Thomas Henry Tuckett and the puzzle of the Inscribed Stone

By George Robertson, FSAScot.

Rumbling Bridge, Kinross-shire.   Photo by Leslie Coventry
Rumbling Bridge, Kinross-shire.   Photo by Leslie Coventry

The magnificent double arched bridge in Kinross-shire known as Rumbling Bridge, which spans the deep gorge through which the River Devon tumbles, has attracted tourists to the area for many decades.   The lower bridge, which replaced an earlier structure, was built in 1713 and was itself replaced by the upper structure during 1816. (1)   No doubt the bridge could tell many interesting tales concerning the people who, over the years made use of it, but on one section there is a bit of a mystery, this being on the north east abutment where an inscribed stone is inserted into the stonework.   This stone carries the name T.H. Tuckett, the date 1864 and what appear to be a number of Masonic symbols.   There is nothing on the stone to indicate why it was placed there, so the question arises, who was T.H. Tuckett and why is his name displayed on the bridge?

Stone on Rumbling Bridge, bearing Thomas Henry Tuckett's name.  Photo by Leslie Coventry
Stone on Rumbling Bridge, bearing Thomas Henry Tuckett’s name.  Photo by Leslie Coventry

Thomas Henry Tuckett was born in London on or about 6th January, 1814.   His father, also named Thomas Tuckett, was recorded as being a “Gentleman”.   His mother was identified only by her first name – Harriet – no maiden surname being given. (2)  However, this was clarified when details of the couple’s marriage was found which revealed the following – “Captain Thomas Tuckett of the 3rd Regiment of Foot, of the Island of St Christopher, and Harriet Sophia Van Nes, aged 19 years, of the City of Lisbon, Spinster, with the consent of her mother, were married according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England this 22nd day of February, 1809 by me Tho. Dennis, Chaplain on the Staff”. (3)   This would indicate the marriage took place in Lisbon and is confirmed by the fact that Captain Tuckett’s Regiment was serving in Portugal at this, the time of the Peninsular War.

The couple went on to have a daughter, Harriet and two sons, including Thomas Henry Tuckett, but tragedy struck the family when Thomas Tuckett died on 14th December, 1816, whilst serving as an Ensign with the 2nd Garrison Battalion, then stationed on the Island of Guernsey.   This left Harriet Tuckett and her three children destitute and impoverished, which resulted in her seeking a pension from the Crown. (4)   It is not known if this was granted.  

There is no further information about young Thomas until he is found in the 1841 census for Scotland residing in Dysart, Fife with his sister Harriet.   Both are aged 25 years and he is shown to be a Road Surveyor.   It should be noted the job of Road Surveyor carried with it great responsibility and an example of this is found in an article which appeared in the Perthshire Advertiser newspaper dated 27th March, 1845, which details the circumstances of an action raised against Thomas at the Court of Session.   This related to a claim made by a commercial traveller named Robert Henderson to the effect that on 5th November, 1843, on the road between Kinglassie and Leslie, the horse drawn gig he was driving struck a block of wood, causing the vehicle to overturn resulting in Henderson and the horse being injured and the vehicle damaged.   The block of wood had been correctly placed on the road during the hours of daylight by John Smith, one of Thomas’s workmen, to draw attention to work being carried out on that section of road, but for some reason it had not been removed on completion of the day’s work.   Henderson claimed this should have been done and, because he could not be expected to see the block of wood, due to daylight fading, this was the cause of the accident.    The court jury agreed with Henderson and decided Thomas, in his capacity as Road Surveyor, was responsible and he was ordered to pay £40:14/- regarding the damage and injury to gig and horse and £30 for personal injury, Henderson having submitted a total claim for £200.   It is not known whether Thomas paid these sums personally or whether his employers, the Trustees for the Statute Labour Roads of Kirkcaldy District, paid out on his behalf, but since these were no small amounts, it is hoped the latter was the case.  Thomas was defended in court by Adam, Lord Anderson, the then Solicitor General for Scotland.

However, Thomas again comes to our notice in a much better light when the Fifeshire Journal newspaper, dated Thursday, 17th July, 1845, carries the story of his bravery whilst rescuing two women from drowning.   This took place on the previous Wednesday when the women, believed to be mother and daughter, were bathing in the Firth of Forth at Newhaven.   The women were soon out of their depth, struggling to keep afloat and the younger of the two was seen attempting, unsuccessfully, to assist the other and it soon became obvious the women were beginning to sink.   At this time an omnibus (horse drawn carriage – not a stagecoach) was passing and one of the passengers, realising the danger, immediately ran to the shore, entered the water, and rescued both women.   The heroic gentleman was identified by the newspaper as being – “Mr Tuckett, a road surveyor about Kirkcaldy”.     The newspaper report goes on to say – “His conduct is beyond all praise.   He deserves the public gratitude for his courage, and he must feel great self-satisfaction at having saved two of his fellow creatures from a watery grave.    In this dull, cotton spinning, matter-of-fact age, the only reward Mr. Tuckett can get is a gratis touch of the benefits of the hydropathic system, or rather, the cold salt water cure”.   Whether Thomas’s bravery was recognised in any other way is not known.

Thomas comes to our attention some two years later when the same newspaper, dated Thursday, 8th July, 1847, tells us on Monday, 28th June, Thomas was appointed Road Surveyor by the Trustees of the Western Division of Fife – “from a list of upwards of 20 applicants”.   The newspaper report goes on to say – “During the period Mr Tuckett has had the management of the Kirkcaldy District, he has made great improvements on the roads and leaves them in excellent condition”.   Obviously, this last comment had some bearing on the reason for his appointment and was also confirmation he had been the road surveyor for Kirkcaldy District at the time he rescued the two women from drowning.

There is no further information to hand until the Scottish census of 1851 when Thomas and his sister are found living in Guildhall Street, Dunfermline, he shown again to be a Road Surveyor, aged 37 years, whilst his sister is aged 39 years, both born London.

Thomas next comes to our notice when the Falkirk Herald newspaper, dated Thursday, 1st July, 1852, tells us on 22nd of June of that year, he married Grace Sanderson Black at the St. Peters Episcopal Church, Kirkcaldy.   Grace is shown to be the daughter of James Reddie Black, R.N., of Dysart.   (Author’s note – Commander Black’s biography can be found on page 64 of M.F. Connolly’s book “Eminent Men of Fife”, Pub. 1866, by John C. Orr, Cupar.) 

Postcard showing Comely Park Place, now Comely Park, looking west, circa early 20th century.  The Tuckett house would have been on the south side of the street.  
Author's postcard collection.
Postcard showing Comely Park Place, now Comely Park, looking west, circa early 20th century.  Author’s postcard collection.

An examination of the Scottish 1861 census shows Thomas and his wife have moved up in the world.  They are now living in the more expensive area of Dunfermline named Comely Park Place (still in existence but now named Comely Park).   These houses were constructed during the 1850’s and were intended for the wealthy fraternity of the town. The Tuckett house was situated on the south side of the street.  Thomas is shown to be 47 years old, born in England and his occupation is Surveyor of Roads.   Grace is 37 years old and the couple have four children and employ four domestic servants.

Life for the Tuckett family whilst living in Comely Park Place was not all plain sailing.   The Dunfermline Saturday Press newspaper, dated 8th August, 1866, reported that two local boys named Wellwood and Smith, had on the “previous Sunday climbed over the east wall of the garden of Mr T.H. Tuckett, Road Surveyor, and maliciously damaged a pear tree”.   The boys were charged with this heinous offence, appeared before the local Burgh Court, pled guilty and were find 5/- each, or 7 days imprisonment!   It was stated in court that it was “supposed the boys had been intent on plundering the garden”.   Obviously a case of boys being boys but what Thomas, or his gardener James Cooper, thought of the escapade is not recorded! (5)

During 1870, Thomas’s sister Harriet died.   This was reported in the Fife Herald newspaper, dated Thursday, 9th June, 1870, which announced as follows – “Death – At her brother’s house in Dunfermline, on the3rd inst., aged 58, Harriet Elizabeth Tuckett, only daughter of the late Captain Tuckett, of the 3rd Regiment of Buffs, and afterwards the 2nd Garrison Battalion and grand-daughter of the late Hon. Thomas Tuckett, formerly President of the Board of Council, St Christopher, West Indies.   Friends will kindly accept this intimation”.

Also during this year both Thomas’s young sons were the victims of assault, the first being Thomas, who was assaulted by a boy named Fotheringhame.    According to the Fifeshire Advertiser, dated Saturday, 8th September, 1870, the assault (not described), took place on the previous Monday evening at the Railway Station, Dunfermline.   The boy appeared at the Burgh Court, pled guilty and his mother requested leniency for him, promising she would – “put him to school”.   Mr Stewart, the Police Superintendent told the court – “the boy had committed mischief at the railway station before and that he was a very disobedient boy”.   The boy was fined 5/- or 2 days imprisonment.   The fine was paid.

On yet another occasion, another of the Tucketts son’s, Stanley, was, according to the Dundee Courier, dated Friday, 18th November, 1870, assaulted the previous Friday by a boy named Hoggan who was charged with – “laying a hand on his shoulders, spitting on his buttons and challenging him to fight”.   Hoggan pled not guilty andthe case was dismissed.

Thomas and his family next appear in the 1871 census for Dunfermline, still residing in Comely Park Place and living with the family is his wife’s step mother, her step brother and step sister, her father having died some eight years previously.   Unfortunately, a short time after the census was taken, Thomas died.   The Fifeshire Journal newspaper, dated Thursday, 1st June, 1871, gives notice of his death as follows – “At Comely Park Place, Dunfermline on 25ult., Thomas Henry Tuckett, Esq., eldest son of the late Captain Thomas Tuckett  of 3rd Regiment of Buffs and grandson of the late Hon. Thomas Tuckett,  formerly President of the Board of Council, St Christopher, West Indies.   Friends will kindly accept this intimation”.   Thomas was buried in the north section of the churchyard of Dunfermline Abbey.

Thomas Henry Tuckett, wearing his Masonic Regalia.  Courtesy of Fife Cultural Trust (Carnegie Library and Galleries) on behalf of Fife Council
Thomas Henry Tuckett, wearing his Masonic Regalia.  Courtesy of Fife Cultural Trust (Carnegie Library and Galleries) on behalf of Fife Council

Thomas’s Obituary, which appeared in the Fife Free Press and Kirkcaldy Guardian newspaper on Saturday, 27th May, 1871, provides more detail of his death and of Thomas himself, as follows – “Thomas Henry Tuckett, Inspector and Surveyor of Roads to the Trustees of the Western Division of Turnpike Roads, died suddenly on Thursday morning at his residence in Comely Park Place, Dunfermline.   He was ailing some months back, but had got better and resumed his duties and was in his ordinary health on Wednesday night.   Until about 10 minutes before he expired he was to all appearance quite well.   Mr Tuckett held high office in the Masonic body (being twice Lodge Master of Lodge St. John, No. 26,Dunfermline,) and he was also Hon. Secretary to the Fife Mounted Rifles.   In Sir Noel Paton’s painting entitled “The Pursuit of Pleasure” Mr Tuckett’s portrait appears as the “Mailed Warrior”.   He was a keen rifleman and cricketer – (being for several years captain of Dunfermline cricket club).  Mr Tuckett was 57 years of age and leaves a widow and three children.   He was well known and much respected in this district and indeed throughout the whole county”.

Further evidence of the high esteem in which Thomas was held is found in remarks made at a meeting of the Trustees of the Turnpike and Statute Labour Roads in the Western Division of Fife, which was held within the County Buildings, Dunfermline on Tuesday, 15th June, 1871 and which was reported upon in The Fife Herald and Kinross, Strathearn and Clackmannan Advertiser newspaper, dated 22nd June, 1871.   At this meeting, which had convened to discuss Thomas’s successor, the following observation was made by the Chairman – “At the time of Thomas Henry Tuckett’s appointment the debt of the Trust was very high, but now that debt was wholly cleared off, and the roads could stand a favourable comparison with any in the County of Fife.   Under Mr Tuckett, everything connected with the Trust was conducted in the most satisfactory and economic manner”.

The newspaper also revealed Thomas’s annual salary at the time of his death totalled £260, which would today be the equivalent of approximately £31,150.   The salary was provided from three sources – £80 from Statute Labour Roads, £130 from Turnpike Roads and £50 from the Outh and Nivingston Trust. There is no doubt Thomas would have to work hard for his salary since Owen Silver, in his book entitled “Roads of Fife”, tells us a road surveyor was responsible for a multitude of tasks, including the engaging of contractors, measuring and advising the layout of new roads and preparing the most meticulous reports, with distances to the nearest yard and expenditure to the last farthing.   In addition the rouping (auctioning) of tolls and the collection of tollbar rents had to be organised and this, together with other duties, combined to form an impressive workload.

The Tuckett family were to suffer further loss during 1871, due to the death of Thomas’s widow.   This was reported in the Dundee Courier newspaper, dated 29th November, 1871, as follows – “Death – At Dunfermline on 26th inst. Grace Sanderson Black, relict of Thomas H. Tuckett, Esq., Surveyor of the Western Division of Fife”.   After the death of their mother, the three surviving Tuckett children – two others had died as children – disappear from the records of Dunfermline, no doubt to be taken into the care of relatives living elsewhere in Great Britain.

So, to return to the original question, why is Thomas’s name inscribed on a stone displayed on the northeast abutment of Rumbling Bridge?   Is it to mark the fact the bridge abutment might have been strengthened during the year 1864, or, had work been carried out that year on the road across the bridge?   Unfortunately, no record of such work being carried out has been traced but there is no doubt, in his capacity as roads surveyor for the Outh and Nivingston Roads Trustees, he probably would have been involved in this type of work.   Perhaps there is some Masonic relevance in the stone – or was Thomas simply having a bit of a joke by having the stone inscribed in such a way it was only understood by himself.   I do not know, and perhaps will never know, but I would be delighted to hear from anyone who might be able to solve the puzzle.

References and acknowledgements –

1 – Historical Guide to the County of Kinross by Kinross Antiquarian Society, p.38, Pub. 1980.

2 – Church of England Births and Baptisms, Parish of St Pancras, 1813-1814, p.100.

3 – Courtesy of Sue Mowat.

4 – British Army and Navy and Death Records – 1730 to 1960 – Public Record Office, Ref WO42/4

5 – Dunfermline Saturday Press, Saturday 16th September, 1865.

All other references are as indicated in the article.

Thanks is due to the following, who provided useful information during my research – Sue Mowat, Rankin Clarkson, Douglas Speirs and Steve Liscoe.   Also, I wish to acknowledge the fact Leslie Coventry and Alistair Lawson first drew my attention to Thomas Henry Tuckett’s name being inscribed on the stone work of the Rumbling Bridge and they continued to assist me during my research by providing information and ideas on useful lines of enquiry – this was much appreciated.