The Unknown Hawkers of Balfron

In the Parish of Balfron nearly 100 years ago, the Parish Council was faced with a rather mysterious couple when an out of work man and woman applied for poor relief at 6pm on 12 March 1924. Thomas Marshall of Leswalt, Stranraer, born in 1871 aged 53, and his wife Alice Craig of Glasgow, aged 46, were described as wholly destitute and disabled with influenza. Having received some relief and shelter, the couple left for the railway two days later. It is unclear where the couple came from when they arrived in such a state in Balfron, but research into their whereabouts revealed they may have travelled by train from a shelter in Thornhill.

The couple were noted as having a house in Dunblane in 1897 as well as having received relief there. However, further investigations found that there were no definite records of Thomas Marshall as he has never been chargeable to Dunblane and no particulars of him were actually known. Additionally, Alice Craig received lodgings and food for one night in Dunblane in 1915 where she reported that she was 37 years old and gave her birthplace as Anderston, Glasgow, but there were no records of her in any register and her settlement was undetermined. She also stated to the Inspector that her parents were John Craig, a dock labourer, and Bridget Killin. The unknown couple were discussed at the Parish Council meeting the next month where the identities of the two were investigated. It was confirmed that Stranraer would not take chargeability for Thomas Marshall, so the Council later tried to charge Lecropt in June of 1924.

When seeking repayment for the couple, the Balfron Inspector of Poor received a number of letters and telegrams regarding them and their true identities:

  • Inspector of Poor for Stranraer Council, James Ross, said Thomas Marshall was not born in Stranraer Parish, nor did he have any settlement there.
  • Inspector of the Poor for Dunblane, H. Waddell, said Thomas Marshall was never chargeable in their Parish and Alice Craig’s settlement in Glasgow was still undetermined. He later wrote to say that the couple were known to him as ‘Hawkers’ (travelling folk who peddle their wares in towns) with Alice Craig being known as Black Alice among the ‘Hawker Tribe’. Waddell also stated that the two were not legally married but had cohabited for years. Waddell wrote back to say he always removed Marshall and Craig to Stirling Poorhouse as Dunblane Parish did not have a Casual Sick House, but there was a Lodging House where he gave accommodation to wayfarers.
  • Inspector of the Poor for Stirling said he saw Thomas Marshall and would allow him to go to Stirling only if Balfron Parish paid for his train journey there as he would not permit him to go by road/walking as he might collapse on the way due to his condition.

The two were not seen again in any local poor house or shelter for some time until Thomas Marshall sought relief again in the Parish of Balfron at 7pm on 16 February 1925, this time by himself. He was listed as being a labourer currently looking for work and now aged 56. He told the Inspector he was a protestant from Leswalt, Stranraer and was married. However, his wife Alice Craig (listed as aged 58 from Glasgow), was found to have died:

PR/BA/4/3: Balfron Parish Records, Record of Applications for Parochial Relief, page 9, 16 Feb 1925

Transcription: Woman Vagrant’s Tragic Death: A grim discovery was made by a Doune policeman while patrolling his beat in the early hours of yesterday morning. Lying in a huddled attitude behind the Doune Institute he found a woman, who proved to have died from exposure. The body was later identified as that of Alice Craig or Marshall, a vagrant of no fixed residence.

Thomas Marshall asked for shelter only for the night and left the following day.

The exact identities of Thomas and Alice are unclear as it seems they gave different information in every poor house they sought relief in. While the couple were certainly well-known to the local Parish Councils and Inspectors of the Poor, their ever-changing ages and birthplaces made it difficult for their true identities to be known for definite. It is possible that Alice Craig was born in either Peterhead or Paisley in 1880 and was unfortunately found dead in Kilmadock Parish in 1925 aged 45, not 58 as Thomas had previously stated. The exact birthplace of Thomas Marshall was never confirmed, but he did appear to give his correct date of birth (1871). He was reported to have died in 1931 in Stirling at the age of 60.