George Sheringham (1884-1937)

Figure 1. George Sheringham 1927 – (c National Portrait Gallery, London under Creative Commons Licence)

George Sheringham was born in London on 13th November 1884. (1) His father was an Anglican clergyman and vicar of Tewksbury Abbey. George was educated at Kings School, Gloucester and studied art at The Slade, London and The Sorbonne in Paris. He was interested in art at from early age and the decorative arts became a lifelong passion. He first exhibited at the Paris Salon and his work was subsequently exhibited in London, Ghent, Brussels, Melbourne and New York. (2) He specialised in flower paintings but he is probably best remembered as a theatre set designer, especially for designs for The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.

George married Sybil Mengens in 1912. Sybil was born in Calcutta (Kolkata) and was living in Hampshire with her parents at the time of her marriage. (3) When George died in 1937 she gifted the watercolour Faded Roses painted by Charles Rennie MacKintosh to Glasgow. 

rose
Figure 2. Faded Roses, Charles Rennie Mackintosh 1905 (© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection)

Faded Roses was painted in 1905 and, as the title suggests, represents roses in a state of decay and depicted in a rather sombre colour scheme. It was painted at a time when MacKintosh had little work and may reflect his mood at that period. Mackintosh is well known for his architecture and interior design but when he moved to Walberswick, Surrey in 1914 he produced a series of watercolours depicting stylised flowers. In 1915 he moved to Chelsea, a fashionable, artistic district of London and socialised with many artists and designers, including George Sheringham and his wife Sybil, who was now a successful artist in her own right. (4) It was in 1923 that MacKintosh gifted Faded Roses to Sybil prior to leaving for France

There is a pencil sketch of George Sheringhame, drawn by Powys Evans in 1921, in The National Portrait Gallery in London,. Evans was a caricaturist who made numerous sketches of Sheringham.

In 1925 George was awarded the Paris Grand Prix, both for architectural decoration and for theatre design.(5) He also illustrated books including The Happy Hypocrite by Max Beerbolm.

Figure3. Drury Lane Theatre 1800, design for decorative panel, Claridges Hotel – permission of British Museum under Creative Commons attribution.

As a decorator he designed the music room at 40 Devonshire House, London and the ballroom at Claridges Hotel. He also completed a striking series of large paintings for the 8th Lord Howard de Walden (Baron Seaford), entitled The Cauldron of Anwyn, to illustrate his Celtic poem, probably for Seaford House in Belgravia. The house was being remodelled and included a fine onyx staircase from South American marble and it is said that to ensure the finest quality possible he purchased the quarry.(6)

Figure 4. Baptism of Dylan, Son of the Wave from The cauldron of Anwyn (c.1902)   http://www.johncoulthart.com

Sheringham became an authority on Chinese art and much of his work shows this influence. He designed fans,  which illustrate his thoughts on the fundamental differences between Western and Far Eastern art. In an article in The Studio magazine of January 1936 he describes how he thinks Western art is limiting in its scientific approach ‘science has put a fence around art ‘(the frame), whereas Eastern art, especially from China, expresses ideas in limitless detail (scroll paintings only finish when the meaning is complete). He explains…’Meaning being the very essence, the beginning, end and centre of all the greater Eastern Works of Art’. He criticises James McNeill Whistler’s paintings which combined eastern and western influences…’Whistler may be said to have missed the main underlying tradition of Eastern Art, for he snatches at Japanese fundamental insistence on perfection of arrangement; and discarded meaning’.(7)

Sheringham was particularly interested in flower painting influenced by a Chinese style. In The Studio he wrote an article entitled The Flower Sculptures of China which refers to work in jade (usually in the most sought after white colour) and which both George and Sybil collected. An image in the magazine of a rose-coloured peony is described as ‘capturing the essence of the flower, not just copying it’ and was part of Sybil’s collection. The illustrated watercolour by George  is included in The Studio article is entitled simply Flower Painting and was commissioned, among other artists, to hang in the newly launched Queen Mary.(8)

DR The Studio Jan 1936 P143
Figure 5. The Studio Magazine, January 1936, p.143“©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections”

Sheringham also designed woodblock prints and received lessons from Ernest A Taylor, one of the Glasgow Boys painters who was living in Hampstead at the time and who was closely connected to Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style. . Although Sheringham may never have visited Glasgow he was much influenced by these artists with a Glasgow connection.

Another influence in Sheringham’s life was music which inspired much of his life, and his work for D’oyly Carte Opera Company would have combined his love of art and music together.  Mention has already been made of Whistler who was also influenced by music and many of his paintings were entitled ‘arrangements’ or ‘harmonies’. 

Sheringham’s fluid rhythmic style of painting was influenced by the rhythm of life, in the way plants grew and seasons changed, and in later life this aspect became more important. Indeed his last completed painting was titled ‘Jungle Rythm’. James Duncan Fergusson, one of the ‘Scottish Colourists’, had a similar interest and they knew each other when Fergusson was living in London. Fergusson produced a magazine called ‘Rythm’ while he was in Paris.

In 1936 The Royal Society of Arts established the Royal Designers for Industry Award and Sheringham was one of the first artists to receive the accolade in 1937.

George Sheringham died at his Hampstead home on 11th November 1937 and in the following year Sybil presented Faded Rose to Glasgow. Sybil passed away on 8th August 1942 at Golders Green London.

DS

References

(1) www.ancestry.co.uk, births

(2) Obituaries, The Times, 12th November 1937

(3) The Modernist Journals Project (Brown University and The University of Tulsa)

(4) Glasgow Museums, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Kaplan Wendy 1996, p305

(5) Obituaries, The Times, 12th November 1937

(6) www.johncoulthart.com/feuilleton/2007/08/the-art-of-george-sheringhame

(7) The Studio, January 1936, p5

(8) The Studio, January 1936, p8

James Lindsay (1857-1914)

James Lindsay was an architect whose work consisted mainly of large commercial buildings in his home city of Glasgow. Although he rarely won major commissions, he regularly just missed out on the top awards. 

He bequeathed the painting Head of Holy Loch by George Henry to Glasgow. Henry was one of the most influential of the ‘Glasgow Boys’ artists based in or associated with Glasgow. The painting is dated 1882 and was sold at an exhibition of The Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Art in that year for £25 and it is possible that the purchaser was James Lindsay.

Henry, George, 1858-1943; Head of the Holy Loch
Head of the Holy Loch by George Henry 1882 (© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection)

James was born on 10th May 1857 to William Lindsay, victualler and Mary Duncan (1) . He attended St James Parish School and Glasgow High School. He was articled to the firm of Peat and Duncan, Glasgow for five years followed by three years as a draughtsman during which time he studied at Glasgow School of Art, and in 1876 he won the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Silver Medal. In 1880 he set up on his own at 196 St Vincent Street (where he also lived).  At around this time James had become friends with James Sellars, one of Glasgow’s leading architects with many fine examples of his work surviving, and who won the competition to design The International Exhibition of 1888 in Kelvingrove Park (2).

In 1881 James was admitted as an Associate of RIBA, having been proposed by John Honeyman (whose partnership was later to include John Keppie and Charles Rennie Mackintosh), James Audley, and John Burnet. He was living at 8 Morris Place by then (3), situated to the east end of the city centre.

James married Jessie Millar Black in 1883. Jessie lived at 48 Caledonia Street, Paisley and was the daughter of Robert, a local spirit merchant (4). They had six children, three boys and three girls, and by 1891 the family was living at 48 Garnethill Street (5).  James had business premises at 167 St Vincent Street in 1884 and moved to 248 West George Street around 1886 and remained there till his death in 1914 (6). James junior followed in his father’s footsteps as an architect and carried on the business at the same premises after his father’s death. James junior is probably best known for Walter Hubbard’s bakery, 508-510 Great Western Road, Glasgow, an art deco design which is currently a nightclub (7).

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508-510 Great Western Road, Glasgow – James Lindsay junior.    (image by author)

Among James’ many architectural commissions were several schools including Wellshot Secondary at Tollcross, Glasgow which became a primary school in 1970.

Unusual commissions were for the Glasgow Sausage Works at 240 North Woodside Road in 1895 and The City Manure Office in Parliamentary Road, Townhead (horse manure on city streets had become a major health problem in cities around the world). Possil Iron Works in 1889, Kames Free Church on the Isle of Bute of 1898 and the City of Glasgow Dyeworks of 1902 are further examples of his numerous commissions (8) 

On a more ambitious scale he entered competitions for major city projects. In 1884 he submitted plans for the New Admiralty and War Office, Whitehall, London and although awarded a £600 ‘premium’ did not secure the job. In 1889 he reached second place to design Sheffield Municipal Buildings and won a £100 ‘premium’. In 1905 his design for Hutchesontown Library in Glasgow was not taken up, and in the same year he submitted a competition design for Kirkintilloch Town Hall which made second place (9).

In 1880 James submitted an entry for the new City Chambers in Glasgow. This was described at the time as a ‘mannerist Hotel de Ville with a roman temple front, huge angle mansards and a Greco-Roman tower which bears a striking, and more refined and satisfying, resemblance to that of William Young’s winning design’ (10).

lindsay-city-chambers.jpeg
Plan for Glasgow Municipal Buildings by James Lindsay 1880                                                                (c Glasgow City Archives, Mitchell Library ref. DTC 6/3)

He also entered the competition to design plans for the new Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum in 1891, won by the London firm of Simpson and Allen. Entries were received from many established architects, and some from ambitious youngsters including Charles Rennie Mackintosh (11).

Occasionally he designed private houses, one such being Ardenwohr at 233 Nithsdale Road, Pollockshields, Glasgow. It has been described  as ‘looking remotely Jacobean with a repulsive red rock-faced finish’ (12), perhaps a little unfair as it would probably be described now as a rather handsome Victorian villa.

The Lindsays moved to 11 Moray Place in 1896 (13). This fine terrace sits alongside 1-10 Moray Place which was designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, one of Glasgow’s most renowned architects. Thomson himself lived at number 1 from 1861 and the terrace incorporated some typical classical features e.g. the giant order of pilasters arranged along the frontage (14). The terrace which includes number 11 was added later and although sympathetic to Thomson’s work, was more eclectic in style.

DSC_3386
No 10 Moray Place, Glasgow by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson 1859-60 (image by author)
DSC_3384
No. 11 Moray Place, Glasgow             (image by author)

Jessie Lindsay died in 1898 (15) and James continued to live at Moray Place till his own death in 1914 (16). At that time he was working on a successful commission to design The Netherton Institute (public baths and library) in Dunfermline, which was completed after his death (17). Although recognised as a talented architect who often came second best, it is ironic that success really came at the end of his life.

DS

References

(1) 1857 births 644/1 857) – https://scotlandspeople.gov.uk

(2) Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London – Biographical Details 8/4/2009

(3) ibid. 8/4/2009

(4) (1883 marriages 573/445) –https://scotlandspeople.gov.uk

(5) (census 1891 644/96/35) –https://scotlandspeople.gov.uk

(6) Post Office Directories, Mitchell Library, Glasgow

(7) Dictionary of Scottish Architects – www.scottisharchitects.org.uk, Lindsay james (junior)

(8) Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London – Biographical Details 8/4/2009

(9) ibid. 8/4/2009

(10) www.glasgowsculpture.com, architects, Lindsay

(11) Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London – Biographical Details 8/4/2009

(12) Williamson, Elizabeth, Glasgow. Penguin for National Trust for Scotland. 1990. (The Buildings of Glasgow Series)

(13) Post Office Directories, Mitchell Library

(14) Dictionary of Scottish Architects – www.scottisharchitects.org.uk, Thomson Alexander

(15) (1898 Deaths 644/14 489)) –https://scotlandspeople.gov.uk

(16) (1914 Deaths 644/18 276) –https://scotlandspeople.gov.uk

(17) Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London – Biographical Details 8/4/2009

John Alexander Stewart (1877-1962)

John Stewart became a partner in a grain merchants business and had lifelong interests in family history, boating and photography, but it is Lochranza on the island of Arran which provides a common thread which brings together all of these topics. In 1928 John gifted a painting to Glasgow Loch Ranza by Andrew Black to Glasgow, who often depicted west of Scotland coastal scenes incorporating fishing and leisure boats.

Black, Andrew, 1850-1916; Lochranza
Loch Ranza by Andrew Black (© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection)
John A Stewart by permission of The Stewart Society

John Stewart was born at 15 Willowbank Street, Glasgow on 23rd March 1877 to Alexander Stewart, a seaman first mate, and Euphemia Hamilton Allen, a dressmaker (1). They married in 1875 at a time when Alexander senior was second mate aboard SS County of Sutherland, following his fathers’ maritime occupation as a ships carpenter (2). John lived with his mother and her sister, Margaret together with his grandmother Jane Allen. According to the census of 1881 his mother had been widowed by that date.

John and his mother went to live with his uncle, William McHarg and aunt Margaret at Hillbank Cottage in Milngavie (3). William was a grain merchant with a large store at 104-112 Cheapside Street, Glasgow. Around 1890 John was employed as a clerk in the business and in the early 1900s became a partner in the business when the name changed to McHarg and Stewart, by then described as grain merchant and general storekeepers (4).

Interestingly the Cheapside Street building was designed by architects Honeyman and Keppie in 1892, who employed the young Charles Rennie Mackintosh as a draughtsman from 1889. Mackintosh submitted some drawings for the premises but it is not known if any of his work was included in the plans for the building. The design was influenced by northern Italian palazzi, with massive arches and pilasters. The northern third was designed for William McHarg and remained in the McHarg family till the 1950s when Samuel McHarg and Company were the owners. It was then used as a bonded warehouse storing large quantities of whisky and other spirits (5).

Stewart cheapside
McHarg & Stewart Grain Stores, Cheapside Street by permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.

On 28th March 1960 a devastating explosion destroyed the building, the resulting fire killing fourteen members of the Glasgow Fire Brigade and five members of the Glasgow Salvage Corps. The date is commemorated in Glasgow each year.

In 1901 John was living with the McHarg family at 294 St Vincent Street, moving to 9 Clifton Street, Kelvingrove by 1909 (6).

John never married, and throughout his life maintained an interest in boats. In his early years he would accompany his mother to Arran, often in a small rowing boat. They especially loved Lochranza. Photography became a passion for John and he published a series of his work, mainly of west of Scotland scenes. One of these is titled ‘Fair Lochranza in the Isle of Arran’ which is dedicated ‘to my mother and happy memories of Loch Ranza in Victorian Days’,  and includes images of boats and hills around  the castle of Lochranza (7).

stewart lochranza 1
Fair Loch Ranza 1949, Geo Stewart & Co, Edinburgh – by permission of The Stewart Society
stewart lochranza
Photograph from Fair Loch Ranza by John A Stewart – by permission of The Stewart Society

Another is titled ‘Rosneath and Clynder Views’ which is introduced by Admiral Sir Angus Cunninghame Graham in 1958. The Cunninghame Grahams of Ardoch appear to have been family friends. He writes ’…the pleasing photographs reveal something of the generation which was concerned with the greatness of Glasgow and the Clyde.’(8) 

When John retired, about 1940, he moved to a large house, ‘Bonaly’ in the village of Clynder on the Clyde and quickly became a well known member of the yachting fraternity and contributed articles on yacht design in Yachting Monthly, leading to speed improvements in racing yachts (9). His greatest passion however was family history. Again Lochranza is the starting point. In 1262 the castle belonged  to Walter Stewart, third Steward of Scotland, gifted by the Earl of Menteith.

Walter and his wife were interred on the island of Inchmahome on Lake of Menteith and are represented by possibly the finest 14th century effigies in Scotland (10). Also interred on the island is Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936) who made his name in politics (he was the first president of the Scottish National Party), and spent time in Argentina as a rancher with the local gauchos.

 John’s interest in the Stewart family led to him co-founding the Stewart Society in 1899 and he was an active member for nearly sixty years. He became known as John A Stewart of Inchmahome and is referred to as such in many of his publications. The Stewart connection with Inchmahome led to him purchasing the island in 1926, subsequently gifting it to The Stewart Society in 1948, and it is now administered by Historic Scotland on their behalf (10).

John also had an interest in heraldry and published ‘The Story of the Scottish Flag’ in 1925.  

On his death John wished to be buried on the island and arranged for a small mausoleum to be built. He died on 28th February1962 and his funeral was held at Port of Monteith Church. Thereafter the funeral party crossed the icy lake to lay John to rest in his mausoleum (11).

Inchmahome Stewart mausaleum
Mausoleum on Island of Inchmahome, by permission of The Stewart Society

 

 

References

  1. Births, 644/090607 Kelvin,  https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/

(2) Marriages, 644/090300, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/

(3) Census, 1891 1891500/00013/00005, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/

(4) www.glasgowwestaddresses.co.uk

(5) www.mackintosh-architecture.gla.ac.uk/catalogue/browse/display/?rs=68&xml=des

(6) Census, Barony, Glasgow 1901, 644/09041/09007, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/

(7) Fair Loch Ranza 1949, printed by G Stewart & Co, 92 George Street , Edinburgh 

(in author’s possession)

(8) Rosneath and Clynder Views, printed by G Stewart & Co, 92 George Street, Edinburgh- Helensburgh Library

(9) www.clyde1924.plus.com/clyde19-24/index.shtml

(10) www.stewartsociety.org, history of the Stewarts, castles and buildings.

(11) Helensburgh and Gareloch Times, 7th March 1962 p2 col 4.

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

Sir John Muir of Deanston 1828-1903

In 1888 John Muir donated to Glasgow ‘Two Strings to Her Bow’, painted by John Pettie in 1887 and which currently is on display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. 1888 was the year of the Glasgow International Exhibition which emulated the great Exhibition of 1851 in London to promote industry, art and commerce (1) in the context of the British Empire. The £46,000 profits of the exhibition contributed to the funding of the present building which opened in 1901. Muir purchased the painting from the lucky winner of a raffle for the Exhibition Art Union, and presented it to highlight ‘…its most prominent deficiency in the department of ‘modern art’’ (2)

The painting ‘Two Strings to her Bow’ is typical of John Pettie’s style, depicting a beautiful young lady between two competing suitors. This painting has become a popular image in the advertising world for example being presented as the front cover of Georgette Heyer’s novel False Colours, a cigarette pack for soldiers during World War 11, and even on the label of a Polish lemon flavoured vodka.

Pettie, John, 1839-1893; Two Strings to Her Bow
Pettie, John; Two Strings to Her Bow. © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection
Henderson, Joseph, 1832-1908; Sir John Muir (1828-1903), Lord Provost of Glasgow (1889-1892)
Sir John Muir, Lord Provost of Glasgow (1889-1892) © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

John was born on 26th December 1828 in Hutchesontown, Glasgow to James Muir (3), senior partner of Glasgow merchants Webster Steel & Company which had branches in Chile, South Africa and London (4). His mother was Elizabeth Brown (5), a descendent of James Finlay who founded the textile business of James Finlay and Company in Glasgow. He was educated at Glasgow High School and Glasgow University. In 1849 he joined James Finlay & Company, which had expanded to include mills at Catrine in Ayrshire in 1801, and Deanston in Stirlingshire in 1808 (the latter is now a whisky distillery). The original James Finlay founded the business in 1750 and in 1792 his son Kirkman Finlay took over as senior managing partner, the core activity being textile manufacture but later their trading activities became more important. The firm purchased competitors Wilson, Kay and Company and in 1854 opened premises in West Nile Street, Glasgow (6).

In 1860 John married Margaret Kay (7), eldest daughter of Alexander Kay, then a senior partner of Finlays, and raised four sons and six daughters, all of whom were born at their townhouse at 6 Park Gardens, Glasgow.
In 1861 John was appointed as a junior partner of James Finlay & Company, along with his cousin Hugh Brown Muir and Robert Barclay, a partner in Robert Barclay & Sons, Manchester. The business had become stagnant under the management of the Finlay family and John was brought in to revitalise it. The American Civil War, which had started in that year, affected cotton supplies and Hugh Muir visited India in search of alternative quality sources, resulting in offices being opened in Bombay (Mumbai) and Calcutta (Kolkata). There were close links with Samuel Smith MP, a leading cotton broker in Liverpool and also related to the Finlay family (8).

Over the following years the two cousins increased their personal shareholding and broadened the scope of the mainly cotton based business to include insurance, shipbuilding and tea. However, tensions built up between John and Hugh and things came to a head after Hugh had dismissed a senior employee for playing chess on the sabbath (John was a member of the Free Church of Scotland). Hugh departed from the company in 1873 to form a successful business in London, and John eventually took sole control by 1883. In that year Archibald Buchan, the last of the old Finlay family, tried but failed to obtain a legal injunction to prevent Muir trading under the name of James Finlay and Company (9).

Around the time when Hugh left the business John was increasingly interested in the growing market for tea, and purchased estates in Darjeeling, Assam and Travancore in India, under the name Finlay, Muir & Company. Trade was aided by the shipbuilding connection and Muir invested in the Clan Line in Glasgow. Thomas Cayzer had been introduced to Alexander Stephen of Linthouse, a shipbuilder, and John Muir as financier. The three men, although they never learned to trust each other, entered an agreement to build two ships which became the nucleus of the Clan Line, cargo carriers with some passenger capacity. The ships were based in Calcutta (Kolkata) but Muir forced a move to Chittagong  by offering huge cargoes of tea and jute (10). Contemporary opinion held that Muir was ‘the greatest bully in the trade, and the worst tempered man in Scotland’. He encouraged remaining partners in James Finlay and Company to retire in order to take overall control, earning himself in Glasgow business circles the nickname ‘cuckoo’ (11).

 In 1873 John moved into the infant tea industry in India and Ceylon, buying up quality plantations, and keeping close supervision through the Calcutta office which included weekly reports, a management pattern that was later adopted throughout the industry. Two of John’s sons were involved in the Indian enterprise but John was not good at delegating. In 1898 he wrote to them ‘My advice to you both is to fall in cordially with my views and policy, even when you do not quite understand them’(12). At that time the UK tea business was channelled through London, but Muir set up various businesses to bypass London to reach new outlets in America, Canada and Russia. He invested heavily in capital developments including railway and hydro-electric schemes and telephone systems. However he was seen as a harsh employer, both to his Indian labour force and his British, mainly Scottish planters and ‘jute-wallahs’. A planter received a larger allowance for his essential horse than for a wife (13). By the 1890s Muir was the world’s major stakeholder in the growing and marketing of tea, employing some 70,000 workers on the Indian subcontinent (14).
John and Margaret had moved in 1873 to Deanston House which had been owned by John Finlay, the last of Kirkman Finlay’s sons, the house being rebuilt. In 1883 an extension was added by Glasgow architect J J Burnett in the Italianate style (15). Margaret took a great interest in the welfare of the mill workers and was a popular local figure. A memorial clock tower was erected in the village after her death in 1929 (16).

Muir Deanston House
Deanston House (as a hotel, probably 1950’s) -from a postcard in authors possession

With his Indian empire secured John turned to civic affairs. He was elected a baillie of Glasgow town council in 1886 and as Lord provost in 1889-92, and received a baronetcy in 1893. He became a Liberal-Unionist in 1886 and was active in Glasgow and Perthshire, a JP in Lanarkshire as well as Deputy Lieutenant of the counties of Ayrshire and Lanark. During his term as Lord Provost he presided over the extension of Glasgow City boundaries, adding 10,000 to the population, extended electricity and gas works, and oversaw the building of St Andrew’s Halls. The 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition provided a focus for philanthropic work when he donated £15,000 and was Convenor of the Indian and Ceylon section. He was also appointed chairman of the association entrusted with the duty of erecting the building (17).

Sir John Muir suffered two strokes, one in 1901 in Glasgow and another at Deanston House where he died on 6th August 1903 (18). He left an estate of £862,802 but with much of his wealth invested as capital in James Finlay and Company and various offshoots, it is thought that his true worth was considerably greater (19). The Finlay business continues today, its core business continuing in growing and processing tea products in India and Africa, with its headquarters moving from Glasgow to London a few years ago.
Alexander Kay Muir (1868-1951), John’s eldest son became second baronet, and continued to manage James Finlay and Company after his fathers death, modernising and converting the haphazard collection of companies into a private company, owned by members of the extended Muir family. Just before he retired in 1926 he sent planters from Southern India and Ceylon to open the first large scale tea plantations in Kenya, and the name continues there producing tea products. He lived at his Blair Drummond estate with his second wife, Nadejda Constanza Irenea Garilla Euphrosyne, eldest daughter of Dmitry Stancioff, former premier of Bulgaria, which appears to have been a very happy marriage and they enjoyed the regular company of King Boris of Bulgaria. Sir Alexander Kay died in 1951 and his wife in 1957, and the baronetcy devolved on his nephew John Harling Muir, the son of his late brother James Finlay Muir (20).

Lavery, John, 1856-1941; John Muir of Deanston (1828-1903), 1st Bt, Lord Provost of Glasgow (1889-1892)
John Muir of Deanston by John Lavery © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

Lavery, John, 1856-1941; State Visit of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition, 1888
State Visit of her Majesty, Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition 1888 ©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

Glasgow Museums also hold a sketch portrait of John Muir, often referred to as John Muir of Deanston . The sketch was painted by John Lavery, a leading ‘Glasgow Boy’ artist, as one of many individual portraits incorporated into his ‘State Visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition 1888’. Muir became Lord provost the following year in succession to Sir John King who is portrayed in the purple robes.

 

(1) Perilla Kinchin and Juliet Kinchin, Glasgow’s great Exhibitions, ISBN 0-9513124-0-5

(2) Glasgow City Council Minutes, Mitchell Library

(3) births, 644/02 0040 0187 Gorbals, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

(4) Webster Steel & Co, piece goods manufacturers, https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb248-ugd091/26

(5) births, 644/02 0040 0187 Gorbals, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

(6) Oxford Dictionary of national Biography, http://wwwoxforddnb.com/articles/52/52088

(7) marriages, 646/02 0083, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

(8) Ancestors of David Robarts-Sir John Muir, http://www.stepneyrobarts.co.uk/406htm

(9) Oxford Dictionary of national Biography, http://wwwoxforddnb.com/articles/52/52088

(10) Oxford Dictionary of national Biography, http://wwwoxforddnb.com/articles/52/52088

(11) Ancestors of David Robarts-Sir John Muir, http://www.stepneyrobarts.co.uk/406htm

(12) Ancestors of David Robarts-Sir John Muir, http://www.stepneyrobarts.co.uk/406htm

(13) Oxford Dictionary of national Biography, http://wwwoxforddnb.com/articles/52/52088

(14) Gowans and Gray, The Lord provosts of Glasgow 1833-1902, Mitchell library

(15) John J Burnett, architect, http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=100033

(16) https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/doune/deanston/index.html

(17) Ancestors of David Robarts-Sir John Muir, http://www.stepneyrobarts.co.uk/406htm

(18) death, 362/00 0034, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

(19) Ancestors of David Robarts-Sir John Muir, http://www.stepneyrobarts.co.uk/406htm

(20) Oxford Dictionary of national Biography, http://wwwoxforddnb.com/articles/52/52088

DS

Mrs Janet Rodger (1814-1901)

When Janet Rodger died at 5 Park gardens Glasgow on 31st August 1901, she bequeathed seven paintings by Horatio McCulloch ‘to form part of the collection of pictures for the new art galleries’ (1). Kelvingrove Art Galleries and Museum had just opened as the central showcase of the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition, which aimed to ‘present the progress in Industry, Science and Art of all nations during the 19th century’(2), so this was an ideal opportunity for those who were considering gifts to the city.

Fig.1 ‘Glencoe’ by Horatio McCulloch 1864 (CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection)

Janet was born to John Smith, a coal-master and Margaret Adam who married in May 1807. She was born on 17th July 1814 after her brothers Francis and David (3). Both brothers became involved in the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde which was expanding rapidly at this time. In 1841 Janet married James Rodger who was also involved in the shipbuilding industry. James’ father Thomas was a Glasgow linen merchant but James was destined for greater things. James and Janet lived at 16 Elmbank Crescent for around twelve years and by 1871 they had moved to 5 Park Gardens, Park district, an affluent and popular area of Glasgow with the wealthy merchant classes.

This was a good time to be involved in the shipbuilding industry in Glasgow. Robert Napier, so- called father of Clyde shipbuilding, set up the Govan Old Yard in 1841(4) to develop the new iron hull industry, just one of many innovations which led to Glasgow becoming the world’s pre-eminent shipbuilding centre. David Napier, a cousin of Robert, was also involved in shipbuilding and apprenticed Janet’s brother David, and James Rodger, who set up their own business of ‘Smith and Rodger’ at Middleton Yard, next to Old Govan Yard. Engine works were initially set up in HydePark Street then St James foundry at the Broomielaw was purchased to build iron hulls. Ships were then completed and launched from the new quay (5).

This was a time when many paddle steamers were seen on the Clyde and one of the first built by Smith and Rodger was ‘Edinburgh Castle’, launched 1844, and later to become part of the MacBrayne fleet, now familiar as Caledonian MacBrayne. She was later moved to Inverness (as Glengarry) and eventually scrapped in 1927. Edinburgh Castle was 138 ft in length and was fitted with a one cylinder steeple paddle.

DR Glengarry -McLean Museum
Fig.2 Glengarry’ – former ‘Edinburgh Castle’ in the Caledonian Canal 1844 (c Inverclyde Libraries, McLean Museum and Inverclyde Archives)

Over eighty ships were launched by the firm, many for overseas buyers, and the international reach of Smith and Rodger was reflected in names such as New Granada, Persian, Kangaroo, Athenian and Danube (6). In 1864 it was decided to voluntarily stop trading. Both partners were in their fifties, neither had children, and were financially secure. The business was purchased by London and Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Company Limited, which was formed in that year by a consortium of London bankers and both James and David continued their connection in their role as directors. It was one of the first firms to incorporate limited liability and it was often referred to as ‘the limited’. Rodger stayed on the board until his death in 1873 from a longstanding illness. David Smith retired in 1885. At that time the company advised the shareholders that no-one had been found to replace him.

David never married and he died in 1888, leaving an estate of £96,817, a substantial sum for the time. At least one of the paintings which Janet bequeathed to Glasgow had been owned by David. ‘Glencoe’, one of Horatio McCullochs finest and most popular paintings, was loaned by him to Glasgow Royal Institute of Fine Art in 1875, and is usually on display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (7). McCulloch, sometimes known as ‘Scotland’s Constable’, was a popular artist with Glasgow’s industrialists, merchants and collectors, and the romantic highland themes of his paintings would have well suited the fine drawing rooms of the their Victorian villas.

After James Rodger died in 1873, Janet’s younger brother Francis came to the townhouse at 5 Park Gardens until his death in 1891, and Janet continued to live there until her death in 1901.

She left an estate of £84,273, and it is interesting to note that the informant on her death certificate was David Dehane Napier, a second cousin, who published a biography of his grandfather in 1912, another David Dehane Napier who was a cousin of the well known Robert Napier (8). James and Janet Rodger are interred in Glasgow Necropolis.

References

1) Glasgow Museums Resource Centre; Object Files.
2) Kinchin P, Kinchin J (1988), Glasgow’s Great Exhibitions, Glasgow:Bell and Bain
3) Scotlands people, births,(OPR births 654/0010 0396 Rutherglen) http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
4) Post Office Directories
5) Browning A S E, A History of Clyde Shipyards (Mitchell Library, Glasgow)
6) http://www.clannapier.org
7) Bilcliffe R, RGI 1861-1969 Directory of Exhibitors (Mitchell Library, Glasgow)

8) http://www.clannapier.org