JOHN NORMAN LANG (1890-1965)

Our donor John Norman Lang was born in 1890. He was the son of Robert Lang and Margaret White Lang. On 25 November 1942 he presented to the Glasgow City Council a painting named Portrait of a Boy by David Gauld.

He came from a family whose name is famous and important among the mechanical engineering profession. The firm originally started with the grandfather of our donor John Lang senior, who was the founder of the world-famous engineering firm ‘John Lang and Sons of Johnstone, Renfrewshire near Glasgow’.

In 1874 John Lang senior, who had risen to the position of foreman in the engineering works of Messrs. Shanks of Johnstone, started his own engineering company with two of his sons John and Robert. They built small premises in Laigh Cartside Street, Johnstone. [1] Although he did not have much capital, he had the ability, pluck, and some fresh ideas on the subject of iron-turning, and with his sons they worked together to develop their business. Robert was the father of our donor.

The new firm called Lang quickly became one of the most important engineering firms in Britain and had a large work force in Johnstone. They had customers across the world, from Europe to Hong Kong to Russia [2] and accomplished a large variety of engineering jobs. At first, Messrs Lang undertook any kind of engineering work they could get, but gradually they discovered a special line in the making of lathes. [3] This discovery led to far greater success. Their little machine shop of about 70 ft by 30 ft. was gradually extended until it filled the whole space between Mary Street and Cartside Street.

In 1895 they had a visit from the representatives of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. [4] Encouraged by this, the firm later took on 15 acres on the other side of Mary Street and erected splendid machine shops and a modern foundry on part of the ground. This whole plan of the new buildings indicated that further extensions were both possible and anticipated.

Although the town of Johnstone originally got its wealth from coal mining, from the beginning of the nineteenth century, the main industry was cotton spinning. The rapid growth of the town was mainly due to the success of the thread and cotton industry. The first mill in Johnstone was built in 1782 on Mill Brae. The others quickly followed until there were 15 to 20 mills at the peak of the industry. [5]

However, the cotton industry declined towards the end of the nineteenth century, and in Johnstone, engineering took over as the main industry. Many engineering firms had developed alongside the mills, servicing their needs. Among these, John Lang & Sons Ltd. was now one of the most prominent tool-making engineering firms. It was a part of the Associated British Machine Tool Makers Ltd. which was a much larger group of machine toolmakers. It had its registered offices at 17 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1 and had agents and offices worldwide. In 1966, John Lang & Sons Ltd became Wickman Lang Ltd., but remained in Johnstone until about 1968, when they became Wickman Ltd. and listed their offices as 40/44 Colquhoun Avenue, Glasgow, Scotland. In 1991, a Wickman Machine Tool Co. Ltd. was based in Coventry, England. [6]

The first time we meet John Norman Lang’s name is as a one-year-old in the 1891 Scotland Census with his mother Margaret White Lang and his father Robert who was one of the original founders of the company. Then, he also appears in the 1901 and 1911 Scotland Censuses with his brothers William and Lawrence. In the 1911 Census, John Norman, who was now 21 and his brother William who was 20 were both recorded as ‘Apprentice Engineer’. His other younger brother Lawrence, who was 14, is recorded as a schoolboy.

On 27 November 1919, John Norman Lang was married to Jeanie Jackson Biggart. In their marriage certificate, his occupation is described as ‘Master Engineer’. This means that he was now a qualified engineer and worked in John Lang & Sons Ltd.  

There were also two notable Provosts of Johnstone, besides being engineers, in the family. These were John and William, our donor’s uncles. In particular, William was knighted [7, 8] for his services to his country and industry in 1937, the same year in which he was elected a Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Sir William Lang died 17 February 1942 in his seventy-fourth year.

Our donor seems to had lived a very quiet life, as there are very few records to be found about him. Outside the usual biographical milestones in his life, there were no other records apart from a shipping record found in Ancestry.com. According to the shipping record our donor and his wife Jean J. Lang were on board SS Empress of France sailing from Montreal and Quebec to Liverpool arriving on 19 June 1953. Clearly, they were coming from the Americas after a holiday trip. We just know that on 25 November 1942, he donated the above-mentioned picture to our Gallery through the City of Glasgow Council and at that time, he was living at Thornwood, Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire.

When he died, there was a notice of the death of John Norman Lang in the Glasgow Herald of 21 August 1965 viz.:

Deaths:LangPeacefully at Thornwood Bridge of Weir on the 19 August 1965 JOHN NORMAN husband of the late Jeanie Jackson Lang – Funeral on Monday 23 inst. to Woodside Crematorium Paisley. Friends desirous of attending please meet there at 3p.m. No flowers or letters please.

References
[1] http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/John_Lang
[2] https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/stories/science-and-technology/john-lang-lathe/
[3] Op.cit. [1]
[4]https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/1895_Institution_of_Mechanical_Engineers:_Visits_to_Works#John_Lang_and_Sons

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnstone#History

[6] Reference:  gb 248 GB 248 UGD 048.  Held at Glasgow University Archive Services. https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/57851a2e-95a4-38f0-84a8-6810dce2fc88?terms=Wickman%20Machine%20Tool%20Co.%20Ltd

[7] Op.cit. [1]

[8]  http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/William_Biggart_Lang

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