Ralston Gudgeon, an artist in Kilbarchan.

Ralston Gudgeon is best known for his hundreds of beautiful paintings of birds in water colour or gouache. Ralston studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1928 to 1933. His talent was well recognised in 1933 when he was winner of the Glasgow Institute Torrance Memorial Award. In 1936, a one man show of his paintings was held in the Annan Gallery in Glasgow, where 35 paintings, mainly of birds, were exhibited. The success of this exhibition may have led to his election in 1937 to RSW, then the youngest man to date to become a member. However, this article does not focus on his paintings. It  is about Ralston Gudgeon, the man.

Ralston spent part of his childhood in Kilbarchan. His passion for painting birds began at an early age. He and his boyhood friend in Kilbarchan, Andrew Jackson, loved the outdoor life and roamed the local woods and fields around the village, searching for birds. Andrew could identify the birds while Ralston sketched and coloured.

In the mid-1930s, Ralston’s address was 15 Park View, Kilbarchan. He took an active part in the Lilias Day celebrations in the 1930s, performing as an actor  in the Marjorie Bruce Tableau at the Lilias Day Pageants of both 1931 and 1933. He is also recorded as painting posters advertising the 1934 Lilias Day. Ralston was fond of animals and kept a pet fox. It was the talk of the village when he took his fox on a dog lead for its  daily walk.

Ralston became acquainted with Jessie Cassels Ritchie (1909-1999) who lived at High Gradach, East Barnaigh, Kilbarchan, and worked as a governess. On 28th July, 1937, Ralston and Jessie were married ‘at Headless Cross, Gretna, By declaration in presence of Alexander Overend, 35 William Street, Johnstone, and Margaret Dickie Moore, Advance Place, Bridge of Weir’. This irregular marriage was registered at Gretna on 17th September, 1937. We can assume that Ralston was a bit of a romantic as well as talented and sociable.

Ralston’s very successful artistic career was disrupted by his service in the army in WW2. After the war, Ralston set about resurrecting his career as an artist. From 1947 to 1951 his paintings were on show in numerous Scottish exhibitions including an unusual one in Paisley, held in  the photographer George Edward Russell’s  studio at 55 High Street. It is unknown how many paintings were actually sold at these art shows. Post war times were hard, and Ralston, now living in Inverkip, was in financial difficulties. However, despite this set back, his artistic career recovered and the family later moved to Callander.

Although little is remembered, of Ralston Gudgeon’s time in Kilbarchan, he is very well remembered in Callander, where he lived in the nineteen fifties and sixties. He was popular in the town and local people proudly displayed his paintings in their homes. I know of only one of his paintings, entitled “Angry Roosters”, proudly on display in a Kilbarchan home today.

© 2023, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Ralston Gudgeon in Callander

In Callander, Ralston is well remembered as one of the real characters in the town. He always wore a kilt, except for riding jodhpurs – and they were tartan as well. On some occasions he added a pheasant’s feather on his cap. He is known to have spent to have spent a holiday on Coll with friends from Callander in 1969 and, even on holiday, he dressed in his usual attire of kilt and cap

The Gudgeon home in the 1960s appears to have been a menagerie containing a diverse collection of animals and birds – numerous spaniels including Clooney, the big springer spaniel, and Tramp, the Labrador; umpteen cats; Ruadh, the fox; a hamster which ran around the house when “Gudge” and Mrs Gudgeon played the piano; and hawks, but the hawks were kept outside. One night Ralston brought his fox into the Shaftsbury Inn, and the landlord remarked that it was better behaved than many dogs.
The Gudgeon children’s friends in Callander were fascinated by Ralston. They would follow him along the street calling out the old rhyme, “Kilty Kilty Cald Bum”. To the delight of the children Ralston would turn round and roar at them. They all took it all in good part. On another occasion, Ralston was sitting with a group of children at the putting green telling them of his time in North Africa during the war and his friendship with an Arab sheik. The children were fascinated, but a bit sceptical about the story. Just then a large car stopped in front of them and Ralston’s Arab friend (whom he had been expecting to arrive) stepped out to greet him. The children were speechless! As well as being sociable, talented and a bit of a romantic, Ralston seems also to have had a mischievous sense of fun and humour.
This mischievous sense of fun was not confined to teasing children. He was not averse to playing tricks on his friends and neighbours. One lady recollects from her childhood that her father, Mr Macrae of Beinn Dorain in Main Street, was concerned that his stairway ceiling was so low that tall people banged their heads on the way up. He asked Ralston to paint a wee duck to place on the stairs to remind tall visitors to “duck”. Ralston obliged – but gave him a real duck’s head! In hindsight the lady thinks it might have been stuffed. (Ralston’s son, Lin’s hobby was taxidermy.)
Ralston was still full of fun in his late sixties. As a regular a customer in the Mairie Stuart Bar in Glasgow’s MacDonald Hotel, he persuaded the barmaid, Yvonne Falsay, to dress in the Royal Stuart tartan to match the name of the bar. An image of Ralston toasting Yvonne, dressed as Mary Queen of Scots, appeared in the Evening Times on 23rd August, 1978.
He is still fondly remembered by older residents in Callander as “a big handsome Scotsman” ; “a real one off and a true gentleman”; and “a fabulous neighbour”. Ralston died in Thornliebank in 1984. His wife, Jessie, lived to the age of ninety and died in a nursing home in Lundon Links on 13th November, 1999.
Do any Habbies have any memorabilia or old family stories of the artist’s life when he lived in Kilbarchan in the 1920s or 1930s?

Click to enlarge.

© 2023, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Barochan Cross

Barochan Cross

In my childhood Barochan Cross was an imposing sight standing on the flat topped summit of Corslie Hill, east of the road from Houston to Langbank. Visiting the stone was a popular day trip for local families from Houston and the other surrounding villages. Today, only its large socketed base stone is in situ. In the late 1970s Barochan Cross was removed and taken to Edinburgh for repair and renovation. Once restored it was decided that, to prevent future degeneration, the cross should not be exposed to the elements. Since 1981, Barochan Cross has been on display in Paisley Abbey. But  this was not the first time the monument had been moved. Barochan Cross had previously been situated on the road side, just south of Barochan Mill. The lands of Barochan had been owned by the Flemings of Barochan for centuries. Before 1818, Malcolm Fleming, the rich and powerful landowner, decided to move the cross to a more prominent position on nearby Corslie Hill, where he would take the opportunity to impress his friends when out hunting in the surrounding area. 

Barochan Cross is carved on all four sides with interlace. A large panel on the front of the cross shows three possibly related themes  –  a figure on horseback carrying a spear approaching a figure on foot carrying what may be a drinking horn; three figures, one holding an axe and another perhaps holding something above the  head of a third much smaller figure; and  two opposing animals. There are two smaller panels on  the back of the cross. The upper panel shows four identical stationary figures, wearing long apparel, standing in line, and the lower panel shows four, possibly marching, identical figures blowing trumpets and carrying long spears. The interpretation of these figural scenes appears to be secular rather than religious.

Click to enlarge

Family visit 1936.

© Helen Calcluth 2023, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

The Book of Here and There, by Stuart Nisbet

We would like to bring to the attention to our members and friends that Stuart Nisbet, a member and  Past President of the Forum, has recently turned his talents to writing historical fiction. His  recently published novel, ‘The Book of Here and There’ is based on Stuart’s extensive research into Renfrewshire slave plantation owners in the early 18th century, particularly William McDowall of Castle Semple. Although the novel is set in the twenty first century, its main theme is African slavery through the life of a slave.

Hamish, a young structural engineer from Glasgow, who has a love of old buildings, and Jenny, a young girl from Bristol who is an expert in reading old documents and has a personal interest slavery, are thrown together by Murdo, an eccentric old man in Glasgow. Murdo has an obsessive interest in Glasgow’s old buildings and in William McDowall of Castle Semple. By various means and clues he entices Hamish and Jenny into an exciting period of research into William McDowall and Cato, his black African slave.

In addition to exploring slavery from a slave’s perspective, this excellent book has the merits of both a well-structured detective novel and a well-researched history novel, skilfully interwoven. For anyone interested in 18th century slavery, Glasgow’s heritage, or just looking for a good novel, ‘The Book of Here and There’ would be a good choice. The novel has received a very positive review by Professor Emeritus, Sir Tom Devine.

The Book of Here andThere

( Available on Amazon (paperback  £9.99)  and in Bookshops)

Finlayson Bousfield & Co., 1: Johnstone (1844-1898)

For over a century, five generations of the Finlayson family owned the flax mills in Johnstone. William Finlayson, born in Dunfermline in 1786, had a successful manufacturing business in Glasgow and was one of the first in Scotland to spin flax on machinery. In 1844, seeing Johnstone as an expanding new town, William, in partnership with his sons, James (1823-1903) and Charles (1825-1874), set up a flax spinning factory in the town.

In 1848 William’s sons, James and Charles, in partnership with a young Englishman, Charles Bousfield, founded Finlayson Bousfield & Co. and took over Barbush Cotton Mill, situated on the south bank of the Black Cart at Johnstone Bridge on the High Street as their new flax spinning mill. In the mid-1850s the company also owned Lilybank Mill, a smaller mill, situated on land behind Lilybank House in Brewery Street.

The company processed raw flax before it was spun in the spinning mill and the final process was the finishing and dyeing. In the early days, Finlayson Bousfield & Co. produced quality white and coloured threads. They sent their quality goods for display at national and international exhibitions. Probably their earliest exhibition was the London Exhibition in 1851 where the company was awarded a prize medal for the “strength, taste and neatness in threads”. To celebrate the award and to promote sales, Finlayson Bousfield used wrapping paper for their packages showing images of their 1851 prize medal. Two fine examples of this packaging are on display in Johnstone Museum 

The company quickly prospered and expanded and by 1856 Finlayson Bousfield’s Barbush Flax Mill was described as “an extensive establishment, adjoining Johnstone Bridge, for the manufacture of spinning thread”. By the 1860s Finlayson Bousfield & Co. had become the largest industrial plant in Johnstone and had its head office at 11 St. Enoch Square in Glasgow.

By the 1870s James’s sons, William, Archibald and James, Jun., were employed in the mills and business continued to develop and expand. The firm now owned Lancefield Mill, a small mill in Clark Street, and, in 1873, built a second large flax mill on the North bank of the River Cart at Johnstone Bridge. In 1881 Finlayson Bousfield’s Johnstone flax mills were documented as having a capital of £187,003 and 1700 employees, and were regarded as the largest flax mill in Scotland.

James and Charles had become not only successful wealthy businessmen, but also men of importance and influence in Johnstone who played a significant part in the development of the town. James had played a key role in the creation of Johnstone as a burgh in 1857. He founded the Flax Mill Workers Co-operative Society in 1866 which served the town for almost a century and built workers’ houses in Clark Street in 1872. In his sixties James stood for parliament and served as MP for Eastwood in 1885-1866. Charles, before his death in 1874, organized the building of Lilybank Bowling Green, for the use of the company’s employees. It has stood the test of time and is still a popular bowling green in Johnstone today.

For some years the company had been exporting abroad, notably to USA and Australia, where, Richard Allen & Co. of Melbourne were sole agents for Finlayson Bousfield of Johnstone. In 1878 James’s son, Archibald, was sent to USA to explore the possibility of setting up a new mill. Finlayson’s Flax Spinning Mill in North Grafton, Massachusetts, was up and running before 1885.

After consultation in 1897 with other well-established flax mills in Renfrewshire, Ireland and USA, Finlayson Bousfield & Co. in Johnstone and Finlayson’s Flax Spinning Mill in North Grafton, USA were founder members of The Linen Thread Company (1898-1968).

 Packaging: Courtesy of Johnstone Museum

© 2022 Helen Calcluth. Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Finlayson, Bousfield & Co., 2: The Linen Thread Company (1898-1968)

The Linen Thread Company was founded in 1898. It was an amalgamation of like-minded, successful linen thread manufacturers with mills in Scotland, Northern Ireland and USA. Finlayson, Bousfield & Co. was a founding member, and William, Archibald and James Finlayson (the three sons of James Finlayson, who established Finlayson Bousfield in 1844) were appointed to its first Board of Directors. The other founding members were the Finlaysons’ Flax Spinning Mill in North Grafton, Massachusetts; W. J. Knox Ltd. of Kilbirnie, Ayrshire; Wm. Barbour & Sons Ltd., Hilden Mill, Lisburn; Barbour Flax Spinning Co., Patterson, New Jersey; Barbour Brothers of New York  and Marshall Thread Co. of Newark, New Jersey. They were soon joined by seven other flax companies from Britain, Ireland and USA., including Crawford Brothers of Beith, Ayrshire.

The Linen Thread Company grew and expanded into a huge international concern,  with mills in Europe,  Australia  and South America.  Its Board of Directors insisted on the use of high quality flax, opened  scientific laboratories to ensure quality and innovation, and established a very productive and unrivalled world-wide sales organization through local agents. Throughout its existence, successive members of the Finlayson family from Johnstone, the Knox family from Kilbirnie and the Barbour family from Lisburn (the Barbours were descendants of the Kilbarchan Barbour linen merchants) were on the Board of Directors. The dedication and entrepreneurial skills of the directors ensured the success of the company, and was of significant advantage to the financial success of each independent member company. The UK head office was in Glasgow.

To manufacture quality thread, it was deemed essential to start with quality raw flax plants. In Finlayson Bousfield’s Johnstone mills quality raw flax was purchased from the Courtrai district in Belgium or from Ireland. It is likely that the  ponds on the north bank of the Black Cart (shown on OS Maps, Renfrewshire XI.8, 2nd ed., 1897 and later) were used as the retting ponds, although in some other of the Linen Thread Co’s flax mills, the soaking of raw flax was undertaken indoors. The flax was then taken to the drying room before the next processing stages of heckling and scutching, were undertaken by machine indoors. The processed flax was then ready to be sent to the spinning mill. The Finlayson Mill in North Grafton, USA, operated only as a spinning mill of  already processed flax.

In Johnstone, Finlayson Bousfield manufactured a wide variety of quality threads and cords, including hand and sewing machine threads, saddler’s threads, bookbinder’s threads, carpet thread, crochet thread, flourishing thread (for embroidery), glove thread, lace thread, and shoe thread. Samples of their finished products can be viewed locally in Johnstone Museum.

But all was not always plain sailing. In February 1902 at one o’clock on a Wednesday morning, a dramatic fire broke out in the company’s Napier Street Mill, which contained a large stock of finished thread ready for the market. At one end of the 200 feet long building, the fire burnt through the floor of the second storey and machinery fell into the burning mass below. Luckily, manufacturing was unaffected as the building was primarily used for storage and, due to a prudent insurance, the building could be repaired.

Despite this setback, Finlayson Bousfield continued to flourish for another 50 years. William’s son, Charles Kay Finlayson joined the company in the early 1900s and played an active part. His sons, too, later joined the company. William was Head Sales Director and Charles was Head Manufacturing Director of the Linen Thread Co. in the 1950s.

Although flax was the strongest natural fibre in the world, linen production declined in the 1950s when man-made fibres were introduced to the market. Both Finlayson Bousfield and The Linen Thread company ceased trading in the next decade and the main Johnstone flax mill site was later demolished.

Finlayson Bousfield’s main  Flax Mill site in Johnstone

© 2022, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Finlayson, Bousfield & Co., 3

Little has been written about Mr Bousfield, who went into partnership with James and Charles Finlayson to form Finlayson, Bousfield & Co, in Johnstone in 1848. The only indication of his origin is found in an article by the Paisley Correspondent of the Glasgow Citizen describing the Johnstone Grand Industrial Exhibition, held in the town in 1853. Mr  Bousfield had contributed  specimens of silk tabaretts, and silk damask and tissues, for display at the exhibition and these had been manufactured chiefly at Spitalfields. This information indicated a possible clue to his past and merited further investigation.

Recent research has revealed that Charles Holehouse Bousfield was born in London on 9th of February, 1822, and baptised in St. Olave, Old Jewry, London. His mother was Sarah Holehouse and his father, Charles Pritchett Bousfield, was a silk manufacturer in London. As children, Charles and his siblings are likely to have lived in a very busy household, which may have included on the premises his father’s indentured weaver apprentices.

In 1836, at the age of fourteen, Charles was indentured as an apprentice to his father to learn the Art of a Silk Manufacturer. In 1843, on completion of his apprenticeship, young Charles was admitted as Freeman of the City of London. In the late 1840s, when he came to Scotland, possibly on business for his father who was a partner in Lea, Bousfield & Co., silk manufacturers in Cheapside, London, he appears to have been well-respected in Glasgow business circles. Presumably, with an eye to the main chance, he saw in James Finlayson the potential of future success and went into partnership with him to form Finlayson, Bousfield & Co. In 1851, and possibly earlier, he is known to have lodged with William and Helen Finlayson, the Finlayson brothers’ parents, beside the mill at Johnstone Bridge in the  High Street. He is listed as a proprietor of Finlayson Bousfield in Johnstone in 1855 and1865. But, unlike the Finlayson brothers, little of his personal life or social involvement in Johnstone is recorded.

In addition to his contribution of silk goods on display at the Johnstone Grand Industrial Exhibition (1853), he is known to have hosted a meeting in the Public Hall in Johnstone in November, 1873, when Sheriff Clerk of Glasgow gave a history lecture to the Johnstone Working Men’s Institute. One perhaps more significant mention of him is contained in the text of Charles Finlayson’s address to the guests at the opening of  Finlayson Bousfield’s Lilybank Bowling Green in 1874. In the address it is mentioned that Mr Bousfield, although a partner in the firm, was not well known to the Flax Mill employees. This may be explained by the fact that by the late 1860s he was living in Glasgow.

Despite the success of the company, Charles Holehouse Bousfield ended his partnership in Finlayson, Bousfield & Co. on 13th November, 1876. It is documented that he would have no further interest in the business which would be carried on under James Finlayson, Thomas Coats, and James’s three sons, William James Finlayson,  Archibald Watson Finlayson and James Finlayson, Jun.

Charles Holehouse Bousfield appears to have had returned permanently to London where  his main residence  was 40 Elvaston Place, Queensgate, Kensington. In London he was a member of the prestigious gentlemen’s club, the National Club, London, and had involvement in charities and mission work.  He died at 29 Ashburn Place, on 12th March, 1906, and was buried in Norwood Cemetery, Lambeth, leaving a considerable fortune of £497,962. 17s. 2d. to his sister, Cornelia, the widow of Hugh Huleatt, and £45,885.12s. to her daughter, Frances Emma Huleatt, widow of Archibald Mungo Muir. But how he accumulated this substantial estate is a mystery.

© 2023 Helen Calcluth,

The Kilbarchan Linen Merchants, 1 The Speirs Family

In the mid-eighteenth century, long before Kilbarchan was renowned for the weaving of tartan, a number of Kilbarchan entrepreneurial families, the Speirs, Barbours, Hows and Houstons, became prosperous linen merchants. They engaged local weavers, most of whom worked looms in their own homes, and marketed the finished textiles. By the end of the century, these early manufacturers of quality linen, had diversified their interests, and  their weavers worked  mainly in silk and cotton.

By the1740s Alexander Speirs and his brother Allan had built up a successful manufactury as linen merchants and bleachers. In 1742 Allan Speirs was the first of the village merchants to introduce the fine lawn and cambric, woven in Kilbarchan, to Dublin markets. The partnership also carried out bleaching work for local cloth manufacturers, including Kerr, Pollok & Co. in Paisley.

Alexander married Margaret Barbour, the sister of another Kilbarchan linen merchant, Baillie John Barbour. After the deaths of Alexander Speirs and his brother Allan, Alexander’s sons Allan and Alexander continued to run the family manufactury, and business continued to prosper. This Allan, like his uncle of the same name, attended to the sales and export side of the business. Sadly, he had an unfortunate end, breaking his neck in a fall from a horse in Paisley. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Alexander. It is said that Allan left, a very considerable inheritance, to his younger brother, making Alexander (jun.), the sole owner of this very successful business.  At the age of thirty Alexander Speirs was a wealthy young man. In 1775 he bought the lands of Glentyan and Glentyan Corn Mill from James Black of Penneld.  

Under this Alexander Speirs, the family textile manufacturing business continued to prosper and by the 1790s his weavers were working mainly in cotton. Alexander was an ambitious man and was keen to improve the quality of his muslin. In 1792, he purchased fine finished quality cotton yarn from Robert Owen (later of New Lanark), the manager of Mr Drinkwater’s cotton spinning factory, Bank Top Mill, in Manchester. Alexander Speirs’s first woven piece of exceptionally fine quality muslin, regarded as ‘the greatest curiosity of British manufacture’, was sent as a present to Queen Charlotte, the wife of George II.

In the1790s Alexander Speirs was a very wealthy man. He built Glentyan House, the prestigious mansion house which stands on the estate today. He was also keen to diversify his interests and invest in the new cotton spinning industry. This appeared to be an astute financial move and would guarantee a supply of cotton yarn for his weavers. In 1792 in partnership with Robert Barr, a Paisley muslin manufacturer, and brothers James and John McIlwham, manufacturers in Anderston, Alexander Speirs invested in the establishment of a large cotton spinning mill at Crosslee. The building of Crosslee Mill was an ambitious project. It was to be the largest cotton mill in Renfrewshire and took three years to build, partly because of the length of the lade. This 2000 metre long lade can still be followed along the north bank of the Gryffe from Bridge of Weir to Crosslee.

       Crosslee Mill Lade

But his fortunes were about to change. His untimely and over-ambitious investment in Crosslee Mill and the vast expense in the rebuilding of Glentyan House resulted in his financial ruin, and he died a poor and broken man. He did not leave a will and there is no known gravestone erected to his memory in the village.

©2022   Helen Calcluth

Further information on the Speirs, Barbours, Hows and Houstons is contained in “Kilbarchan and the Handloom Weavers” (Chapter 3, pp 31-42)  available on the website Publications.

The Kilbarchan Linen Merchants, 2 The Barbour Family in Kilbarchan

The first Barbour manufacturer and linen merchant in Kilbarchan was Baillie John Barbour (1701-c1770). He married Janet Fulton in 1726 and had three sons and four daughters. Their first house was in Church Street. (See image above.)

As a Baillie (judicial officer of a Barony) John Barbour was a man of importance and influence in the village. John’s brothers, William and Robert were partners in the family concern.

John  was also an entrepreneurial businessman and his linen manufactury was not his only commercial enterprise in Kilbarchan. In the 1740s he owned a candle factory in the village which exported large batches of candles to the West Indies in the 1740s.

By 1739 Baillie John Barbour had built a weaving manufactory in the village, originally for the manufacture of thick linen, and soon after built a bleaching factory. He engaged local weavers, who worked looms in their own homes, and business prospered. The Barbours, like the Speirs, exported their fine linen goods to Dublin and London. In the late 1750s Robert Barbour, John’s brother, was responsible for the export trade. As a packman or commercial traveller, Robert conducted business, not only for the Barbours, but also for other Kilbarchan and some Paisley manufacturers.

Baillie John’s  sons,  John, William and Humphrey, joined the family business and after the death of their father, the three brothers expanded the family business. The Barbours, like the Speirs, had established premises in Dublin. Both Baillie John’s eldest son, known locally as John of Law, and the youngest son, Humphrey, divided their interests between Kilbarchan and Ireland. William, the second son, attended to the weaving and bleaching business at home.

Although the Barbours’ main exports were finished textiles, from the 1770s Humphrey Barbour was also a thread (as opposed to textile) manufacturer in Kilbarchan. Humphrey used superior linen yarn imported from Ulster and the Barbours exported the finished thread back to Ireland. One large consignment of 276 lbs. of unrated Scotch thread and 12 lbs. of filler thread, along with 4848 yards of plain lawns, leno, cambric and catgut, 152 yards ornamented with cotton, was shipped to Dublin by the Barbours in November, 1784.

By the 1780s, with the gradual demise of the linen trade in Scotland, the Barbours continued to concentrate their main interests in Ireland and a third generation John Barbour moved to Lisburn where he set up a factory settlement for spinning thread on Plantation Stream in 1784. A  dam was built on the stream, and his twisting mill, driven by animal powered machinery, was a large circular building 33 ft. in diameter and seven to eight feet high. Two factory  buildings, two factory houses and two blocks of workmen’s houses completed the site.

The Barbours’ commercial interests in Kilbarchan had ended by 1800. Humphrey had moved to Glasgow as a wine merchant; John died in 1794; and William’s bleaching business in Kilbarchan failed in 1799. However, that is by no means the end of the Kilbarchan Barbour story! Humphrey’s family founded very successful businesses in Manchester and  Liverpool; William Barbour, the son of the John Barbour who built the thread mill at Plantation in Lisburn, was the founder William Barbour and Sons, which became a world-wide concern, and rivalled Coats of Paisley.

© 2022  Helen Calcluth

Further information on the Speirs, Barbours, Hows and Houstons is contained in “Kilbarchan and the Handloom Weavers” (Chapter 3, pp 31-42). Available on the website Publications.

The Kilbarchan Linen Merchants, 3: Barbour Family Descendants in Ireland, USA and England

In Ireland John Barbour (1752?- 1823), a younger member of the Kilbarchan Barbour family, built Plantation House and set up a linen thread manufactury at Ballymullen, near Lisburn, Co. Down, in 1784. His son, William, built Hilden Mill (see image above) in Lisburn, Co. Antrim, in 1824,  and later built workers’ houses and a school for workers’ children at the factory gate. His firm, William Barbour and Sons, operated for almost 200 years. It closed in 2006.

In the 1850s William sent his sons, Thomas and Samuel, to America as import agents for his threads manufactured in the Hilden Mill. This venture met with considerable success, and the Barbours bought large mills in Paterson, New Jersey. Business prospered and expanded. By 1888 William Barbour and Sons had become ‘the largest manufacturer in the world of tailors’ thread and shoemakers’ thread for hand and machine sewing’. The American Barbours became millionaires. However, they appear never to have forgotten their Scottish roots. In 1910 Robert Edwards Barbour, a grandson of William Barbour of Hilden, built a 42 room mansion house on his estate in Paterson, New Jersey, and  named it ‘Kilbarchan’.

Kilbarchan Mansion House, Paterson, New Jersey

(click to enlarge)

The three sons of Humphrey Barbour (Baillie John Barbour’s youngest son) set up prosperous businesses in England. Humphrey’s eldest son, John Barbour, became a Liverpool shipping agent, and his second son, Robert Barbour, in partnership with the youngest son, George Freeland Barbour, became a cotton merchant in Manchester. Robert Barbour amassed a large fortune and is remembered as a generous benefactor to the city of Manchester. George Freeland Barbour later returned to Scotland and resided in Gryffe Castle in Bridge of Weir.

Around 1900 the Irish Barbours’ business interests later extended back to Renfrewshire in Scotland. John Doherty Barbour, the eldest son of William of Hilden, was the inspirational founder of the Linen Thread Co. Ltd. in 1898. This company was an amalgamation of thirteen firms in Ireland, Scotland and America. One of the three Scottish firms was Finlayson Bousfield & Co. Ltd. in  Johnstone.

© 2022  Helen Calcluth

(Further information on the Barbours is contained “Baillie John Barbour and his Descendants”, available on the website “Publications”.