Jessie Armour

Janet ‘Jesse’ Nimmo Watson, née Armour (1861-1882)

On 6th November 1877, a little over a year after moving to Scotland, Andrew married local Glasgow girl, Janet Nimmo Armour. Her familiar name was ‘Jessie’, and she was the daughter of John Armour, a joiner from Saltcoats, Ayrshire. Jessie was seventeen years old, and Andrew was twenty-one.

In the 1871 Scottish Census, when Jessie was 11 years old, it is clear the Armour family were not wealthy. The family comprised of 5 daughters, one son and a husband and stepmother living in a two-room apartment on Watt Street, in what is now Tradeston. In the year of their marriage, Andrew was living on Shields Street, that ran parallel with Watt Street. This was intersected by Houston Street, where later, the Armour’s, the Maxwell children from her mother’s first marriage and the Watson grandchildren would all live. The Shields Street address may have been Andrew’s first accommodation in Glasgow.

This map from The National Library of Scotland is from 1882 and shows how close Andrew was to Jessie. Shields Street runs parallel to Watt Street.

144 Buccleuch Street, Glasgow

A year later, Rupert Andrew Watson was born at 144 Buccleuch Street. It is likely this is where Andrew and Jessie began their married life together. By the time of Agnes Maude’s birth, they had moved to 1 Rutland Crescent, Kinning Park, and four years later, in the 1881 Census, they were living in Afton Place, off Paisley Road, not far from the tenements Jessie had grown up in.

It is unclear why the Watson family chose to move as frequently as they did. Even though Watson may have been relying on inheritance, frequent changes of address are often due to economic reasons.

Five years after their marriage, the family moved to London where Watson would become a civil servant and a member of the ‘establishment’. The family live on Langham Road in Tottenham, close to Stoke Newington, where Andrew had lived while studying at King’s College.

After only four months in London, Jessie fell ill. For the following weeks, she suffered from an increasingly severe illness, and on 31st October 1882, she died.

Jessie’s death was attributed to ‘Gastro bilious fever’ and ‘Ascites’, a generic term that included ailments, such as peritonitis or septicaemia.

She is buried in an unattended grave in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington, in a grave, lost for over 100 years.

Andrew chose a Celtic Cross for Jessie’s grave, identifying her Scottish heritage and there are no similar crosses in Abney Park. The plot is concealed behind several rows of graves and next to the boundary wall. When rediscovered in March 2018, the plot was hidden under thick vegetation. Crumbling in places, the cross shows no signs of any recent care or attention.

The inscription on the headstone uses her familiar name, ‘Jessie’, and not her legal name, ‘Janet Nimmo’. Watson may have been unaware of her legal name, and it may also indicate Jessie’s parents either were not involved in or unaware of the funeral arrangements. They may have wished to use the name used in her baptism. If the children had remained in Glasgow with their grandparents and not travelled to London, then Andrew would have been the only family at the funeral.

The inscription on Jessie’s headstone quotes Jeremiah 15:9, “Her sun went down while it was yet day”, the context of which expresses sadness at a mother’s loss of a child, but it also laments the premature loss of a loved one.

The choice of the monument and the inscription expresses a profound sadness and grief that Watson may have endured for many years.

Watson probably believed relocating to London would provide his family with a better life and future happiness. Leaving relations, friends and all that was familiar, moving several hundred would have been daunting. But to lose his young wife and mother of his children after four months must have left him confused by grief, regret and remorse.

The loss of Jessie obviously affected the relationship between Watson and his children. If they had travelled to London with their parents in the previous summer, sending them back to live with their grandparents in Glasgow may have been the best option under the circumstances. If they had remained in Glasgow, waiting to be sent for when their parents had settled, may have saved them from the anguish of burying their mother. But the separation from their father may have caused damage to their relationship. There are indications his relationship with the adult Rupert may have been strained or even non-existent.

On a lesser scale, not only may his new position as a civil servant have been compromised, by the necessary absences to play football, the new football season had begun around the time Jessie became ill. He had played only one game during that time, for an E.C. Bambridge’s XI, but the fact he had played any games at all while his wife was ill, may suggest this game was a commitment he felt he could not avoid.

Jessie was only 22 years old when she died.

Shields Road runs parallel to the track lines