Real Lives: Family life always comes first for great-gran Agnes

Agnes Stewart is flanked by her daughters Margaret Mason, left, and Letty McArthur
Agnes Stewart is flanked by her daughters Margaret Mason, left, and Letty McArthur
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A hard-working great-grandmother who left school aged just 13 is due to celebrate her 100th birthday today surrounding by friends and family.

Agnes Stewart will toast the milestone anniversary at Corstorphine Hospital with only surviving brother, William Sommerville, traveling from Livingston to attend the big day.

Mrs Stewart was the main breadwinner for her family for several years after her husband John was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Her personal sacrifice typified her diligence as Agnes had to start work at 4am every day to clean the banks at St Andrew Square and the now-defunct Dunn & Co. Hatters on Princes Street.

The Lanarkshire-born grandmother was the second eldest of nine children and spent her early years growing up in the village of Tarbrax but later moved to Edinburgh where she attended Towerbank Primary and Portobello High School.

Agnes left school at the age of just 13 and started her first job the following year, working in Fettes College at Moredun House on Carrington Road.

She was later employed at a golf ball factory in central Edinburgh before meeting and marrying her husband John Stewart on July 30, 1937.

The couple settled at Comely Green Place on Lower London Road, Abbeyhill, and had two daughters, Margaret and Letty, who were both born at Elsie Inglis Maternity Hospital.

Daughter Margaret said the family had not wanted to depend on government financial assistance when her father fell ill.

“She was a hard-working woman,” Margaret said of her mother.

“I’m the youngest of the two daughters and I never knew any different.

“Whenever anyone needed any work she was there for it.”

Agnes was chairwoman of the women’s social club at Canongate Tolbooth hall up until the group’s closure. The mother-of-two later joined the Craigentinny Castle Social Club after the family moved to Restalrig.

She went on to chair the ladies’ section and organise outings, dances and theatre trips.

After much cajoling from family, Mrs Stewart took up bowls and became a champion at the Craigentinny club. She is also a regular churchgoer.

“Agnes could produce beautiful knitwear, mainly baby shawls which she presented to all the family children and also for friends abroad,” Margaret said.

“Her dressmaking skills and bakery were second to none.”