Culbert – Samuel (1829-1865)

Life Events :

  • Born : About 1829 in Ireland
  • Married : 9 March 1850 in Paisley, Renfrewshire to Isabella Robertson
  • Died : 9 May 1865 in Paisley workhouse infirmary of typhus fever

Parents : James Culbert and Sally Elliott

Children :

Samuel was born around 1829 in Ireland according to the 1861 census when his occupation is given as dealer. I’m not entirely sure what that would mean but later he would also be described as a broker which sounds like the same kind of thing. However he had several different occupations during his short lifetime as you will see.

I haven’t been able to find out exactly what the occupation of broker entailed but can only imagine it meant he was some kind of an agent working for a commission. A broker essentially brokers a deal, whether it be an insurance broker, financial broker, pawn broker etc., but what exactly he would be brokering in the 1860s I really don’t know. However, he does appear in Watson’s Directory of Paisley of 1865-66 at an address of 4 New Smithhills listed as a broker.

Let’s firstly go back 11 years though, to the first official record I could find for Samuel when he married Isabella Robertson on 9th March 1850. They married in the parish of Low Church and in the register Samuel’s name is shown as Samuel Alexander Culbertson but this is the only instance of this variation of the name, in all other records he is Culbert. Samuel was 21 and Isabella 19 years of age. Their parents names were not shown on the parish register unfortunately, this wasn’t unusual as record keeping was not standardised until the advent of civil registration in Scotland in1855. The couple lived on Shuttle Street and Samuel was a weaver by profession. As most weavers worked in the home at this time, I have an image in my mind of Samuel and Isabella in their cottage with the loom, possibly weaving intricate designs for the Paisley shawl. I’m well aware that my idyllic vision is probably far from the reality!

The Weavers of Paisley

Photo by kind permission of

Weaving was a way of life in Paisley, mostly done on hand looms in the home, though a few weaving factories did exist. You can see by the street names, which still exist today, how important the textile and thread industries were to this town. Names like Shuttle Street, Gauze Street, Silk Street, Cotton Street, Lawn Street and so on.

The early weavers’ ingenuity in developing the looms to take five colours rather than just two made Paisley the centre for weaving in this time and the shawl which became known as the Paisley Shawl was the summit of the weavers skill, the now familiar teardrop motif was first produced in Paisley. The shawls were an imitation of the beautiful Kashmir shawls produced in India and were made more popular by the young Queen Victoria, who in 1842 on hearing about the struggles of the weaving trade is said to have purchased seventeen Paisley shawls and said she would wear one of them on the day of the Christening day of the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward. This started a fashion craze of the day and all ladies soon were wearing Paisley Shawls.

Most Paisley weavers were involved with the Paisley Shawls, though plain textiles were also produced and there was also linen and silk weaving going on. By the 1850s fashion was changing and consequently the weaving industry in Paisley was in decline.  Many weavers were forced to seek other work, many in the cotton thread Mills of Coats & Clark and some to other professions altogether.  

The weavers of Paisley were intelligent and literate and well known for their poetry. They were also radicals, given to strikes and rioting in defence of their rights and pay. Sma’ Shot Day, celebrated on the first Saturday in July commemorates the victory of the weavers over the manufacturers in a pay dispute in 1856. The festival was re-introduced in recent years and is now an annual event once more. If you are interested to read more about the industry, there is a wonderful book, The Paisley Shawl and the Men Who Produced It that you can read or download from the link which gives a great social history of the shawl weaving industry. I would also like to acknowledge Stephen Clancy of The Urban Historian for his help in answering some of my questions about the weaving industry in the 1850s.

Probably as a result of the industry’s decline, our Samuel had a variety of jobs, probably just doing whatever he could to earn a living. Samuel and Isabella’s first two sons are George born in 1853 and Samuel born in 1855, I haven’t been able to locate birth records for either of them so can’t tell what jobs Samuel was doing at the times of their births but in 1855, according to a valuation report for his home in Shuttle Street, his occupation is that of a letterpress printer, it would be interesting to know when he stopped being a weaver. A third son Charles was born in 1856 and Samuel was still working as a letterpress printer. Charles sadly died in1858 before his 2nd birthday, of inflammation of the bowels and Samuel’s profession is given as broker so must have lost his employment at the printers. He signed the certificate himself as being present at the death.

There were a number of printers and publishers in business in the town that Samuel could have been employed by. This list is from Watsons 1863 Directory of Paisley. Printing many things from simple advertising or event notices to pamphlets and books, letterpress printing which was invented in the 15th century was the normal form of printing well into the 20th century when it became superseded by computers.

The family appear to have moved about a lot after Shuttle Street and Samuel’s job changed often. I started to get confused about where he lived and what job he was doing at different times so decided to make a little timeline as can be seen in the table below. For me this speaks of a man trying his best to make a living and do the best he can for his family.

18508 Shuttle StreetWeaverParish register of marriage
18552 Shuttle StreetLetterpress printerPaisley Valuation Rolls
18565 Bridge StreetLetterpress printerson Charles’ birth certificate
1858Causeyside StreetBrokerson Charles’ death certificate
18602 New StreetLetterpress printerdaughter Isabella’s birth certificate
186137 New StreetDealer1761 Census return
18634 Storie StreetPorterdaughter Jessie’s birth certificate
18654 New SmithhillsPorter or Brokerdeath certificate or Watson’s Directory

Have a look at the 1858 map of Paisley from the link below and see if you can find all the addresses. You can find the original on the National Library of Scotland here and many other historical OS maps from all over the UK.

What a tragedy for this young family in May 1865 when both Samuel and Isabella were admitted to the workhouse infirmary suffering from typhus fever. Isabella died first on 14th May aged just 34 and five days later, Samuel aged 36 followed her. On the application for poor relief, (see links below) Samuel’s parents names are given as James Culbert and Sally Elliot and his birthplace confirmed as Ireland. Note that there is another unrelated application above Samuel’s but I have shown the whole page so you can see the column headings.

The Watson’s directory entry for 1865-66 referred to in the timeline table which shows Samuel as a broker is not necessarily a reliable source as information for the directories was sometimes gathered quite some time before publication. His occupation on the poor relief application is broker but then it is given as porter on his death certificate in 1865. A search through the trade directories of the time shows that Porters were supposed to be licenced by law but several were operating without licence and if Samuel was operating as a porter at some point, I imagine him to be among the unlicensed! You may also notice that there are some other addresses shown on the poor relief document, Prussia Street and Silk Street although there are no dates given, just length of time at the address.

My heart breaks for this man who has worked hard to provide for his family for all of his short life. The fear of dying when he must have realised the fate of he and his wife when they were forced to seek relief in the workhouse infirmary must surely have been compounded by the worry of what would then happen to their surviving children, George the eldest at just 12 years old, Samuel at 10, Isabella 6 and Jessie just a baby of 2.

Second eldest Samuel was to become my great-grandfather and his story can be seen here – Samuel. George and Jessie you can read about here – George & Jessie but of Isabella I can find no trace after the 1861 census, She is listed on the poor relief application so she was still living when her parents died, but I just cannot find any trace of her in any future records at this stage.