In 2014 the Underwood Trust donated £1,000,000 to the Merchants House of Glasgow to ‘establish an expendable fund to be used for the benefit of deprived people in Paisley and Glasgow’, the funds to be disbursed in accordance with the guidelines provided by the Trust.[i]
The Underwood Trust was founded on 1st August 1973 by Robert Clark and his wife Mary Black Lang Clark, and was named after Robert’s childhood home at 21 Underwood Lane, Paisley.[ii] Their respective family backgrounds, particularly in the case of Clark, were not well to do, but by the time the Trust was founded the family was worth several millions of pounds, their wealth coming from property, cinema, television, and investment activity.
Robert Clark’s grandfather, James, was born in Airdrie around 1829.[iii] He married Isabella Munn in Dalry, Ayrshire in 1851[iv] and was employed as an ironstone miner. Isabella had been born in Paisley also around 1829 [v] but at the time of her marriage both she and James were described as ‘of the parish of Dalry’.[vi] They lived in one of the six Peesweep Rows there[vii] which housed miners and their families and consisted of one hundred and twelve dwellings, some with two rooms, and others with one. What they all had in common however was little or no sanitation and inadequate fresh water supply. Five of the rows had no wash houses, the sixth had four for eleven houses. The rent for one of these dwellings was typically £3 12s per annum. In 1912 the writer who recorded the conditions detailed above finished his report by saying, “This finishes the description of the Peesweep Rows. We wish they were finished in the material sense as well, for the only thing more melancholy than the Peesweep Rows was the anxiety of some of the women to show us how well pleased they were with their houses, and the fear that the latter would be condemned and shut up”.[viii]
By 1871 they had four sons: Robert and John, both coal miners then aged 20 and 16 years respectively, James who at the age of 13 years was a furnace labourer, and Arthur aged 6 years.[ix] The census of 1871 also records that James the father was unfit for work and on the 10th December of that year he died from emphysema of the lungs, which he had suffered from for several years[x].
Isabella continued to live in the Peesweep Rows for the next ten years, latterly with sons James and Arthur (both miners) in Wee Peesweep Row[xi], probably the worst of all the Rows in that it consisted of ten single apartments, all measuring fifteen feet by eleven feet, with the floor level being about eighteen inches below the outside road surface[xii]. She died there in July 1881 of phthisis (tuberculosis).[xiii]
Her story does not quite end there as, surprisingly, considering the conditions in which she lived, she left personal estate to the value of £73 8s 11d, consisting of savings in the Post Office which arose from a single deposit of £30 Isabella made on 20th December 1880, plus interest, an insurance policy from the Scottish Legal Funeral Society worth £15 16s, and household furnishings and other items.[xiv] Using RPI changes from 1881 to 2014 that is equivalent to £6680 today. Other financial measures make it worth much more; economic power of that sum being equivalent to £110,000.[xv] Where this ‘wealth’ came from is not clear. James, who was confirmed as her executor, she died intestate, worked as a labourer at the time of his mother’s death[xvi] and it seems unlikely that his brothers were in any better financial situation. Son John, Robert Clark’s father, had married in 1874, and in 1881 was working as an iron miner, and living in one of the Peesweep Rows, Double Row, with his wife and two sons.[xvii]
Note; all financial comparisons in this report are initially based on RPI changes and then economic power.
John was born in 1855 in Dalry [xviii] and married twice, firstly to Jane Nelson or Neilson in 1874[xix] with whom he had several children.[xx] They lived in Dalry, John working initially as a miner and then by 1885 as a millworker. Between 1881 and 1885 they moved from the miners dwelling in Double Row to Smith Street in the centre of Dalry,[xxi] a clear improvement in circumstances.
Subsequently the family moved to George Street in Paisley which is where Jane died in 1894 from phthisis leaving John with five children of school age, plus the two eldest boys who were both working. By that time however he had improved his employment situation having become a wringing machine agent.[xxii] His second wife was widow Elizabeth Jamieson whom he married in 1898 in Glasgow, according to the forms of the Christian Brethren.[xxiii] She had four children aged from a few months to 10 years from her previous marriage.[xxiv]
The combined family in 1901 consisted of eleven offspring ranging from 4 years to 19 years all living with their parents in Clavering Street, Paisley, by which time John had become a sewing machine agent.[xxv] Three more sons were born to the couple, Walter in 1900,[xxvi] Joseph in 1902, [xxvii]and Robert, who would become co-founder of the Underwood Trust, in 1904.[xxviii] Sometime after Robert’s birth the family moved to 21 Underwood Lane which is where they were living by 1911.[xxix]
Robert left school aged fourteen and went to work as an office boy in the Glasgow law firm of Maxwell Waddell in Hope Street, Glasgow. The leading partner of the firm John Maxwell appears to have encouraged Robert to attend university, which he did, graduating from Glasgow MA, and LLB, after which he returned to Maxwell’s company as a fully-fledged solicitor.[xxx] During this period Robert’s father John died in 1920[xxxi] leaving an estate valued at £1297 18s 4d,[xxxii] a not insignificant sum (equal to between around £48,000 and £400,000 today depending on the measure used.[xxxiii]) considering his start in life in Dalry. A ‘rags to riches’ story in less than fifty years. As Robert’s life progressed there was to be an exponential change in that story as his career and business activities blossomed. Initially that was due to his relationship with John Maxwell whose interests went beyond that of practising law.
In 1912 Maxwell became part owner of a cinema in Glasgow. By 1922 he owned twenty and had set up Waverly Films, distributing films locally for Wardour Films of London. He took over Wardour in 1923 moving to London in 1925. Two years later he bought Elstree Studios and established British International Pictures (BIP) as a production and distribution company. In 1929 the company made Britain’s first talkie, ‘Blackmail’, directed by the young and upcoming Alfred Hitchcock. He continued to buy cinemas and in 1928 established Associated British Cinemas (ABC) which within a year had a circuit of 80 cinemas.[xxxiv] In 1929 at the request of Maxwell Robert Clark moved to London to become Maxwell’s assistant subsequently reading for the English Bar becoming a qualified lawyer in England as well as Scotland.[xxxv]
In 1930 his mother Elizabeth died at the family home at 21 Underwood Lane.[xxxvi] Two years later Robert, on the 10th September, married Mary Black Lang at Mossvale Church of Scotland. Mary was a school teacher and lived in Paisley, Robert lived in London at 101 Finchley Road.[xxxvii]
Mary’s family had been resident in Paisley since the early part of the 19th century. Her paternal grandfather Matthew Lang married Elizabeth Young in 1866, both residents of Paisley, he being a journeyman joiner, Elizabeth a threadmill worker.[xxxviii] Her maternal grandfather Joseph Black, a widower, married Janet Cooper in 1869, in the Paisley home of the bride. Joseph was a warehouseman and Janet was described as a warehouse worker.[xxxix]
It’s clear that Mary Black Lang’s family background, although working class, was better off financially than that of Robert’s which had centred on mining, living in miner’s rows in Dalry, and in conditions which were hardly basic. Her paternal great grandfathers’ occupations had been that of grocer and baker,[xl] whilst her maternal great grandfathers had been respectively a shawl weaver and cowfeeder, (stockman who rears cattle, selling them on for slaughter).[xli] [xlii]
Her father William Lang was born circa 1871 in Paisley[xliii]. He initially worked as a commercial clerk[xliv] but in due course became a journeyman joiner like his father.[xlv] He married Mary’s mother, Mary Black, a threadmill worker, in 1893. [xlvi]
About 1904 Matthew Lang set up the joinery firm Matthew Lang and Sons situated in McGowan Street, Paisley, William working with his father in the company.[xlvii]
Mary Black Lang was born in 1905 at Buchanan Terrace, Paisley,[xlviii] the last of four children. Her mother unfortunately died 4 years later, age 37 years, from pernicious anaemia[xlix] leaving William to care for Mary, and her two sisters and brother, who was the oldest at 13 years.[l] In 1912 William married again, his second wife being Williamina Rose Milne who came from Dundee.[li]
In early 1913 grandfather Matthew Lang died at ‘Langholm’, 27 Greenock Road, Paisley, age 74 years.[lii] He left an estate valued at £3201 2s 6d, (between £284,000 and £2.4 million today).[liii] A trust was established, administered by his sons William and David and two others, which essentially gave liferent of household goods and their home plus income from the estate to his wife Elizabeth. Income from the estate was also given to Matthew’s four children.[liv]
Mary’s father William died at ‘Langholm’ in 1932,[lv] a few months before she married Robert Clark. He also left a significant estate valued at £3483 3s,[lvi] (between £200,000 and £1.5 million today).[lvii] As for the Clarks but much more significant, a picture emerges of the Langs growing in prosperity to such an extent that their personal wealth was much more than ordinary working class families would achieve or aspire to.
The basis of Robert and Mary’s wealth was therefore what had come to them through their respective families. However it is what they did as a couple and ultimately as a family that transformed their personal financial standing from the reasonably well to do, to being multi-millionaires.
In 1933 ABC, BIP, and Wardour Films were consolidated into a single company called the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC).[lviii] Whilst Robert continued to work for Maxwell in the new company he also looked for opportunities on his own behalf and in 1935 he set up his own cinema distribution company in Scotland, Caledonian Associated Cinemas.[lix] In 1938 with his wife Mary, he established the Langholm Investment Trust (named after her childhood home in Paisley), whose objective was to invest in land, tenements and hereditaments.[lx] Mary was chairman and Robert the governing director.[lxi] As will be demonstrated later, investment in property was to be key to Robert’s success. In between this business activity two sons were born in 1935 and 1938, in Hendon, Middlesex.[lxii]
In 1940 John Maxwell died,[lxiii] after which, in 1942, Robert became a director of ABPC.[lxiv] He continued to progress with the company, taking charge of Elstree Studios five years later, eventually becoming executive director in charge of film production in 1949.[lxv] He also pursued his own separate business interests with Caledonian Associated Cinemas and the Langholm Trust, and in 1948 established Taylor Clark (Scotland) Ltd. whose registered office was, and is, 185 St. Vincent Street, Glasgow, its business being the buying and selling of real estate.[lxvi] The company is a private limited company, now known as Taylor Clark Properties Ltd., wholly owned by Taylor Clark Ltd, the eventual name of the Langholm Trust, which became the Equity Trust Ltd in 1962 and finally its current name in 1988.[lxvii] In 2015 the Scottish company share capital was £17,500,000.[lxviii]
The purchase of the shares of a little known and poorly performing investment trust in 1951[lxix] was in time to be the main means by which the Clark family fortune was founded. The Stock Conversion and Investment Trust had been established in 1888 primarily to convert existing stock (mainly LMS railway stock) into more than one class of security.[lxx] It’s not particularly clear who purchased these shares but by 1953 Robert Clark is chairman of the trust and in partnership with estate agent Joe Levy (the eventual founder of the Levy Foundation)[lxxi]. Levy was initially the major shareholder, Clark’s shareholding was both personal and through his previously established companies. The trust became heavily involved in the London property market of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, particularly with office and commercial developments. This was not a universally popular activity as it often involved the demolition of serviceable housing stock. However the trust was so successful in this venture that the shareholders’ funds increased from £13,155 in 1953 to £45,559,000 by 1972,[lxxii] in terms of economic power worth over £1 billion today.[lxxiii]
Robert continued with his ABPC career and in 1955 ABC Television was established servicing Birmingham midweek and London at the weekends. [lxxiv] Three years later he relinquished his role as executive in charge of film production, but remained a director of the company[lxxv] eventually being appointed ABPC’s first chief executive in 1966.[lxxvi] During his time in charge of film production he made a number of very popular films including the Dambusters (Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd), The Hasty Heart (Richard Todd, Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal), The Dancing Years (Dennis Price) and Ice Cold in Alex (John Mills and Sylvia Sims).[lxxvii]
Television was beginning to play a large part in ABCP’s activities, in 1961 contributing £2.5 million to company profits.[lxxviii] In 1967 the Independent Television Authority (ITA) required ABC Television and Rediffusion Television to merge, the new company becoming Thames Television.[lxxix] Thames when established was run by ABPC board members with Robert Clark being deputy chairman of both companies.[lxxx]
The growth and development of ABPC had for some time attracted interest from organisations wishing to buy the company. After a protracted, acrimonious take-over battle, and several offers which were rejected, EMI finally bought the company in 1969 for £63 million, equivalent to somewhere between £1 billion and £2 billion today.[lxxxi]
On the completion of the take-over Robert Clark left the company with no thoughts of retirement, “being firmly ensconced behind his desk at the explosive growth company Stock Conversion”.[lxxxii]
He also continued to be actively involved in the companies he or his family owned, and he and his wife Mary became directors of the Underwood Trust they set up in 1973.
The Clark ‘empire’ eventually consisted of the companies already mentioned, his share- holding in the Stock Conversion Investment Trust and a myriad of other subsidiary and associated companies mainly wholly owned by Robert and his family; his two sons now being senior partners, shareholders or directors in each enterprise. Other family members were also shareholders and in due course some would become company officers.[lxxxiii]
In February 1984 Robert was awarded a honourary LLD from Glasgow University.[lxxxiv] He died later that year at his home in London[lxxxv] leaving an estate valued at over £855,000 net (between £2.2 million and £4.6 million today)[lxxxvi], £250,000 of which he bequeathed to the Underwood Trust.[lxxxvii]
Some years later in 1997 the journalist Jack Webster wrote an article in the Glasgow Herald entitled “Lost in the confines of our mediocre obsessions”. In it he bemoans the fact that Robert Clark, despite his work with cinema and television, was largely unknown to the public. When he died there had been no obituary in the Times or any other London newspaper: nothing at all in the public domain which acknowledged his achievements, whilst others of lesser stature and achievement (he mentions Chris Evans and Anthea Turner), in his view, are lauded beyond comprehension.[lxxxviii]
Six months after Robert’s death the family sold their 22.4% (11.7 million shares) holding in the Stock Conversion and Investment Trust to Stockley property group realizing just over £70 million, (between £185 million and £365 million today).[lxxxix]
Robert’s wife Mary died in 1993 aged 87.[xc] She left an estate valued at over £3.1 million, (between £5 million and £8 million today),[xci] bequeathing all her shares in Taylor Clark Ltd to the Underwood Trust.[xcii]
From James Clark to Robert Clark occurred an amazing transformation. James lived in accommodation in a miner’s row in Ayrshire that was basic and insanitary, dying from a typical miner’s disease at the early age of 42. His grandson Robert lived in St James Square in Westminster, London SW1,[xciii] was at the heart of the British cinema and television industries, and was a significant player in the London property market in the 1950s to the 1970s. He died aged 80, a multi-millionaire, having also, with his wife Mary, set up a multi-million pound charitable trust to aid the less fortunate in Glasgow and Paisley.
Both the Trust and the Taylor Clark group of companies continue to operate successfully, the company’s latest returns showing shareholder funds at over £170 million.[xciv] Currently they are involved with BAM Properties in a £100 million development of Atlantic Square (Argyle Street /Broomielaw, James Watt Street/York Street) in the heart of Glasgow’s International Financial Services District. The development, scheduled to start in the autumn of 2017, will provide mainly office accommodation with some retail outlets and residential accommodation.[xcv]
Header and figures 1 and 2 from: Dalry Remembered. The Dalry Local History Group 1985.
Figure 3 from: The Times (1969) Business Diary: From the Battlefield to Retirement. The Times. Issue 57560, 15 May 1969, p. 25a, b. http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[i] Charity Commission Report. (2014) http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends64/0000266164_AC_20140405_E_C.PDF:
[viii] Ayrshire History. Miners Rows 1913. http://www.ayrshirehistory.org.uk/Bibliography/monos/amr2.htm#peesweep:
[xii] Ayrshire History. Miners Rows 1913. http://www.ayrshirehistory.org.uk/Bibliography/monos/amr2.htm#peesweep
[xv] Measuring Worth (2016). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/:
[xxx] Webster, Jack. (2013). A Final Grain of Truth: My Autobiography. Edinburgh: Black and White Publishing.
[xxxiii] Measuring Worth (2016). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/:
[xxxv] Webster, Jack. (2013). A Final Grain of Truth: My Autobiography. Edinburgh: Black and White Publishing.
Also (1912) p.98 http://deriv.nls.uk/dcn23/8613/86132673.23.pdf:
[liii] Measuring Worth (2016). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/:
[liv] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 21 September 1914. LANG, Matthew. Inventory. Paisley Sheriff Court. GROS Data SC58/42/81 and 21 September 1914. Will. Paisley Sheriff Court. SC58/45/20. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk.
[lvi] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 7 November 1932 LANG, William. Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories 1876-1936. p. L12. Mitchell Library.
[lvii] Measuring Worth (2016). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/
[lix] Companies House. Caledonian Associated Cinemas. https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/SCO18389
[lx] Companies House. Taylor Clark Ltd. https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/00340727/filing-history?page=6
[lxi] Ibid, page 23.
[lxii] Births Index (CR) England. Hendon, Hertfordshire. 3rd Qtr. CLARK, Colin. Collection: England and Wales Birth Index, 1916-2005. Vol.3a, page 840. http://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=ONSBirth84&h=30719543: and Births Index (CR) England. Hendon, Hertfordshire. 2nd Qtr. CLARK, Robin. Collection: England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2005. Vol, 3a, page 961. http://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=ONSBirth84&h=32435505
[lxiv] Ashby, Justine and Higson, Andrew. Eds. (2013) British Cinema Past and Present. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 152. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=s87-bQ6sgy8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=british+cinema+past+and+present&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=british%20cinema%20past%20and%20present&f=false
[lxv] The Times (1949) Company Meeting: Associated British Picture Corporation. The Times. Issue 51452, 5 August 1949. p.9d,e. http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[lxvi] Companies House. Taylor Clark Properties Ltd. https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/SC026722
[lxvii] Companies House. Taylor Clark Ltd. https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/00340727
[lxviii] Companies House. Taylor Clark Properties Ltd. https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/SC026722
[lxix] The Times (1951) Offer for Trust Shares. The Times. Issue 51930, 20 February 1951, p.8c. http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[lxx] The Times (1931) City Notes. The Times. Issue 45914, 29 August, p.15b. http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[lxxiii] Measuring Worth (2016). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/
[lxxiv] The Times (1955) Television Offer to Newspapers. The Times. Issue 53326, 15 September 1955, p. 6c. http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[lxxv] Ashby, Justine and Higson, Andrew. Eds. (2013) British Cinema Past and Present. Abingdon: Routledge. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=s87-bQ6sgy8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=british+cinema+past+and+present&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=british%20cinema%20past%20and%20present&f=false
[lxxvi] The Times (1966) ABPC Appoints Chief Executive. The Times. Issue 56754, 5 October 1966, p.17c. http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[lxxvii] Ashby, Justine and Higson, Andrew. Eds. (2013) British Cinema Past and Present. Abingdon: Routledge. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=s87-bQ6sgy8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=british+cinema+past+and+present&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=british%20cinema%20past%20and%20present&f=false
[lxxviii] The Times (1961) Enormous Profit of TV Companies. The Times. Issue 55031, 16 March 1961, p. 4e. http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[lxxix] The Times (1967) Rediffusion and ABC Reach Agreement. The Times. Issue 57083, 27 October 1967, p. 22d, e. http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[lxxx] The Times (1968) ABC to Have Running of Thames Television. The Times. Issue 57159, 26 January 1968, p. 17c, d. http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[lxxxi] Measuring Worth (2016). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/
[lxxxii] The Times (1969) Business Diary: From the Battlefield to Retirement. The Times. Issue 57560, 15 May 1969, p. 25a, b. http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[lxxxiv] The Herald (1997) Lost in the Confines of our Mediocre Obsessions. The Herald. 10 February 1997. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12080117.Lost_in_the_confines_of_our_mediocre_obsessions/
[lxxxv] Deaths Index (CR) England. Westminster, London. 4th Qtr. 1984 CLARK, Robert.
Collection: England and Wales Death Index, 1916-2007. Vol.15, page 1738. http://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=ONSDeath93&h=10134433
[lxxxvi] Measuring Worth (2016). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/
[lxxxvii] The Times (1984) Latest Wills. Robert Clark. The Times. Issue 62216, 14 August 1984, p.16 http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[lxxxviii] The Herald (1997) Lost in the Confines of our Mediocre Obsessions. The Herald. 10 February 1997. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12080117.Lost_in_the_confines_of_our_mediocre_obsessions/
[lxxxix] Measuring Worth (2016). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/
[xc] Deaths Index (CR) England. Westminster, London. 1st Qtr. 1993 CLARK, Mary Black Lang. Collection: England and Wales Death Index, 1916-2007. Register Number D32C, District 2581D, entry 243. http://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=try&db=ONSDeath93&h=2076056
[xci] Measuring Worth (2016). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/
[xcii] The Times (1993) Latest Wills. Mrs Mary Black Lang Clark. The Times. Issue 64738, 2 September 1993, p.18 http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[xciii] The Times (1993) Latest Wills. Mrs Mary Black Lang Clark. The Times. Issue 647338 2 September 1993, p.18 http://find.galegroup.com.connect.nls.uk/ttda/basicSearch.do
[xciv] Companies House. Taylor Clark Ltd. https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/00340727
[xcv] IFSD Glasgow. Planning Consent for Atlantic Square. http://www.ifsdglasgow.co.uk/news/latest-news/planning-consent-for-atlantic-square