Sandy Mills's Family

With many thanks to my recently discovered relatives Jean Pepper and Kath Shaw, who have kindly provided the information which follows:

Nichol Mills and Violet Milroy had nine children. The eldest, James, born in 1864, five months after his parents married, died in infancy. The youngest, Violet, was born 25 years later, in 1882.

Alexander, known as Sandy, was born in 1867.


He became a gamekeeper. He married Jane Smith, and around the turn of the century they moved to a newly-built cottage at Holehouse with their 4 year old son, Jim. Their daughter, Elizabeth Jane, known as Bessie, was born there on 18th May 1900. A second daughter, Sarah Helen, known as Nellie, arrived three years later.

Sandy Mills's Family

In 1926 Bessie married George Shaw, a journalist who had been born in Australia. They had four children: Jean, Jo, Jill and Jack.

In July 1932 there was a fire on Criffel, a nearby hill. Sandy went to help to put it out. The following day, he died of a heart attack, aged 64. His wife, Jane, was allowed to spend the rest of her life in the cottage. Bessie, George and the children had moved to London, but came back each summer to Holehouse to spend the school holiday with her.


1939: The family, as usual, spent the school summer holiday at Holehouse. When it was time to go home, this time the children were left behind, because their father was convinced that war would soon break out.

1939-45: They stayed at Holehouse with their grandmother and Aunt Nellie. They first attended Kirkbean school.

Kirkbean Primary School

Later they went on to Dumfries Academy.

Dumfries Academy

Their parents stayed in London (N21),where their father mainly worked on propaganda and doing his share of roof-top fire watching at his office while their mother was an air-raid warden and also taught the forces shorthand and typing part time. She had been teaching commercial subjects after leaving the Academy up to the time she married.

Life at Holehouse during the war 1939-1945.

Feeding time at Holehouse

As Holehouse was in the middle of a field and half a mile from the main road, none of the main services were laid on.


Water was collected from the burn in buckets. There was an old pump in the garden. It was used in winter, but ran dry in summer. On one occasion the children found a dead sheep upstream in the Big Burn, and had to go to the shepherd's cottage for water.


A liquid battery was used for the radio which had to be taken to the mill at Drumburn for charging. Light was supplied by an oil lamp in the living room and candles elsewhere.

Holehouse today


A wood fire in the kitchen range supplied the only heating in the house. Hot water bottles were used in the winter to warm the beds. The range, where pans and kettle were used for cooking was fuelled by wood. The pans were very heavy ones that were placed directly on the embers for cooking or on a shelf to keep warm. There was a built-in oven which required the embers to be pushed into the chamber under it. There was also a small tank with a tap for hot water but it was seldom used.


There was a built-in tub in the "Back Kitchen" which had a fire under it for heating water for washing clothes. It had to be filled with buckets of water from the burn. Two types of iron were used. One was heated directly by the fire. The blackened base was then covered over with a clip-on metal cover. The other had little metal shapes, heated in the fire, inserted into it.

Below is a photograph of Bessie's footwear - practical for both time and place. Today they sit on a little shelf which also came from Holehouse.

Bessie's clogs


From time to time a load of branches would appear, delivered while the children were at school. They would help saw them into short lengths for the fire and chop the thicker ones into kindling. After a stormy period, the children themselves would enjoy foraging in the Glen for fallen branches, dragging them back home.


Inside the house they had chamber pots under their beds which their Aunt would empty while they were out.There was a midden at the bottom of the garden that received such items.

Below is a photograph of the cabinet in which the family chamber pots were stored. Today's elegant setting gives no clue to its earlier basic function!

A useful cabinet

There was also an outside toilet which was built into the house but only accessed from the yard. This had a solid wooden seat along the back with a hole under which there was a bucket. Newspaper was torn into squares threaded together onto a piece of string and hung on the wall. This, too, would be emptied by Aunt Nellie.

Last updated 23.1.2008