HeadLine: The old man who never left home for 90 years
Daily Record, 29/10/1999, p30&31
by SHAUN MILNE
THE 20th Century has been a time of massive change for people all
around the world.
There have been two World Wars and countless other conflicts, and the
invention of phones, TVs and computers.
Global travel has been made easy with the jumbo jet and man has even
walked on the Moon.
But all these events and oppor- tunities to travel have passed by
90-year-old Tom Stuart.
An undertaker to trade, he has spent no more than two nights away from
his home in Glenlivet, Moray, in his life.
He has little interest in the news, cares less about politics and would
rather meet his friends from the village than go off exploring to the
big cities to the south.
He grudgingly admits that the advent of electricity arriving in the
village, in 1937, did change his life.
It meant he no longer banged his head off the paraffin lamps suspended
from the low cottage ceiling.
The only other thing that made a difference was the family’s decision
to get an inside toilet.
Peering out of the window of his home, he says: “I have been looking
out of this for 90 years and learned more from that than any newspapers
or moving pictures on the television.
“My elder brother fought in the war but I don’t think it ever really
affected us back in Glenlivet, not like elsewhere.
“I was never interested in what happened far away.
“We took the changes as they came to our village, and we were grateful
for them. But change comes to you without you seeking it out.”
He is one of a dying breed, a man who was born, lived in and will one
day pass away, under the same roof.
His father bought the house in 1888. The previous owner was forced out
after the factor of Glenlivet Estate caught him poaching.
The Stuarts moved in and set up as the village undertakers, earning
them much respect from fellow residents.
Tom was born in there on June 21, 1909, four years before his sister,
Cissie, passed her General Post Office exams and set up as the
village’s post-mistress, working from a room their father converted at
When the World War I arrived, Tom was still at school. But he left far
earlier than the youth of today.
He said: “I was never a scholar. I left school when I was 14 and
started work with my father, the third generation of undertaker in the
“My first job was going round with a bottle of whisky when everyone
came to a wake, making sure they all got a dram. But I have never
tasted the stuff myself.”
The job took him away from home for the first time one stormy evening
in the early 20s, when he had to stay with a body overnight to make
sure it got to its lair the next day.
He said: “That was my first night away. I might have been away a night
since, but never more.”
The year Neville Chamberlain was made prime minister, 1937, was when
electricity arrived at his home.
He admits: “That was one of the biggest changes in my life. We always
had water in the house, with an outside toilet though, but the
electricity made a difference.”
He married Eliza in 1944 in a simple ceremony with no honeymoon.
Together, they had two children Carol, 51, and Valerie, 53, one of
which became a teacher, the other going to Paris and onwards around the
But that wasn’t for Tom. He said: “I have never been on holiday. I
seemed to be quite happy here. I enjoyed doing the work and made a lot
“I had everything I needed right here and my wife felt the same.”
Sadly, she died two years ago, leaving him with only memories of their
courting, her work behind the Post Office counter, the special times
they had together.
He moans about some of the things that happened in that time, in
particular the growth of television, which he blames for the downfall
He said: “Television destroyed local communities and families visiting
each other when it arrived on the scene.”
He retired a decade ago, though would have made it much earlier had it
not been for the fact he promised friends he would take care of them in
He said: “Don’t think I’m boasting, but I was always a popular
undertaker. There were people who I’d promised to see to their burial
“I kept it on until about 10 years ago then gave it up.
“The Catholics started taking the body into the chapel the night before
the funeral, instead of straight from the house.
“It was the start of a new way of things, that’s when things really
changed for me.”
Some may question why, in this era of new technology, cheap flights and
fast food, a man would want to live the simple life, a sheltered
Tom laughs: “I wouldn’t change a thing if I could go back and do it all
again. I was happy, I suppose I’m a dying breed.
“It’s fate that decides what’s before you, there’s no point taking too
much notice of what you can’t control. This was my fate.”
The new millennium will no doubt be a time when we witnesses more
technological advances, and no doubt the cyber family.
But Tom, content with his lot knows it’s not for him, and says: “People
won’t live this way again.”