When I was a kid I used to love going to stay with my Granny. At her house there were always lots of treats that I didn’t get at home and one of these was a breakfast favourite of mine, Robertson’s Golden Shred marmalade. Unscrewing the lid of the jar and piling the orange gold sticky spoonful of marmalade on to my hot buttered toast was like nothing else! My Granny made her own jam and I remember her saying to me as she got out her ‘jeelie pan’ to start to make her own marmalade, “did you know that Golden Shred was started off a long time ago by an ordinary housewife in a wee kitchen in Paisley?”
That Paisley housewife was named Marion Robertson and the following is her story.
Childhood, Marriage and Family life:
Marion McFadyen was born in 1835. Her parents were James and Marion McFadyen and her father was a Paisley merchant.
As the eldest daughter in a hardworking family in trade, it is not hard to imagine that responsibility for learning how to complete household duties and domestic tasks would have been taken on by Marion from a young age. Knitting, sewing, mending, care of younger siblings, cooking and baking; all tasks Marion may have performed to help her mother. Included in this list must also have been learning recipes to preserve fruit and vegetables as jams and pickles.
On 17 June 1856 Marion McFadyen married James Robertson. James – also from Paisley – was a grocer and the couple started married life with a grocery business in Causeyside. Over the years the Robertsons had a large family with twelve children. This might have been where the story of the Robertsons ended but for Marion taking out her ‘jeelie pan’ and trying to solve a problem of stock management in the shop.
Mrs Robertson’s ‘Jeelie Pan’, Oranges & the Golden Shred:
Preserving fruit and vegetables as jams, pickles and chutney was a normal activity in Victorian times, prior to the invention of household refrigeration devices. Stories about the making of Robertson’s jam vary but, according to most, Robertson’s grocery shop had an over stock of oranges for sale and to prevent them from becoming over ripe, Mrs Robertson took decisive action. She went to her kitchen, took out her ‘jeelie pan’ and began to make the oranges into marmalade using her own tried and trusted recipe. The resulting marmalade was put up on the grocery shelves for sale and proved an instant success with customers. Some say the popular success of Mrs Robertson’s marmalade was because she removed the bitter pith from the oranges before cooking them, whilst others say that she added more sugar to the recipe and the texture of the resultant marmalade was more like a jelly than a chunky marmalade.
The marmalade was so popular that by 1864 production was moved to a factory at Thrushcraigs in the south of Paisley where bulk production could take place. As the popularity of Robertson’s marmalade grew, factory production was moved to larger premises at Stevenson Street in Paisley. The name given to the popular orange marmalade was trademarked in 1886 by James Robertson and became known as Robertson’s Golden Shred.
Marion’s decisive action to make some marmalade to help with the stock management of the family grocery shop not only saved the day, it also set the Robertsons up as owners of a highly successful brand name business enjoying a wealthy lifestyle.
‘Marionfield’ and later life:
In later life Marion and James enjoyed a lifestyle fitting to the entrepreneurial success of Robertson’s Jams. One example of this can be seen by looking at information recorded in the 1891 census for the Robertson household. They are recorded as living at a large mansion house set in its own grounds, on Hunterhill Road in the Blackhall area of Paisley. The house is called ‘Marionfield’. The house name could have been a sign of the loving esteem that Marion was held in by her husband, or perhaps it was an apt tribute paid to Marion as the generator of the marmalade which made the family fortune?
The household is recorded as follows:
|Name:||Relation to Head of the Family:||Age:||Profession or Occupation:||Where Born:|
|James Robertson||Head||59||Preserve Manufacturer||Paisley, Renfrewshire|
|Marion Robertson||Wife||57||Paisley, Renfrewshire|
|Maggie Robertson||Daughter||28||Paisley, Renfrewshire|
|Lizzie Robertson||Daughter||26||Paisley, Renfrewshire|
|William Robertson||Son||24||Employed||Paisley, Renfrewshire|
|Andrew Robertson||Son||22||Medical Student||Paisley, Renfrewshire|
|David Robertson||Son||20||Student||Paisley, Renfrewshire|
|Robert Robertson||Son||18||Employed||Paisley, Renfrewshire|
|Mary Robertson||Daughter||15||Scholar||Paisley, Renfrewshire|
|Alexander Robertson||Son||13||Scholar||Paisley, Renfrewshire|
|Agnes McLure||Servant||24||Domestic Servant||Monkton, Ayrshire|
|Sarah Aitken||Servant||18||Domestic Servant||Colmonell, Ayrshire|
From this it appears that the Robertson household in 1891 is one of parents with several children living at home with them, including three unmarried daughters, two sons who are recorded as employed possibly in the family business, and several of the children recorded as being in education. Further to service the needs of this family there are two female domestic servants recorded.
In just a few years the Robertson family had come a long way from the modest grocers shop in Causeyside.
Marion’s contentment with family life continued until the winter of 1902 when on 1 November that year Marion contracted pneumonia and passed away, leaving James a bereft widower. James survived his wife by several years passing away on 5 October 1914 at Marionfield after a short illness.
Marion (McFadyen) Robertson could be seen as the archetypal Victorian wife and mother to a large family, supporting her husband in his business endeavours, BUT that would be to miss the entrepreneurial spark which made Marion take out her ‘jeelie pan’ in her own kitchen in a grocer’s shop in a Paisley street and think on her feet. By doing this Marion left us with a favourite breakfast treat as well as, for many of us, memories of hot buttered toast heaped with delicious Golden Shred marmalade!