Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An Innerleithen Diaspora

The project to catalogue and index the records at Robert Smail & Sons in Innerleithen, Peeblesshire, reached a significant milestone today.  Robert Smail & Sons were jobbing printers in Innerleithen High Street.  It was a family business which lasted for 120 years and provided for three generations of Smails.  Smail & Sons were both hoarders and arch exponents of the adage “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and this is what distinguished them from hundreds of similar small businesses.   As a consequence when the business closed the property including all the equipment and records was acquired by the National Trust for Scotland.  Robert Smail and Sons is open to the public and still operates as a jobbing printer.

With the property came over 100 years of business records.  The most significant of these are the Guard Books – giant scrapbooks into which a copy everything printed was stuck - an amazing record of the work that the firm did.  In addition to business records there is some private correspondence and a collection of photographs taken in and around Innerleithen at the beginning of the 20th century.  As a sideline Robert C Smail was an agent for a number of shipping lines selling tickets (including Allan and State Lines, the American Line, Anchor Line, Dominion Line, Donaldson Line, Union-Castle Steamship Co, White Star Line) to local people who wanted to travel.  This agency ran for over thirty years from the late 1890s to the 1930s.  The ticket books, ledgers and correspondence formed a quite distinct sub-set of the archive.  There is a lot of interesting and valuable information in the documents which just might enable you to explain the disappearance of a relative or confirm where one of your ancestors came from. 

We’ve now got to the stage where this material has been indexed and today it became available on the Web.  Go to Smail’s Archive and you can search the archive for yourself – better still there’s no charge.  Typically you should be able to find out when some one sailed, their point of departure and arrival, the name of the ship they sailed on.  There may other information about fares and onward travel as well.  The results of the search can be printed out as a facsimile of a ticket.  Whilst not to everyone’s taste the ticket includes some of the standard terms and conditions for travel.  Including an interesting insight into the sort of food steerage class passengers would receive.  Anyone for tripe or Irish stew at breakfast time ?

Text by David Rudram.

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