 the Newfoundland Regiment took the Hall over as barracks for a short time.
St. Machan by the way was a 6th century Scottish Christian. According to tradition he was educated in Ireland and was created a bishop while on a pilgrimage to Rome. His influence appears to have reached right across Central Scotland from Lanarkshire to Perthshire and onto West Lothian. It is thought that he was buried under the altar of his ancient and long-ruined church in Campsie Glen in Dunbartonshire.
The biggest story of the day was when cousins from three continents met for the first time. It was a poignant moment when Fred Sorbie (far left) of Hamilton and his mother Hilda met Robert Sorbie of Queensland, Australia (centre) and Brother and Sister Norm and Sandra Millar Calgary, Canada who had all flown in especially for the occasion. This re-union was the subject of a news article in the 'Hamilton Advertiser' newspaper entitled "Now that's what you call a real get-together".
All are the grandchildren of James Murdoch Sorbie and Catherine Macleod who were married in Mungo Street, Glasgow in 18th February 1904. James was from Kirk Street, Stonehouse and it was there that their 4 children were born. Two remained in Scotland whilst eldest son Robert emigrated to Australia and daughter Catherine to Canada. All their descendants remained in their respective countries until 07/07/07 when family members re-united for the first time in three quarters of a century. They were brought together after contacting the Sorbie Family website and learning of the UK gathering.
The Sorbie cousins definitely wont be leaving it another 75 years before meeting up! Now that they have re-established contact they will keep in touch and hope to have a another meeting for family members in the near future.
Following the tour of the church came lunch which took the form of a tasty buffet with refreshments. This was the main focus of the day as it allowed family members to chat and get to know each other. While this was taking place both the Stonehouse and Larkhall Heritage group displayed items of local interest.
In addition items of Sorbie merchandise were sold including the tartan ties and scarves plus new items such as keyrings and coasters, As always Sorbie commemorative bookmarks were available and these have developed into a tradition at all 4 UK gatherings, becoming somewhat of a collectors item.
Following lunch all the attendees filed through to the church to have a group photo taken. This was a great setting for the picture and the age range of the Sorbie group can be seen from the above shot. Lots of happy faces from young and old.
Once the cousins had retaken their seats they were treated to a 20 minute talk from the Reverend Willie Downie on "The History of Larkhall". This was a fascinating presentation laced with interesting facts and quirky stories about the development and background of the area. Willie was originally an Electrician working locally before taking up the Ministry as a young man, becoming a Congregational minister in the Lanarkshire area. Willie retired back to Larkhall and worshipped at St.Machans church. He is well known in the town and is very knowledgeable about the Covenanters and Scottish History in general. He is Padre to the RAF Regiment and is often away at RAF engagements.
Willie's wife Sarah is a Sorbie descendant so he also has the honour of appearing on the family tree!
Prior to the final musical interlude an impressive DVD presentation was broadcast from Ron Sorbie of New South Wales, Australia. Ron couldn't make the gathering because of work commitments but was was still delighted to travel to Scotland for the first time at Easter 2007. His father James emigrated in 1927 from Glassford as a young baby with his parents Alex and Anne. It had always been Ron's ambition to travel back to the land of his forefathers. Ron's DVD presented many photos from his visit plus a moving commentary. It was rounded off with good luck wishes to gathered assembly which was met with an appreciative round of applause.
Next up were the "Jolly Beggars" who are feature in the Stonehouse Male Voice Choir but have formed themselves into a folk group who play regularly at charity events. Consisting of two mouth organists, a guitarist and a vocalist they got the toes tapping straight away and encouraged the gathering to join in some traditional old Scots tunes along with more modern anthems. They were lots of fun and were extremely well received. The Beggars even managed to fit in a few jokes in between songs.
After the musical entertainment Andy Potts introduced overseas visitors who had travelled from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania USA, Calgary, Canada and Queensland, Australia to be present on the day. All are descended from Sorbie family members who had emigrated from Lanarkshire between 70 and 90 years ago to find a better life over the ocean. All these people lived close to each other in Stonehouse and the nearby villages and probably all knew one another. Now their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have returned to the land of their origin to meet up again.
What's more all the above individuals are descended from the same couple - Thomas Sorbie and Janet Thomson who were married in July 1797 and have over 5,000 known descendants on the family tree. This makes all of them 5th cousins. It's as if they were drawn back to Stonehouse magnet-like by their Sorbie DNA.
Finally Muriel Sorbie gave the closing "Vote of Thanks" to close the 4th U.K. gathering. In an eloquent speech she thanked all those who had helped to make it such a great success including those who had travelled from far and wide to attend. She especially remembered Gavin Sorbie who performed the same task at the 1st gathering in 2001 who passed away in June 2006 aged 84 years. Muriel concluded in the hope that everyone will reconvene for the next event, which we expect to be in two years time.
The event was wound up by Tom Sorbie who invited everyone to meet up in Stonehouse for a tour of the village and old Kirkyard. The gathering was sent on it's way by a rousing rendition of "Scotland the Brave" by the Jolly Beggars. It had been a fantastic day, enjoyed by all - a perfect way to forge and strengthen family bonds.
From the gathering a number of the attendees made the short 3 mile drive to the historic St.Ninians Kirkyard in Stonehouse. This is in a glorious location on a high outcrop above the River Avon and has been tidied up and restored over the last 6 years by a team of local volunteers as part of the 'Phoneix Project'.
Broken headstones were lifted and re-fixed and the general appearance of the Kirkyard was rescued from the eyesore it had become. It has been reclaimed by the community as a place of historic importance as well as an attractive and safe environment. Many of the memorials are a godsend to family historians as they give information unavailable from other sources. The old 17th and 18th century headstones especially were a source of fascination to our overseas visitors as they feature 'mortality' symbols such as winged heads, skull and cross bones and hour glasses.
Tom was assisted by Jim Monie of the Stonehouse Heritage Group who helped to identify the 4 Sorbie graves in the Kirkyard but confirmed there were many more family members buried within it's walls without any headstone. They drew attention to the different inscriptions and symbols on the memorials, many of which denote the trade of the person or even how they died.
A number of our American cousins were also intrigued by the grave of the Covenanting 'martyr' James Thomson, killed at the Battle of Drum clog in 1679. They were extremely surprised to learn they are descended from him as James' direct descendant Ann Thomson born 1830 married Mitchell Sorbie of Stonehouse in 1849. Many of their grandchildren emigrated to the USA in the 1900's and most American Sorbies are descended from them.
To round off the day a number of the party moved down to Stonehouse village and had a look around Green Street. This has a very tidy appearance and hasn't changed much in the last 150 years. Most of the houses are of the typical hand loom weavers appearance with two windows to the left of the door which was the weaving shop and to the right one window which was the living accommodation. The last loom in Green Street was still being operated by two old men during the 2nd World War. They were the last of their generation and the remnants of a 200 year industry that began in the mid 1700's.
Although the houses have no front gardens the back gardens are large. This is where the householders grew vegetables, and fruit to supplement their income. Opposite the houses was a large communal drying green. Washing was done at the back of the houses with a coal fired boiler. The clothes while still warm were scrubbed on a scrubbing board, then into cold water before going through the manually turned mangle. They were then carried out in wicker baskets to be hung on the clothes lines.
Dennis and Lorna Laughton visiting from Alberta, Canada were especially keen to see Nos 3 and 5 Green Street. Number 3 was where Dennis' great grandmother Marion Sorbie born 1856 lived with her parents Thomas and Mary before she was married to James Sneddon, a Coal Miner in 1877. James and Mary then moved next door to No.5 where many of their offspring were born. There 6th of 8 children Agnes was born in 1892 and emigrated to Canada as a young woman were she married Clarence Thompson in Toronto in 1914.
As Dennis and Lorna were posing for photographs the occupant Mrs Mackie née Richardson emerged and had a good chat with them about the house and Green Street in general. She mentioned that she had lived there for over 50 years and had known a number of Sorbies who in the area when she was growing up. A fitting way to end the visit and the day itself.
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