Crippled by poverty, squeezed into a tiny Gorbals slum home with seven young hungry mouths to feed, another pregnancy would surely test even the most devoted mother.

Nellie Fitzpatrick also had a war-wounded husband at home who, traumatised by the hell of battle, liked a drink.

Over 12 challenging years, she carried seven babies. Aged 42, her eighth pregnancy would be her last.

A devout Catholic, Nellie was not the only woman in the unholy deprivation of the Gorbals in the 1930s to place her life in the hands of a grim backstreet abortionist.

Now, 90 years after the botched backstreet abortion led to her death from septicaemia and saw her seven children scattered to foster parents and institutions around the country, Nellie’s anonymous final resting place has finally been marked.

After a mammoth effort to unravel her wretched story, two of her granddaughters traced Nellie’s grave to a patch of ground in St Kentigern’s Cemetery in Glasgow and, in a touching tribute, marked the spot with a memorial stone in her honour.

The poignant moment was the emotional conclusion to years of detective work to solve a family mystery which spanned two generations.

It has also lifted the veil on the oft overlooked hardships faced by the extraordinary women of Nellie’s era, and the devastating toll pregnancy, poverty and how the loss of a mother – the glue that held fragile families together - could devastate lives for years to come.

With Nellie dead and seven children, aged from 14 down to just three years old at home, her widowed husband was unable to cope. The family was broken up and the young brothers and sisters dispersed - sparking shockwaves that would be felt for decades to come.

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The Herald: Group photo of 6 of Nellie's children taken in the early 1930s - it shows Catherine, Jeanie, Ruby, John, Caroline and Andrew. Group photo of 6 of Nellie's children taken in the early 1930s - it shows Catherine, Jeanie, Ruby, John, Caroline and Andrew. (Image: Supplied)

According to granddaughter Julie Brennan, whose father, James, was the youngest of Nellie’s children, tragic events leading to her death, the impact on her children and her final resting place could easily have been forgotten forever.

Such was the shame over abortion, what happened to Nellie was never openly discussed.

“My father was old enough to know he had brothers and sisters at the time of his mother’s death, but nothing was spoken about,” she says.

“He was taken in by his mother’s brother and wife who were childless, and the rest of the siblings sent to institutions,” she explains.

“My father blocked it all out for almost all of his life and didn’t talk about it.”

It was only when he was in his 50s that he was reunited with two of his four long-lost sisters. Having lived in the south of England for years, they traced him to Glasgow and broke news that they were related. One of his brothers, Andrew, was found living in Keith, Aberdeenshire.

The Herald:  James Brennan was the youngest of Nellie’s children James Brennan was the youngest of Nellie’s children (Image: Supplied)

Julie’s father died in 2012, however questions over the bleak episode gnawed away and, along with her cousin, Laura, she resolved to find out what happened.

It took her on a journey back in time to when Glasgow honed its ‘no mean city’ image and, for women like Nellie, the prospect of another pregnancy sometimes outweighed the horrors of the backstreet abortionist who, in exchange for some hard-earned coins, used distressing methods that  placed women’s lives in mortal danger.

Death was never far away in the unforgiving Gorbals slums of the 1930s: what in the 18th century had been a quaint village had become the focus for rapid expansion during the Industrial Revolution.

As thousands of workers flocked to the city, cheap tenement houses were thrown up; by the dawn of the 19th century they were crumbling, unsanitary and heaving with people, rats and disease.

The Gorbals’ population boom led to 85,000 people crammed onto an area of just 252 acres in conditions that were hell on earth: razor gangs with names like the Penny Mobs and the Beehive Boys roamed, crime was rife and large families crammed into tiny rooms, sharing toilets and taps with dozens of others.

In the background was the turbulent combination of wounded and traumatised men who had served during the First World War returning to unemployment and religious sectarianism. The Great Depression brought more poverty, while access to healthcare was pitiful.

With the Catholic Church opposed to artificial contraception, large families were commonplace. With legalised abortion still more than three decades away, women like Nellie faced the dilemma: set aside religious scorn and shame to pay illegal abortionists or endure the misery and stress of bearing another child.

Using various records including census, birth and death certificates, Julie discovered Nellie had enjoyed some independence as a young woman, working as an engineer’s machinist before her marriage to Andrew Fitzpatrick in 1916.

Life changed dramatically after his return from serving in the First World War.

“He came home with a leg injury, and Nellie started having children,” Julie says. “She had children every two years from then on which must have been incredibly hard for her.

“She had seven children, all living in what was probably a single room in Florence Street.”

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The Herald:

Once a packed mass of four-storey tenement homes and rubbish strewn, rat infested backcourts, eventually Florence Street would be cleared thanks to the Housing Act of 1954, which forced councils to demolish slums and provide improved homes.

In 1933, however, Nellie’s health was already poor when realised she was pregnant for the eighth time.

“Her death certificate said she died from bronchial pneumonia, endometriosis and septicaemia,” says Julie. “But it also said there was a post-mortem carried out.”

Paperwork with her death certificate spoke of suspicions over ‘foul play’ and an illegal abortion.

Backstreet abortionists – like the character Vera Drake played by Imelda Staunton in the 2004 film – would use knitting needles, lengths of wire and syringes filled with hot soap mixture to induce miscarriage, leaving women at risk of infection, blood loss and death.

Julie’s search for Nellie’s grave took her to St Kentigern’s cemetery and her unmarked grave.

The spot is now identified by a black marble stone, inscribed with her name and the words: “Finally found, never forgotten”.

The Herald: Grave stone of Nellie Brennan Grave stone of Nellie Brennan (Image: Supplied)

Julie says Nellie’s death and the scattering of her children left its mark on her father and even her own generation.

“He blocked things out; even though the name he was born with – Fitzpatrick – appeared on his wedding certificate, he was known by his uncle’s surname, Brennan, which became my name too.

“My father could be very angry at times, but he couldn’t figure out why he was like that.

“A while before he died, we sat him down and told him his anger was probably because he had been effectively abandoned as a baby after his mother died.

“He burst out crying.

“It shows how what happened such a long time ago can still have an impact on lives now.”

While Nellie’s grave has now been marked, a new riddle has emerged: the family has come to realise they may not be the only ones to have explored her story.

Alongside their own touching memorial to Nellie, has appeared another gravestone paying respects to her parents, thought to have been placed there by another long-lost relative.

“We’d really like to find out who they and perhaps solve another part of the story surrounding Nellie and her life,” adds Julie.