Shop sign mystery
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Curious Historian David Steel with the sign in the background