Archibald Cameron Corbett (1856-1933)
Property Developer ,Politician and Philanthropist
Archibald Cameron Corbett presented two paintings to the Corporation of Glasgow in September 18981.
Borderland 1896 by James Paterson
Copyright CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection
This painting was exhibited at The Royal Scottish Academy in 18962 and also in 1961 in ‘An Exhibition of Scottish Painting held at Kelvingrove Art Gallery . It was bought by Corbett in 1898,”for Glasgow Gallery” for £1504.
The Corbett family appear to have been patrons of Paterson over many years. The first recorded sale to Corbett was of two watercolours, ‘Moxhill’ and ‘Old Mill Moniave’ bought for £35 in 1883. Corbett, his sister , Jessie, his father ,and his elder brother Thomas Lorimer Corbett went on to buy at least 16 more of Paterson’s paintings , both oil and watercolour. Corbett also bought many of Paterson’s watercolours to adorn the walls of Rowallan Castle,the family home in Ayrshire built in 19065.
The Right Honourable Arthur J Balfour MP 1896-1898
by William Ewart Lockhart
Copyright CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection
Painted by William Ewart Lockhart RSA,RSW 1896-1898. Exhibited at the Royal lScottish Academy in 18986. The portrait was commissioned by Corbett in order to be “presented to the new Art Gallery in Glasgow”.7
Corbett was born at 8 Buckingham Terrace , Glasgow on May 23rd 18561. He was the second son , one of five children born to a wealthy Glasgow merchant, Thomas Lorimer Corbett , who had married Sarah Cameron in 18522. Corbett’s father was an ‘Australia merchant’ trading in timber and wool with his brother, Andrew , who had emigrated to Australia some years earlier.3 The Corbetts also had a summer home , South Park, at Cove on the Firth of Clyde, as did many wealthy Glasgow businessmen at the time4.
In 1864 when Corbett was about eight years old, Corbett senior moved his business to London with an office in Gracechurch Street5. By 1871 the family were living in a house called Oak Park in Cavendish Road, Clapham Park. By this time the family was complete with four children, three boys-Thomas, Archibald and Henry and one girl- Jessie6.
In January 1877, Thomas Corbett bought 110 acres of greenfield market garden land ,part of the Manor of Woodgrange, Forest Gate, originally part of Epping Forest, now in the London borough of Newham, and began the development of good quality housing estates in south –east London which was later carried on so successfully by his second son, Archibald7.
Despite their wealth the Corbetts lived a very unostentatious life. Mother, Sarah, appears to have been a strict Presbyterian,allowing no games etc on Sundays and no dancing or theatre- going at any time! The family were also strict supporters of temperance. Even so our donor appears to have had a happy childhood with summers spent at Cove where he had a Shetland pony called Tottie, and winters in London8.
The Corbett children were educated at home by a series of ‘godly’ tutors, as their mother did not want them exposed to the’temptations ‘ of school life’9.
About 1870 Archibald and his elder brother Thomas were given the choice of going on a tour of Europe with a tutor or going to Oxford or Cambridge! What a difficult choice that must have been for a fourteen and a fifteen year old!10. Fortunately we still have the detailed account of the trip written by Archibald in several exercise books which contain not only written details in a beautiful copperplate hand but also architectural drawings of the things he had seen 11. Whether it was this tour which sparked an interest in things artistic we do not know, but soon after his European Tour Archibald enrolled at the ‘Art School in South Kensington’ to study sculpture12. We know he was there in February 1876 as there is a letter written by him to his friend James Paterson, the artist, in which he writes ‘…..I am modelling pretty steadily at present and I hope to finish a bust of Clytie for the SK competition…’. How they became friends we do not know but they appear to have been quite close as in the letter Archibald tries to persuade Paterson to continue his studies in London where ‘…Millais would be one of your professors…’13
By the time he was 21 Archibald had abandoned student life and was managing his father’s property development business in South East London which he took over after his father’s early death in 1880. But even though his student days did not last long, according to his son ‘..he was left for life with a keen appreciation of both painting and sculpture’. As we shall see and according to his son he became a modest patron of the arts14.
Archibald Cameron Corbett became one of the principal developers of the middle class suburbs of South East London. Between 1877 and 1914 Corbett managed the building of around 7,500 houses on 1096 acres of land1 . These good quality houses were spread over seven estates :-
Clementswood and Grange –Ilford
Dowanshall at Seven Kings to the north of Ilford
Mayfield-to the east of Ilford
Woodgrange at Forest Gate
St German at Hither Green
A catalogue was produced in 1913 showing the types of houses for sale in Eltham Park-not common practice among speculative developers at the time3.
The Corbetts were not builders but went into partnership with Mowlems(roads and drainage), J.J.Bassett and Son and the building firm of Picton and Hope. One of the Hope family bought one of the Eltham Park houses for himself-44 Craigton Road. There in 1913 was born Leslie Towns Hope-better known to the world as ‘Bob’4.
Many of the roads on the Corbett Estates had Scottish names. Also the estates were always built near to a railway station to encourage sales to the growing number of commuters into the City. The houses ranged from £530 for a six bed villa to £330 for a three bed terrace. The Corbett Estates had its own system of payment by instalments . The houses were priced little higher than cost price as the real income came from the annual ground rent which ranged from £8.80 per annum for the large houses to £3.30 for a terrace house5.
The needs of the residents of the Corbett Estates were taken care of as Corbett gave land and financial support for parks, libraries and churches on all his estates. However one thing not to be found on any Corbett estate was a public house or hotel which sold alcohol as Corbett was always true to his temperance beliefs6.
Copyright Frank Kelsall
The Corbett Estates had an office at 24 Sloane Square which exisited until 1926 when it made way for the Peter Jones Department Store7. The houses on many of the Corbett Estates are still sought after today. In 1976 the Woodgrange Estate was made a Conservation area and in October 2013 the Archibald Corbett Society was formed in Hither Green whose aim is ,’to preserve the estate’s unique character and heritage for future generations’8.
Both Archibald and his elder brother Thomas Lorimer Corbett were interested in a political career. Thomas was a life long Conservative and Unionist , while Archibald was a supporter of the Liberal Party for most of his political career however both brothers were life- long opponents to Irish Home Rule. After serving on the London County Council from 1889 to 1900, Thomas was eventually elected as Irish Unionist MP for North Down in 19001.
At first Archibald was unsuccessful when he stood as Liberal candidate for North Warwickshire in 1884 and seems to have been regarded as a carpet bagger by his opponents as illustrated in this cartoon by EC Mountford which appeared in ‘The Dart ‘ magazine in November 1882
Copyright. University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections. Archibald Cameron Corbett Collection GB248DC126/19
Finally in November 1885 Archibald Cameron Corbett was elected Liberal MP for the newly created constituency of Tradeston in Glasgow3. Glasgow’s seven MPs were all Liberals. The group sent a telegram to Prime Minister Gladstone which said ’Now we are seven.’4
The constituency of Tradeston included not only the district of Tradeston but also those of Kinning Park and Kingston,all industrial suburbs of Glasgow south of the Clyde now much changed as a result of the building of the M8 and M74 motorways and the Kingston Bridge.
Temperance and Home Rule were Archibald Cameron Corbett’s most cherished political beliefs. So strong were his opinions on these matters that he ‘crossed the floor of the House’ on two occasions in order to support his beliefs.
The first dispute , with his own Liberal Party led by Prime Minister Gladstone, came very early in his political career. In 1886 Archibald disagreed with Gladstone’s Irish Home Rule Bill and left the Liberal Party to join the Liberal and Unionist Party ,newly founded by those Liberal MPs who were opposed to Irish Home Rule but yet could not bring themselves to join the Conservative Party. When the Liberal Unionists joined the Conservatives in a Coalition Government which was in power from 1895 to 1905,the Prime Minister was Arthur Balfour,leader of the Conservative Party . Thus we now know why a Liberal MP commissioned a portrait of Conservative Prime Minister!5
The second parting of the ways occurred in 1908, when Corbett was still a member of the Liberal Unionist Party, now in opposition but taking the Conservative Whip.The Liberal Government under Gladstone introduced a Licensing Bill which was very dear to our donors heart. If passed this Bill would close one third of the public houses in England and Wales,severly curtail Sunday opening hours and forbid the employment of women in public houses. The Bill was very unpopular ,especially among barmaids! There were even riots in Hyde Park.
The Conservative Opposition and the Liberal Unionists were very much opposed to the Bill,having many supporters in the drink and brewing industries. So Archibald , a life- long supporter of the Temperance Movement found himself in opposition to the Whips of his own party. The matter was aired many times in the Glasgow Herald and the Times during the summer of 1908, when the Tradeston MP toured the country in support of the Bill. Around August 18th Archibald Cameron Corbett resigned from the Liberal Unionist Party. He wrote a letter to the Times in which he offered to resign his seat.6
There were several meetings of the Constituency Committee in Tradeston but as they had long known their MP’s views on Temperance and as his opposition to Irish Home Rule was just as strong , he was asked to remain as the Tradeston MP.
In fact Archibald Cameron Corbett held his seat in Tradeston through eight General Elections between 1885 and 1910 , so great was his personal following even when he stood as an Independent against the official Liberal Candidate as he did in January 1910. By the time of the December 1910 General Election he had rejoined the Liberal Party and was the victorious official candidate.
The whole affair had taken a toll of his health and there are reports in the press in September 1908 of an illness due to exhaustion while campaigning in Newcastle. It must have been a disappointment to him, if not to the barmaids of England and Wales , that the Licensing Bill was dropped as it was so unpopular.7
There are few other insights into Corbett’s political career and beliefs. One came in the run-up to the passing of the ground breaking 1909 People’s Budget introduced by the Liberal Government . This budget would introduce welfare reforms and increase taxation on the rich. In a letter to the Times in May 1908, Corbett suggested the he regarded the Old Age Pension Bill, which proposed to give a better allowance to two single people than to a married couple , would lead to immorality!
He was also Chair of the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration for the Steel Trades of the West of Scotland-there were no disputes on his watch! He was also a supporter of the Suffragette Movement. According to his son Godfrey he was also responsible for arranging for a young Marconi to transmit a message through the airwaves from Westminster across the Thames to St Thomas’s Hospital- the first wireless demonstration in Britain.8
Corbett was also noted for his innate kindness to his fellow man. According to his son , while still in the House of Commons, when the first Labour PMs were elected, his father helped them settle in.9
Perhaps it was a relief to Corbett’s political loyalties and to everyone else that further conflict was avoided when in the Coronation Honours List in June 1911 he was raised to the peerage and became 1st Baron Rowallan.
During his years in the House of Lords one of his favourite pastimes was taking groups of schoolchildren round Westminster, especially as the children had no idea who he was!10
When asked what gave him the greatest feeling of satisfaction in his political career, it is said that it was the passing of the Temperance( Scotland) Act 1913. This Act gave Scottish people the right to vote for a veto on the sale of alcohol in their local area if 10% of voters wished for a ballot. One wonders what the voters of Tradeston thought of that!
Personal and Family Life
Life was not all work for our donor. In September 1887 he married Alice Mary Polson at Skelmorlie United Presbyterian Church. Alice was the 21 year old daughter of John Polson of Paisley one of the owners of Brown and Polson Cornflower Manufacturers. Polson was a very wealthy man, his business interests included being a director of the Vale of Clyde Tramway Company.1
Archibald and Alice met on the French Riviera probably in the spring of 1885 where Corbett had gone possibly to lick his wounds after losing the North Warwickshire election. The Corbetts were staying in Nice and had gone to nearby Cimiez where the Polsons were staying. The couple met when the Corbetts took shelter from the rain at the Polsons’hotel. 2
Archibald Cameron Corbett c1890 by John Lavery
Copyright CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection
Alice Mary Polson by W E Lockhart 1896
Copyright The Fine Art Society Edinburgh
According to his son Godfrey Corbett waited until he got a seat in Parliament before he embarked on marriage. The wedding reception was held at Castle Levan on the Clyde, the summer home of the Polsons.
In 1888 the Corbetts moved to 26 Hans Place in London not far from Harrods.They had three children. Elsie was born in 1893,Thomas Godfrey in 1895 and Arthur Cameron in 1898. As well as their London home the Corbetts always had a home in Glasgow and a summer home at Cove . Bellahouston House was the Glasgow Home from 1890 to 1900, then Thornliebank House on the Rouken Glen Esate until 1906.3
Copyright Glasgow City Archives
Corbett was very conscious of his own restricted upbringing, brought about by his mother’s attitude and beliefs. He was determined to “banish the Cameronian gloom”. For example both his sons went to Eton.4
In 1901 Mrs Polson bought the 6,000 acre Rowallan Estate for the Polsons. What a very generous mother-in-law! There was an old castle on the estate but Corbett felt it was unsuitable for a family and commissioned architect Sir Robert Lorimer to design a new house on higher ground.5
Old Rowallan Castle Copyright East Ayrshire Leisure Trust
Then in 1902 disaster struck . In July 1902 following a short illness after attending a city banquet Alice Corbett died suddenly at Hans Place. She was to the children ,”our gay and adored mother”. Ever a caring father and determined his children should not be exposed to such grief when so young , Corbett chartered a yacht and sent his children on a cruise along the Firth of Clyde with some friends to keep them company. Only in later life did his children realise what a sacrifice that must have been for their father and how lonely he must have been.6
The plans for Rowallan were reduced by 100,000 cubic feet,much to the chagrin of the architect. No longer was there to be a ballroom for example. The Corbetts moved into the new Rowallan Castle in 1906,while continuing to live in Hans Place when in London and life went on as well as could be expected without Alice until 1914.
Corbett’s eldest son Godfrey(always called Billy by the family) was at Eton when war was declared in August 1914.There can be no better demonstration of their upbringing than the desire of the three Corbett children to play their part in the war effort. Billy was commissioned into the Ayrshire Yeomanry and later transferred to the Grenadier Guards. He was badly wounded and won the Military Cross. Arthur joined the Royal Naval Air Service in 19 16 when he was just 18. Sadly he was killed in action in December 1916. Elsie joined a Woman’s Ambulance Unit ,serving in Serbia from 1915 until 1919. She was taken prisoner by the Austrians and held for a year.7 She later wrote a book of her experiences.8
True to his generous nature their father moved from Hans Place to Browns Hotel in 1916. He gave 26 Hans Place over to Belgian refugees.9 That he was a much –loved father can be seen from the many letters written to their father during the war by Elsie ,Billy and Arthur.10 In 1918 26 Hans Place was sold and Browns Hotel became Corbett’s permanent home.
But what became of Rowallan Castle? In August 1918 Billy married Gwyn Grimond, sister of Joe Grimond , future Liberal MP. They took over Rowallan Castle as their main residence where they had four children. Billy went on to be Chief Scout of the Commomwealth from 1945 until 1957 after which he became Governor of Tasmania ,following his father’s example a life of public service.11
Archibald Cameron Corbett’s father,Thomas Lorimer Corbett was probably the role model for his second son’s lifetime of caring about those less fortunate than himself. While still living in Glasgow, Corbett senior set up the Glasgow Cooking Depots, canteens where working men could get cheap meals. These were very successful and made a profit which in turn was used to found Saltcoats Convalescent Home. T L Corbett was instrumental in the financing of Quarrier’s Orphan Homes. He also founded Glasgow Working Men’s Club, the first of its kind in Scotland and supported the 1865/6 Glasgow Industrial Exhibition. His financing of bowling greens in Glasgow was true to the Corbett family tradition of trying to give working men an alternative to the public house!1
The Polsons were also a very generous family ,the town of Paisley benefiting from many gifts as in 1904 when Mrs Polson donated £10,000 to the local hospital. Thus when our donor married Alice Mary Polson in 1887 he had a wife who had been brought up with similar philanthropic views to his own.2
In Glasgow Archibald Cameron Corbett is remembered for his gift of Thornliebank House and Rouken Glen Estate(now Rouken Glen Park opened 26th May 1906) to the people of the city.3 He also bought the Ardgoil Estate in Argyle and gave it to the city in the hope that “large numbers of mothers and children from congested areas of Glasgow should be taken there by steamer”.4
Archibald Cameron Corbett c1906
Copyright Glasgow City Archives
The Corbetts were one of the four Glasgow families who helped to finance and run The Royal Samaritan Hospital for Women,founded in 1886. Mrs Corbett was president of the Ladies Auxiliary Committee which raised funds for the hospital. The Alice Mary Corbett Memorial Home for Nurses was built in her memory after her death in 1902. Her husband eventually became President of the hospital. The Corbetts were also involved in the Victoria Infirmary where Corbett was its Chairman.5
After he took possession of the Rowallan Estate in 1906 ,Corbett took a great interest in how to improve the lives of his tenants. On discovering that the dairy farmers on the estate had to rise at 2am to milk the cows and then take the milk to Glasgow to sell, he set up the Rowallan Farmers Creamery ,a central point to which the farmers could take the milk to be cooled and handled at reasonable hours. Based on a scheme which Corbett had seen in Denmark ,it was the first of its kind in Britain.6
The list of Archibald Cameron Corbett’s charitable interests in Scotland are endless and include The Band of Hope,Temperance Association,Foundry Boys Association, Sunday Schools and many others.7 There is no better proof of the high esteem in which he was held than his repeated re-election as MP for Tradeston no matter which party he supported.
In recognition of his many years of service as both a Glasgow MP and of his great generosity to the City, Archibald Cameron Corbett was made a Burgess of the City in January 1908.8
Because of his Parliamentary and business duties there Corbett spent a considerable part of his time in London ,”where he is as popular as he is in his Northern Kingdom.” His philanthropic activities were as numerous in and around the Corbett Estates. Among these were:-
C1894-donated a drinking fountain for outside Forest Gate Station
1894-one acre of land given to tenants and residents of Ilford for tennis courts and other games with £250 for layout.
1898 St German’s Recreation Grounds laid out “for tennis , croquet and other garden games”
1899-Downshall Baptist Chapel on on land and through finance given by Corbett
1900/1- 9 acres of land for parks at seven Kings Estate ,Ilford
1900/1-2000 children Lambeth given bulbs, a jar and growing instructions in December with a flower show in March to see the results.Mr and Mrs Corbett presented the prizes.
1902-ambulance given to Borough of Ilford
1903 –land donated for library at Hither Green,St German’s Estate
And many many more.9
Archibald Cameron Corbett’s philanthropy is perhaps best summed up by the Glasgow Herald after his death.
“…supporter of every movement for the moral and social education of the populace…”10
Corbett appears to have lived a quiet life at Browns Hotel in Albemarle Street after 1918. Little of his later life is documented. Perhaps he enjoyed visits from his children and grandchildren . His daughter Elsie who never married but settled in Spelsbury in Oxfordshire where she became a Justice of the Peace for that county.1
On 19th March 1933 Archibald Cameron Corbett died peacefully at Brooks Club in London while sitting in his favourite chair reading a book . He was buried alongside his beloved Alice on Rowallan Moor in Ayrshire in a simple grave. A short service was held at Rowallan House and was attended by large numbers of farm tenants and estate workers. The road to the burial was lined with local people,for example the boys of Fenwick School, and blinds were drawn in village shops and houses as a mark of the great respect in which this simple ,kind man was held.
A Memorial Service was held for our donor at Glasgow Cathedral on 23rd March 1933.2
Perhaps today we would find Archibald Cameron Corbett rather paternalistic and patronising to ordinary people but the people of his time held him in great esteem.3
Notes and References
1.Glasgow Corporation Parks Dept .Museums Sub-Committee Minutes 2/9/1898
2. C Baile de Lapariare (ed)RSA Exhibitions 1826-1990 Vol 111.1991
3.Catalogue: Exhibition of Scottish Paintings from Early 17th Century to Early 20th Century.Kelvingrove Museum
4.James Paterson Sales Book.Glasgow UniversityLibrary (GUL)Special Collections.MS Paterson HC4
6.C Baile de Lapariere(ed) RSA Exhibitions 1826-1990. Vol111.1991
7.Glasgow University Archives(GUA)GB 0248 (GUA) Doc026/16.Letter from A.J Balfour to ACC
1. http://www.ancestry.co.uk Statutory Register of Births
2. T.G.P Corbett.Rowallan:The Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT pub Paul Harris 1976. p6
6.www.ancestry.co.uk Census Records 1871
8. Corbett. Rowallan:The Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT p8/9
11. GUA Doc 26/20
12.Corbett.Rowallan:Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT p10.”SK” became Royal College of Art and Design
13. James Paterson Sales Book. GUL Special Collections.MSPaterson H4
14. Corbett. Rowallan :Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT p10
1.Cole,Oswald. The Quest for Cameron Corbett:A Study of an Eminent Edwardian
3.www.building conservation.com:Kensall,Frank/dating old buildings.
4.The Corbett Estate. Article in The Mercury(Greenwich)19/01/2000
6. Cole.The Quest for Cameron Corbett:A Study of an Eminent Edwardian. p43
1. Cole. The Quest for Cameron Corbett:A Study of an Eminent Edwardian p41 ;www.wikipedia.org-Thomas Lorimer Corbett
2.”Dart Magazine” 24/11/1882 Glasgow University Archives and Special Collections.Archibald Cameron Corbett Collection GB248DC026/19
3.Corbett. Rowallan:Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT. p15
4.Fisher,J. The Glasgow Encyclopaedia. Mainstream 1994
5.Glasgow Herald(GH) 20/03/1933;Cawood,Ian The Liberal Unionist Party. Taurus 2012
8. GUA DC026/6;Rowallan:Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT. p77
9. Corbett. Rowallan:Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT. p29
1.Corbett. Rowallan:Autobiography of Lord RowallanKT. pp 13-16
8.Elsie Cameron Corbett. Red Cross in Serbia 1915-1919:A Personal Diary of Reminiscences. Mainstream 1964.
9. GUA DC026/6
11.Corbett.Rowallan:Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT. Chap 4
1.Corbett. Rowallan:Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT p5
2.ibid pp 12,15,16,32
3.ibid p33;GH 20/03/1933
4.Corbett. Rowallan:Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT. p32
5.Stothers Glasgow,Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire Xmas and New Year Annual 1911-12
6.Corbett. Rowallan:Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT. p63
8.Corbett. Rowallan:Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT. p35
9. Stothers Glasgow,Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire Xmas and New Year Annual 1911-12
1.Elsie Cameron Corbett. Red Cross in Serbia 1915-19:A Personal Diary of Reminiscences.
2.Corbett. Rowallan:Autobiography of Lord Rowallan KT. pp76-78