Sam Cuthbert – A Wonderful Life

My dad died in January 1996 aged 72 but today, 17th November 2023 marks 100 years since the day he was born, so I thought I’d share some stories and memories of him with you.

17th November 1923 and Samuel Cuthbert was born at 400 Cumberland Street, a tenement building in the notorious Gorbals area in Glasgow’s southside. He was the youngest of 4 surviving children of Ellen (nee Reilly), a Roman Catholic and Peter Cuthbert a Protestant. I’m sure there is a story behind that union that I have yet to uncover! Eldest sister Rose Ann was aged 9, brother’s Peter and Jack 6 and 2.

Cumberland Street 1950s. The buildings wouldn’t have changed much.

When dad was just 3 years old, his father Peter died of a blood disorder aged just 38. Dad always said he had a vivid memory of this time. He remembers his father mainly as a sick man in bed and in particular, one day he recalled riding a little toy tricycle up and down the hallway and some grown-up coming out of the room to tell him to stop and be quiet because his father was very poorly. Peter had only had a manual job as a hammerman at a foundry, of which there were many in Glasgow, so the family were not wealthy by any stretch. Ellen at this time was only 32 and with four children, you would have thought in a pretty desperate situation. However, that wasn’t to be the case, yet no one seems to be able to explain how she came to own two shops and buy a house in the very desirable suburb of Auldhouse Road. There has always been a family rumour that Peter was somehow involved with ‘gangsters’ and that these people made sure that Ellen was taken care of, financially and with protection, after his death, but I’ve been unable to verify that, nor find how or why she seemingly came into money. Being a family historian, I asked often about the Cuthbert side of the family, both of my dad and my aunt and uncles in Canada but it seems that they had no contact with them at all and as children, were not brought up to mix with their paternal relatives, although they were close with their mother’s family. As a child I was taken up to Glasgow and met my dad’s aunts and cousins but they were all on his mother’s side.

Auldhouse Road. Postcard sent by my mam in 1940s to her parents. Dad’s childhood home marked with X

I always got the feeling from dad that he didn’t have a lot of happy memories of his childhood. He was very close in their younger years with his brother Jack with just two years between them but as they got older, school was difficult for dad. Even as an adult, he struggled with writing and spelling and I’m convinced that these days, he would have been diagnosed dyslexic or something of that sort. However in those days, you were just labelled ‘stupid’, and his siblings made fun of him for it. He remembers his mother telling him ‘You’re just like your father’, in a manner that suggested that was a bad thing. Dad was always very resentful that his elder siblings were sent to better schools and to university whereas he was told that it was a waste of money to send him. He was encouraged to work with his hands and after school, entered a 7 year apprenticeship as a patternmaker. Now, I actually think that was the right decision, he would have been frustrated in higher education and probably wouldn’t have coped. I think his mother put him on the best track for him but he always felt that he was ridiculed and cast aside as ‘not as worthwhile’ as his siblings. That makes me sad because with the benefit of being on the outside looking in, I don’t believe that to be true.

Dad (left) and Jack (right)

During WW2, as his brothers signed up for the RAF, Sam, in the protected occupation of patternmaker, was sent to what he believed to be a little fishing village on the east coast of England. That turned out to be the large fishing and docks port of Hull. He had been sent to work at Ideal Boilers and Radiators, then a major manufacturer of ships boilers among other things desperately needed during the war. He met my mum, Annie Jubb and you can read about that here.

Dad was a devout Roman Catholic, to explain his faith he used to tell the story of how as a child he was hositalised with pneumonia. He was very ill but remembers the priest and nuns praying over him and was convinced that was what saved his life. Whether you are a believer or not is irrelevant here, he was and that was why. So before Mam and dad married in June 1946, mam had to convert to Catholicism so they could marry in the Catholic Church. In August 1947, my eldest sister Ann was born. Peter Graham (always known as Graham) followed in 1950 and Stewart in 1952. I was a late arrival on their wedding anniversary 29th June 1962. We were all brought up as Catholics and had to attend church every Sunday all the time we lived in Dad’s house, that was just how it was and we didn’t question it. These days I’m an atheist through and through and I’m sure dad and I would agree to disagree, he was always very respectful of the beliefs of others, so long as they didn’t attempt to impress them upon him.

When in the early 1950s, now married and settled in Hull with his young family, his mother and siblings wanted him to move his family to Canada with them, he turned down the offer. Mainly I believe because my mam couldn’t bring herself to leave her parents and sisters to go to the other side of the world. I often wonder what life would have been like if they had gone and I had been born and grown up as a Canadian! I once asked if he missed his family at all, his reply was ‘my family is here’. That summed up my dad, we were his whole world and he neither wanted nor needed anyone else.

All of us together, sometime in the 1980s

His family did visit many times over the years though, his brother Jack from where he and his family had settled in Arizona, USA and his mother, brother Peter and sister Rose from their home in Winnipeg, Canada.

Canadian visit 1993. L-R Dad, daughter Ann, brother Peter, daughter-in-law Chris, Peter’s wife Clarice, sister Rose and mam. I’m taking the photo!

Dad struggled to find work in his own profession after the war and over the years took a series of labouring jobs to provide for us all. I remember as a child he was a self-employed window cleaner, a happy childhood memory I have is helping him count his earnings by putting coins into piles of ten after he had been out collecting. We never had a lot of money when I was growing up and I know it was even harder when my three elder siblings were children but I do remember always feeling loved, safe and cared for, things money cannot buy. My siblings all recall (not always with pleasure) the family caravan at Cowden that they went to each weekend, simple holidays on the beach. I remember holiday flats and guesthouses in places like Bridlington, we never went abroad but then, not many people of our class did in those days. We had what we needed and dad provided it. He was a strict dad but fair, he had principles and values and expected the same of us.

Cuthbert’s on tour! 1950s with dad far left and mam far right. Front L-R Graham, Ann, Stewart

It still breaks my heart though that this amazingly talented man, who had trained for 7 years and could make anything your heart desired out of wood, never got to earn a living from his gift. I wish he could have had the confidence and perhaps the guidance from someone to set up a business doing what he loved, instead of the stream of low-paid, non-skilled jobs that he was forced to take to make ends meet. Instead, he would make, mend and repair things and generally do whatever he could to help other people, often refusing payment if he felt someone couldn’t afford it. I had the most beautiful fitted bedroom when I was a teenager, complete with heart-shaped mirror and a wall full of bookshelves. When my nieces and nephews were all kiddies, dad made an entire playground, wooden slide, roundabout and see-saw in our garden for them to play on when they visited.

Grandchildren on the garden playground

He was also a keen gardener. We had a large garden in which he had sheds and a greenhouse as well as lots of vegetable patches. At the weekend, when the family came to visit, everyone went home with apple pies made by mam from our own apple trees and bags of veg and salad stuff from dads garden and greenhouse. I have such happy memories of those times and I know my whole family do too.

Gardening
Just come in from the shed.

After I had married and left home, although dad had started to slow down a bit, he still would always do whatever he could to help us. Fitted kitchen, no problem for Sam! Decorating, yup, on it. My ex-husband Mark idolised my dad, looking up to him and taking inspiration for home renovations – although not with quite the same finesse unfortunately! After my first son Michael was born in 1991, dad, like mam, doted on him. They loved to take him out in his pram and by this time, dad had suffered his first stroke and used to joke that the pram helped him walk. Sadly, a year after Mason came along, dad had a second stroke and we had to fight to get him into residential care as mam couldn’t manage him on her own. I wish my boys could have known their grandad as well as their cousins did but neither of them remember a lot about him apart from being an old man in a care home.

Those of us who are lucky enough to remember this great man in his prime, remember a popular man among friends and neighbours. Always ready with a song on stage in the local club or at someone’s house party on New Year’s Eve. Being a Scot made him everyone’s first choice for the tradition of ‘first footing’, letting in the new year and he would be in and out of all the neighbours houses just after midnight on New Year’s Eve, often with a dram involved and as he wasn’t a whisky drinker really, so he’d fall home, a very amiable drunk.

Probably singing ‘My Way’ Frank Sinatra style of course!

We also remember a man so honest and principled, it was hard to believe he was for real. He was as honest as the day is long, If a shop gave him too much change by mistake, he would go back in and give it back! A story I often tell, simply because it makes me feel proud is this, in the 1980s when Thatcher’s Government introduced the Right to Buy Act, thus selling off the public property of council housing, my dad refused to buy our house. My parents had lived in council housing since the 1950s and would have paid a pittance for the house, my siblings offered to buy it for them but dad was so set against the idea, he refused. His argument, and a very true one, was that Council housing was built for people who couldn’t afford to buy private housing. If it was all sold, where would those people find homes? Dad was asked time and again to stand for council but his lack of confidence in his writing and spelling abilities held him back from doing what he would have made an excellent job of.

So dad, wherever you are now, I hope you’re having a big shindig with the old woman, who’ll be 103 now and all the friends and neighbours I remember from my childhood. You’ll be up there singing My Way, of that I have no doubt! They broke the mould after they’d made you fella and I miss you so much.

3 Comments

  1. What a wonderful story and very sad in parts. I remember coming to your house to play and I remember you being catholic. I thought that was unusual at the time. There weren’t many Catholics around Barnsley st .

  2. Oh Jill that was so lovely to read I was very fond of your dad. I still remember when Stewart first took me to his house he warned me that his dad liked to joke I remember being a bit nervous but no need we got on very well. When we managed to get our first house on Barnsley street your dad helped us turn it into a lovely home and we never forgot the hard work he put in to help our first home be very special for us.

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