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My father was English, my mother Scottish, and I visited Scotland recently with the desire to discover what I could about my Scottish ancestors. My grandmother's name was Renton. Her husband, my grandfather, spent most of his working life in India. After he died she came back to Scotland and settled down with her sisters in an old house in a village called Gullance. As a small boy I was taken to visit her there.
I knew that my great-grandfather, my grandmother's father, had written a book about his experiences as a young minister in Canada so I went to the National Library in Edinburgh to find out if they had a copy. However, the visit was a disappointment. There were a number of Rentons in the catalogue. But I could find no reference to my great-grandfather's book.
I also knew that after my great-grandfather had returned to Scotland from Canada, he had spent twenty years or more as Minister of the Presbyterian Church at North Berwick and my mother had told me that he had six daughters, five-of whom had never married.
On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning I drove from Edinburgh to North Berwick. I found somewhere to park and asked the way to the church. My mother had told me of the minister's house and the minister's meadow, a small field, where my grandfather kept a few cows, and where my grandmother and her five sisters had played as little girls. But this was seventy years ago.
The street was narrow and busy with Saturday afternoon shoppers. I walked along and suddenly there it was in front of me. St. Andrew's Church. The main doors were locked, so I made my way to the back, found a small door that was open, let myself in and looked round the church. The sunshine flooded through the windows and shone upon the brass memorial plaques on the walls. But I looked in vain for the name Rentons. Then it struck me that Renton was my grandmother's married name. Before chat her name was... was... Sprott. Of course. No wonder 1 hadn't been able to find my great-grandfather's book in the library. I looked again and soon I found a plaque "In memory of the Rev. George Washington Sprott, Minister of this kirk..."
Behind the church, at the top of a small hill, the minister's house still stood and between the house and the church lay the small meadow where my grandmother used to play among the cows. There were no cows there now, but in one corner, standing in the shade of a tree, was a hot, grey, bored-looking donkey.
The following Monday I returned to the National Library in Edinburgh and there I found my great-grandfather's book. Reflections on the life of a Young Minister in Canada, by the Rev. G.W. Sprott. It was dedicated to "My children and their children's children".