Tale of the min­is­ter and the lady from Chicago

West Lothian Courier - - Memory Lane -

The Courier has teamed up with our friends at the Al­mond Val­ley Her­itage Trust to bring our read­ers pho­to­graphs and sto­ries from West Loth­ian’s past.

This week – The Min­is­ter and the Lady from Chicago.

The Rev­erend Thomas Henry Jones was ap­pointed as the Es­tab­lished Church of Scot­land min­is­ter for Ad­diewell in 1894.

A fine new church serv­ing a con­gre­ga­tion of 500 had been opened in the oil com­pany vil­lage nine years pre­vi­ously, but no manse had been built.

Ac­com­mo­da­tion for the clergy was in­stead ar­ranged in Auchen­hard house, owned by the heirs of James Paraf­fin Young.

The se­cluded two storey villa and the farm house and of­fices at Auchen­hard once en­joyed idyl­lic coun­try­side views across the Bre­ich water, with or­na­men­tal gar­dens, famed for their straw­ber­ries.

This ru­ral peace dis­ap­peared with the con­struc­tion of Ad­diewell oil works and vil­lage dur­ing the mid 1860s, and mat­ters got pro­gres­sively more un­pleas­ant as the sky­line be­came in­creas­ingly dom­i­nated by dusty moun­tains of spent shale.

The Auchen­hard es­tate was pur­chased by James Young in about 1870, and the house di­vided into up­per and lower flats.

The prop­erty lay un­oc­cu­pied for con­sid­er­able pe­ri­ods un­til a con­ve­nient ar­range­ment was reached in which the large farm­house be­came manse for the Ad­diewell’s Es­tab­lished Church, while the up­per floor of the villa be­came home for the min­is­ter of the Free Church.

Auchen­hard lay over a mile by road from Ad­diewell, how­ever a path through the gar­dens, cross­ing the Bre­ich Water by foot­bridge then climb­ing up­hill at the foot of the bings, pro­vided a con­ve­nient route that halved this dis­tance.

On the evening of De­cem­ber 14, 1897 a stranger called at the manse, home of the Rev. Jones and his house­keeper.

A short, well-dressed woman in her for­ties in­tro­duced her­self as Mrs Hunter; a close friend of the cler­gy­man’s sis­ter in Chicago.

She seemed well ac­quainted with the min­is­ter’s so­cial cir­cle in Ed­in­burgh and ex­plained that she was in the process of set­ting up home in the cap­i­tal, await­ing ar­rival of her sea cap­tain hus­band.

Af­ter a pleas­ant evening of con­ver­sa­tion, she was of­fered a bed for the night and break­fast in the morn­ing.

The min­is­ter’s sus­pi­cions were only aroused when she started speak­ing about a loan, hav­ing sup­pos­edly lost a cheque on her jour­ney to Ad­diewell.

At that time, sto­ries of fake heiresses and other con­fi­dence trick­sters fea­tured reg­u­larly in news­pa­pers, and the min­is­ter seized the op­por­tu­nity to play de­tec­tive and bring the sus­pected im­poster to jus­tice.

It was left to the house­keeper to loan Mrs Hunter suf­fi­cient money for a train ticket to Ed­in­burgh, while the min­is­ter ac­com­pa­nied her to the sta­tion, ex­plain­ing that he had to travel to Glas­gow on busi­ness. While Mrs Hunter was left wait­ing for the next train to Ed­in­burgh, the min­is­ter took a train west­ward to Bell­shill, changed plat­form, and boarded the Ed­in­burgh ex­press which speeded non-stop through Ad­diewell and ar­rived in the cap­i­tal sev­eral hours be­fore the lo­cal train.

This en­abled the min­is­ter to make en­quiries, alert po­lice and or­gan­ise a re­cep­tion com­mit­tee at the ter­mi­nus sta­tion.

Mrs Hunter al­most evaded this elab­o­rate plan by leav­ing the train at Cur­riehill, but was later ap­pre­hended in a nearby pub­lic house.

Fol­low­ing the ar­rest of Mrs Hunter, (real name Ellen Munro), more of her past came to light.

She had re­cently stayed with a fam­ily in Leith, pro­fess­ing to be the wife of a brother re­ported dead 16 years pre­vi­ously who, she main­tained, would soon ar­rive back from Amer­ica hav­ing made his for­tune.

At her trial, Munro pleaded guilty to six charges of ob­tain­ing board, lodg­ing and small quan­ti­ties of money by false pre­tences, and was sen­tenced to 12 months in prison. It was stated that Ellen had lived a life of de­cep­tion for the last 20 years, and had served many pre­vi­ous pe­ri­ods in jail.

It was said that her hus­band was a navy coast­guard­man in In­dia and that dur­ing his ab­sence, she had been “thrown on her own re­sources and un­for­tu­nately adopted this means of get­ting a liveli­hood”.

Life in Ad­diewell may have seemed a lit­tle dull after­wards for Rev. Jones, who in the fol­low­ing sum­mer ac­cepted a po­si­tion with the Pres­by­te­rian church in Bu­l­awayo.

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