Obituary: George Lackie Skea, Clydesdale horse breeder

George Skea: Popular Clydesdale horse breeder, undertaker and country dance band leader
George Skea: Popular Clydesdale horse breeder, undertaker and country dance band leader
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Born: 17 September, 1923, in Roscobie, Angus. Died: 1 March, 2015, in Cardross, Dunbartonshire, aged 94

George Lackie Skea, who was a familiar figure in the diverse fields of farming, Scottish country dancing, funeral undertaking and buying and breeding Clydesdale horses, has died peacefully at his home in Cardross, Dunbartonshire, aged 94.

His horses won numerous competitions over many years and were a major attraction at agricultural shows and gala days throughout the country. George’s immaculately groomed Clydesdales were also to the fore taking brides to church on their wedding day in a cart decorated with brightly coloured ribbons and gleaming horse brasses.

George was born at Carsebank Farm Cottage, Roscobie, near Forfar in Angus. His parents were Alexander and Mary Skea and he was one of six children, five boys and one girl – Sandy, Jim, Robert, who died in 1922, Nellie and Dave. He spent his formative years attending a small country school, Oathlaw, which he left aged 14.

When he was younger George spent many a day in the fields, next to the Glamis Castle home of the Bowes Lyon family, where his father was an apprentice to his grandfather, Robert Fyfe Skea, at Leckaway Smithy at Kinettles.

There he would often speak over the fence to Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, whose parents were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, a member of the Bowes Lyon family.

When he left school he worked first as a message boy for Major Neish at Tannadice Estates. He moved up to become a gardener before becoming the major’s driver. He was a member of the 22nd Angus (Tannadice) scouting troop in 1935 and, in 1940, when Major Neish formed the Home Guard, he joined up.

Aged just 20, he went to work with horses at Battledykes Farm, where his father was grieve, and in 1945 won the first prize for his ploughing skills at the Roscobie Ploughing Match. He moved to Balquharn Farm in Fern as the foreman and tractorman and stayed there until moving to Cardross.

In a life story that evokes Lewis Grassic Gibbons’ Sunset Song, George set up and played in his own Scottish Country Dance band, The Four Star Band, which was popular at weddings and dances. When he needed to recruit an extra accordion player for the band George met Peggy Timney, a young woman from Clydebank who had been serving with the Land Army. Peggy was one of the Lumber Jills employed on cutting down trees on a farm near Forfar.

This was the start of a wonderful friendship and romance and George and Peggy were married at Our Holy Redeemer Church in Clydebank on 7 June, 1947. They began married life in Fern, Angus, and their first child, Kathleen, was born there.

George, Peggy and Kathleen moved to Cardross in 1950 when George went to work for Morton Cullen at Mollandhu Farm, overlooking the Firth of Clyde. From there they moved to nearby Moorepark House, where George became head gardener and chauffeur to the two Miss Murrays, Eunice and Sylvia.

In the 1950s and early 1960s George, Peggy and members of their growing family were involved in the village concert party and helped with the annual summer outings from Bloomhill Children’s Home. Their band played at many weddings, horticultural and farmers’ balls.

He became a member of Cardross Bowling Green in 1951 and was club champion in 1976. Club president twice, he was nominated in 1988 to become a director (blue jacket) of the Garelochhead Bowlers Association and in 1995 he became president.

George started showing flowers at the Helensburgh Horticultural Society and was on the committee for almost 30 years. He was an accomplished gardener who won a host of trophies for his begonias. He later became a show judge.

He was also a member of the British Legion and a Special Constable who in 1958 decided to set up a successful fruit and vegetable shop stocked with home-grown produce from his market garden at Lyleston House in the village.

In 1962, George and Peggy purchased a milk round in Cardross based at Viewfield Dairy delivering to homes and businesses in the village and to the canteen of the Hiram Walker distillery in Dumbarton.

Tragedy struck in September 1964, when Peggy was injured in a car accident outside Cardross Golf Club, while working on the milk round. She died four days later.

After that tragic loss, George was fortunate to have a large group of supportive friends and it was through mutual friendships that he was introduced to Sheila McLean. Sheila, too, knew the heartache of losing a loved one, being widowed in 1964 and left with three young children to bring up on her own. The couple married in 1966 and they and their joint families moved into what became a happy family home.

They often travelled back to George’s roots in the Forfar area and had many happy holidays with relatives. George started working with Wylie and Lochhead, Funeral Undertakers, during the late 1960s and he learned his trade in that business.

In 1970 he join Bells, the animal feed and veterinary supplies company, and he loved touring the country meeting people in the agricultural industry and visiting the islands of Islay and Jura.

He set up on his own in the funeral undertaking business in 1981 in East Princes Street in Helensburgh. The business was sold in 1989 but George stayed on as a consultant for many years after the sale.

George and Sheila were beginning to enjoy their retirement when Sheila became very ill with leukaemia and died in 1991. Just before this they had celebrated their silver wedding anniversary with friends and family and renewed their wedding vows in Cardross with the late the Rev Andrew Scobie.

It was fitting that George was taken to Cardross Crematorium on 14 March by horse-drawn hearse, a remarkable sight, rarely seen in the Helensburgh district.

George, who was well known and loved in the community, is survived by his children Kathleen, Jimmy, Eileen, Sheila and Tommy and his 16 grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.