Garnet Wilson joined the family business of G L Wilson’s department store in Dundee and became a distinguished Lord Provost of that city. He donated a portrait of himself painted by Rodrigo Moynihan to Glasgow in 1950. Moynihan was a British artist who was influenced by the French Impressionists, especially Manet, and moved between figurative and abstract work. (1) The University of Dundee holds another portrait of Wilson by Moynihan.
Garnet was born in Cupar, Fife on 24 March 1885 to Gavin Laurie Wilson, draper, and Jessie McCulloch who came from a farming family in Ayrshire. (2) Wilson’s first name Garnet was chosen after General Lord (Garnet) Wolseley came to the rescue of General Gordon in Khartoum in 1884-85. (3) In 1891 the family was living at 29 Crossgate, Cupar. Garnet was then aged six and the household consisted of his father Gavin, younger brother John, sister Jessie, and Gavin’s mother-in-law Janet McCulloch. (4) Garnet’s mother had died in 1888 at the time of Jessie junior’s birth. In 1891 Gavin Wilson married Alison Johnston Russell whose father had moved to New Zealand as a minister.(5)
Garnet was educated at Bell Baxter School in Cupar, then he attended Newport Public School in Dundee (6) followed by a year at the High School of Dundee, a historic institution which dates its origins back to 1239 and which, reputedly, William Wallace attended. (7)
Instead of going to university he joined the firm of P F & J Husband, solicitors, where he completed a law apprenticeship. (8) However, family loyalties were to play a role in his career and in 1903 he joined his father’s drapery business, G L Wilson’s at the junction of Murraygate and Commercial Street, popularly known as the ‘Corner’, and one of the most prominent stores in Dundee. Opened in 1894, it’s Christmas Grotto was a popular attraction and traded successfully for many years. Garnet’s brother John joined the business on leaving school but then studied for a BA in Engineering and left for America. On a holiday back home in 1913 he decided to stay and rejoin G L Wilson’s. He became known for his kind-heartedness and remained with the store till his death in 1962. (9)
In 1911 Garnet was living at 20 Kilburn Place with his father Gavin, stepmother Alison, brothers John and Gavin, and sisters Jessie, Alison and Dorothy. (10) Jessie became a favourite pupil of Ann Macbeth who taught at Glasgow School of Art and who was associated with Charles Rennie MacKintosh and The Glasgow Style. Jessie excelled in embroidery and pottery.(11)
Local politics became a passion, carrying on the family tradition in supporting the Liberal Party, and he became a member of Newport Council from 1919 to 1929. (12) Newport-on-Tay is a small town in Fife just across the River Tay from Dundee and he lived at 6 Albert Crescent in Newport for much of this period. (13)
In 1925 Garnet married Gladys Marjory Johnson of Longton in Staffordshire and they had three children, Guy, Ian and Jennifer. The family then moved from Newport to St Colms, 496 Perth Road, Dundee, a sizeable Victorian house in the western part of the city and near the waterfront. (14) Garnet became a Town Councillor for Dundee in 1929 and played an active role in its Education Authority, and was chairman of the Education Committee from 1930 to 1935. (15)
In 1940 he was appointed Lord Provost of Dundee and re-elected for a second three-year term in 1943. (16) When the second world war was raging and many parts of the UK were suffering high unemployment, the UK government passed the Distribution of Industry Bill to revitalise designated areas, but Dundee was initially not included. Just prior to the passing of the Bill Garnet persuaded the authorities to include part of Dundee in the scheme and he subsequently persuaded the National Cash Register Company (Manufacturing) Ltd, better known as N.C.R, to set up business there. He was also influential in establishing Dundee Airport, and in 1946 visited the French city of Orleans to attend the ceremony of twinning the two cities. In 1944 Garnet was knighted for his services to Dundee. (17)
Garnet continued to contribute to society especially in education and housing. From 1940 to 1949 he was a member of the St Andrews University Court, 1940 to 1949 was the chairman of the Scottish Special Housing Association, and from 1942 to 1951 was the Vice Chairman of the Advisory Council on Education in Scotland. From 1946 to 1952 he was appointed as the President of University College, Dundee. In 1952 Garnet was appointed as the Chairman of the Glenrothes Development Corporation, which was set up to oversee the creation of one of Scotland’s post war ‘new towns’. He retired from this position in 1960. (18)
In 1970 he performed the official opening of Craigie High School in Dundee. Garnet Road, which leads to the school, was named in his honour. (19)
Garnet died on 18 September 1975. (20)
(2) (births 420/45)1885 https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
(3) Wilson, Garnet The Making of a Lord Provost. David Winter & Son Ltd, Dundee 1965, p12.
(4) (census 420/3/3)1891, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
(5) Wilson, Garnet The Making of a Lord Provost. David Winter & Son Ltd, Dundee 1965, p8.
(6) Wilson, Garnet The Making of a Lord Provost. David Winter & Son Ltd, Dundee 1965, p12.
(8) Wilson, Garnet The Making of a Lord Provost. David Winter & Son Ltd, Dundee 1965, p13.
(9) Wilson, Garnet The Making of a Lord Provost. David Winter & Son Ltd, Dundee 1965, p10.
10) (census 431/2/2)1911 https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
(11) Wilson, Garnet The Making of a Lord Provost. David Winter & Son Ltd, Dundee 1965, p8.
(13) 1925 Wilson, garnet Douglas (Valuation Rolls VR010100071-/202, Fife county)
(14) Wilson, Garnet The Making of a Lord Provost. David Winter & Son Ltd, Dundee 1965, p14.
(16) Wilson, Garnet The Making of a Lord Provost. David Winter & Son Ltd, Dundee 1965, p16.
(17) Wilson, Garnet The Making of a Lord Provost. David Winter & Son Ltd, Dundee 1965, p49.
(18) Glasgow museum Resource Centre, Who Was Who vol V11.
(20) (Deaths 352/650)1975 https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/