Charles Rennie Mackintosh Genealogy

I became interested in Charles Rennie Mackintosh when researching the architect John Keppie. (see John Keppie – Architect) Not in terms of his artistic prowess or architectural innovation but simply to find out what his family’s background was.

Where did Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s family originate from? Both his paternal and maternal lineages have proved difficult to fully establish however three of his four sets of great grandparents have, at least, been identified, but little else has been discovered about them. The information about his grandparents is also patchy with no direct evidence of his maternal or paternal grandparent’s marriages, both being indicated in census returns or deaths registrations only.

What is clear is that his forebears are a mixture of Irish and Scottish born individuals whose origins include County Cavan, Fife, and Ayrshire.

Paternal Lineage.

Generation 1. Parents: William McIntosh and Margaret Rennie.

Figure 1 William McIntosh

William McIntosh was born in 1836 at Belturbet in Ireland.[i] His parents were Hugh McIntosh and Marjory (May) Morrice (Morris).[ii] In 1851 he was living with his parents at 94 Glebe Street in the Barony parish of Glasgow and was working as a store clerk.[iii] Seven years later on the 17th March 1858 he became a clerk with the Glasgow Police. The records indicate he was age 22 and was 5ft. 11in. tall.[iv] He continued to live in the family home in Glebe Street until his marriage to Margaret Rennie on the 4th August 1862 at 54 McIntosh Street, Dennistoun,[v] the home of his brother Thomas.[vi] In the registration document he is described as a mercantile clerk[vii] which is clearly an error as police records show he had unbroken service until his retirement.[viii]

Figure 2 Tug of War Medals

Soon after joining the police he became an inspector, in charge of the Chief Constable’s office. He was promoted Lieutenant in 1864 and Superintendent in 1889, still within the Chief Constable’s office, his particular focus being the administration and organisation of the force. He had a keen interest in sport and was a founder member of the Glasgow Police Athletic and Rowing Club in 1882. He was a skilled rifle marksman and won trophies as a founder member of the 19th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers. He was also captain of the Tug-of-War team and led the team in competitions at the 1888 Glasgow Exhibition and in Paris in 1889.[ix]

In January 2016 five silver tug-of-war medals he won were sold by Easy Live Auctions[x] to the Glasgow Police Heritage Society and are now on display in the Police Museum in Bell Street. (see figure 2) The awards were for 2nd or 3rd place at the Govan Burgh, Partick Burgh or Aberdeen Sports held between 1894 and 1898.

Margaret Rennie was born circa 1836 in Ayr, the daughter of Charles Rennie and Martha Spence.  At the time of her marriage she was working as a muslin darner and lived at 121 Great Hamilton Street, Glasgow.[xi]

William and Margaret had eleven children:

Martha, born at 54 McIntosh Street on the 22nd March 1863[xii], died unmarried on the 16 August 1925.[xiii]
Isabella Marjory, born at 74 Parson Street on the 28th November 1864[xiv], married Robert Dingwall (commercial traveller) in 1896[xv], thought to have died in Darlington, England in 1946, no substantive proof.
William Hugh, born at 70 Parson Street on the 21st September 1866[xvi], died before 1908[xvii].
Charles Rennie Mackintosh 1868-1928
Margaret Rennie, born at 70 Parson Street on the 6th April 1870[xviii], married Robert Williamson Cleland (coal merchant then thread manufacturer’s clerk) on the 20th November 1906[xix], died on the 1st February 1924[xx].
Agnes Mary, born at 70 Parson Street on the 23rd November 1871[xxi], died in 1872[xxii]
Cecilia Bruce, born at 70 Parson Street on the 22nd June 1873[xxiii], died in 1877[xxiv]
Ellen Eliza Robinson, born at 2 Firpark Terrace in 1875[xxv], died in 1878
Thomas David, born at 2 Firpark Terrace on the 17th June 1878[xxvi], died in 1879[xxvii].
Ellen Eliza, born at 2 Firpark Terrace on the 4th February 1881[xxviii], married William Lamb Gibb (confectioner) in 1926[xxix], died in Glasgow, (lived in Milngavie) in 1965[xxx].
Agnes, born at 2 Firpark Terrace on the 2nd August 1883.[xxxi]

Margaret McIntosh died at 2 Firpark Terrace on the 9th December 1885, cause of death was cardiac hypertrophy and cerebral haemorrhage.[xxxii] Charles Rennie Mackintosh was aged 17 years, already an apprentice architect. Two of his sisters were under the age of 5 years.

In the preface to the first edition of his book on Charles Rennie Mackintosh Thomas Howarth states that he is “indebted to Miss Nancy Mackintosh, and Mrs Gibb, his sisters”, for conversations he had with them when writing his book. Later in the preface he describes Nancy as Mackintosh’s youngest sister. [xxxiii] I’m certain this is Agnes, Nancy being synonymous with, or a diminutive of, Agnes. It’s perhaps worth making the point that these two ladies, the only surviving siblings by 1946, would have no personal knowledge of Mackintosh’s childhood, therefore that period of his life could only be illustrated anecdotally by them. On the 5th April 1947 Nancy (Agnes) opened the Mackintosh Room in the Glasgow School of Art.[xxxiv]

William married again on the 8th June 1892 to 42 year old widow Christina Forrest (nee McVicar). [xxxv] At this time he was still living in Firpark Terrace with his five surviving daughters[xxxvi] which is where he continued to live with his new wife until late in 1892 when the family moved to 2 Regent Park Square.[xxxvii]

Circa 1894 they then moved to Holmwood Cottage in Langside Avenue which faced into the Queen’s Park.[xxxviii] (not to be confused with ‘Greek’ Thomson’s Holmwood House in Netherlee Road!). This cottage appears to have been built around 1884[xxxix], its owner being Alexander Morton, a messenger at arms and a private detective. It was from this gentleman that McIntosh rented the cottage.[xl] They lived there for just over two years, moving to 27 Regent Park Square in 1896 [xli] where William lived for the rest of his life.

Figure 3 Commemorative Plate

He retired from the police on the 30th September 1899 after forty one years’ and was presented with the silver tray in the photograph to commemorate his dedication and service to the Glasgow Police Force.[xlii]  He died from heart disease on the 10th February 1908[xliii], leaving an estate valued at £482 10s 7d, included in which was 50 shares in the Rangers Football Club Ltd., reference certificate 134, each share valued at 12s. His daughter Martha Mackintosh was his executor. His inventory indicates that that he was survived by five daughters and one son. They were CRM, Margaret Rennie, Martha, Isabella Marjory, Ellen Eliza (Mrs Gibb), and Agnes (Nancy)[xliv].

One final point; when did William McIntosh, (and his family) change their name to the anglified Mackintosh? In 1892 when he remarried; the last use of McIntosh was in the 1891 census. Having said that the original spelling was continued with in the Post Office directories until his retirement. In my view the reason for the change is not particularly clear, some sources think it was to move away from an ‘Irish’ spelling of the name, others because of an estrangement between CRM and his father. If CRM initiated the change maybe he just wanted to be different, adding to his ‘avant garde’ style and his growing reputation for artistic flair and innovation.

Paternal Lineage.

Generation 2.  Grandparents: Hugh McIntosh and Marjory (May) Morrice (Morris).

Hugh McIntosh was born sometime between 1797 and 1801 in Paisley, Renfrewshire.[xlv] His parents were James McIntosh, a distiller, and Isabella Morrison.[xlvi] In the 1851 census Hugh is recorded as a distiller and is married to Marjory Morris. No registration of their marriage has been discovered.

They lived in the Barony parish of Glasgow along with three of their five sons and their daughter, all of whom were born in Ireland.[xlvii] They were as follows:

Robert, born circa 1828.[xlviii]
Hugh, born circa 1831[xlix], married Elizabeth Semple in 1858[l] and had several children[li], died in 1895, occupation given as engineer.[lii]
Thomas, born circa 1833, was a clerk in an iron foundry in 1851.[liii]
James, born circa 1834.[liv]
William McIntosh 1836-1908.
Marjory, born circa 1841.[lv]

The family lived in Belturbet until 1844 when they returned to Scotland and settled in Glebe Street.[lvi]

Why the family was in Ireland from circa 1828 to 1844 is not particularly clear however Belturbet was the location of the distillery of Messrs Dickson and Dunlop and Co. which was established in 1825 and expanded in 1830, producing 90,000 to 100,000 gallons of whiskey per annum.[lvii] It seems reasonable therefore to assume that Hugh with Marjory moved there sometime between 1825 and 1828 because he found work at the distillery.

On the family’s return to Scotland Hugh McIntosh did not remain a distiller, becoming a clerk in an iron works sometime before 1861,[lviii] working as such for the rest of his life in various industries and being described as a mercantile clerk.

Marjory (May) Morris was born on the 16th December 1797 in Methil in the parish of Weymss, Fife. Her parents were Robert Morris (Morrice) and May (Marjory) Adamson.[lix] She died at 94 Glebe Street on the 18th August 1855, cause of death dysentery, having lived in Glasgow for eleven years with her husband and children, confirming the family return from Ireland in 1844. Her son Hugh registered the death.[lx]

Hugh McIntosh died at 208 Garngad Hill, Glasgow on the 28th June 1873, cause of death was recorded as “Age”.[lxi]

Paternal Lineage.

Generation 3.  Great Grandparents:

  1. James McIntosh and Isabella Morrison.

This research has not established any vital records for these names in Britain or in Ireland.

  1. Robert Morris and May Adamson.

Robert Morris (Morrice) married May Adamson in Weymss parish on the 5th January 1790. He was a sailor.[lxii] They had seven children, six daughters and one son, the fourth of whom was Marjory (May).[lxiii]  No other information has been established.

Maternal Lineage.

Generation 2.  Grandparents: Charles Rennie and Martha Spence.

Charles Rennie’s birth and death dates have not been established. Using various search criteria forty nine births are recorded in the Old Parish Records (OPR) between 1553 and 1854, none of which occurred in Ayr, (see Howarth) some possibles exist between 1780 and 1795 but are unlikely as they relate to individuals born in Aberdeenshire or in the East of Scotland.

Nine deaths are recorded in the OPR, none of which are in Ayr. Similarly between 1855 and 1862 there are no Ayr deaths of that name in the Statutory Records (SR).There was one possibility who died in Bo’ness in 1859 however he was a labourer, who was a widower. 1862 was chosen as according to Margaret Rennie and William McIntosh’s marriage registration document he was already dead by that time. He was described as having been a coach proprietor in that document.

Re his marriage to Martha Spence (as per the marriage registration mentioned above) no such marriage can be found in any of the OPR, anywhere in Scotland.

No record of the Rennie family in any of the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses has been found.

Martha Spence’s family background has also proved difficult to definitively establish. However there are strong clues to who her parents were and when she died.

A search of OPR births produced fourteen results, eleven of which can be discounted as being too early or too late. Of the three that are left one is from Ayr which is, I believe, correct. The others are from Dunfermline.

The Ayr one indicates that Martha Spence was born on the 21st September 1812. Her parents were Peter Spence and Sarah Johnston.[lxiv]

A search of SR deaths for Martha Rennie between 1862 (she was alive at the time of her daughter’s marriage) and 1900 produced no acceptable results. However when a search was made for Martha Spence there was one only registration from Ayr (out of nineteen results). This document confirmed her parents as detailed above however it seems she had married (again?) as she was described as being the widow of William Godfrey, a cabinet maker. She died on the 19th December 1885, ten days after her daughter Margaret’s death, at 36 Main Street, Newton Ayr, cause of death was a carcinoma.[lxv]

Re her apparent second marriage I could not establish any marriage either before 1855 or after, between a Godfrey and a Spence, regardless of forenames.

Maternal Lineage.

Generation 3.  Great Grandparents:

  1. Unknown
  1. Peter Spence and Sarah Johnston

Peter Spence married Sarah Johnston on the 29th December 1802 at Newton on Ayr.[lxvi] A search of the 1841 census naming Peter and Sarah produced one result for the whole of Scotland and that was in Ayr. He was described as a cotton hand loom weaver, age 66 years, born in Ireland. Sarah was age 56 years also born in Ireland.[lxvii] When his daughter Martha was born in 1812 he was described as a soldier in the Ayrshire Militia,[lxviii] when she died in 1885 he was recorded as being a Sergeant in the Militia.[lxix]

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to the volunteer staff of the excellent Glasgow Police Museum ( and in particular to the curator Alastair Dinsmor for his help with William McIntosh’s police career. The photographs are my own by kind permission of the museum.

[i] Registry. City of Glasgow Police Force. Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Reference: SR.55. 3, page 38.

[ii] Marriages (CR) Scotland. High Church, Glasgow. 4 August 1862. MCINTOSH, William and RENNIE, Margaret. 644/2 185.

[iii] Census. 1851 Scotland. Barony, Glasgow. 622/ 28/11.

[iv] Registry. City of Glasgow Police Force. Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Reference: SR.55. 3, page 38.

[v] Marriages (CR) Scotland. High Church, Glasgow. 4 August 1862. MCINTOSH, William and RENNIE, Margaret. 644/2 185.

[vi] Valuation Rolls (1865) Scotland. Glasgow. 54 McIntosh Street. MACINTOSH, Thomas. VR010200139-/282.

[vii] Marriages (CR) Scotland. High Church, Glasgow. 4 August 1862. MCINTOSH, William and RENNIE, Margaret. 644/2 185.

[viii] Registry. City of Glasgow Police Force. Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Reference: SR.55. 3, page 38.

[ix] Ibid and Glasgow Police Heritage Society. The McIntosh Connection.

[x]  Easy Live Auctions. Five Tug of War Medals, lot 569.

[xi] Marriages (CR) Scotland. High Church, Glasgow. 4 August 1862. MCINTOSH, William and RENNIE, Margaret. 644/2 185.

[xii] Births (CR) Scotland. High Church, Glasgow. 22 March 1863. MCINTOSH, Martha. 644/2 561.

[xiii] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Cathcart, Lanark. 16 August 1925. MACKINTOSH, Martha. 633/B 475

[xiv] Births (CR) Scotland. Central District, Glasgow. 28 November 1864. MCINTOSH, Isabella Marjory. 644/1 2290.

[xv] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Blythswood, Glasgow. 21 April 1896. DINGWALL, Robert and MACKINTOSH, Isabella Marjory. 644/7 223

[xvi] Births (CR) Scotland. Central District, Glasgow. 21 September 1866. MCINTOSH, William Hugh. 644/1 1952.

[xvii] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 18 March 1908. MACKINTOSH, William. Inventory. Glasgow Sheriff Court Inventories. SC36/48/211.

[xviii] Births (CR) Scotland. Central District, Glasgow. 6 April 1870. MCINTOSH, Margaret Rennie. 644/1 866

[xix] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Blythswood, Glasgow. CLELAND, Robert Williamson and MACKINTOSH, Margaret Rennie. 644/7 1264.

[xx] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Cathcart, Lanark. 1 February 1924. CLELAND, Margaret Rennie. 633/B 94

[xxi] Births (CR) Scotland. Central District, Glasgow. 23 November 1871. MCINTOSH, Agnes Mary 644/1 2361.

[xxii] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Central District, Glasgow. 1872. MCINTOSH, Agnes Mary. 644/1 906

[xxiii] Births (CR) Scotland. Central District, Glasgow. 23 June 1873. MCINTOSH, Cecilia Bruce. 644/1 1391.

[xxiv] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Dennistoun, Lanark. 1877 MCINTOSH, Cecilia Bruce. 644/3 52.

[xxv] Births (CR) Scotland. Dennistoun, Lanark. 1875. MCINTOSH, Elle Eliza Robinson. 644/3 1207.

Deaths (CR) Scotland. Dennistoun, Lanark. 23 December 1878. MCINTOSH, Ellen Eliza Robinson. 644/3 1793.

[xxvi] Births (CR) Scotland. Dennistoun, Lanark. 17 June 1878. MCINTOSH, Thomas David. 644/3 1061

[xxvii] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Dennistoun, Lanark. 1879. MCINTOSH, Thomas David. 644/3 37.

[xxviii] Births (CR) Scotland. Dennistoun, Lanark. 4 February 1881. MCINTOSH, Ellen Eliza. 644/3 295.

[xxix] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Cathcart, Lanark. 4 November 1926. GIBB, William Lamb and MCINTOSH, Ellen Eliza. 633/B 344.

[xxx] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Glasgow, Glasgow. 30 September 1965. GIBB, Ellen Eliza. 644/2 841

[xxxi] Births (CR) Scotland. Dennistoun, Lanark. 2 August 1883. MCINTOSH, Agnes 644/3 1434.

[xxxii] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Dennistoun, Lanark. 9 December 1885. MCINTOSH, Margaret. 644/3 1901

[xxxiii] Howarth, Thomas (1977) Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement. 2nd ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. pp. xvii to xix.

[xxxiv] Ibid. p.294.

[xxxv] Marriages. (CR) Scotland. Blythswood, Glasgow. 8 June 1892. MACKINTOSH, William and FORREST, Christina. 644/7 276.

[xxxvi] Census 1891 Scotland. Barony, Glasgow. 644/3 82/3.

[xxxvii] Directories. Scotland. (1892-93) Post Office annual Glasgow Directory. William McIntosh. p.411.

[xxxviii] Directories. Scotland. (1894-95) Post Office annual Glasgow Directory. William McIntosh. p.419.

[xxxix] Its first appearance in the Valuation Rolls is 1885, Alexander Morton is shown as the proprietor/occupier. He is also listed at that address in the PO Directory of 1884-85 p.457. There are no entries for that address in the Directories before that date, Morton previously staying in Annette Street.

[xl] Valuation Rolls (1855) Scotland. Glasgow, Cathcart. William McIntosh and Alex. Morton. VR01020047-/428.

[xli] Directories. Scotland. (1896-97) Post Office annual Glasgow Directory. William McIntosh. p.356.

[xlii] Registry. City of Glasgow Police Force. Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Reference: SR.55. 3, page 38.

[xliii] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Pollokshields, Glasgow. 10 February 1908. MACKINTOSH, William. 644/18 72

[xliv] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 18 March 1908. MACKINTOSH, William. Inventory. Glasgow Sheriff Court Inventories. SC36/48/211.

[xlv] Census 1851 Scotland. Barony, Glasgow. 622/ 28/11.

[xlvi] Deaths (CR) Scotland High Church District, Glasgow. 28 June 1873. MCINTOSH, Hugh. 644/2 1295

[xlvii] Census 1851 Scotland. Barony, Glasgow. 622/ 28/11.

[xlviii] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Central District, Glasgow. 18 August 1855. MCINTOSH, Marjory. 644/1 1151.

[xlix] Census 1851 Scotland. Barony, Glasgow. 622/ 28/11.

[l] Marriages. (CR) Scotland. Port Glasgow, Renfrewshire. 16 March 1858. MCINTOSH, HUGH and SEMPLE, Elizabeth. 574/ 14.

[li] Census 1871 Scotland. Townhead, Glasgow. 644/2 24/21.

[lii] Deaths. (CR) Scotland. Dennistoun, Glasgow. 27 October 1895. MCINTOSH, Hugh. 644/3 1919

[liii] Census 1851 Scotland. Barony, Glasgow. 622/ 28/11.

[liv] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Central District, Glasgow. 18 August 1855. MCINTOSH, Marjory. 644/1 1151.

[lv] Census 1851 Scotland. Barony, Glasgow. 622/ 28/11.

[lvi] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Central District, Glasgow. 18 August 1855. MCINTOSH, Marjory. 644/1 1151.

[lvii] 2016 © Belturbet Community Development Association The Belturbet Distillery 1825-1885

[lviii] Census 1861 Scotland. Barony, Glasgow. 644/1 95/14.

[lix] Births (OPR) Scotland. Wemyss, Fife. 16 December 1797. MORRICE, May. 459/ 40 207.

[lx] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Central District, Glasgow. 18 August 1855. MCINTOSH, Marjory. 644/1 1151.

[lxi] Deaths (CR) Scotland. High Church, Glasgow. 28 June 1873. MCINTOSH, Hugh. 644/2 1295.

[lxii] Marriages, (OPR) Scotland. Wemyss, Fife. 5 January 1790. MORRICE, Robert and ADAMSON, May. 459/ 40 433.

[lxiii] Births (OPR) Scotland. Wemyss, Fife. 1790 to 1809. MORRICE. References: 459/ 40 105; 459/ 40 143; 459/ 40 176; 459/ 40 207; 459/ 40 272; 459/ 40 301; 459/ 40 318.

[lxiv] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Ayr. 21 September 1812. SPENCE, Martha. 578/ 60 75.

[lxv] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Ayr, Ayrshire. 19 December 1885. SPENCE, Martha. 578/ 467.

[lxvi] Marriages (OPR) Scotland. Newton, Ayrshire 29 December 1802. SPENCE, Peter and JOHNSTON, Sarah. 612/2 10 341.

[lxvii] Census 1841 Scotland. St.Quivox, Ayrshire. 612/ 16/ 7.

[lxviii] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Ayr. 21 September 1812. SPENCE, Martha. 578/ 60 75.

[lxix] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Ayr, Ayrshire. 19 December 1885. SPENCE, Martha. 578/ 467.



The Underwood Trust

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]

Fig.1 Miner’s Row Dalry

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.

Fig. 2 Dalry.

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]

Fig. 3 Robert Clark

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.


[i] Charity Commission Report. (2014)

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Census 1861 Scotland. Dalry, Ayr. GROS Data 587/00 019/00 017.

[iv] Marriages (CR) Scotland, Dalry, Ayr. 1 November 1851. CLARK, James and MUNN, Isabella. GROS Data 587/00 0030.

[v] Census 1851 Scotland. Dalry, Ayr. GROS Data 587/00 006/00 022.

[vi] Marriages (CR) Scotland, Dalry, Ayr. 1 November 1851. CLARK, James and MUNN, Isabella. GROS Data 587/00 0030.

[vii] Census 1861 Scotland. Dalry, Ayr. GROS Data 587/00 019/00 017.

[viii] Ayrshire History. Miners Rows 1913.

[ix] Census 1871 Scotland. Dalry, Ayr. GROS Data 578/00 019/00 005.

[x] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Dalry, Ayr. 10 December 1871. CLARK, James GROS Data 587/00 0174.

[xi] Census 1881 Scotland. Dalry, Ayr. GROS Data 587/00 019/00 024.

[xii] Ayrshire History. Miners Rows 1913.

[xiii] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Dalry, Ayr. 29 July 1881. CLARK, Isabella GROS Data 587/00 0100.

[xiv] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 6 September 1881. CLARK, Isabella Munn. Inventory. Ayr Sheriff Court. GROS Data SC6/44/43.

[xv] Measuring Worth (2016).

[xvi] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 6 September 1881. CLARK, Isabella Munn. Inventory. Ayr Sheriff Court. GROS Data SC6/44/43.

[xvii] Census 1881 Scotland. Dalry, Ayr. GROS Data 587/00 019/00 020.

[xviii] Births (CR) Scotland. Dalry, Ayr. 4 March 1855. CLARK, John. GROS Data 587/00 0074.

[xix] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Dalry, Ayr. 1874. CLARK, John and NELSON (NEILSON), Jane. GROS Data 587/00 0071.

[xx] Census 1891 Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. GROS Data 573/00 010/00 005.

[xxi] Valuation Rolls 1885 Scotland. Dalry, Ayr. GROS Data VR90/79/394.

[xxii] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 18 December 1894. CLARK, Jane. GROS Data 573/00 1249.

[xxiii] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Dennistoun, Lanark. 28 April 1898. CLARK, John and JAMIESON, Elizabeth. GROS Data 644/03 0195.

[xxiv] Census 1901 Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. GROS Data 573/01 043/00 002.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Births (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 8 January 1900. CLARK, Walter Frame. GROS Data 573/01 057.

[xxvii] Births (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. CLARK, Joseph. 1902. GROS Data 573/01 1862.

[xxviii] Births (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 26 July 1904. CLARK, Robert. GROS Data 573/01 1606.

[xxix] Census 1911 Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. GROS Data 573/01 036/00 016.

[xxx] Webster, Jack. (2013). A Final Grain of Truth: My Autobiography. Edinburgh: Black and White Publishing.

[xxxi] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 20 January 1920. CLARK, John. GROS Data 573/01 0062.

[xxxii] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 26 February 1920. CLARK, John. Inventory. Paisley Sheriff Court. GROS Data SC58/42/92.

[xxxiii] Measuring Worth (2016).

[xxxiv] Murphy, Robert (2004). ‘John Maxwell’ In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[xxxv] Webster, Jack. (2013). A Final Grain of Truth: My Autobiography. Edinburgh: Black and White Publishing.

[xxxvi] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 5 September 1930. CLARK, Elizabeth. GROS Data 573/01 947.

[xxxvii] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 10 September 1932. CLARK, Robert and LANG, Mary Black. GROS Data 537/01 0394.

[xxxviii] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 12 July 1866. LANG, Matthew and YOUNG, Elizabeth. GROS Data 573/01 0059.

[xxxix] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 19 February 1869. BLACK, Joseph and Janet Cooper. GROS Data 573/01 0019.

[xl] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 12 July 1866. LANG, Matthew and YOUNG, Elizabeth. GROS Data 573/01 0059.

[xli] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 19 February 1869. BLACK, Joseph and Janet Cooper. GROS Data 573/01 0019.

[xlii] Scots Family. Old Occupations in Scotland.

[xliii] Census 1891 Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. GROS Data 573/00 038/00 023.

[xliv] Ibid,

[xlv] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 25 July 1893. LANG, William and BLACK, Mary. GROS Data 573/00 0314.


[xlvii] Directories. Scotland. (1904) Paisley Directory and General Advertiser. Paisley Directory and General Advertiser. Paisley: J. & J. Cook. p.33

Also (1912) p.98

[xlviii] Births (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 16 April 1905. LANG, Mary Black. GROS Data 573/01 0872.

[xlix] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 23 may 1909. LANG, Mary. GROS Data 573/01 0755. .

[l] Census 1911 Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. GROS Data 573/01 051/ 005. .

[li] Marriages (CR) Scotland. Mains and Strathmartine, Angus. 17 January 1912. LANG. William and MILNE, Williamina Rose. GROS Data 307/00 0004.

[lii] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 23 February 1913. LANG, Matthew. GROS Data 573/01 0258.

[liii] Measuring Worth (2016).

[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.

[lv] Deaths (CR) Scotland. Paisley, Renfrew. 6 April 1932. LANG, William. GROS Data 573/01 0445.

[lvi] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 7 November 1932 LANG, William. Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories 1876-1936. p. L12. Mitchell Library.

[lvii] Measuring Worth (2016).

[lviii] Murphy, Robert (2004). ‘John Maxwell’ In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[lix] Companies House. Caledonian Associated Cinemas.

[lx] Companies House. Taylor Clark Ltd.

[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. and Births Index (CR) England. Hendon, Hertfordshire. 2nd Qtr. CLARK, Robin. Collection: England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2005. Vol, 3a, page 961.

[lxiii] Murphy, Robert (2004). ‘John Maxwell’ In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[lxiv] Ashby, Justine and Higson, Andrew. Eds. (2013) British Cinema Past and Present. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 152.

[lxv] The Times (1949) Company Meeting: Associated British Picture Corporation. The Times. Issue 51452, 5 August 1949. p.9d,e.

[lxvi] Companies House. Taylor Clark Properties Ltd.

[lxvii] Companies House. Taylor Clark Ltd.

[lxviii] Companies House. Taylor Clark Properties Ltd.

[lxix] The Times (1951) Offer for Trust Shares. The Times. Issue 51930, 20 February 1951, p.8c.

[lxx] The Times (1931) City Notes. The Times. Issue 45914, 29 August, p.15b.

[lxxi]  Joseph Levy Foundation.

[lxxii] Booker, Christopher and Gray, Bennie (1973) CSI Anti Report: The Recurrent Crisis of London, Stock Conversion and Investment Trust. 2nd ed. pp 9-11.;

[lxxiii] Measuring Worth (2016).

[lxxiv] The Times (1955) Television Offer to Newspapers. The Times. Issue 53326, 15 September 1955, p. 6c.

[lxxv] Ashby, Justine and Higson, Andrew. Eds. (2013) British Cinema Past and Present. Abingdon: Routledge.

[lxxvi] The Times (1966) ABPC Appoints Chief Executive. The Times. Issue 56754, 5 October 1966, p.17c.

[lxxvii] Ashby, Justine and Higson, Andrew. Eds. (2013) British Cinema Past and Present. Abingdon: Routledge.

[lxxviii] The Times (1961) Enormous Profit of TV Companies. The Times. Issue 55031, 16 March 1961, p. 4e.

[lxxix] The Times (1967) Rediffusion and ABC Reach Agreement. The Times. Issue 57083, 27 October 1967, p. 22d, e.

[lxxx] The Times (1968) ABC to Have Running of Thames Television. The Times. Issue 57159, 26 January 1968, p. 17c, d.

[lxxxi] Measuring Worth (2016).

[lxxxii] The Times (1969) Business Diary: From the Battlefield to Retirement. The Times. Issue 57560, 15 May 1969, p. 25a, b.

[lxxxiii] Companies House. Various Companies House Searches.

[lxxxiv] The Herald (1997) Lost in the Confines of our Mediocre Obsessions. The Herald. 10 February 1997.

[lxxxv] Deaths Index (CR) England. Westminster, London. 4th Qtr. 1984 CLARK, Robert.

Collection: England and Wales Death Index, 1916-2007. Vol.15, page 1738.

[lxxxvi] Measuring Worth (2016).

[lxxxvii] The Times (1984) Latest Wills. Robert Clark. The Times. Issue 62216, 14 August 1984, p.16

[lxxxviii] The Herald (1997) Lost in the Confines of our Mediocre Obsessions. The Herald. 10 February 1997.

[lxxxix] Measuring Worth (2016).

[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.

[xci] Measuring Worth (2016).

[xcii] The Times (1993) Latest Wills. Mrs Mary Black Lang Clark. The Times. Issue 64738, 2 September 1993, p.18

[xciii] The Times (1993) Latest Wills. Mrs Mary Black Lang Clark. The Times. Issue 647338 2 September 1993, p.18

[xciv] Companies House. Taylor Clark Ltd.

[xcv] IFSD Glasgow. Planning Consent for Atlantic Square.


Sir William Burrell Glasgow Corporation Councillor 1899 – 1906

What makes a successful and prosperous ship owner, also an assiduous and knowledgeable collector of art, become a Glasgow Corporation councillor? Is it a sense of civic duty, to give something back as it were? Is it to gain a different kind of influence, or to pursue a political view or philosophy? Or did it ‘just happen’?

Following his death in March 1958 the collector in question, Sir William Burrell, was quoted in an article in the Glasgow Herald by the then Lord Provost of Glasgow Andrew Hood as saying “I sold all my ships so I could become a councillor with the aim of helping to solve Glasgow’s slum housing problem”.[i]

He clearly became a councillor; being elected in 1899, however did he have a political objective and did he sell his ships to achieve it? Additionally by what process did he become a candidate in the municipal elections? Did he have any particular political viewpoint? Who or what influenced him politically?

The answers to these questions lie within the period 1897 to 1899 during which time all the events which resulted in Burrell becoming a councillor, occurred.

In 1899 two seemingly unconnected events happened, one planned, the other unforeseen, which, in combination, set the scene for Sir William Burrell (then plain mister) becoming a Glasgow Corporation councillor.

The last few years of the 19th century saw significant demand for ships coupled with high shipping rates. In keeping with their previous practise of buying ships when the industry was depressed and selling them in boom periods, Burrell and Son sold their entire fleet, some 25 vessels, between 1897 and 1899 most of which had been built between 1892 and 1894, when shipbuilding was in a slump. This was the second occasion they had sold their fleet in this manner and there was to be a third subsequent to the end of the Great War.[ii]

In a letter to his friend R.S. Dods dated 3rd January 1902 the architect Sir Robert Lorimer  (who at that time was heavily involved with Burrell’s furnishing of his house in Devonshire Gardens) tells of Burrell explaining his company’s business tactic of buying and selling ships. Lorimer describes it as the nimblest he’s ever struck  and quotes Burrell as saying he puts the money into 3% stock and “lies back until things are absolutely in the gutter” at which point he starts to buy new ships at rock bottom prices. Burrell described it to him as “making money like slate stones”. He also told him that he expected to be buying ships again in 1904,[iii] in the event it was 1905.[iv]

The sole purpose of the manoeuvre was to make money, and lots of it. Nothing wrong with that of course but there was clearly no intent to sell his ships for any other reason, it was purely a business imperative. That being so it’s difficult to accept he had any political objective in mind when he did so. Perhaps he came to that later.

The company continued to function as shipping agents and insurance brokers in the following few years and to charter ships whenever they secured cargo. Nonetheless compared to earlier years the company’s activities were clearly much reduced.[v]

Burrell continued to add to his collection, which already included paintings, tapestries, sculptures and ceramics, with more funds and at least initially, with more free time to do so.[vi]

The Municipal elections in 1899 were to be held on Tuesday 7th November. At that time there were 25 wards in the city and by the 1st October all the candidates for each ward had been identified and declared. Burrell’s name was not amongst them.

One of the candidates was Robert Murdoch, head of Robert Murdoch and Co., Iron and Steel Merchants, who was also one of three sitting members for Ward 10 (Exchange). He was the retiring member for 1899 and was standing again, unopposed for re-election.

Unfortunately for Mr. Murdoch, who had been a councillor for 10 years, on the 15th October he died suddenly at home, aged 75 thereby creating a vacancy in the ward.[vii]

Exchange ward was at the heart of the city and was the centre of the city’s business and commercial activity. It took in George Square, the City Chambers, Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank, the GPO, the Custom House, and at No.54 George Square, the Burrell and Son offices. In 1895 the city assessor James Henry in accordance with the City of Glasgow Act 1891 (Divisional Administration) presented a report proposing a rearrangement of the 25 municipal wards, primarily to ensure that any given ward in its entirety was in a single parliamentary constituency. After a period of debate the issue was finally settled in April 1896. Exchange ward boundaries were established to the north as Bath Street and Cathedral Street, its southern boundary was Clyde Street, and it was bounded east and west by Stockwell Street/Glassford Street/John Street and Jamaica Street/Mitchell Street/ West Nile Street respectively, all contained within the Central Parliamentary Division.[viii] Its electoral roll was 2087 and it had a rental valuation of £450,190, the smallest roll and highest rental (by a significant margin) of any of the city wards. [ix]

Burrell 5
Fig. 1 Exchange – Ward 10

The ward contained some of the most influential and powerful people in the city and it would be expected that its representatives on the council would come from that community. In due course that’s what happened when Richard Hubbard Hunter was persuaded to come forward to fill the vacancy caused by Murdoch’s death.[x] [xi] He was a wealthy business man who was the managing director and chairman of Hunter, Barr & Company, a company which had been started by his father in 1843. They were wholesale warehousemen dealing in textiles and had branches in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Leeds and Newcastle.

He was a man of strong religious conviction and had a background of philanthropic works and had, among other charitable activities, joined with William Quarrier in setting up the orphan’s home at Bridge of Weir. He also established the Sailors Orphan Society of Scotland, which continues to provide assistance to the children of seamen to this day.[xii] [xiii]

At the Exchange Ward committee[xiv] annual meeting held on 25th October in the Lesser Trades Hall in Glassford Street, following accounts of Corporation business given by the other sitting councillors of the ward (Robert Graham and Thomas Watson), Hunter addressed the meeting saying he was concerned about the amount of money the city was borrowing, that he would not follow any particular party line but would use his judgement to determine matters in council. As reported in the Glasgow Herald it was a fairly brief statement. He was unanimously adopted as a ‘fit and proper person to represent the ward’.[xv]

Usually (but not always) that would have been that and Hunter would have been elected to the council without opposition.

However, that was not to be. On the 30th October the Glasgow Herald carried a short notice which said that on the preceding Saturday (28th) William Burrell had been ‘waited upon by a deputation from the electors of the Exchange Ward’ requesting him to put himself forward as a candidate for the ward vacancy. His answer was expected later that day.[xvi]

Who these electors were is not stated. Were they ward committee members despite the unanimous vote recorded for Hunter, or were they associates of Burrell (business or otherwise) who felt he would better represent their interests rather than the philanthropic Hunter?

At any rate Burrell gave his answer in the affirmative.[xvii] With one week to go to the election Burrell is now a candidate. Clearly not a pre-planned event unless he foresaw the unfortunate Mr. Murdoch’s demise!

Burrell’s decision to stand as a candidate in the election did not pass without response. Two letters to the Herald written on the 31st October and published on the 1st November gave divergent views on the situation. One was clearly in support of Burrell, the writer stating that he was glad there was to be a contest, that Burrell was Glasgow born and bred (Hunter was born in Inverkip) and that Burrell was a safe and competent individual to deal with ‘schemes’  which are ‘crowding’ on to the Town Council. The letter writer was not identified.[xviii]

The other, from ‘a large ratepayer’, basically criticised Burrell for creating a contest especially when he and Hunter were essentially saying the same thing, that Hunter was a larger ratepayer than Burrell, and had been endorsed by the Ward committee and a subsequent public meeting of electors. He encouraged voters to show their disapproval of Burrell’s candidature by voting for Hunter.[xix]

The election however did not go Hunter’s way with Burrell gaining 911 votes to his 522, thereby being duly elected to be the third member for the Exchange ward.[xx]

Why did he win? He was a latecomer to the contest and had no obvious political background. Was Hunter too much of a philanthropist for his fellow business ratepayers liking, was it local man versus outsider, bearing in mind that Hunter was born in Inverkip? Was there another reason?

If there was, it was probably related to Sir Samuel Chisholm and his politics. Chisholm was one of two candidates for Lord Provost that year (he was duly elected at the first meeting of the new council) and was a radical Liberal.[xxi] Thomas Gray, who was the Town Treasurer, spoke at Hunter’s pre-election meeting in the Merchant’s House on 2nd November suggesting the contest was not between Hunter or Burrell but which of the two would be more aligned to the politics of Chisholm. He felt Chisholm was being unfairly treated because of views being expressed that his appointment “would result in unnecessary and wasteful expenditure and that as he was an abstainer the city’s hospitality would suffer”.[xxii]

Fig.2 Sir Samuel Chisholm

One individual in particular, to whom I’ll return to later, vigorously promoted these views over a number of years. Gray clearly was of the opinion that Hunter, perhaps because of his philanthropic activity, was more in tune with Chisholm than Burrell would be. The day before the election the Herald carried a notice from the Progressive Union, combining Christian, Philanthropic and Temperance agencies, supporting Hunter.[xxiii]

What were Burrell’s politics and influences then? His background would indicate he would at least lean towards the Conservative party. He was an extremely wealthy individual, was a successful business man, already had an extensive collection of artwork, and lived in Glasgow’s West End at 4 Devonshire Gardens with his mother and sisters Mary and Isabella.[xxiv] Additionally, his father William senior was described in his obituary in the Herald in 1885 as “a keen Conservative and active in a minor way in local politics in Bowling and Old Kilpatrick.”[xxv] It’s difficult therefore to see him having any contrary political views.

Burrell 1
Fig. 3 William Burrell snr.

Another, perhaps more significant, influence was probably his brother in law Charles John Cleland who had married Burrell’s younger sister Janet Houston Burrell on 14th June 1888.[xxvi] Cleland worked for his father’s stationers company and in 1891 he was elected as one of three councillors for Glasgow Ward 25 (Maryhill). He had a deep interest in politics and was Vice Chairman of the Glasgow Conservative Association in 1909. He was also a member of the Conservative Clubs in the city.[xxvii]

In 1907 he was honoured with membership of the Royal Victorian Order (M.R.V.O.)[xxviii] and in 1917 was invested as a Knight Commander, Order of the British Empire. (K.B.E.).[xxix] At one time he was also Deputy Lieutenant for the County of the City of Glasgow. He remained a councillor for Maryhill until 1907 when he retired from public office. However he stood for the Exchange Ward in 1929 and was duly elected subsequently becoming sub convener of the new Education Committee. He finally retired from politics in 1934.[xxx]

Fig.4 Sir Charles Cleland and Family.

Cleland had three daughters, one of whom, Jessie Muriel Cleland, married Sir Richard Dawson Bates in 1920.[xxxi] He was an Ulster Unionist politician who was in the forefront of opposition to Irish Home Rule prior to the First World War and subsequently.[xxxii]

Cleland had significant influence as a politician and it’s probable that when Burrell was approached to stand as a candidate that he would seek advice from his brother in law and be guided by him, maybe even encouraged by him to stand.

One other influence on Burrell may have been the views of fellow business man and collector Arthur Kay. He was a director of Arthur and Co. whose offices were located at 78 Queen Street, approximately 350 yards from Burrell’s offices. He was also the individual referred to earlier who had a deep aversion to Samuel Chisholm and all he stood for.

Kay had much in common with Burrell in terms of collecting and had a similar approach in that he would rather trust dealers than academics when it came to seeking advice. Like Burrell he had started collecting early in life and was wary about alerting potential rivals to his interest in a particular item. It’s probable therefore they were acquaintances possibly even friends through their interest in art and their business activities. They would certainly mix in the same business circles and  be aware of each other’s collecting activity and preferences,[xxxiii] an example of which is; around 1900 Kay bought Manet’s Un Cafe Place du Theatre Francais, which was eventually purchased by Burrell.[xxxiv] In 1907 they were founding members of the Provand’s Lordship Society in Glasgow. They therefore had a lot in common in business and art, and as I’ll show, their approach to civic governance.

Kay was the second largest ratepayer in Glasgow, after the railway companies and was vigorously against what he called Municipal Trading such as running tram systems, municipal telephone services, housing and so on, the sort of activities Glasgow’s citizens in due course readily accepted as municipal services. He also had concerns about the financing arrangements of the Council and the burden, actual and potential, it put on business ratepayers.[xxxv] He specifically was against the Housing Scheme proposed by Sir Samuel Chisholm which was in response to the Housing of Working Classes Act 1890, the scheme proposing a municipal solution to the problem.[xxxvi]

Fig. 5 Arthur Kay

In general Kay was against the encroachment of the council into activities that he felt were the province of business, that the cost of doing this was being placed on the business ratepayers in particular, and that the debt caused by the council’s financial arrangements (stock issues) would ultimately default to the ratepayer. He was the founder of the Glasgow Ratepayers Federation and a member of the Citizen’s Union, both organisations being against  Municipal Trading and all that it implied. He wrote pamphlets on the subject, delivered speeches to various bodies including the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, and on June 25 1903 gave evidence to a parliamentary committee during which he stated he is fundamentally against Municipal Trading and that ‘it is the opinion of a great many ratepayers – if all these undertakings are on the rates, a day will come when our representatives are not so reliable as they are at present – they may be socialists.’[xxxvii]

There is no evidence to suggest Burrell was a member of any of these organisations and there is no doubt most ratepayers (or council tax payers today) would support a reduction in their rates burden. However when Burrell spoke at his pre-election meeting at the Merchant’s House on the 1st November his ‘manifesto’ was very much in line with the essence and some of the specifics of Kay’s views.

Amongst those present at this meeting were Burrell’s brother George and his brother in law Bailie Charles Cleland. He opened by saying he ‘came before the electors neither as a stranger or an outsider’.

The key elements of his address dealt with Corporation finance as follows: expenditure, greatly increased in recent years due to municipalisation of the city, now time to call a halt as capital expenditure exceeded reserves; ratepayer burden generally increasing; flotation of stock to raise capital inefficient and excessive; Corporation would be better off paying attention to savings on large items rather than getting involved  in ‘crotchets and fads’ such as the municipalisation of bread and milk, and the manufacture of policeman’s helmets; was against the Free Libraries Act as it would increase the rate burden on businesses in the city, from which they would get no benefit, (this at a time when Andrew Carnegie was building free libraries all over the world, including Glasgow); the Building Regulations Act imposed several unnecessary and oppressive restrictions on the erection of business premises and that some of the Act’s clauses should be eliminated and others amended.

A  Mr. John Wilson asked Burrell why he had decided to stand for election without going to the Ward Committee either publically or privately. Burrell stated he had been pressed to do so and having agreed he would not turn back. A vote of confidence in Burrell was then proposed and seconded which was carried. Wilson had put forward an amendment to the motion saying there was nothing to suggest that Burrell would be better than Hunter, however it was not seconded.[xxxviii]

It may be that Burrell came to these views by himself, however what is not in doubt is that his comment that he had become a councillor to help solve Glasgow’s slum housing problem is not borne out by the facts.

He sold his ships for business reasons, no other. His candidature was pure happenstance.  There was nothing in his ‘manifesto’ to demonstrate he wanted to help solve Glasgow’s slum housing problem. In fact he allied himself to the views of an individual (Kay) who was specifically against improving working class housing through municipal action.

There is one further question to be pondered, how effective was he as a councillor?

In the Herald article of 1958 Andrew Hood further quotes Burrell who told him that “after seven years as a member of the corporation I became so disappointed over my inability to realise my ambition.”[xxxix]

As ever with Sir William Burrell, there is probably more to it than that.

Images: Heading © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection.(

Figures 2, 3 and 5, © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (

Figure 1 The Glasgow Story website,

Figure 4 Courtesy of Glasgow City Archives.

[i] Glasgow Herald (1958) Death of Sir William Burrell, Art Lover and Benefactor. The Glasgow Herald, 31 March, year 176, issue 55 p. 7f,g accessed December 2013.

[ii] Cage, R.A. (1997) A Tramp Shipping Dynasty: Burrell and Son of Glasgow, 1860-1939. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp31, 39-41.

Marks, Richard (1983) Burrell – Portrait of a Collector. Glasgow; Richard Drew Publishing. pp 53-57.

[iii] Lorimer, Sir Robert (1902) Letter to R.S.Dods 3 January, Edinburgh University Library, Centre for Research Collections, reference MS 2484.6 Jan3 1902.

[iv] Cage, R.A. (1997) A Tramp Shipping Dynasty: Burrell and Son of Glasgow, 1860-1939. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp31, 39-41.

[v] Ibid

[vi] Pearce, Nick (2004) Chinese Art-Research into Provenance (CARP)Sir William Burrell; accessed January 2014.

[vii] Obituary (1899) Glasgow Herald. 18 October, year 117, issue 249 MURDOCH, Robert. p.6f. accessed December 2013.

[viii] Miscellaneous Town Clerk Records, Glasgow. Mitchell Library reference MP 27.687-697.

[ix] Bell, Sir James and Paton, James (1896) Glasgow, Its Municipal Organisation and Administration. Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons. accessed December 2013.

[x] Glasgow Herald (1899) Municipal Election Meetings, Exchange Ward The Glasgow Herald, 21 October, year 117, issue 252 p.3d.

accessed 10 December 2013.

[xi] Glasgow Herald (1899) Municipal Election Meetings, Exchange Ward The Glasgow Herald, 25 October year 117, issue 255 p.9i. accessed December 2013.

[xii] Eyre-Todd, George, ed.(1909) Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909, Richard Hubbard Hunter. Glasgow: Gowans and Grey Ltd. accessed October 2013.

[xiii] accessed January 2014.

[xiv] In 1896 the Lord Provost of Glasgow Sir James Bell defined ward committees as voluntary bodies, the special functions of which were to deal with candidates for office and in a minor degree, with the elected and sitting representatives. They would also nominate or recommend a candidate for municipal elections which in practical terms would be a strong endorsement of the candidate to the electorate. Scottish Archive Network Ward Committees 1860 – 1974 Person code NA 18958 accessed December 2013.

[xv] Glasgow Herald (1899) Municipal Election Meetings, Exchange Ward The Glasgow Herald, 25 October year 117, issue 255 p.9i. accessed December 2013

[xvi] Glasgow Herald (1899) Exchange Ward The Glasgow Herald, 30 October, year 117, issue 259 p.10e. accessed  December 2013

[xvii] Glasgow Herald (1899) Representation of Exchange Ward The Glasgow Herald, 31 October, year 117, issue 260 p.9b. accessed  December 2013

[xviii] Glasgow Herald (1899) Letters to the Editor. The Glasgow Herald. 1 November, year 117, issue 261.p.9d. accessed December 2013.

[xix] Ibid

[xx] Glasgow Herald (1899) Municipal Elections, Glasgow. The Glasgow Herald. 8 November, year 117, issue 267. p.9f. accessed December 2013.

[xxi] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2006). Chisholm, Sir Samuel.  Oxford University Press, May 2006, accessed October 2013

[xxii] Glasgow Herald (1899) Municipal Election Meetings, Exchange Ward. The Glasgow Herald. 3 November, year117, issue263. p.9e.

accessed October 2013.

[xxiii] Glasgow Herald (1899) Public Notices. The Glasgow Herald. 6 November, year 117, issue 265. p. 1b.;

accessed December 2013.

[xxiv] Census 1891 Scotland. Partick, Lanarkshire, 646. GROS Data 646/03 046/00 053. accessed October 2013.

[xxv] Glasgow Herald (1885) 22 June, year 107, issue 148. p. 9f. accessed December 2013.

[xxvi] Marriages. Scotland. Old Kilpatrick, Dumbarton. 501/00. 14 June 1888. CLELAND, Charles John and BURRELL, Janet Houston. GROS Data 501/00 0036. accessed September 2012.

[xxvii] Eyre-Todd, George, ed. (1909) Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909, Charles John Cleland. Glasgow: Gowans and Grey Ltd. accessed September 2013.

[xxviii] The Edinburgh Gazette (1907) Chancery of the Royal Victorian Order. The Edinburgh Gazette, 2 July, issue11947 p.689b. accessed October 2013.

[xxix] The Edinburgh Gazette (1917) Knight Commanders. The Edinburgh Gazette, 24 August, issue 30250. p.8795b. accessed October 2013.

[xxx] Obituary (1941) The Glasgow Herald. 20 January, year 159, issue 17 CLELAND, Sir Charles John. p.7b. accessed October 2013

[xxxi] The Peerage, person page13507. ‘Jessie Muriel Cleland was the daughter of Sir Charles John Cleland. She married Sir Richard Dawson Bates, 1st Bt., son of Richard Dawson Bates and Mary Dill on 8 April 1920. She died on 31 October 1972.’ accessed October 2013.

[xxxii] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). Bates, Sir (Richard) Dawson. accessed October 2012.

[xxxiii] Marks, Richard (1983) Burrell; Portrait of a Collector, Sir William Burrell 1861 – 1958. Glasgow: Richard Drew Publishing. p.58 – 60.

[xxxiv] Fowle, Frances (2010) Van Gogh’s Twin: The Scottish art Dealer Alexander Reid 1854 – 1928. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland.p.50

[xxxv] Eyre-Todd, George ed. (1909) Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909, Arthur Kay. Glasgow: Gowans and Grey Ltd. accessed September 2012.

[xxxvi] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2006). Chisholm, Sir Samuel.  Oxford University Press, May 2006, accessed October 2013

[xxxvii] Glasgow Ratepayers Federation and Citizens Union. Minutes, pamphlets, etc., parliamentary evidence given by Arthur Kay. GB243 TD488/6 and /11 Mitchell Library : Glasgow City Archives

[xxxviii] Glasgow Herald (1899). Municipal Election Meetings, Exchange Ward. The Glasgow Herald. 2 November, year 117, issue 262. p.9b. accessed October 2012.

[xxxix] Glasgow Herald (1958) Death of Sir William Burrell, Art Lover and Benefactor. The Glasgow Herald, 31 March, year 176, issue 55 p. 7f,g accessed December 2013.