Anna Maxwell Martin on Who Do You Think You Are?: Everything you need to know

Anna Maxwell Martin discovered tales of tragedy in her Northern Irish and Scottish family history when she appeared on Who Do You Think You Are?

Anna Maxwell Martin Who Do You Think You Are?
Wall to Wall Media/Stephen Perry
Published: June 23, 2022 at 10:00 pm
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Anna Maxwell Martin is one of the UK’s most celebrated actors, with roles ranging from a chaotic mum in Motherland to the menacing DCS Carmichael in Line of Duty. However, at the start of her episode of Who Do You Think You Are? she stresses that as a mum she spends most of her time looking after her children. She notes that how you parent your children goes back to how you were parented.

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She travels to Northern Ireland to learn more about her father Ivan, who died when she was 24, and his family. She recalls him being a very gentle, loving caring man. She believes he actively changed the pattern of his childhood: “He talked about not being cuddled a lot.” He had two siblings, one of whom died. She wonders if this cataclysmic thing that happened to her granny and grandpa went on to shape the rest of their lives. She visits Maghera in Derry, where her father grew up. Her grandfather, Robert, was the local chemist and ran a farm. The family lived in Hill View, a house on the edge of town. She remembers her grandparents being very quiet and wonders how they ended up with the farm.

Robert and his wife Margretta had three sons: Ronald, Ivan and Kenneth, who died as a child. Anna goes to visit her uncle Ron and cousin Alistair. She confesses to being scared of her grandpa. “He was a wee bit remote, I think,” agrees Alistair. Robert was the youngest of 14. He got an education and got his qualifications in pharmacy. He got a loan of £100 from a drug company to start his chemist shop. He bought a two-acre field for the farm and built the house on it, and used the other acre to start the farm and then built it up. “He was a totally self-made man,” notes Anna.

She looks at an old photograph of her father and two brothers as little boys. Ron tells her Kenneth was seven when he died, her father was ten and Ron was 13. Ron remembers Kenneth being very ill and says his father went to a consultant who suggested they try an experimental drug. He got better for a bit but then died suddenly.

Ron recalls coming back from the funeral, sitting by the fire with his family and them not talking, then going to the Isle of Man with his father for a week’s holiday and his father buying him a mouth organ. When asked if his parents changed after Kenneth’s death, Ron says: ”Obviously, it was their youngest child and he died in a horrible way, but they didn’t show it. It was different times.”

Anna goes to look at where her grandfather’s pharmacy once stood, which is now a Boots. She reflects that she had got a lot wrong about her grandparents – that her granny wasn’t timid and how busy they were and how central to their community they were.

Back in London, Anna talks to her mum Rosalind and brother Adam to find out more about her mum’s Scottish side of the family. She’s particularly interested in finding out about her grandfather, Maxwell Youngson, whose name Anna added to her own to make her stage name.

Her brother, Adam, shows her a picture of Maxwell with his arms round Rosalind and her sister as children. Another photograph shows him with a group of masons. He worked on Iona on the cathedral. “I never heard him say a bad word about anybody. He was very happy in his own skin.” Adam brings out Maxwell’s birth certificate. His father was Joseph Horne Youngson, also a mason, mother Rachel White Horne. Anna notes that they both have the surname Horne. He was born in New Pitsligo, Scotland. On the back of the certificate it says he was baptised in Aberlour in 1920 when he was six. Her mother thinks he was sent to Aberlour orphanage with some other siblings.

Adam has an old photograph of Maxwell’s father and mother and nine of their 15 children. He says Joseph is a bit of a mystery. Her mum points out the oldest child Joeina and says she went over to New Zealand. Rosalind has a picture of Rachel looking like she’s had a hard life. “I thought she was in her 70s in this picture, but she died in her 40s.”

Anna travels to Aberlour to find out about Maxwell’s time in the orphanage there and meets historian Christine White. They go to the church of St Margaret’s which was built specially for the orphanage. Christine shows Anna the admissions register for the orphanage. Anna spots Maxwell and four siblings in the register. They arrived on 25 June 1920. Maxwell left on 6 November 1925, his sisters at different times. He would have been separated from his sisters when arrived aged five. “The boys were mostly trained for agricultural labour,” she tells Anna, adding that there was provision made for their physical wellbeing but not their psychological health. “The reality is that the four girls had one another, but he didn’t have anybody,” comments Anna. “He did go on to do well and be loving – really actively loving of his children. They felt loved and looked after and safe and I think – I find that really moving when little people are able to rise up. I find it extraordinary that people don’t go on to repeat the pattern.”

Anna wonders why the five siblings ended up there. Christine shows her their mother’s death certificate. She died from erysipelas, which is related to pregnancy so it might be to do with the fact that she bore so many children. She was only 46. A letter to a Cannon Jenks, who ran the orphanage, talks about the five children and the fact that the father “is not much good. The man is callous and drunken and under his auspices I fear the children would have no chance. Your home might keep them from the devil.” At the time it was thought that separating children from families who the authorities saw as corrupting influences was seen as necessary. Parents were expected to pay towards their children’s upkeep. Anna reflects on the trauma Maxwell must have felt.

She meets up with genealogist Rachel King in a local pub to find out more about Joseph. Rachel shows him Joseph’s birth record. He was born in 1861 illegitimately to Mary Horne, a domestic servant, in New Pitsligo. The minutes of kirk sessions in New Pitsligo reveal that Alexander Youngson sent a letter to the session saying that he was Joseph’s father. This is so Mary can get some support – it would have been a really brave thing for Mary to do. Joseph subsequently added Youngson to his name.

Anna is surprised to see Joseph’s name on a ship’s manifest for the Duke of Atholl which left Glasgow on 18 December 1881 and arrived in Brisbane 26 March 1882 – he was 22. She goes to Glasgow where Joseph sailed from. She meets migration historian Margery Harper on the Glen Lee. She tells Anna that Joseph would have had assistance to do the journey from the Queensland government. At that time Brisbane was in the middle of a building boom. Margery tells Anna that by 1885, Joseph was in Sydney, working on the prestigious St Patrick’s college in Manley – it was a reflection of the skill that Joseph had that he was engaged on this project, but it’s not an entirely happy story.

In an old newspaper account in the Sydney Daily Telegraph (26 February, 1886) about a stonemason strike at the building, Joseph is listed the strike. In Australia, stonemasons were unionised and had the right to limit their working day to eight hours. Building constructors tried to keep costs down by hiring non-union workers – the unions fought back. The strike at St Patrick’s lasted for more than four months. “He’s 25 – it’s quite impressive for a young man – he’s at the forefront of a political ideology which is fair pay, unions,” notes Anna.

A funeral notice reveals that Joseph’s home life was not happy. His wife, Sarah, died in July 1885 in childbirth and the baby also died. A newspaper report for 1889 shows that he committed larceny – stealing items including two rings, a scarf pin and a suit. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour, but the sentence was suspended.

Anna noted that he seems like a desperate man. Margery says he would have found it difficult to find work after leading a strike - “He would have been a marked man.” This is probably why he came back to Scotland.

Anna reflects that as a young man he had a lot of “vim and vigour”. He had a trade, a life there and a family. “It’s really sad that that all went wrong.”

To find out what happened after Joseph’s eight years in Australia, Anna goes to Aberdeen. She meets historian Nicola Verdon in the city and county archives. Joseph married Rachel White Horne, a domestic servant, in 1891 – he was 29 and she was 19. In the Aberdeenshire Observer (14 July 1892), he was charged with stealing a watch from Widow Lamb’s house. He’s a skilled stonemason, so should be able to earn a decent wage. Why is he resorting to theft? In the Poor Law records in 1898, Rachel is listed with four children – she is to be given five shillings a week. Her ‘disablement’ is listed as – husband is in prison. In fact the records reveals that he’s in and out of prison for a decade. Nicola advises Anna to go to the Sheriff Court to find out what his crimes were.

At Aberdeen Sherrif’s Court, Anna meets crime historian Hannah Telling, who takes her to the courtroom where Joseph was tried and convicted on several occasions. A newspaper report of one of his trials is entitled ‘New Pitsligo – Serious Wife-Beating case’ – it tells how Joseph beat Rachel and also assaulted her parents. He pleaded guilty and was sent to prison for 60 days. “It feels very dark,” says Anna. “He must have been terrifying to her and the children.”

In another case in October 1906, Rachel and her daughter Joeina have to sit in the courtroom and give evidence against him. He had beat Rachel with his fists – he denied the offences and conducted his own defence. He was convicted and went to jail for 30 days. Anna exclaims: “But she had my grandad eight years later – she’s stuck with this man.”

Anna goes to meet Pat, daughter of Rhoda, one of the sisters who Maxwell was in the orphanage with, and her daughter Shona. Pat shows her a picture of the five siblings who were in the orphanage, in their later years. Pat gives Anna a folder of letters. “The family fought hard to get the children out of Aberlour Orphanage.” There are several about Maxwell from his sister Jean who wants to take him in. Joeina too says she has a good home for him and offers to pay them compensation. The sisters never gave up trying to get Maxwell out. He eventually came out at 11 and went to live with Jean. Pat says that the sibling loved each other so much. “The bond of love, despite what Joseph did, was so so strong. They just didn’t repeat the pattern of what they’d learned.”

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Anna reflects how proud she is to be associated with her grandad Maxwell. “He made a real good stab at life. He created a loving a caring household for his family and that’s not something to be sniffed at. It’s a huge achievement – especially when you’ve had a really difficult start.”

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