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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
The Tennants of St. Rollox, and their great chemical work


Who, in and around Glasgow, does not know that characteristic local landmark, Tennantís Stalk, which is now of fifty yearsí standing, as the centre of an immense chemical industry? Yes, the gigantic chimney, familiar by its name to the ears and in the mouth of every denizen of Glasgow, and familiar also, as an ever conspicuous object, to their eyes,ójust as truly, although not so majestic and sightly, as the dome and cross on St. Paulís Cathedral is to those of a Londoner.

Some forty years ago, or more, it was, if the writer remembers rightly, the subject of a genuine Glasgow prize conundrum, read, and voted on, at a competition got up by Anderson, the Wizard of the North, with the view of drawing a crowd to his legerdemain entertainment.

The conundrum referred to, was:

"Why is Tennantís Stalk like a swell ?" and this was the answer to it:

"Because it wears rings and smokes!"

Charles Tennant, the founder of the great work of which the stalk is the prominent feature, when in his seventeenth year, was thus referred to by our national bard, Robert Burns, in a friendly, rhyming Letter to James Tennant of Glenconner, the forebear of the family. The lines are

"And no forgetting wabster Charlie,
Iím told he offers very fairly."

After serving his apprenticeship in Kilwinning, Charles Tennant wrought for some time at the loom; but towards the end of last century had established himself as a bleacher at Darnley, in the parish of Eastwood, while yet a young man. An important episode in the life of Mr. Tennant, at this period, has been thus recorded on good authority :ó "At the time he first established his bleachfield at Darnley, in company with his friend, Mr. Cochrane of Paisley, one of his neighbours was the late Mr. Wilson of Hurlet, whose house overlooked the bleachingfield. Mr. Wilson was then understood to occupy a prominent place in that distinguished circle or caste, out of which the mere trader or dealer was rigidly excluded; but being himself a gentleman of great business energy, he took no pains to conceal his admiration for any who might be imbued with a kindred spirit.

"For some time the new industry was regarded with little favour by the grand neighbour. As the old man, in his younger days, however, had acquired a habit of early rising, he observed one summer morning, a smart, good-looking, young man, long before the usual hours, wandering in the green field with his large watering-can, dispensing its refreshing showers over the snowy croft carpet; next morning there he was again, before the lark had left its nest; and the next and next.

"On inquiry, he learned that this industrious young man was no less a person than the proprietor and vigorous manager of the new work. His sympathies were at once attracted to this enterprising neighbour, who was forthwith invited to visit the big house, and on further acquaintance he fairly won the confidence of the old man. Not only so, but Mr. Wilsonís fair daughter also was captivated by her new acquaintance, and, in a reasonable time, after going through the usual preliminaries, Miss Wilson became Mrs. Tennant, and this formed an important link in the chain that still binds the honourable name of Tennant to the fortune and progress of our good town."

Mr. Tennant set himself to solve the great problem of how to apply the properties of chlorine gas to bleaching purposes; and his practical knowledge of the substances necessary for the process of bleaching as it then existed, led him at last to the discovery that the common substance lime possessed a wonderful affinity for the noxious gas, and hence could imprison it, so to speak, till its useful qualities could be applied in the most efficient, economical, and harmless manner.

The advantages of the discovery were at once appreciated. Here was a process that enabled the manufacturer to do the work of months in a few hours. The economy of the discovery, too, was immediately felt. It has been calculated that in the first year that the invention came into use (1789), no less a sum than £166,800 was saved by the process in Ireland alone. Mr. George Macintosh the younger mentions that the trustees for the promotion of the Irish linen and hemp manufacture voted a sum of money to the inventor; but he addsó" This proved truly a Hibernjan vote; not one penny of the money ever reached the inventorís hands, who was paid with a cock and bull story, in the usual style of official honesty."

The Chemical Works were established in Glasgow at the beginning of the century, and assumed great dimensions. Messrs Charles Macintosh, James Knox, Alexander Dunlop, and Dr. William Couper - all gentlemen of substance and talent - became partners in the concern.

A new patent, more carefully framed, was obtained for the manufacture of bleaching powder, as it was called, the former patent having reference to the impregnated substance in a liquid form.

After a busy life, full of good to the city of his adoption, in which he enjoyed the privilege of being respected by all classes of the community, Mr. Tennant died suddenly at his own residence, Abercrombie Place, Glasgow, in 1838, in the seventy-first year of his age. His friend Mr. Henry Ash-worth of Manchester thus gracefully and lovingly estimates his character and worth: "Mr. Tennant was an earnest and indefatigable promoter of economical and educational improvement - an uncompromising friend of civil and religious liberty; while his own inborn energy of character and clear intellect placed him among the foremost of those men who, by uniting science to manufactures, have at once extended their field of action, and entitled their occupations to be classed among the ranks of the liberal professions."

On the death of Mr. Charles Tennant, his son John carried on the works. He also was a gentleman of uncommon energy and ability; universally esteemed as one of the most honourable, upright, and benevolent of the merchants and citizens of Glasgow; "and every movement for the social, commercial, or educational advancement of his native city found a ready claim to his support. He died in 1878, aged 82 years."

His son, Sir Charles Tennant, Bart., of the Glen, Peeblesshire, a gentleman who in all the varied relations of life is nobly true to the honourable traditions and distinguished enterprise of the family, is the principal partner of the existing and flourishing firm of Charles Tennant & Co.


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