Select Watson Miscellany

Here are some Watson stories and accounts over the years:

The Watsons at Rockingham Castle

Rockingham castle in Northamptonshire had been built by William the Conqueror on the site of an ancient fortress commanding the valley of the Welland river.  It remained a royal residence for close on five hundred years.  However, despite its admirable hunting grounds, the castle was not well frequented by England’s monarchs. 

In 1530 Edward Watson, a local landowner, obtained a lease of Rockingham from Henry VIII and set about restoring what remained of the Norman castle, converting it into a comfortable Tudor house.  H
e had grown rich in wealth and influence through his marriage to Emma Smith, the niece of William Smith the Bishop of Lincoln and a great favorite of Henry VII.  His own line extended back to an earlier Edward Watson who had been living at Lydington in Rutland county in 1460 and was the father of fifteen children. 

Edward’s son, also named Edward, had suspect recusant tendencies and even attended the funeral of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587 after her execution.  His grandson Sir Lewis Watson bought the castle freehold from James I in 1619 in more favorable times.  Sir Lewis
supported the Royalist cause in the Civil War and as a result was created Baron Rockingham.  Apart from a brief period when Roundheads occupied the castle during the Civil War, the Watsons have lived there ever since.

Watsons of Saughton

The lands of Saughton lay within the village of Corstophine, some three miles outside of Edinburgh.  They had been held by the Abbey of Holyroodhouse until they were divided up among various families in the 16th century.  Richard Watson was the first of the Watsons there in 1537.

The Watson line at Saughton extended until 1818 and James Watson, but no further.   His two sons were reported killed in the Boer War.

The mighty oak was the symbol of the family.  Their coat of arms showed two hands extending out of clouds gripping a young oak sapling with roots extending.  There were five oak trees leading up the lane to the estate at Saughton.  When a school was built on this estate in 1920 after Saughton House had burned down, the children re-planted the five oaks on the road into Broomhill Primary School.

George Watson and His School

George Watson was born in Edinburgh in 1854, but orphaned at an early age.  Thanks to an aunt, he was sent at the age of 18 to be educated in book-keeping at Rotterdam.  He returned to Edinburgh to be the private secretary to Sir James Dick in 1676.  Based partly on this experience he became one of Scotland’s most famed accountants of his time.  He was appointed chief accountant to the Bank of Scotland when it was founded in 1695.

He died in 1723 a wealthy man.  There is a
memorial plaque to him in Greyfriars churchyard.  His fortune was estimated at £12,000, a vast sum in those days.   Most of that money was bequeathed to found a hospital school for "entertaining and educating the male children and grandchildren of decayed merchants in Edinburgh.”   Its foundation stone was laid in 1738 and the building was completed early in 1741.

In 1870 the Merchant Company of Edinburgh was granted powers by Parliament to reform all the hospital schools under its management.  George Watson's Hospital was then remodelled into a day school.  It first opened as George Watson's College that year, with a roll of 1,000 pupils.  It still operates on that basis today.

Watsons of Lurgan

The Watson name appeared in the records of Lurgan in county Armagh as early as 1667. 

It was Robert Watson, born there much later, who was to make his mark on the town.  His linen factory was founded at The Flush, so called after the river which flowed through the site in 1808.  The factory was sited at the end of Flush Place at the point where the extended main street of Lurgan branched in three directions, to Belfast, Waringstown and Gilford.  It was thus very much at the road transport hub of the linen industry in the area.  It is considered by many industrial historians to have been one of the earliest hand loom factories in Ireland. 

Robert Watson made his home at Lakeview.  He died in 1848 and he was succeeded in the company by his son Francis and his son Thomas followed him in turn.  They were known in the area for the interest they took in their employees.  In 1861 when Shankill Parish Church was rebuilt, the principal window in the chancel consisting of three lights was presented by Francis Watson; and, when a peel of eight bells was installed in 1878, the largest subscription of £200 came from William Watson. 

The Watsons were still living at Lakeview in the mid 1950’s and their company was manufacturing fine quality handkerchiefs until the early 1960’s.  But then, like others in the area, competition drove it out of business. The factory site is now long gone.

Thomas John Watson the Scotchman

Thomas John Watson was known as “the Scotchman” in Virginia.  Legend has it that he had been sentenced to be executed for his religious beliefs (he was a Presbyterian), but had subsequently been pardoned.  It was also said that he had come to America in search of a brother who had been an Admiral in the British Navy.

He made his home at Cherrystone Creek in Pittsylvania county around the year 1740 and was one of the very first European settlers there.  Eight generations of the family have gone by and the Watsons are still there in what is now the town of Chatham. 

Judge Fletcher B. Watson IV is the present incumbent.  He resides at the Whittle Street Watson home, on a ridge above Cherrystone Creek, that was built in 1894 by the first Fletcher Bangs Watson, a veteran of the Civil War.  Prior to that time the family had lived in the Scotchman's old homestead. 

The Watsons were instrumental in establishing Methodism in the area. Today's Watson Memorial United Methodist Church stands on North Main Street.

The Watson Brothers in Tasmania

One of the pioneers of the shipbuilding industry at Battery Point in Hobart was John Watson.  After his arrival in 1833 he began his Tasmanian career as a shipbuilder in the government yards at Port Arthur.  His brother George was also well-known as a seafarer in Tasmania’s shipping world.  He had arrived three years earlier at the age of 29 with his wife and two sons. 

John Watson and Captain George Watson – one a shipbuilder and the other a ship’s captain - induced young men to build ships and to take them to sea. They did this with the convict lads from Point Puer at Port Arthur and also with the roughest and toughest of the adult convicts there.  

While John Watson built the Blue Gum Clippers it was his brother George who navigated them.  Their main business was whaling.  Whaling activities in fact reached their peak in Hobart in the late 1840’s.  

George Chale Watson, George’s eldest son, left Tasmania and made his way to Victoria and then to Queensland to fulfill his dream of becoming an explorer.  Sprinkled within his journal notes are many references to his boyhood days when he spent time onboard boats that visited Tasmania.  He had fond memories of time spent with the sea captains who enjoyed the hospitality of his family household.

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