Sir Hector McNeill – Lord Provost of Glasgow 1945 – 1949.

Figure 1. Sir Hector McNeill. © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (www.artuk.org)

As is the tradition, when Sir Hector McNeill retired as Lord Provost of Glasgow in 1949 he had his portrait painted by the artist David Shanks Ewart. On its completion he gifted the portrait to Glasgow museums in 1950.

His paternal ancestry came from fairly humble, rural beginnings. His grandparents were Archibald McNeill, the son of farm servant John McNeill and his wife Flora McDonald,[1] and Flora McNeill, both of Campbeltown. They married there in April 1840, he was a labourer,[2] and she was the daughter, age 24, of shoemaker Archibald McNeill and his wife Jean McIntyre.[3] They lived all their lives in Campbeltown at various addresses, latterly in Queen Street where Flora died in 1883 [4]. Archibald also died there in 1895, age 78, his occupation being given as a distillery maltster.[5]

He had been a labourer until circa 1848 at which time he is recorded as being a maltster.[6] His job was to create malt by wetting barley on the floor of the malthouse, turning it over for several days to allow the barley to germinate and then drying it out. When that process was complete the malt would then be passed on to the distiller to make alcohol from the sugars that were produced. Campbeltown in the 19th century was a major fishing port for herring and was a significant producer of whisky. It’s therefore probable he worked in one of the many distilleries there. In the early 1800’s there were over thirty, by 1885 there were twenty one, producing two million gallons of spirits per annum. From farm labourer to a maltster in a thriving industry would have meant a significant improvement in the family’s situation. There are now only three distilleries in Campbeltown; Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle.[7]

Between 1840 and 1855 Archibald and Flora had seven children, the first a daughter Catherine was born seven months after they married, Sir Hector’s father, yet another Archibald, was the seventh, and third boy, born on the 28th October 1855.[8] They had two other sons after 1855, Duncan, born c. 1859 and James born c. 1864.[9]

In the 1871 census son Archibald is recorded as a scholar, age fifteen,[10] which is perhaps surprising in that the majority of young men at that age would have been in employment unless from a well to do family. However, it may have been his father’s wish to have his children educated as well as possible, especially as he was illiterate at the time of Archibald’s birth in 1855. Where he was schooled has not been established however it may have been at Campbeltown Grammar School which was founded in 1686.[11]

Ten years later Archibald is still living with his parents, in Queen Street, as are brothers Hector and James. His occupation is given as a clerk, Hector is a tailor and James is a pupil teacher.[12]

He married Margaret Burns in 1884 by which time he was living in Glasgow at 396 Argyle Street, working as a mercantile clerk. Margaret, who was a milliner and lived at the same address, was age 29 and the daughter of Robert Burns, farmer, and Catherine McPhail, both deceased.

Like his paternal ancestry Sir Hector’s maternal forebears were farming folk. That however is as much as I have been able to establish directly about his maternal ancestry. His mother’s birth date has also proved elusive however there is one possibility which would also add more information about his maternal ancestry.

According to the 1901 census she was born in Kilmaronock in Dunbartonshire.[13] Her age at the time of her marriage to Archibald would mean she was born circa 1854. A search either side of 1855 produced only one result and that is for a Margaret Burns born illegitimately to Robert Burns of Little Finnery and Catherine (no surname) on the 26th July 1851. She was a servant to an Andrew Paton.[14]

Little Finnery was a farm in the parish of Kilmaronock, adjacent to which was another also referred to as Little Finnery.[15] In the 1851 census Little Finnery was occupied by widow Mrs. R. Burns, her forename being Margaret, and her two sons, James and Robert who was age 22. It’s clear the family worked the farm, which extended to 50 acres, as they employed a number of ‘outdoor servants’ to assist them.[16] The adjacent farm was of 40 acres and occupied by Andrew Paton and his family. He employed agricultural labourers and servants amongst whom was servant Catherine McPhail, age 20, born in Islay.[17] Strong circumstantial evidence I would say that these are Sir Hector’s maternal grandparents.

Mrs Burns was 60 years old when her granddaughter Margaret was born in 1851 and remained at Little Finnery at least until 1857 by which time she was joined as occupier by a William Burns. There is no reference to either son.[18] In 1861 there is a Mrs Margaret Burns, age 70 living in the village of Gartocharn, Kilmaronock with her granddaughter, also Margaret, age 9, further evidence that seems to support the contention above.[19]

Regarding Robert and Catherine no other evidence as to whether they got married, their whereabouts or deaths have been established. It’s more than likely for that time period, she would be deemed the ‘guilty’ party and perhaps had to leave the locality.

Archibald, shipping clerk, and Margaret continued to live in Glasgow and by 1901 were living at 70 Carrick Street, Back Yard with son (Sir) Hector age 9 and James, Archibald’s brother. They also had a  boarder, Annie Cooper who was a book folder.[20]

In that census and in 1911 Hector is said to have been born in Motherwell his age in each case indicating he was born in 1892. Unexpectedly I have not been able to confirm that directly. There were no Hector McNeills born in Motherwell between 1888 and 1894 despite varying the spelling of the surname. Searching the whole of Lanarkshire produced two possibles, one was the son of a master mariner, the other was the son of a Clyde Trust labourer. The parents in each case had different forenames.

In 1908 Hector’s mother Margaret, died in the Western infirmary of a cerebral haemorrhage, she was 54 years old. At that time the family still lived in Carrick Street at number 77,[21] however by 1911 father and son had moved to 9 Buchanan Court in Lauriston in Glasgow where Archibald continued working as a commercial clerk and Hector was employed as an ‘iron turner’ in the engineering industry.[22]

Working in engineering with its strong involvement with the trade union movement of the day Hector would have got involved with the unions and the Labour party fairly early on in his working career. His ‘point of entry’ would likely have been as a local shop steward which led to a progression through the ranks of union and party. By 1924 he was President of the Glasgow Trades and Labour Council and also chairman of the Central Division Labour Party.

In the 1923 General Election the Labour party decided to support the communist candidate for Kelvingrove constituency, Aiken Ferguson. McNeil was chosen by the party as their contact point with the communists, and again in 1924 when there was a by election at Kelvingrove, Ferguson standing again as a candidate.[23] This occurred at a time when there was some talk of the communist and labour parties joining together which never happened, the support for Ferguson in 1924 being lukewarm because of what was considered to be his and others radical views.

Later that year the municipal elections were held in Glasgow and McNeill was chosen as the socialist candidate for the 14th (Anderston) Ward. His opponent, described as Moderate, was painter and decorator Edward Guest who had been a member of the council for 16 years.[24] On a 63% turnout of the electorate of 12,585 McNeill won with a majority of 388. [25]

The first meeting of the new council was held on the 7th November and McNeill was duly appointed to five committees, including Gas Supply and Water. He was also proposed as a governor of the Victoria Hospital but lost by four votes despite being supported by Bailie Mary Barbour, renowned for her leadership of the women of Govan in the rent strikes of 1915, Pat Dollan, future Lord Provost of Glasgow whose wife Agnes had been involved with Barbour during the rent strikes, and his two fellow councillors for Anderston.[26]

He was re-elected in 1927, with a similar majority,[27] served in the same committees as previously and in 1929 became depute water bailie in addition to joining the General Finance and Streets, Sewers and Buildings committees.[28]

His political career however stalled in the 1930 municipal elections when he lost his council seat. There were three candidates on this occasion representing the Moderate Party, Labour, (McNeill) and the Independent Labour Party (I.L.P.), the Moderate candidate Jonathan Harvey winning by 1285 votes. No doubt the left wing vote was split because of the two socialist candidates however the Moderate majority was greater than the vote for the I.L.P. candidate by 165 votes.[29]

During his first tenure as a councillor Hector’s father had died in 1926[30] and in 1927 he had married Grace Stephen Robertson, a milliner of Skelmorlie, age 35, Hector was described as an insurance agent living at 9 Alexandra Street. The marriage was by declaration in front of witnesses authorised by warrant issued by the Sheriff Substitute of Lanarkshire on the same day. Her father was a retired wholesale grocer,[31] her mother, Grace Simpson Stephen had died in 1914 at the age of 59.[32]

There were two sons of the marriage, Ramsay, born in 1929[33] and Hector John, born in 1934[34].

McNeill did not stand again for the council until 1932 when he was one of the labour candidates for the newly created Ward 38 (Yoker and Knightswood) with an electorate of 16,109. Each ward has three councillors, with one retiring for re-election each year. As ward 38 was new the election was for three council seats instead of the usual one.

There were eight candidates, three Socialist or Labour, three Moderate Party, and two I.L.P. Those elected were E. Rosslyn Mitchell (Soc.) – 4813 votes, Hector McNeill (Soc.) – 3077 votes and Elphinstone Dalglish (Mod.) – 2775.[35]

Rosslyn Mitchell had been a councillor for Springburn and also stood for parliamentary election in 1910 and 1922. In the 1924 General Election he stood as the Labour candidate for Paisley and beat the sitting member Herbert Asquith the ex-Liberal Prime Minister by 2,200 votes. He declined to stand again for parliament in 1929 citing business and personal difficulties. He died in 1965.[36]

Elphinstone Maitland Dalglish was a grocer, described as a wholesale egg merchant in the Town Council lists.[37] He died in 1942.[38] He had a very famous policeman son, of exactly the same name, who as Detective Superintendant was initially in charge of the investigation into the ‘Bible John’ murders in Glasgow which were never solved.[39] He finished his police career as Deputy Chief Constable of Glasgow and then Strathclyde.[40] He died in 1988.[41]

For the following twelve years or so McNeill served on a variety of committees which typically included municipal transport, parks, the Kelvin Hall, streets sewers and building, and health. He was also a Justice of the Peace from 1932.[42]

He became a Baillie in November 1933 remaining so for three years,[43] and in 1941 he joined the General Finance committee as city treasurer, his tenure in that role again being three years.[44]

His business address during his time as a council member from 1932 was given as 218 West Regent Street, his home address being initially Clarion Crescent in Knightswood.[45] In 1942 he moved to Larchfield Avenue, Newton Mearns where lived for the rest of his life.[46]

On the 9th November 1945 he was elected Lord Provost of Glasgow, beating his opponent for the office, James Grey, by 65 votes to 42.[47] As was normal for the time he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of the City of Glasgow in December 1945[48] and was knighted in June 1946.[49]

As well as his duties as Lord Provost he became involved with a number of other governmental organisations.

These included; in 1946 he was appointed to the Scottish Advisory Council for Civil Aviation by British European Airways (BEA) with the approval of the Secretary of State for Scotland,[50] and in 1947 he was nominated by the Minister of Transport to serve on the board of David MacBrayne, Ltd., primarily to monitor a contract between the government and the company to provide shipping services to the Western Highlands and Islands,[51]

He was also a member at various times of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive of the Ministry of Transport,[52] the Clyde Navigation Trust and the Scottish Tourist Board.[53]

Other organisations he was a director of were the Economic Insurance Company which he joined the board of in 1949[54] and SMT Sales and Service Co. Ltd. (Motor Engineers).[55]

He died in 1952, age 60, in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, his occupation given as company director[56]. His memorial Service was held in Glasgow Cathedral, the service conducted by Rev. Dr. Nevile Davidson. An address was given by former Secretary of State Tom Johnston who described him as a middle of the road traveller. A man of high ideals who laboured all his life to promote social ownership and cooperation between all his countrymen, and who had earned the respect of opponents and colleagues alike. At the time of his death he was the Chairman of the Glenrothes Development Corporation.[57]

The Trades House of Glasgow recorded his death in their minutes  and noted that there was a deep loss sustained by the community through his death.[58]

His wife Grace died in 1954, age 62, from chronic bronchitis.[59]

[1] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Campbeltown, Argyll. 5 January 1895. MCNEILL, Archibald. 507/ 4 www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[2] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Campbeltown, Argyll. 20 April 1840. MCNEILL, Archibald and MCNEILL, Flora. 507/ 60 363. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[3] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Campbeltown, Argyll. 17 December 1816. MCNEILL, Flora. 507/  40 454 www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[4] Deaths. (SR) Scotland. Campbeltown, Argyll. 28 January 1883. MCNEILL, Flora.  507/  20 www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[5] Deaths. (SR) Scotland. Campbeltown, Argyll. 5 January 1895. MCNEILL, Archibald. 507/  4 www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[6] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Campbeltown, Argyll. November 1840 to June 1853. MCNEILL. 507/  70 184, 239, 306, 346, 382 and 436. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[7] Woodward, Richard. Campbeltown Whisky: A Long and Winding Road. https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/features/13934/campbeltown-whisky-a-long-and-winding-road

[8] Births. (SR) Scotland. Campbeltown, Argyll. 28 October 1855. MCNEILL, Archibald. 507/ 1 143. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[9] Census. 1871. Scotland. Campbeltown, Argyll. 507/ 2/ 9. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[10] Ibid.

[11] Argyll and Bute Council. Campbeltown Grammar School. https://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/content/campbeltown-grammar-school

[12] Census. 1881. Scotland. Campbeltown, Argyll. 507/ 11/ 35. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[13] Census. 1901. Scotland. Broomielaw, Glasgow. 644/7 7/ 8. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[14] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kilmaronock, Dunbartonshire. 26 July 1851. BURNS, Margaret. 497/ 20 145. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[15] ScotlandsPlaces. Ordnance Survey Name Books 1860. Parish of Kilmaronock, Finnery. Vol. 9, page 49. OS1/9/9/49. https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk

[16] Census. 1851. Scotland. Kilmaronock, Dunbartonshire. 497/ 4/3 Page 3. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[17] Census. 1851. Scotland. Kilmaronock, Dunbartonshire. 497/ 4/3 Page 4. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[18] Valuation Rolls (1857). Kilmaronock, Dunbartonshire. BURNS, Mrs. R. VR009600001-/160. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[19] Census. 1861. Scotland. Kilmaronock, Dunbartonshire. 407/ 3/ 7. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[20] Census. 1901. Scotland. Broomielaw, Glasgow. 644/7 7/ 8. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[21] Deaths. (SR) Scotland. Hillhead, Glasgow. 19 August 1908. MCNEILL, Margaret. 644/12 614. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[22] Census. 1911. Scotland. Lauriston, Glasgow. 644/17 21/ 13. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[23] Glasgow Herald. (1924) Civic Election. Glasgow Herald 3 November p. 8d. https://news.google.co./newspapers.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Glasgow Herald. (1924) The Glasgow Poll – The Results. Glasgow Herald 5 November. p. 10b. https://news.google.com/newspapers

[26] Corporation of Glasgow Minutes. November 1924 to April 1925. Initial Meeting 7 November. Mitchell Library Glasgow reference C1/2/72.

[27] Glasgow Herald. (1927) Moderate Gains – Results of Municipal Poll. 2 November Glasgow Herald. p. 12def. https://news.google.com/newspapers

[28] Corporation of Glasgow Minutes. April 1927 to November 1927. Mitchell Library reference C1/3/82.

[29] Glasgow Herald. (1930) Scottish Municipal Elections. 5 November Glasgow Herald. p. 12a. https://news.google.com/newspapers

[30] Deaths. (SR) Scotland. Springburn, Lanarkshire. 9 December 1926. MCNEILL, Archibald. 644/6 1159. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[31] Marriages. (SR) Scotland. Kelvin, Glasgow. 21 October 1927. MCNEILL, Hector and ROBERTSON, Grace Stephen. 644/13 298. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[32] Deaths. (SR) Scotland. Anderston, Glasgow. 1914. ROBERTSON, Grace Simpson. 644/11 518. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[33] Births. (SR) Scotland. Scotstoun and Yoker, Glasgow. 1929. MCNEILL, Ramsay. 644/23 511. https://news.google.com/newspapers

[34] Births (SR) Scotland. Scotstoun and Yoker, Glasgow. 1934. MCNEILL, Hector John. 644/23 474. https://news.google.com/newspapers

[35] Glasgow Herald. (1932) Scottish Municipal Elections. 2 November Glasgow Herald. p. 12c. https://news.google.com/newspapers

[36] Glasgow Herald. (1965) Mr. Rosslyn Mitchell. Former M.P. for Paisley. 1 November Glasgow Herald. p. 11f. https://news.google.com/newspapers

[37] Glasgow Town Council Lists. Vol. 13. 1933/1934. Glasgow: Town Clerks Office. pp. 16, 17. Mitchell Library Glasgow.

[38] Deaths. (SR) Scotland. Hillhead. 1942. DALGLISH, Elphinstone Maitland. 644/13 750. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[39] Old Glasgow Murders. The Bible John Murders. http://oldglasgowmurders.blogspot.com/2016/02/bible-john-murders-part-1.html

[40] Allan Glenn’s School. School Club: Former Pupils. http://www.allanglens.com/index.php/former-pupils

[41] Deaths. (SR) Scotland. Glasgow. 1988. DALGLISH, Elphinstone Maitland. 607/929. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[42] Glasgow Town Council Lists. Volumes 12 to 15 – 1932/1933 to 1949. Glasgow: Town Clerks Office. Mitchell Library Glasgow.

[43] Glasgow Town Council Lists. Vol. 13. 1933/1934. Glasgow: Town Clerks Office. pp. 16, 17. Mitchell Library Glasgow.

[44] Glasgow Town Council Lists. Vol. 14. 1941/1942. Glasgow: Town Clerks Office. p. 45. Mitchell Library Glasgow.

[45] Glasgow Town Council Lists. Volumes 12 to 15 – 1932/1933 to 1949. Glasgow: Town Clerks Office. Mitchell Library Glasgow.

[46] Glasgow Town Council Lists. Volumes 14 – 1942/1943. pp. 16/17. Glasgow: Town Clerks Office. Mitchell Library Glasgow.

[47] Corporation of Glasgow Minutes. November 1945 to April 1946. Meeting 9 November. pp. 13, 14. Mitchell Library Glasgow reference C1/3/113.

[48] London Gazette (1945) 7 December 1945. Issue 37379, p. 5951. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/37379/page/5951

[49] London Gazette (1946) 4 June 1946 Supplement. Issue 37598, p. 2756. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/37598/supplement/2756

[50] House of Commons. Hansard. Civil Aviation (Scottish Advisory Council) 28 November 1946. https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1946-11-28/debates/62e5aefb-d332-4b7a-bc09-ce5473bd1ce2/CivilAviation(ScottishAdvisoryCouncil)

[51] Commercial Motor Archive. Personal Pars. 11 July 1947. http://archive.commercialmotor.com/article/11th-july-1947/30/personal-pars

[52] London Gazette (1952) 19 September 1952. Issue 39648, p. 4949. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/39648/page/4969

[53] Bonavia, Michael R. (1987) The Nationalisation of British Transport: The Early History of the British Transport Commission 1948-1953. New York: Palgrave McMillan. p. 177. https://books.google.co.uk

[54] The Times. (1950) Economic Insurance Company. The Times. 7 June, p.11e. https://auth.nls.uk

[55] Graces Guide to British Industry. 1953: Who’s Who in the Motor Industry. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk

[56] Deaths (SR) Scotland. Townhead, Glasgow. 28 September 1952. MCNEILL, Hector Sir. 644/6 953. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[57] Glasgow Herald. (1952) Funeral of Sir Hector McNeill. Glasgow Herald. 2 October p. 6e. https://news.google.co./newspapers

[58] Bryce, Craig. (2019) Sir Hector McNeill Obituary. Email to G. Manzor. 9 August 19.08

[59] Deaths (SR) Scotland. Newton Mearns, Renfrew. 28 November 1954. MCNEILL, Grace Stephen. 571/2 181. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

 

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