James Henry Roger (1839-1913)

James Henry Roger is best known as a successful wine merchant, whose enthusiasm for amateur rowing led to the formation of Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club. He donated a very large painting in 1899 ‘Glasgow Green with the proposed Straitening of the Clyde’ by William Glover.

Glasgow Green with the proposed Straightening of the Clyde by William Glover (© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection)

James was born in 1839 in Kirkintilloch to the north of Glasgow to John, a clothier who had a business in Buchanan Street, Glasgow and Marion (nee McLaren), also from Kirkintilloch (1). The family moved to Glasgow when he was six he lived in 37 North Frederick Street in 1851 with his brother John and sister Agnes (2). James showed a keen interest in rowing from an early age and in 1857 became secretary to the newly formed Clydesdale Rowing Club which was based on the river Clyde at Glasgow Green (3). In the early days members would relax after racing by kicking a ball around the Green, and it was this activity which developed into the formation of Rangers Football Club in 1873 (4). A mural at Ibrox Stadium commemorates the origins of Rangers with Clydesdale rowers at Glasgow Green.

Roger Clyde 1
James Henry Roger – The Baillie, Mitchell Library, Glasgow

In 1859 Queen Victoria visited Glasgow to open the Loch Katrine waterworks in the Trossachs. James took part as a volunteer guard at the event, which was accompanied by constant heavy rain. He may already have been involved in the drinks industry as he is said to have organised the installation of  containers for whisky in the gun cartridge cases, no doubt to warm up the cold wet volunteers (5).

In 1863 James married Margaret McLeod, a Glasgow girl and they had three children, John, James and Margaret (6). Margaret died in 1870 at Rutland Place in Govan (7). James is described as a clothier at this time and may have worked at his father’s business.

James remarried in 1880 to Kate Stirling at her hometown of Comrie, Perthshire (8). They had two children, Kate and Bertie and according to the 1891 census they were all living at 23 Radnor Street, Glasgow. 

In the 1870s the Bodega Spanish Wine Cellar in Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow was in decline and in 1879 James took over the business and turned it around. Business boomed and he opened further branches in Glasgow and then in Edinburgh, Greenock and Dundee which were stocked  from bonded warehouses in Glasgow where special whiskies were blended, and wines and ports stored (9).

The Bodega in Royal Exchange Square later changed its name to ‘Rogano’, a name familiar to many Glaswegians as a fine restaurant with (later) art deco styling. The name is said to come from the first half of Roger’s surname, and ‘ano’ from ‘another’ which refers to a Mr McCulloch, a silent partner in the business. 

The Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888 in Kelvingrove park, which promoted industry, science and art to the world as the second city of the empire, provided an opportunity for many local businesses to promote their wares. The Bodega opened a temporary branch in the park despite the protestations of an active temperance movement in the city. Contemporary accounts reveal the popularity of the venue which employed 175 and had had difficulty in coping with the queues (10).

Roger - Bodega 1888
Glasgow International Exhibition 1888 – The Bodega. ‘by permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections’

The painting ‘Glasgow Green with the proposed Straitening of the Clyde’ has great significance for James Roger’s interest in rowing. In the late nineteenth century the Clyde at Glasgow Green was used by several rowing clubs. Weirs had been constructed to control tidal waters in the city centre and the level waters were ideal for rowing. However, in 1899, the weir had been removed and James, being an ambassador for rowing, proposed the straitening of the river to enhance rowing facilities. The painting was commissioned to illustrate the proposed plans which Glasgow Corporation would hopefully carry out. However the plan did not materialise and when James died in 1913 at his home Venard in Pollokshields, he incorporated a clause in his Will stating that if the improvements were carried out within five years of his death the residue of his estate would contribute towards the funding, failing which the funds would be used for youth facilities in Kirkintilloch, his town of birth. 

In 1905 a new boathouse was constructed on the north side of the Clyde to replace the southside building. This was shared with another club. James provided funding and this was conditional on Clydesdale Rowing Club having choice of the preferred eastern part, otherwise the offer would be withdrawn. The building is still used by two rowing clubs and is currently being upgraded, and is included in the Glasgow annual Open Doors event.

roger boathouse
West Boat House, Glasgow Green. Creative Commons Licence – Thomas Nugent

William Glover completed the painting in 1898 or 1899. Although it could be described as a sketch, it provides a snapshot of Glasgow Green at the close of the nineteenth century and includes the newly opened Peoples Palace. Glover made his name as a theatre manager and scene painter and was an accomplished artist. An image of the painting is currently on view at the Peoples Palace.

References:

  1. (deaths 644/180242) https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  2. (census 1851 644/01109/00012) https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  3. The Baillie, Men You Know, No 826  15/8/1888 – Mitchell Library
  4. Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club, http://ww.clydesdalearc.org.uk/
  5. The Baillie, Men You Know, No 826  15/8/1888 – Mitchell Library
  6. (1863 marriages 484/3) https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  7. (1870 deaths 646/159) https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  8. (1880 marriages 341/000008) https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  9. The Baillie, Men You Know, No 826  15/8/1888 – Mitchell Library
  10. Perilla Kinchin and Juliet Kinchin, Glasgow’s great Exhibitions, p 46, ISBN 0-9513124-0-5

DS

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