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James Armour (Master mason)

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James Armour (15 January 1730 – 20 September 1798) was a master mason and father of Jean Armour, and therefore the father-in-law of the poet Robert Burns.

Life and background

thumbPlaque on the site of the old Whitefoord Inn
At Mauchline on 7 December 1791 he married Mary Smith, the daughter of stonemason Adam Smith.Westwood (1997), Page 34 James died on 30 September 1798 and was buried in the family lair in Mauchline churchyard.Westwood (1997), Page 27 His wife died in 1805 and was buried with her husband.Westwood (1997), Page 27


James' eleven offspring with Mary, were, in birth order, John, Jean, James, Robert, Adam, Helen, Mary, Robert (2nd), Mary (2nd), Janet and Robert (3rd). Three siblings died in childhood.Westwood (1997), Page 27 Dr John Armour was the eldest son who was born in Mauchline on 14 November 1762 and died in 1834. He had his practice in Kincardine-on-Forth where he died and was buried. He had two children, Janet and John, and married Janet Coventry on 10 March 1787.Westwood (1997), Page 27 James and Mary's son James was born in Mauchline on 26 April 1767, married Betthaia Walker in 1794, Martha in 1818 and Janet in 1822. Their offspring were James and Betthaia.Westwood (1997), Page 28 Adam Armour was named after Adam Smith, James Armour's father-in-law.Boyle (1996), Page 63
The Armours' single-storey house stood in Cowgate, separated from John Dove's Whitefoord Arms by a narrow lane. Jean's bedroom window looked on to a window of the inn, thereby allowing Burns to converse with her from the public house itself.McKay (2004), Page 156 The Whitefoord Inn was often frequented by Burns and was also the meeting place of the so-called Court of Equity and linked to a significant incident in the life of Jean's brother Adam regarding the mistreatment of Agnes Wilson.Boyle (1996), Page 156

Occupation and social standing

thumb250pxJames Armour commemorated as a mason who worked on Old Greenan Bridge.
thumbleft250pxJames Armour carried out contract work at Dumfries House.
James was a master mason and contractor rather than an architect, regardless of Burns' attempts to describe him as one. He is known to have carried out contract work at Dumfries House near CumnockPurdie (2013), Page 29 and tradition links him to the building of Howford Bridge on the River Ayr, Greenan Bridge on the River Doon; Skeldon House, Dalrymple; and several other bridges in Ayrshire.Boyle (1996), Page 63 Both the Armours and his wife's family had been stone-masons for several generations. William Burnes, Robert Burns' cousin, was apprenticed to James Armour.McKay (2004), Page 150
James was an adherent of the 'Auld Licht' style of religion and rented at 10/8 per year one of the most expensive pews in Mauchline church.Boyle (1996), Page 6 James was rigid and austere, apparently living an exemplary life.McKay (2004), Page 151 Robert Burns-Begg, Burns' great-nephew, states that in contrast to her husband, Mary Armour was "Partaken somewhat of the gay and frivolous.".McKay (2004), Page 151
William 'Willie' Patrick, a source of many anecdotes about Robert and his family, stated about James that "he was only a bit mason body, wha used to snuff a guid deal and gae afen tak a bit dram!" He went on to say regarding James' attitude to Robert Burns that "The thing was, he hated him, and would raither hae seen the Deil himsel comin to the hoose to coort his dochter than him! He cu'dna bear the sicht o'm, and that was the way he did it!".McKay (2004), Page 181

Association with Robert Burns

James had disapproved of Burns's courtship of Jean, being aware of his affair with Elizabeth Paton, his 'New Licht' leanings and his poor financial situation.McKay (2004), Page 156 When informed in March 1786 by his distraught wife that Jean was pregnant he fainted and upon recovering consciousness and being given a strong cordial drink he enquired who the father was, fainting again when he was told that it was Robert Burns. The couple persuaded Jean to travel to Paisley and lodge with their relative Andrew Purdie, husband of her aunt Elizabeth Smith. Robert Wilson lived in Paisley, a possible suitor who had shown a romantic interest in Jean previously, appears to have been only part of the reason for this action, for on 8 April Mary Armour had vehemently denied to James Lamie, a member of the Kirk Session, that Jean was pregnant.Hogg (2008), Page 94
thumb250pxA scene from The Jolly Beggars at Poosie Nansie's Inn.
Robert Burns produced a paper, probably a record of their "Marriage by Declaration" possibly witnessed by James Smith. This document, no longer extant, was defaced under James Armour's direction, probably by the lawyer Robert Aitken, with the names of both Robert and Jean being cut out. This act did not in fact effect its legality.Purdie (2013), Page 29Purdie (2013), Page 63 Robert wrote that James Armour's actions had "...cut my very veins", a feeling enhanced by Jean having handed over "the unlucky paper"Purdie (2013), Page 63 and had agreed to go to Paisley.
James Armour in the meantime forced his daughter to sign a complaint and a warrant "in meditatione fugae" against Robert was issued to prevent his abandoning her.Purdie (2013), Page 30 Burns fled to Old Rome Forest near Gatehead in South Ayrshire, where Jean Brown, Agnes Broun's half-sister and therefore an aunt of Burns, lived with her husband, James Allan.
Twins were born to Jean and Robert on 3 September 1786, named after their parents as was the kirk's protocol for children born out of wedlock. Robert, notified of the birth by Adam Armour, that Sunday went to the Armour's house with a gift of tea, sugar and a Guinea that proved most acceptable.Hogg (2008), Page 102 Robert only returned from Edinburgh in the summer of 1787 to find that he was, thanks to his newly found fame as a published poet, actively welcomed into the family.
Jean however fell pregnant out of official wedlock once more, with the result that she felt forced to leave the Armour's home due to her father's anger. She was taken in by Willie Muir and his wife at Tarbolton Mill.Boyle (1996), Page 158 It had previously been agreed that baby Jean would stay with her mother and baby Robert would join Bess at Mossgiel.McKay (2004), Page 320 The second set of twins did not live long and are buried, unnamed, in the Armour lair in Mauchline churchyard. Robert was in Edinburgh and did not arrive back until 23 February 1788; he then arranged accommodation for Jean.Purdie (2013), Page 29
Whilst at the Brow Well Robert Burns wrote two of his last letters to his father-in-law asking that Mary Armour, who was away visiting relatives in Fife, be sent to Dumfries to help care for Jean who was heavily pregnant. On 10 July 1796 his last letter was signed "Your most affectionate son. R. Burns."Purdie (2013), Page 30
Upon the death of Robert Burnes his nephew Robert arranged for his cousin William to become a mason or building worker, working with James Armour, Burns' father-in-law.

The Inveraray marble Punch Bowl

Of the many surviving Robert Burns artefacts few have such distinguished provenance as the punch bowl that was a nuptial gift in 1788 from James Armour to his daughter Jean and her new husband Robert Burns. As a stone-mason James had carved it himself (22cm x 14cm ) from dark green Inveraray marble and after residing at their various homes, Jean in 1801 presented it to her husband's great friend and Burns family benefactor Alexander Cunningham whilst she was on a visit to Edinburgh and staying with George Thomson. He had it mounted with a silver base and a rim, engraved upon which are the words “Ye whom social pleasure charms .. Come to my Bowl! Come to my arms, My FRIENDS, my BROTHERS!” taken from Burns’s “The Epistle to J. Lapraik.”Purdie (2013), Page 29
Alexander died in 1812 and it was then sold at auction in 1815 for the impressive price of 80 Guineas to a London publican who, falling upon hard times, sold it to Archibald Hastie Esq of London. A copy is held by the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum at Alloway, whilst the original is in the British Museum in London, presented to that institution by Archibald Hastie in 1858.
Purdie (2013), Page 29

See also

  • Adam Armour
  • Jean Armour
  • Robert Burnes
  • William Burnes
;Sources and further reading
  1. Annandale, Charles (Editor) (1890). The Works of Robert Burns. London : Blackie & Son.
  2. Barclay, Alastair (1989). The Bonnet Toun. The Stewarton Bonnet Guild.
  3. Boyle, A. M. (1996), The Ayrshire Book of Burns-Lore. Darvel : Alloway Publishing. .
  4. Dougall, Charles E. (1911). The Burns Country. London : Adam and Charles Black.
  5. Douglas, William Scott (1938). The Kilmarnock Edition of the Poetical Works of Robert Burns. Glasgow : Scottish Daily Express.
  6. Hogg, Patrick Scott (2008). Robert Burns. The Patriot Bard. Edinburgh : Mainstream Publishing. .
  7. Hosie, Bronwen (2010). Robert Burns. Bard of Scotland. Glendaruel : Argyll Publishing. .
  8. Jackson, J. R. (1996). Can You Help Find "Poor Uncle Robert". Burns Chronicle. Bicentenary Edition.
  9. Mackay, James. A Biography of Robert Burns. Edinburgh : Mainstream Publishing. .
  10. McNaught, Duncan (1912). Kilmaurs Parish & Burgh. Paisley : Alexander Gardner.
  11. McQueen, Colin Hunter & Hunter, Douglas (2008). Hunter's Illustrated History of the Family, Friends and Contemporaries of Robert Burns. Published by Messrs Hunter Queen and Hunter.
  12. Noble, Andrew and Hogg, Patrick Scott (Editors). (2001). The Canongate Burns. Edinburgh : Canongate Books Ltd.
  13. Purdie, David; McCue Kirsteen and Carruthers, Gerrard. (2013). Maurice Lindsay's The Burns Encyclopaedia. London : Robert Hale. .
  14. Strawhorn, John Letters from a Land Steward. Was he 'Poor Uncle Robert'. Annual Burns Chronicle & Club Directory.
  15. Westwood, peter J. (1997). Genealogical Charts of the Family of Robert Burns. Kilmarnock : The Burns Federation.
  16. Westwood, Peter J. (2004). The Definitive Illustrated Companion to Robert Burns. Scottish Museums Council.
  17. Westwood, Peter J. (Editor). (2008). Who's Who in the World of Robert Burns. Robert Burns World Federation.

External links

  • Video footage of Howford Bridge, Mauchline.

  • Category:Robert Burns
    Category:People from Ayrshire
    Category:1730 births
    Category:1798 deaths
    Category:Burns family
    Category:History of East Ayrshire
    Category:18th-century Scottish women

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