Canadian descendant of the Bear Gates contractor returns to Traquair

Published: 3 Oct 2012 07:303 comments

A CANADIAN holidaymaker revealed he only discovered his ancestor built the notorious Bear Gates at Traquair when he visited the area on holiday.

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Dennis Brodie, whose family left Scotland in 1831, began researching his family tree three years ago when he retired, after becoming inquisitive about his roots.

He managed to track his family down to the Peebles and Traquair area - but hit a brick wall in his research.

Seeking more information, he got in touch with Scottish genealogist, Chris Halliday - whose job is to track down ancestors and rebuild family trees.

"Dennis approached me in January, and he'd done a fair bit of research into his Scottish roots and he knew they came from Peebles and Traquair," Chris told the Peeblesshire News.

"So there was some research that he wanted me to do for him, and I carried that out and tracked his family down to Traquair. And because his ancestors were from generations of blacksmiths in the area, I thought it might be possible they were involved with the construction of the Bear Gates."

Traquair House is the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland. In 1738, the fifth Earl of Traquair installed the Bear Gates at the top of the avenue leading to the house. However they were only in use for seven years as the Earl closed them after Bonnie Prince Charlie's departure and vowed not to open them again until a Stuart King reclaimed the Throne.

Chris did as much digging as he could until contacting Margaret Fox, Traquair's archivist, who then scoured the state records of Traquair, to find that Charles Brodie, nine generations down from Dennis Brodie, had built the Bear Gates with his son in 1738.

And retired lawyer Dennis found out just days before he was flying over to Scotland.

On Friday October 21 he met with Chris Halliday, Margaret Fox and Catherine Maxwell Stuart of Traquair, where they shared the story with the Peeblesshire News.

"It's really gratifying to find this - it's amazing to think that all the way down the line, my great grand father built the Bear Gates," he said.

"I've been researching now for a long time, so to come to this point is wonderful - I had an idea that Charles Brodie was from around here, but never that he would be involved in the construction of the gates."

And when Dennis Brodie visited Scotland - having left last Monday - he stayed in a cottage near Traquair house.

But to his surprise, and shock, he also discovered that the graveyard just across the road from the cottage is where the said ancestors, Charles Brodie and his family, are buried.

Dennis said: "We found the grave, it was very faint, but we're able to make out the names. It's all very strange - what another weird coincidence.

"I had no idea that this graveyard would be here, just across the road from the place I'm staying on my first ever visit to Scotland. It's amazing."

Catherine added: "It's just fantastic to welcome Dennis and his family back here - I think it's absolutely great that we managed to find this out.

"It's exciting - we get a lot of Americans and Canadians here and people who think they've got these connections, but nine times out of ten, they don't have a direct connection.

"And it's actually something that Chris did research and Margaret actually found some documents in the archives. It doesn't always work like that. So it's really tied up loose ends for Dennis, I think it's great."

And archivist Margaret and genealogist Chris made certain that their findings were correct.

Margaret added: "The state account book says the 'rails' were made by Charles Brodie and his son - but the next entry is for when the coat of arms - the bears - went up.

"So the assumption is that the whole gate, including the stonework, was termed the 'rails'."

Catherine Maxwell Stuart, direct descendant of the Jacobite revolutionary Bonnie Prince Charlie, said: "The gates were reportedly closed when Bonnie Prince Charlie came to Traquair when he was stationed in Holyrood - during his winning streak, as it were.

"And he came out in the autumn of 1745 to visit all his supporters and when he got to Traquair, the Bear Gates were shut by the Earl, who told Charles Edward Stuart, the Bonnie Prince, they would not be opened again until a Stuart king was crowned in London - which never happened. But you never know, one day!"

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