Synopsis:

Chapter 1: The Wright and his Sons

The Stevenson family history begins with James Stevenson ('the Wright'), of humble Lanarkshire origins, who moves from Strathaven, via Larkhall, to Paisley to profit from the house building boom caused by the expanding textile industry. Becomes a Burgess of Paisley in 1753, buys land and builds houses there. His elder son becomes a Glasgow textile merchant while the younger prospers as a Paisley silk manufacturer until the rising cotton industry ruins his business and he dies in 1806, impoverished and dejected.

Chapter 2: Glasgow

The silk manufacturer's widow and children move to Glasgow where the two eldest sons find work (6 am till 8 pm) in Barrowfield cotton spinning mill. The war with Napoleon and the disruption of the factory's raw cotton supplies resulting from America's pro-French stance create difficulties for the mill but the eldest son, James Stevenson, shows initiative and is made a partner. The second son becomes a Glasgow yarn merchant.

Chapter 3: The Jarrow Chemical Works

James Stevenson in 1844, at the age of 58, takes his family by stage coach to Tyneside to start the Jarrow Chemical Works in South Shields. The chemical process briefly described – the end product being alkali, for glassmaking, paper-making and dyeing. The business grows fast and James retires aged 68, to Edinburgh with his wife and four unmarried daughters.

Chapter 4: Nathaniel, the Cotton Merchant

His younger brother, Nathaniel Stevenson, a successful Glasgow cotton merchant, in partnership with James Oswald, supports, in 1843, the break-away Free Church of Scotland and is one of its main benefactors. His two sons go on a ‘Grand Tour' – including Portugal, Malta, Greece and Egypt (where they describe their meeting with Mehemet Ali, the founder of the Egyptian royal family). The younger son dies of TB in 1856 and his father in 1867, leaving his fortune to his elder son (later nicknamed ‘Croesus').

Chapter 5: The County Family

Another Nathaniel Stevenson becomes a Glasgow lawyer and, intent on founding a county family, buys land and builds Braidwood House in rural Lanarkshire in 1830. He marries at 65 (his bride being only 20) and produces six children. His five sons all buy commissions in the army (the Purchase System is described). One becomes a general, another a major-general and the other three colonels. Their military exploits include the Egyptian Campaign, the Battle of Tamai, 1884, in which Kipling's Fuzzy Wuzzies ‘broke the British Square'. The battle is gruesomely described in a letter to his mother from Col Andrew Stevenson who later took part in the abortive expedition to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum. His wife, a notable flirt, has an affair with the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria's second son, in Malta, resulting in the Duke's ADC being publicly horsewhipped by Andrew. Andrew died in the insane ward of Kensington workhouse aged 45 and his widow was later imprisoned for theft.

Chapter 6: Edinburgh

James Stevenson's life in retirement, as the family patriarch, is described - his kindliness, the activities of his children, the portraits painted of him, his old age and death in 1866, and the inheritance by his sons of his share in the by now very successful Jarrow Chemical Company.

Chapter 7: Jarrow Heyday

The chemical works expands to become the largest chemical undertaking in England under its founder's energetic eldest son, James Cochran Stevenson. The partners join with the Tennant family in taking over the Tharsis copper and sulphur mines in Spain. JC Stevenson and his brothers invest in steamships – some in association with their relatives the Andersons (founders of the Orient Line).

Chapter 8: 'Never Known to Smile'

JC Stevenson's character described, his commissioning from John James Stevenson his architect brother, of Westoe Hall, a new Gothic mansion for himself and large family. His role as a municipal reformer on Tyneside and his campaign to develop the River Tyne into a major port. He becomes chairman of the resulting Tyne Improvement Commission and founds the 3rd Durham Artillery Volunteers.

Chapter 9: The Member for South Shields

JC Stevenson becomes Liberal MP for South Shields in a stormy election against (Sir) Charles Mark Palmer, a less radical Liberal. Describes the hurly-burly of parliamentary elections, mud-slinging and character assassinations. The Irish Home Rule issue which divided families (including his own). He holds the seat for 27 years, 1868-1895.

Chapter 10: The Spenders

JC Stevenson's cousins inherit a share in the family chemical business but take no part in its management. This chapter describes how they use their money: one emigrates to new Zealand in 1854 but comes back after five years only to die of syphilis in a Hammersmith lunatic asylum; another becomes a cavalry officer but leaves the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons when he fathers a child by the daughter of a Manchester painter and decorator whom he later marries. Having tried unsuccessfully to divorce her he deserts her to father another illegitimate family. Four of his five sons, whose military exploits are described, die in the Boer War or World War I.

Chapter 11: The Highland Host

Alexander Stevenson, jovial and hospitable lives in a historic house in Tynemouth overlooking the harbour but in 1881 buys Achnacloich, a Scottish Baronial castle, to house his art and furniture and in which to entertain his literary and artistic friends, including Canon Alfred Ainger, Birket Foster, (Sir) WQ Orchardson, Fred Walker, Charles Keene. He commissioned pictures from Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Chapter 12: The Family Architect

John James Stevenson (known as ‘Jaughty'), destined by his parents to be a Free Church of Scotland minister, changes to became an architect. He moves to London and champions the red brick ‘Queen Anne' revival. His many commissions from his extended family are described: houses, churches, offices and tombs, and décor for the Orient Line ships. His row with Sir George Gilbert Scott and Sir Edmund Beckett over church restoration is described.

Chapter 13: Croesus

The richest of the family, another James Stevenson, of Largs, nicknamed Croesus, is a reclusive bachelor and a hypochondriac - although he lives to 80. He starts his own chemical works in Glasgow, Stevenson Carlile & Co, and gives money to the Free Church of Scotland. He owns luxurious yachts, the Blue Bell and the Fire Fay - his only indulgence – in which he takes parties of relatives (and Free Church ministers) for cruises.

Chapter 14: The African Lakes

Croesus, a strong opponent of slavery, starts the African Lakes Company in Nyasaland (now Malawi) in memory of David Livingstone to fulfil the explorer's dream of promoting Christianity and introducing ‘legitimate commerce' to supplant the Arab slave trade. He unwittingly finds himself embroiled in politics and his company wages a war against Arab slave traders. Frederick (Lord) Lugard plays a part. Croesus later negotiates a deal with Cecil Rhodes. He pays for the building of the Stevenson Road between Lake Nyasa and Lake Tanganyika; its line now delineates the border between Malawi and Tanzania.

Chapter 15: The Stevenson-Hamiltons

The head of the Lanarkshire branch of the family, ‘the Colonel', marries three heiresses in succession (taking the extra name of Hamilton from his first wife). The chapter describes his estates, Braidwood, Fairholm and Kirkton, his social life and his financial problems. His third marriage, in 1885, is a disaster and his wife's attempt to divorce him is acrimonious and widely publicised. The case is settled in the House of Lords. The lives of his children are described: one lost all his money in 1907 and sued his stockbroker in another court case in which Rufus Isaacs and Sir Edward Carson acted for the opposing sides.

Chapter 16: Jobs for the Girls

Two formidable spinster sisters, Louisa and Flora Stevenson, comfortably endowed by their father with money from the chemical works, become active feminists. Louisa Stevenson fights to get Scottish universities to accept women and starts the Edinburgh School of Cookery (now Queen Margaret University), while Flora is elected to Edinburgh's first school board and later becomes its chairman. A series of family marriages connects them with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Millicent Fawcett, forming a complex family circle of campaigners for women's rights spanning both England and Scotland. Some become militant suffragettes and serve prison sentences for smashing windows in London.

Chapter 17: The Explorers

Fred Stevenson helps to construct the Canadian Grand Trunk Railway but, at 25, becomes bored and, with his private chemical works income, decides to travel. In the 1860s he explores the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky and later travels by canoe along tributaries of the Amazon. His adventures are quoted from his diaries. Surviving many dangers, he dies at 80 in Surrey.James Stevenson-Hamilton, a cavalry officer, takes part in the exploration of Barotseland and discovers the Kafue Falls on one of the Zambezi's tributaries in 1899. He lives most of his life in South Africa, where, having given up big-game hunting, he founds the Kruger National Park and writes books on African wild life. Unmarried and in his 60s, he has a stormy relationship with his nephew and heir to the family's Lanarkshire estates. He solves it by marrying and producing a son of his own at 65.

Chapter 18: Vulcano

Croesus buys the island of Vulcano, next to Lipari and Stromboli, to extract sulphur from the volcano's crater. He sets up a steam engine run by the volcano's heat, plants vines and builds a villa. It is all destroyed when the volcano erupts in 1888, an event ascribed to divine retribution because he, a Scottish Presbyterian, had thrown out the island's Roman Catholic priest.

Chapter 19: Jarrow in decline

A rival process for making alkali is developed by Brunner & Mond and threatens the profits of the Jarrow Chemical Works. In desperation, firms in the UK using the old process amalgamate to form, in 1890, the biggest chemical undertaking in the world, the United Alkali Company (of which JC Stevenson becomes a vice-chairman). The plan fails to dislodge Brunner & Mond. (Years later the two companies merge to form ICI).

Chapter 20: The Swan

In an attempt to save their declining fortunes, the Stevenson family backs Joseph Swan's invention of the electric lamp and form a company, Swan's Electric Light Co Ltd, to develop it. JC Stevenson is the company's chairman and many of his relatives are shareholders. His 15-year-old son, Hew, joins the firm fresh from Harrow. Disputes with the American inventor, TA Edison, over patents, eventually result in a merger to form the Edison Swan United Electric Light Company and the Stevensons are squeezed out. Hew joins Crompton's, the electrical engineers, and installs electric lighting in the Vienna theatres for the Emperor Franz Joseph.

Chapter 21: Fin de Siècle

This chapter covers the deaths, between 1900 and 1910, of some pivotal family members – JC Stevenson, who leased Eltham Palace as his final home, Croesus (James Stevenson of Hailie, Largs), the Edinburgh feminist sisters, Jaughty and the Highland Host – and how they came to terms with their reduced wealth and coped with old age.

Chapter 22: JC's Dozen

Deals with the lives of JC Stevenson's 12 children and some of their offspring, including the Runcimans (one a cabinet minister who was sent to negotiate with Hitler over Czechoslovakia and another, Sir Steven Runciman, the historian of the crusades) and their interest in early aviation, and some grandsons who are killed in World War I and another who is in the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II.

Chapter 23: Two Charleses

Tells the story of two Charles Stevensons, uncle and nephew. The former, after a promising career at Harrow, becomes a journalist. Promised the editorship of a new newspaper to be launched in the West Indies, which never materialises, he loses self-confidence, becomes an alcoholic and finally, in 1895, dies in New York at 27. His story unfolds through a series of tragic letters he wrote home. The other Charles Stevenson (1903-1998), after a promising start as a London barrister, becomes convinced he is destined to marry Princess Elizabeth (the present Queen). The obsession, encouraged, incredibly, by his mother, blights his life and he never settles to a career. Correspondence with the prime minister's (Churchill's) office and other influential politicians, as well as his uncle, Viscount Runciman, are quoted. They fail to convince him and his mother that it is a fantasy.

Chapter 24: The Shields Gazette

James Stevenson (of Chapter 3), with his chemical works profits, had started a weekly newspaper in South Shields in 1849 – to champion local causes. In 1855 it reacts to Gladstone's repeal of the newspaper stamp duty by becoming a daily (it is now the oldest provincial evening newspaper in England). The family acquires other local newspapers and diversifies into the manufacture of rotary printing presses. JC Stevenson, having at 70 retired from Parliament, turns his energies to the newspaper (started by his father for altruistic, rather than financial reasons) which, together with its engineering subsidiary, becomes highly profitable. Four of his sons become involved in the business but the 1930s slump and a devastating newspaper war with the Rothermere group ends in its sale to Westminster Press, a part of Pearson (although Shannan Stevenson and one of his sons remain active in the management for another 60 years).

Chapter 25: Epilogue

Traces what survives today of the various family activities – what has become of their houses, their businesses, their work in Africa etc.

Appendix A. Possible Origins

Speculates on the likely origins of the Stevenson family in Lanarkshire.

Appendix B. Stevenson Heraldry

Illustrates and explains 14 versions of the Stevenson coat of arms granted to different branches of the family since 1863.

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