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John Harkness

Town Manager at HM Factory Gretna
Date of Birth: January 19, 1878 Date of Death: August 22, 1923


Full name of worker at H.M. Factory Gretna (and any other names they are known by) : John Harkness 

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Gender: Male 

Date and Place of Birth: Dumfriesshire ? 1878 exact date unknown 

Date and Place of Death:  22nd August 1923 19 Park Circus , Ayr Evening  

Nationality: Scottish 

Childhood:  20 Rae St Dumfries,   

Parents: John and Grace McKie Harkness 

Parent’s occupations:  Father was a farmer

Schools / universities attended and years of attendance: Not known 

Occupation: Civil Engineer/Town manager HM Factory Gretna / Assessor of  railways and canals /Valuation Officer Inland revenue –   

Place of residence at Gretna: 5 Drumlanrig Street , Thornhill –  

Job title at Gretna: Town Manager H M Factory, Gretna 

Marital status: Married on 20th September 1905 in Kilmun –  

Children: 3 sons and 1 daughter.  

Travels: Worked around the country including Edinburgh/Gretna /Ayr/Glasgow 


Trivia / any other information:  


John Harkness was born in 1878 ( he was 27 at the date of his marriage in 1905 and 45 at the time of his death in 1923) to John Harkness (farmer) and Grace McKie Harkness. Source- Marriage certificate.It is not clear whether he had siblings but a George William Harkness , an assistant banker of 26, Bishopsgate, London EC was an executor of his will in 1923.Source- Probate record. Indication is that John was born in Dumfriesshire , possibly Dumfries with an address of 20 Rae Street, Dumfries.Source – one of the addresses listed on the probate record. * 


He married Margaret Gilmour Ferguson of Kilmun, Argyll and Bute  at the Parish Church Kilmun on 20th September1905. Source-Marriage certificate 

They lived at Park Terrace, Edinburgh where John was  living at the time of the marriage and where in 1906 their first son George Breen Ferguson was born. George was baptised at Robertson Memorial (Grange) Edinburgh on 6th October 1906 Sources-marriage certificate and Baptism /Church Records. 

They subsequently produced two more sons and a daughter.Source – Dundee Evening Telegraph 23rd August 1923  


John followed a varied career -civil engineer, Assistant engineer public works Glasgow, Assistant assessor of railways and canals for Scotland based in Glasgow, District valuer when land valuation moved its headquarters to Ayr covering the district of counties of Ayr, Dumfries, Kirkudbright and Wigtown. During the war years he was Town Manager , H M Factory Gretna. At the time of his death he planned to start as a chartered surveyor and valuer in Ayr and Glasgow.Source- Dundee Evening Telegraph 23rd August 1923 , The Scotsman 23rd August 1923 


During the war years he was Town Manager , HM Factory, Gretna. He took this role on following the stepping down due to ill health of his predecessor, Mr John Malcolm Aitken who had had the task of acquiring the land and designing the layout. Sources – The Scotsman 23rd August 1923 , The Scotsman 11th October 1935, Dundee Evening Telegraph 23rd August 1923. 

 The date of John’s appointment is not clear nor is his line of work immediately prior to this wartime role.  


He certainly was Town Manager in May 1817 when the Royal visit occurred?* – Mr Aitken stayed on in  an honorary Town Manager role and as such had responsibility for overseeing the Royal visit which was part of their tour of the N West. Source- Devils Porridge Museum – Itinerary of visit, The Scotsman 11th October 1935. 


As Town Manager, John Harkness headed the department that dealt with applications for the appointment of teachers, letting of shops , supplying of provisions and on one recorded occasion produced a letter in support of an Annan solicitor  Mr Robert F Browne at   a military tribunal in Annan where the Mr Browne was accused of avoiding National service   claiming that his “ work in his department in secretarial work in connection with the committees for the management of the factory schools and in connection with local government matters. If the tribunal did not consider that work of national importance Mr Browne was willing to do any other work that might be suggested The appeal was refused. Source-Dumfries and Galloway Standard 9th October 1918 


As a local  dignitary’ he was invited as an honorary guest at the Annan Fête,  Raising money for the Scottish Red Cross. Source Dumfries and Galloway 26th  June 1918 


Whilst working as Town Manager ,it is almost certain that John and family lived at 5 Drumlanrig Street. Thornhill. Probate record 1923   


Following the closure of the factory John moved to Ayr  and where he subsequently picked up his career. 

He sadly died on 22nd August 1923 at the age of 45 before he had the opportunity to realise his ambition of setting up as a chartered surveyor and valuer. Source -The Scotsman 23rd August 1923. According to the death announcement “ He was taken ill whilst dressing, and expired within a few minutes. He had not previously been complaining.” He left a widow , Margaret, aged 40 , 3 sons and 1 daughter. Sources- Dundee Evening Telegraph 23rd August 1923  Marriage certificate stating Margaret as being 22 in 1905 at time of marriage. 





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