Shortish anecdotes and scenes from Hannay family histories, focusing on people, places, objects and more, submitted by Clan members.

The day I fell in love with Sorbie Tower

My name is Louise Julia Hannah, and I have always been interested in my own family history.  My Granda Sam (Hannah) used to tell me stories about when we was growing up in Port Glasgow in Scotland all about his time in the Merchant Navy and the shipyards. It always made me think of all the other ancestors I had.

One day last term in school I was in primary 5. There was an article on Children’s BBC Newsround about family trees. I then researched a BBC article online with my Mum. We read about Clan Hannay and discovered an article about Sorbie Tower, and David Hannah, the constable of Sorbie Tower, was in it. We saw the Clan tartan and loved it. I wanted to find out more.

I then told my Mum and Dad that I wanted to visit Sorbie Tower and find out more about my family history. They agreed to take me during the September school weekend. I was very excited about my visit.

We arrived at Castlewigg Caravan park on Friday 22nd September 2023. We drove through Sorbie on the way, then back to the Tower to check where it was. The next day, Saturday, we visited the Tower.  We were very lucky to meet Steve. He was cutting the grass and said hello to us and that he’d give us a tour in ten minutes. We also met two very nice sisters who were visiting the Tower all the way from America. They were called Hanna and were very nice to us.

Steve shows my family and me around the tower

Here I am with my parents and our tour guide, Steve, who always makes Tower visits special.

Sorbie tower was an amazing experience to see centuries of our family history. It is absolutely beautiful inside and out I would definitely recommend it for a holiday. I got a fabulous tour from Steve; I would go again to see this fantastic place. It is a magical experience inside and out. It truly transports you to another world. I cannot wait to see it when it is fully renovated and I hope all Hannah, Hannay, Hanna and Hanneys can enjoy it, as well as tourists, visitors, and locals. Please help and donate to the cause of transforming the tower back to what it was.

My Dad, Mum and I are now members of Clan Hannay, and I love it.

Thank you for reading my article. Over and out, Louise Julia Hannah, age 10.


A Symbol of Love?: My Personal Registration of Arms

I have always been impressed by how egalitarian our Clan is. Hannay, Hanney, Hanna whatever… we have branches across the world and share a common bond, a kinship no matter how distant the blood line might be. One big family with links back to Sorbie.

So, I hope this piece about my personal coat of arms doesn’t give the impression of hubris. I am just proud that the Clan is alive and well in Australia and that my family has preserved part of its history.

Image of matriculation document

The Certificate of the Registration of Arms.

I happen to have a Certificate of Registration of Arms (an impressive, illustrated document couched in heraldic terms) that my late father managed to register for me through the Lord Lyon of Arms in Edinburgh forty years ago.

Dad went through the process of certifying lineage on the basis of similar registration for my great uncle Patrick Hannay. The family story is that Patrick, who was courting a lady beyond his social status in London, dug out the family records and had his arms registered to impress the snobby in-laws.

I am not sure what else Patrick had going for him, but it sounds like it must have helped. He prospered in London while his brother struggled down here in Australia farming marginal country through drought years while sending sons off to fight in WW2. But the Clan lives on. I visited Patrick’s descendants, the Groves family in Bath, England, in 1966 and lusted over his officer’s short sword that carried the Hannay crest.

The significance of my Certificate of Registration of Arms was lost on me for many years, and I admit to being confused about family “crests” and “coats of arms”. A recent visit to the official website of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearing in Scotland was enlightening.

The crested family silver. These were sent to Australia by Great-Uncle Patrick and originally resided in Sebregham Castle, Cumbria, the seat of another ancestor. The Scottish hallmarks seem to date the spoons to the early 1800s.

Here are some extracts from the Register; I recommend that interested Clan members view the full contents for themselves, as others like me, who live overseas, might still qualify for registration as a descendant of someone who once had their own arms registered. In my case it was a great uncle in 1939, but there is plenty of scope for the rest of you because the Register dates back to 1672! From the website:

Coats of arms were originally used for military purposes and consisted of an actual coat bearing a distinctive design which was worn over a suit of armour. This enabled the knight to be recognised. The design was also displayed on his shield. On his head he wore a helmet and in time this was surmounted by a crest which identified the wearer from a distance and was used particularly during tournaments.

I found the above helpful because it clarifies the difference between a coat of arms and a family crest. The following extract provides even more details about how our ancestors identified their family, themselves, and their arms:

Coats of Arms in Scotland can only belong to one person at a time. There is no single coat of arms which all people of the same name can use – often miscalled a ‘family coat of arms’. As coats of arms originated in order to identify a person, it is clear that it would not be practical if more than one person could use exactly the same design. Arms descend to the heir in each generation of the person to whom they were originally granted, and other descendants who bear the same surname may apply for a slightly different version of the arms to be recorded in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland. In Scotland, the shields of unrelated people with the same surname may bear similarities as the design will be based on the shield of the clan chief, the head of the family.

Great Uncle Patrick’s coat of arms and mine differ slightly. Someone called “The Lord Lyon, King of Arms” ensured there was a “suitable difference” in some of the colours, emblems, and designs. This is referred to in this extract from the Matriculation of the Arms of Elliot William Geoffrey Hannay.

Elliot William Hannay, having by petition unto the Lord Lyon King of Arms of date 8 December 1980, shewn that the petitioner, born 10 February 1942, is the only son of Elliot Hannay and his wife Alma Mary, daughter of William Sorrensen, that the petitioner’s said father is the fourth son of Elliot William Davidson Hannay and his wife Victoria Maria, daughter of Jose Escudero, that the petitioner’s said grandfather was the second son of the late Elliot William Hannay and his wife Alice Margaret, daughter of John Lander and his wife Eliza Duncan, that certain Ensigns Armorial were matriculated in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland ( Volume 33, Folio 56) of a date 21 March 1939, in name of Patrick Davies Hannay, elder brother of the petitioner’s said grandfather wherein the descent of the said Elliot William Hannay is from John Hannay of Sorbie and his wife daughter of Sir Alexander Stewart of Garlies is set forth, and the petitioner having prayed that the foresaid Ensigns Armorial might be matriculated  of new in his own name with a suitable difference, the Lord Lyon King of Arms by interlocutor of date 22 January 1981, Granted Warrant to the Lyon Clerk to matriculate in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland in name of the petitioner the following Ensigns.

That is the gist of it . . . the rest stipulates design and colours and uses lots of fascinating heraldic words like azure double argent, bell pendant, gules, cross crosslet, three points vert, etc., etc. The certification at the end, however, is in plain language:

Matriculated on the 21st day of April 1981 Extracted forth of the 106 page of the 64th Volume of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland, this 23rd day of April 1981.

Sealed and signed by the Lyon Clerk and Keeper of The Records.

Having this on record also gives my children and grandkids the option to apply for their own registration of arms (they are called petitioners)—thanks to the groundwork of our love-struck ancestor Patrick over 80 years ago.

The author.


Sticking to his Guns: Harry James Hanney, Jr.

This is the story of my great grandfather, Harry James Hanney, Jr. A man whose life, like those of many of his contemporaries, was one dedicated to family, but colored by war.

Harry James Hanney in WWI uniform, standing

Harry James Hanney, Jr., standing at left

Harry was born in London just before the turn of the century, during a time when it was known to be a cultural hub, but also a very filthy city. The skies were filled with coal smoke, and those traveling on foot constantly had to step over horse dung. Harry’s mother, Emily, was a widow with a daughter from a previous marriage. Harry’s father, Harry Sr., a carman who delivered furniture—first in a wagon and later, a truck—came from a line of men who had lost their fathers at young ages. Better off than many, but by no means wealthy, Emily and Harry Sr. were determined to make the best life for their children, so they moved farther out from the city center to Holloway, an up-and-coming commercial district. They raised Harry Jr. to value education, hard work and family, and instilled in him pride in doing what was right.

For Harry Jr. at age 16, that meant lying about his age and enlisting in the army to fight in World War I, leaving behind his family and a job as a carman alongside his father. He was made a member of the Machine Gun Corps, but after a year of fighting, suffered appendicitis. The surgery and scarring resulted in a medical discharge.

Harry on horseback

Harry Jr. loved horses (1940s)

Returning home, Harry found a job caring for horses. He fell in love with the animals. Meanwhile, he was determined to work through some of the difficulties posed by his illness, and felt he had an unfinished duty to the war effort. After almost a year of convalescence, Harry was able to get clearance from the doctors for reenlistment, and by 1918 he was fighting on the western front with the British Expeditionary Force in France.

During one of the battles, Harry was at the Gatling Gun with his partner. At one point, aware he was low on ammunition, he was relieved to feel his partner slap the back of his head—the signal that the gun was reloaded. Harry kept firing, but soon saw it was useless as the enemy continued to get closer and closer. Finally, before the enemy could reach him, Harry pulled the pin from a grenade and placed it under the gun. Crawling on his belly, he made it about 100 yards before the grenade went off, destroying the weapon and keeping it out of enemy hands.

Looking up, he realized his regiment was nowhere to be found. Confused, he continued searching until he found them farther away from the front, and berated his partner for not signaling the retreat. His partner protested: He had signaled the withdrawal; hadn’t he slapped the back of Harry’s helmet to warn him they were retreating?

Although not particularly proud of what was essentially a mistake, Harry was awarded the George Cross for his courage and act of heroism.

Within a few days of the Gatling Gun incident, Harry was exposed to mustard gas and sent home immediately. He recovered somewhat, but was never quite the same. He couldn’t return to the horseman job he had loved; instead, he decided to join the movie business as an extra and propman. [Ed. note: This was back in the days when you could apparently just “join the movie business”.] Harry was an extra in numerous films (the names of which have, unfortunately, been lost, though stills remain), and a propman for three different studios, before becoming property master at Teddington Studios, known in the 1930s and 40s for “Quota Quickies,” films thrown together to meet the quota for British-made films that—as per the Cinematograph Films Act of 1927—had to be shown before American features in Britain. (Teddington also hosted many films starring Errol Flynn.)

Harry J Hanney near movie set

Harry leans against truck on movie set (at center)

At one point, his children were also film extras, and several casting directors suggested that his daughter could be more than an extra. Harry, however, did not want that sort of life for his daughter and made sure she furthered her education, instead.

Harry’s job allowed him to afford a home for his family in Teddington—one his parents could only have dreamt of—with a large garden for roses, vegetables, rabbits and chickens. When World War II arrived, he was unable to enlist, but he passed on his sense of patriotism to his son, who did so. Harry found a role on the home front as a neighborhood reserve watchman, keeping an eye out for trouble and helping those in need during raids, as well as providing food from his garden for the less fortunate. He encouraged his wife to join the effort in the plane factories and trained both wife and daughter to disassemble and rebuild a machine gun in under a minute, in case the Nazis ever made it to England.

After the war ended, Harry continued his work with the studios for a bit while settling into life as a grandfather, but he was forced to retire when he began to experience strokes that changed his personality in small ways. The doctors believed that the strokes were a result of his mustard gas exposure during the first war. In the end, though, it wasn’t a stroke, but the damage to Harry’s lungs that took his life. He caught pneumonia and passed away in the winter of 1968. Harry left a legacy of hard work, patriotism, and dedication to family.