Shop sign mys­tery

The Galloway News - - News - STEPHEN NOR­RIS

A run-of-the-mill paint job on a Gate­house prop­erty has turned into a real his­tor­i­cal mys­tery.

Work was un­der way to give 53 High Street a makeover when or­nate let­ter­ing be­gan to ap­pear.

And when more old paint was scraped off the name J McNeil Tai­lor emerged from ob­scu­rity.

Lo­cal man James Cor­son thought re­paint­ing his house was go­ing to be a straight­for­ward af­fair but when the beau­ti­ful sig­nage emerged he re­alised its im­por­tance.

“I had been do­ing the prep work get­ting ready for paint­ing,” James told the News. “I found one let­ter and thought noth­ing of it then chipped it back a bit more. Grad­u­ally I cleared the whole sign and the full name ap­peared,

“There were lay­ers and lay­ers of paint on top of it so I knew it was very old.”

Passers-by took a keen in­ter­est and James took great care not to dam­age it.

Now he plans to re­tain the old shop sign as part of the build­ing’s frontage.

James said: “I’ve spo­ken to a lot of folk and they said it should be kept. I’m go­ing to leave it as a fea­ture be­cause it’s a wee bit of Gate­house his­tory.

“I want to put a wooden frame round it, clean it up and redo the let­ter­ing. It’s some­thing in­ter­est­ing for the town.”

He added: “Un­for­tu­nately there’s a power ca­ble run­ning right through the “N” in the name.

“It may be that the elec­tric­ity com­pany could move it if it is of his­tor­i­cal value.”#

The dis­cov­ery has sparked great in­ter­est among lo­cal his­to­ri­ans who have been scour­ing town records for clues. Bizarrely, not a trace has been un­cov­ered about J McNeil or his High Street busi­ness – so far.

Gate­house Folk web­site au­thor Mar­garet Wright and his­to­rian David Steel are flum­moxed by the ab­sence of any ref­er­ence to the ghostly tai­lor.

Mr Steel said: “What’s a mys­tery to Mar­garet and my­self is that we can’t find a trace of a J McNeil any­where.

“That may be be­cause the sign pre-dates statu­tory records such as births, deaths and mar­riages, which be­gan in 1855, or val­u­a­tion rolls from the 1860s.

“Trade di­rec­to­ries from 1825 and 1837 list sev­eral tai­lors but no McNeil – so it could be even ear­lier than that.”

Re­search so far sug­gests the prop­erty was built around 1790 when Gate­house was tak­ing shape as a planned mill town.

Around 1830 it was oc­cu­pied by a butcher by the name of Dalziel and in 1921 passed into the own­er­ship of the McA­dam fam­ily.

The McA­dams owned 49-51 High street next door and ran a gro­cer’s shop from there for many years.

Mar­garet said: “We have looked at val­u­a­tion rolls and we can’t find any McNeil that’s down as a tai­lor.

“The only McNeils we could find in the town were rab­bit catch­ers.”

Any­one who can shed light on Gate­house tai­lor J McNeil can con­tact Mar­garet at info@gate­house-folk.org.uk.

Cu­ri­ous His­to­rian David Steel with the sign in the back­ground

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