Mitchell Sorbie - 'Footracer'

A sad story of a celebrated local and nationally renowned athlete whose life was tragically cut short.


Mitchell was born in 1824 in Stonehouse, the youngest of Thomas Sorbie and Janet Thomson's 10 known children. He is the first Sorbie we have come across bearing the Christian name 'Mitchell'. As was common in Scotland this could be a reference to an earlier family surname, but this has yet to be proved.

The 1841 Census sees him living with his elderly father Thomas (born May 1771) and his older brother Andrew. Ten years later Mitchell was aged 26 and living in Newtown Street, Stonehouse with his new wife, Ann Thomson aged 20 and his daughter Margaret who was 2 years old. Ann was a direct descendant of James Thomson the Martyr, killed at the Battle of Drumclog in 1679. (See 'The Covenanters' page).

Extract taken from 'The Scotsman' newspaper - 14th July 1847 page 3 


These annual games took place yesterday on the Links of Leith, and afforded much amusement to the vast crowd of spectators collected from various parts of the country. The games commenced at seven o’clock in the morning, and did not terminate till the same hour in the evening. We subjoin a list of the prizes awarded. 

(Listed below are the events in which Mitchell was involved; the rest is just a long list of prizewinners for many different events) 

Short Race, 6 competitors - The prize, a medal or purse of money, was gained by Mitchell Sorbie, Stenhouse (sic) Lanarkshire. 

Long Race, 7 competitors - The prize, a medal or purse of money, was gained by Mitchell Sorbie, Lanarkshire. 

Steeple Chase, 4 competitors - 1st prize a medal or purse of money, Mitchell Sorbie, Lanarkshire, 2nd prize 10s, James Murdoch Lanarkshire, 3rd prize 5s, Thomas Murdoch, Lanarkshire. 

In addition to the above there was dancing by a party of highlanders in full costume, together with climbing of greased poles &c.

Glasgow Herald  -  6th Aug 1850 

Commemoration of Her Majesty’s visit. 

Fete held in College Gardens. In the 5 mile race, with 16 competitors, only 2 completed the course, Mitchell Sorbie who won and John Murdoch. Both men from Stonehouse.

Extract from the 1851 census page for 'Newtown Street', Stonehouse


In the above census, Mitchell's profession is given as the very unique, "Footracer. Champion of the 3 Kingdoms" and Ann's as "Winder of Yarn". The identity of the "3 Kingdoms" is unknown, but a descendant of Mitchell's has said that the family story is that Mitchell won a prestigious event at Carnwath in South Lanarkshire (located between Lanark and Biggar) called the  "Red Hose Race". Hose was the Scots word for stockings or long socks. 

Each year a 3 mile foot race is still run at Carnwath and the local Laird must provide a pair of red stockings as the prize. In olden days the name of the winner was cried from the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh. The origin of the race goes back to 1508 when King James IV of Scotland gave a Charter of the Lands of Carnwath to John, third Lord Somerville, in the following terms:

"Paying thence pair of hose containing half an all of English cloth at the feast of St John the Baptist, called Midsummer, upon the ground of the said barony, to the man running most quickly from the east end of the town of Carnwath to the Cross called Cawlo Cross....." 

In 2006 it was recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the World's oldest road race (Page 217, column 1). Two years later it celebrated it's 500th anniversary and to commemorate the landmark, South Lanarkshire residents aged over 16 are invited to enter, along with any employee or tenant of the Estate. Entries were limited to 150 runners. Previously it was only the inhabitants of adjoining parishes that were allowed to compete.

King James IV founded the Red Hose Race in 1508.

There was probably a military reason for imposing this duty on the owners of Carnwath. A fast runner could bring news of any approaching invasion from the south to Edinburgh, and the Red Hose would be the insignia by which he would be recognised. A feudal duty like this may be compared to the common one of having to provide a number of men at arms when called upon to do so.

 Today the race is run on the village green and the stockings are of red wool. Only in an national emergency such as times of war, or local crisis as when foot and mouth disease threatened the district, has permission been obtained from the Crown to cancel the race (as was the case in 2001). Anyone winning the Red Hose in three successive years shall be ineligible to compete in the race for two years.

It is hoped this information will help prompt further research. In his time Mitchell was obviously a very famous son of Stonehouse and one that invoked an amount of local and Sorbie pride. However this was not his 'true' profession as he was a coal miner and more specifically he is given in the record of mine deaths as a 'drawer'. This means he pushed and pulled the heavy coal trucks. It should be mentioned that the tradition of famous Sorbie Runners was continued in August 1914 when Gavin Sorbie (aka George McCrae) won the event and took the famous Red hose.

The Red Hose Race as featured in the 'Hamilton Advertiser' c.1931/32.

'The Red Hose was presented to Campbell, the winner at the conclusion of the race'.


However Mitchell's fame was to be short lived, because he was tragically killed at the age of 32 in a Coal Pit Accident on October 16th 1856 at about 6.00am . The death certificate reads: "Accidental death caused by unexpected falling of part of the roadway in Torylee Coalpit, Auchenheath". This place is in Lesmahagow Parish, close to the route of the  current M74 motorway, near to village of Kirkmuirhill. Mitchell was brought back and buried in St. Ninian's Old Cemetery in Stonehouse, although no gravestone remains. The accident can also be found in the "1856 Mine Inspectors Report". Mitchells' death was one of 85 listed for the South of Scotland for that year and is shown as following "Auchenheath, Near Lanark, Owner James Ferguson & Co, Mitchell Sorbie, drawer, Fall of stone from side of drawing road."

His youngest son, John Mitchell was only 12 days old at the time, having being born on October 4th. Mitchell and Ann also had two other sons, Thomas and Daniel, born in 1851 and 1854. It was a measure of the respect that he must have been held in by the Stonehouse townsfolk and his Sorbie family that his next door neighbours in Newtown Street, Robert and Marion Sorbie named their next child after him, born 2 months later on December 27th. From 1856 onwards, the proliferation of Mitchell Sorbies' becomes marked and within 15 years at least five different Sorbie families had used the name for their sons.

Baptism of Ann Thomson 28th June 1830 from the parish register.

Mitchell's widow, Ann (Thomson) remarried Robert Walker, a Handloom Weaver, in Stonehouse on December 30th 1859 and had at least two more sons, Alexander and Robert in 1860 and 1862. Ann died soon after in May 1865 of consumption at the early age of 35. We have been in contact with 'Walker' descendants of Robert and Ann who still live in the Stonehouse/Hamilton area.

In November 1868, Mitchell and Ann's only daughter Margaret married John Nelson in Netherburn, Dalserf Parish, Lanarkshire. She was the first of their children to be married. All three of Mitchell's sons subsequently named their first son after their father. Thomas and Daniel's sons were born only a month apart in 1874 and John Mitchell's was born in 1886.


Mitchell Sorbie, born 1886 - Mitchell's grandson, pictured c.1910.

We have now documented 940 direct descendants of Mitchell, including over 400 who were resident or born in the U.S.A. These are the descendants of Mitchell's eldest son Thomas who had five sons who all emigrated to America (see 'The Family of Thomas Sorbie and Jane Burke'). Mitchell's two other sons, Daniel had five sons and John Mitchell, four. Lots of sons give lots of 'Sorbie' descendants and on this branch of the tree it is the males that hold sway.

Their descendants still live in the Stonehouse and Lanarkshire area and the story of their famous forefather has usually always been passed down through the generations. Family members are only too pleased to recount tales of their ancestor, Mitchell 'The Runner'.

In fact John Mitchell Sorbie, born in 1856, just days before his father died, had thirteen children, the first four of which were girls. His eldest son, born in Kirk Street, Stonehouse in September 1886 was naturally christened Mitchell. He became a miner and worked in the pit at Newtown, near Cambuslang. One day the water broke in, and the miners got out with only their trousers and boots. Everything else, including the tools was lost. In April 1922 he married Robina Gilmour, a Weaver and the following year they had their only child, Jean Brown Sorbie. When they were first married they lived at 19, Green Street and then moved to 11, Green Street around 1941. 

Robina's parents - William Gilmour and Jean Brown, married Stonehouse November 27th 1868. Both were Handloom Weavers.

Mitchell was a keen bowler, and won many competitions and medals. He played in the Scottish Final and finished runner-up in 1934. He then went into labouring, first at the extension to Stonehouse hospital. Then at the outbreak of WW11 at a Ministry of Supply depot which opened at the west end of Stonehouse at the side of the railway. 

Mitchell eventually had to stop work through ill health. He had the 'miners disease', pneumoconiosis. He died aged 71 at No. 11, Green Street in March 1958 and wife Robina in May 1975 at the grand old age of 95. 

George and Jean Baker (right), with sons Ian and Eric (back)

 Mitchell's daughter, Jean Sorbie married George Baker, a Motor Mechanic from Somerset, England in April 1946 and they have lived in Stonehouse ever since. Jean is also a direct descendant, through her 'Gilmour' line of the famous Covenanting martyr John Brown, shot just up the road near Muirkirk, Ayrshire in 1685 by John Graham of Claverhouse. Sadly Jean passed away in 2014 in her 90th year, living a long and active life just like her mother.

A great, great grandson of Mitchell, through his son Daniel's line was George "Dodie" Sorbie an international runner from Stonehouse who represented Scotland at the highest level. He competed in the 1940's and 50's, won numerous competitions and medals and ran against the top sprint athletes in the world. The 'running gene' must have been passed down through the family to George as he in his own turn became another 'Famous Sorbie'.

George Sorbie and his sister Grace pictured with his many trophies in the mid 1950's

Hamilton Harriers - 1955

The picture from left to right is as follows: George (Dodie) Sorbie (440 yards); Willie McNiven (220 yards); Bruce Hendry (880 yards); Peter Spalding (220 yards). Bruce still lives in Hamilton. Peter and Dodie are living in Aberdeen. Willie, however, passed away a number of years ago.

Dodie Sorbie was a very talented athlete and during a short spell when he served as a policeman, he won the British Police Championship (440 & 880 Yards).  He was based in England at that time. George sadly died in July 2009 in his adopted home of Aberdeen a few days before his 81st birthday.



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