According to a tree done by a relative pre internet, James was born in Loudoun, about ten miles east of Kilmarnock, in 1830 and he married Elizabeth Brow in Annan, near Gretna Green, Dumfries in 1851. I haven't been able to find too much to confirm these facts but neither have I any reason to doubt them. They had five children between 1854 and 1866, including their first daughter, my great grandmother, also named Elizabeth.
On the 1861 census the Young family lived in Havelock Place, Sunderland, which was in the heart of the docks. This would have been an area where there was a lot of ship building going on. By 1866 the family had moved to nearby Farringdon Row which is right by Ayre's Quay on the River Wear. We don't know where James was working but there were a couple of large shipyards to choose from including the James Laing and Robert Thompson shipyards.
- working in a pit sorting the coal in railway wagons after it had been mined. He might have been responsible for spreading the coal evenly in order to maximise usage, or
- someone working in the docks who spread the coal after it had been transferred into a ship. The coal would have came down a shoot into the hold producing a conical heap which, unless spread evenly, would have soon blocked the hatch. To prevent this the trimmer had to place sheets of iron on the heap so that the coal would slide off in all directions. This would be done using shovels and rakes.
While I was researching this story I came across reference to the use of trimmers to do the work of hewers during the 1870 Wearmouth Colliery Strike. Hewers are those who loosen the rock down the mines. I transcribed a number of newspaper articles and have put them in my general genealogy blog (#45). Newspapers reported that the company took on "coal trimmers who load the ships at the drops" in hewing the coal during the strike. "Some men who have been hewing during the last fortnight have earned very large sums of money. As much as £4 10s and £5 have been got by men who were previously ship trimmers." Whether James was one of those taken on is not known but he certainly lived close by.
We know that James continued to live in Farringdon Row between at least 1866 and 1881. He was still alive in 1884 when his daughter married but I haven't been able to trace him (or his wife) on the 1891 census but we know that Elizabeth was a widow by the 1901 census.