The Printworks at Locher

The site of the Baltic Leather Works at Locher on the old road from Kilbarchan to Bridge of Weir, has a long industrial history going back over two hundred years. Early in the nineteenth century two brothers, William and James Scouler from Barony Parish in Glasgow, brought the skills of their craft to Locher and set up a calico printworks on the site. William, the elder brother, owned the factory and James was the manager. They manufactured printed shawls and handkerchiefs (small square shawls) in their printworks.

James was of liberal persuasion. In 1815 he attended a secret radical meeting held in Kilbarchan. The meeting was deemed to be planning ‘treasonable activities’ against the government. As a result of his involvement, James was smuggled out of the country to the United States where he eventually prospered and established a large successful printworks at Arlington in West Cambridge, Massachusetts. His third son, William Scouler, became a General in the Union Army.

After James left for the United States, the printworks at Locher continued to prosper and William could afford to send his young son, John, to be educated at the University of Glasgow. John Scouler (1804-71) is remembered as the well-renowned Professor of Natural History at the Andersonian University of Glasgow and later as Professor of Mineralogy of the Royal Dublin Society. William and is buried with his wife and his son, Professor John Scouler, in Kilbarchan East Church graveyard.

By the early 1830s John Frame and Son had taken over the calico printworks at Locher. In 1841 the Frames had a workforce of about fifty men and youths in their printfield. However, working conditions for the apprentices in John Frame’s printworks led to poor industrial relations between employer and employee. This resulted in a number of John Frame’s apprentices breaking their legally binding apprenticeship contract and deserting the work place. This was a criminal offence and in August, 1833, two young apprentices, Hunter and Gilmour, were committed to the house of correction. They appealed against their sentences and, on a point of law, were later released. In 1840 a fire occurred at the printfield and the old Kilbarchan fire engine attended the fire. This fire may have heralded the closure of Frame’s operations at Locher.

From the early 1840s Locher Printworks was owned by Hardie, Stark & Co. Before setting up in business at Locher this company, run by three families, had operated as calico printers at Springfield in Neilston Parish in the 1830s. For almost a century it continued to be a ‘three family’ concern, with all the partners being from the Hardie, Starke or Williamson families. Unlike the Frames, they were responsible, caring employers and business prospered.

In the early 1860s the firm expanded and an additional dam was constructed to the east of the old Kilbarchan to Bridge of Weir Road. This second dam was used to supply water for Hardie Starke’s new Locher Bleachfield. By 1871 Hardie, Stark & Co. employed 134 workers at their Locher printworks and bleachfields.

William Edward Hardie, the senior partner from the 1850s played a significant role in the community and was instrumental in establishing the building of the Bridge of Weir Railway of which he was a director. He died in 1885 and is buried with other members of the Hardie, Starke and Williamson families in Kilbarchan West Church graveyard.

By the end of the nineteenth century the calico printing industry was in decline. Hardie Stark & Co. was by then, a relatively small concern and was sold to the Calico Printers Association. Under director George Williamson, the Locher printfield continued to operate for another twenty five years.

Hardie, Stark & Co. was so well thought of that the firm is even mentioned in ‘Habbie’s Dream’, a poem by the Kilbarchan weaver poet, Robert Craig (1832-1901)

And proud was he (Habbie) when printing trade
Wi’ Hardie Stark & Co. was thriving

In 1932 Arthur Muirhead, purchased the printfield at Locher from the Calico Printers Association and established leather works on the site. This firm grew and expanded into Baltic Leather Works, now one of the biggest exporters in Renfrewshire.

©2012 Helen Calcluth