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Kilsyth, A Parish History
Chapter XIX


A Successful Family—The Bairds—Sagacity and Enterprise— Their Works—Connection with Kilsyth—Coke Making— Members of Firm in i860—Tradition—History—Alex. Baird of Kirkwood—Alex. Baird of Woodhead—An Anecdote—First Mining Ventures—Merryston—Gartsherrie—“William Baird & Co.”—List of Mineral Estates—Varied Family Gifts— William Baird—M. P.—Chairman of Caledonian Railway— Deputy Governor of the Forth and Clyde Canal—John Baird of Woodhead—Alex. Baird of Urie—James Baird—Town-head Church—Portrait—Hot Air Blast—Patent Rights Lawsuit—Auchmedden Romance—Deep Religious Convictions— Robert, Douglas, and George Baird^Alex. Whitelaw—His Business Capacity—Isaac Disraeli—A Baconian Maxim Refuted—Present Members of Firm.

The Bairds are the autocrats of our Scottish commercial prosperity. They have, probably more than any other Scottish family, participated in the enormous industrial development of the last fifty years of the national life. But if they have greatly succeeded they have greatly deserved to succeed. Bacon says the ways to great fortune are often foul. But it has not been so with the Bairds. The firm of William Baird & Company is a | household word in the west of Scotland., and it is now and has always been regarded as a very embodiment of1 integrity and uprightness. The various members have been held in estimation as much for their probity and high sense of honourable dealing as for their business sagacity and enterprise. The history of the family is at notable a witness to the triumph of moral rectitude as to the success which attends intellectual intrepidity and astuteness. Immersed in the affairs of the world, they have never shut their ears to the demands of religion. Their giving has been princely; and no better examples could be found of those who have scattered and yet have

increased. If they have come to have the privileges of wealth, they have certainly realised in the fullest measure its grave responsibilities.

The Bairds are the largest employers of labour in Scotland, and it is somewhat difficult to realise the full extent of their operations and engagements. Their business not only extends throughout the west of Scotland, they have also extensive mining interests in England and Spain, They both lease and own; extensive coalfields. They have 36 blast furnaces, j capable of producing 1200 tons of iron per day. They are also extensive manufacturers of chemicals, of briquettes, and of coke. Altogether they employ about 10,000 men and boys; and, from the beginning of the firm until now, so perfect is the book-keeping system which they have instituted, that every workman can have his wages at call, and every transaction in the most remote departments be immediately brought into view.

It is at once apparent that the growth of such a firm, so extensive in its ramifications, and so perfect in its management, is a credit to Scotland, and may well claim the attention both of the philosopher and political economist.

With the parish of Kilsyth the Bairds are very closely identified. Coal had been known to exist from Reformation times, but until they entered the field its enormous and valuable resources lay to a large extent dormant. Their capital and energy have made Kilsyth largely what it is. If it had been possible for them to have | spoiled the natural beauty of its configuration they must have done so long ago. Wherever one turns one’s eyes one sees those vast hills, than which there could be no more potent witness of the enormous activity of the armies of coal and ironstone miners far down in the dark bowels of the earth. They have covered the parish with a net- ! work of railways. All the day their locomotives are seen ; scudding along the lines; all the livelong night is heard the sobbing of their engines at the numerous pits. There are no paths so sequestered where you do not meet groups of men, for the work goes on night and day j all the year round without intermission. At night the deep oranges and reds and blues of the hearths, where the ironstone is calcined, lend to the landscape a lurid and somewhat fearful appearance. The Kilsyth coal is largely used for the manufacture of coke. It is first broken by concentric wheels; then, in a form resembling rough quarry powder, it is poured into fire-brick ovens, where it undergoes the process of conversion. The grinding mill and ovens at Kilsyth cover several acres of ground, and the coke-works themselves form a very valuable local industry. Everything to which the Bairds set their hands bears the stamp of progress and enlightenment. In every department they stand in line with the scientific discoveries of the day. In the past year they have utilised the enormous waste of heat which formerly took place in the coke ovens. With the generated gas they now heat the boilers of one of their most important pits closely adjoining. But, notwithstanding all this mining activity, the country is neither black nor bleak. The rainfall is more than usually abundant, and the parish preserves all the year round an appearance singularly fresh and green.

The Bairds first got a footing in Kilsyth in i860, when they took a thirty years’ lease of Currymire. The firm then consisted of the following members:—William Baird, Esq., of Elie ; James Baird, Esq., of Cambusdoon and Auchmedden ; George Baird, Esq., of Strichen; Alexander Whitelaw, Gartsherrie House; and David Wallace, residing at Glasgow, all ironmasters, and carrying on business at Gartsherrie, in the parish of Old Monkland. In 1869 the firm entered on the lease of the Haugh, and the members were the same, with the. exception that William Baird of Elie having died, William Weir, Crookedholm, was now assumed into partnership.

The history of the Bairds is to be found in the estate offices of Lanarkshire, in which county they had been known as respectable farmers for generations. The shield of the Auchmedden family bears a wild boar passant ; but there is a tradition that it was originally a bear. The story is, that, as William the Lion was hunting in one of the counties of the west of Scotland, and happening to straggle from his attendants, he was alarmed by the approach of a wild bear. Crying for help, a gentleman of the name of Baird, who had followed the King from England, ran up, and had the good fortune to kill the bear. For this service, the King made a considerable addition to the lands he had already given him, and assigned him for his coat-of-arms a bear passant, with the motto, Dominus fecit. A reputed foot of the slain bear is still in the possession of a member of the family.

The ancestors of the Gartsherrie Bairds were tenants of the farms of High Cross and Kirkwood. In the national religious struggle they took the side of the Covenanters, and one of them, in 1683, was fined one hundred pounds for refusing to recognise the curate settled in Cathcart. Wodrow names, as one who participated in the sufferings of the time, “a worthy, judicious man, James Baird, in or near Strathaven.” The first in the family line who rises before us, possessing a distinct individuality, is Alexander Baird of Kirkwood, who was so famous for his physical strength that he got the name of “double-ribbed Sandy.” He was the great-great-grandfather of James Baird of Cambusdoon.

The father of the Bairds who first constituted the firm of “W. Baird & Co.” was Alexander Baird, born at Woodhead on the 12th May, 1765. He was a most enterprising farmer, and after a number of years of successful agricultural industry, he rose to a position of considerable influence in Lanarkshire. In his day the agriculture of the county was still in a very backward state. The only instruments used were the plough and the harrow, and they were both of wood. The work of the field labourer was excessively hard. He was, however, exceedingly willing, and with plough and flail and sickle and clod-hammer, he performed incredible feats of endurance and activity. The farm houses were of the most primitive kind. At a meeting of the heritors of Old Monkland, when the schoolmaster appeared and complained of the state of his house, and particularly that “the wind blew in under the door," Baird, who was present, replied—“Oh, that’s nothing; the dog comes in under mine.” The house was covered with tiles. The sons slept in the garret, and they frequently awoke in winter with the coverlet of their bed sprinkled with the snow blown in through the chinks.

A man of energy and foresight, in addition to his farms, he began in April, 1809, the working of coal on his own account, having acquired from the tenants the lease of the Woodside coal-work, near Dalserf. In 1816, he further acquired from Miss Alexander, of Airdrie House, a lease of the coal-field of Rochsolloch. William, the eldest son, who had been bred as a farmer, but who disliked the occupation, being a good book-keeper, was placed in charge of the new acquisition. The adventure so prospered under his management that his brother Alexander was installed in Glasgow as salesman. Being now thoroughly satisfied of the ability of his sons, in 1823 he took from Mr. Buchanan of Drumpellier the coal pit of Merryston. The former tenants had failed, but, chiefly owing to the energy of James, the colliery now became a first-rate concern. After having done his best and spent a large sum, the proprietors, taking advantage of a break in the lease, took possession of the field. This was a severe check, but the old farmer was not daunted. Applying to Mr. Hamilton Colt of Gartsherrie, in May, 1826, along with his sons, William, Alexander, and James, he entered on a lease of the Gartsherrie minerals. Two years afterwards they obtained a lease of the Cairnhill ironstone, near Gartsherrie. The first furnace was put in blast on the 4th May, 1830, at ten o’clock forenoon. The second furnace was put in blast on the 11th Sept., 1832. Thus the Bairds became established in that locality with which their names have been so closely associated. Alexander Baird, the founder of the family, died at New Mains on the 23rd December, 1833. Mr. Baird was a man of no little culture, and with great native force of character. It was owing to his sagacity and outlook the Bairds came to achieve their position and fortune. His wife, Jean Moffat, died at Coats House on the 8th of July, 1851.

Some time before his death, Alexander Baird surrendered all his coal and ironstone leases and feus to his sons, William, Alexander, James, Douglas, and George, who became associated under the name of “William Baird & Co/* Some time after, Robert and David were also added to the firm. Soon after their incorporation the brothers began to extend their operations in every direction. Acquiring extensive mineral fields in Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Stirlingshire, and Dumbartonshire, their prosperity went on increasing by leaps and bounds. Amongst the first mineral estates wrought by the company were Gartcloss, 1834; Coats, 1834; Cliftonhill and Garturk, 1835; Faskine and Palace Craig, 1841; and Gunnie and Blacklands, 1843. in 1845 the partners acquired the lands of Stobbs, in Ayrshire, on which their earliest Eglinton Works were erected. The Blair Works —now out of blast—were acquired in 1852; those at Portland in 1854; and Lugar and Muirkirk in 1856* The third furnace was lighted at Gartsherrie on the 3rd April, 1834. The first at Eglinton was put in blast on the 24th December, 1846.

Apart from their business integrity and energy, some of the success which has attended the operations of this great house has been owing to the diversity of gifts which the brothers inherited. Each came to be looked upon as a specialist in some particular department. William, for example, was the book-keeper and financier; Alexander was the salesman and negotiator; and James was the mechanic and engineer. The family numbered eight sons and two daughters, and the various facts concerning the family will be best elicited by a brief account of each.

William Baird was the eldest son, and gave his name to the firm. He was born at Woodhead on the 16th December, 1796, and died at Edinburgh on the 8th March, 1864. When his father sent him to Tweedside to learn farming, he found he took more kindly to intellectual than to manual labour. Elected a member of Parliament for the Falkirk district in 1841, he occupied for five years the unique position of the only Conservative returned by the Scottish Burghs. The Bairds have all along been distinguished by an enlightened and progressive Conservatism. Believing that the integrity of the Constitution was the best security for Capital, and the security of Capital the best guarantee the workingman could have for remunerative wages, they have fought many stiff political fights, and so sensible have constituencies been of their statesmanlike qualifications, they have been at the polls more accustomed to victory than defeat William Baird was chairman of the Caledonian Railway Company. Taking a large number of shares when they were low in value and nearly unsaleable, the brothers took the line in hand, and worked it up till its shares came to a large price. William Baird is closely connected with the prosperity of the Caledonian. He was a deputy-governor of the Forth and Clyde Canal.

In 1853 he bought the estates of Elie in Fife, and Rose-mount in Ayrshire. For the former he paid .155,000, and for the latter 47,000. He married, in 1840, Janet, daughter of Thomas Johnston, coalmaster, Gartcloss, by whom he had ten of a family—five sons and five daughters. William Baird, his eldest son, now of Elie, was born in 1848, and John George Alexander Baird, the popular member for the Central Division of Glasgow, is his second son.

John Baird, the second son, was born at Woodhead, 19th April, 1798, and died at Naples, 28th January, 1870. He was the only one of the brothers who never became a member of the House, who stuck to his father's busi* ness, and who never entered into the iron trade. He became the proprietot of the estates of Lochwood in Lanarkshire, and Urie in Kincardineshire. The former he received as a gift from his brothers, and the latter he got by bequest from his brother Alexander* who in 1854 *had paid for it the sum of 150,000. His wife was Margaret, daughter of John Findlay of Springhill, Lanarkshire. His eldest son Alexander, now of Urie was born in 1849.

Alexander Baird, the third son, was born at Kirkwood on the 29th December, 1799. He died a bachelor at London, 2nd March, 1862. He built the Mansion House of Urie, and extended the estate by purchasing a thousand acres from the adjoining proprietor, Patrick Keith Murray of Dunnottar. At his death his trustees purchased with his fortune the estate of Inches in Inverness-shire; Drumkilbo in Forfarshire and Perthshire ; and Riccarton, near Urie. All these lands were entailed on his brother John and his heirs. He left 20,000 for religious and charitable purposes. Townhead Church, Glasgow, was built with a portion of this fund.

This church was endowed and erected into a parish by James Baird, the fourth son of the family, whose name is held everywhere in so deserved honour. He was born at Kirkwood in 1802, and died in 1876. His countenance was of marked power and individuality. Every feature was massive and strongly indicative of force rather than refinement, of sagacity rather than adroitness. But it was not stern, it was suffused with that kindly humanity which marks the tender and considerate heart. He was a storehouse of practical mechanical knowledge. He was initiated in the mysteries of all trades and the cunning handling of tools. On the hot-air blast he early began to exercise his ingenuity. When he found it as its original inventor Mr. Neilson, left it, it was only capable of raising the temperature to between 250 and 300 degrees. In 1833 he constructed a blast of greatly increased power. He raised the heat 500 degrees, and doubled the output of iron. But this did not satisfy him. He went on perfecting his invention till he obtained a heat of a 1000 degrees. Mr. Baird’s hot-blast raised the production of a furnace from 60 to 250 tons per week. But he had not been allowed to pursue his improvements in peace. A case was raised against him for infringement of patent, which cost him before he was done with it 50,000. He also developed a coal-cutting machine, which is now in use in the Bothwell collieries of the company, and is of considerable practical utility. Seeking always to bless and prosper others, he himself was greatly blessed and prospered. He became proprietor of a great number of valuable estates. He bought Cambusdoon, in Ayrshire, in 1853,  —the estate where “Mungo’s mither hanged hersel’,”—for 22,000. He bought Knoydart in Inverness-shire, in 1857, for 90,000. In 1863 he bought Muirkirk for 135,000. On the death of his brother Robert he . acquired the estate of Auchmedden in Aberdeenshire, which had been purchased by him for 60,000.

About this estate of Auchmedden there is a story that would appear to belong to the region of romance if it were not supported by the most authentic evidence. Before 1750, when it was sold to the Earl of Aberdeen, it had been in possession of an old branch of the Baird family. During the occupancy of the Bairds, a pair of eagles nested regularly on the rocks of Pennan, on Auchmedden. The prophecy ran—“ There would be an eagle in the crags so long as there was a Baird in Auchmedden.” When William, the last of the old Aberdeen lairds, parted with the estate, the eagles disappeared, nor did they return to their old haunt till Lord Haddo, the eldest son of the Earl of Aberdeen, married Miss Christian Baird of Newbyth. When the estate again changed hands by passing into the ownership of the Honourable. William Gordon, the eagles once more left. When the estate once again came, in 1854, into the possession of the Bairds, the story had been forgotten by all, with the exception of the parish minister. He kept watch, and sure enough the eagles again came back to their eyrie. There they continued for some time, till the men of the coastguard having attempted to shoot them, they departed and never again returned.

A man of pure life and deep religious convictions, James Baird took the liveliest interest in the Church of Scotland. He was an elder in her communion, and he was unceasing in his efforts to promote her. His celebrated trust-deed was executed on the 24th July, 1873. When it became known that he had given half-a-million sterling to the Church, it was felt that Scotland was honoured by possessing a son who had given to the world, in a time of much spiritual perplexity, such a magnificent example of Christian philanthropy and unwavering faith in our old and well tried evangelical principles. Under the providence of God, the remarkable increase in life and usefulness vouchsafed to the Church irf> these past years has been owing to the abolition of Patronage and the operation of the Baird Trust.

But this was not all. On every religious problem James Baird had thought deeply and clearly. He took a firm grasp of the essential connection between secular and religious knowledge. He realised the. folly of separating the two in the national schools. He saw how, amid the complexities of our modern life, it was clearly as important, if not more so, that our children should receive sound religious instruction, as well as sound secular instruction. He clearly saw how character had as much to do with individual and social progress as intelligence. And that while other things may increase a people’s power, it is righteousness that exaltetl\ a nation. “I have,” he said, “a strong and conscientious objection that any of my money, whether exacted from me by rates and taxes, should be expended in teaching secular knowledge, unless it is permeated by religion, and I believe I shall be joined by an overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland in that objection.” In connection with all their works, the Bairds established schools in which a good education was imparted by the most efficient teachers that could be found. Whilst something in the way of fees was obtained from the parents for the upkeep of the schools, it is needless to say they had to make good a large portion of the expense.

But space would fail me to tell of all that James Baird did in the cause of religion and education. For many years he was a member of the General Assembly. He was also M.P. for the Falkirk Burghs from 1851 to 1857, when he retired. He was twice married, first to Charlotte, daughter of Robert Lockhart of Castlehill, and secondly to Isabella Agnew, daughter of Admiral James Hay of Belton.

Robert Baird, the fifth son, was born at Kirkwood, 26th April, 1806, and died unmarried at Cadder House, 7th August, 1856. He was educated for the bar, but after a short practice he abandoned it, and joined his brothers in business. He entailed Auchmedden estate in favour of his brother James. He was Lord Dean of Guild of Glasgow.

Douglas Baird was the sixth son. He was born at Kirkwood on the 31st March, 1808, and died at Close-burn, the 7th December, 1854. For the estate of Close-burn he paid the sum of 225,000. He married, July, 1851, Charlotte, daughter of Captain Henry Acton—of the Actons of Aldenhara, Shropshire. He died intestate, leaving twin daughters as co-heiresses. Jane Isabella married Frederick Earnest Villiers, second son of the Bishop of Durham; and Charlotte married the eldest son of the Earl of Enniskillen.

George Baird, the seventh son, was born at High Cross on the 9th August, 1810, and died at Strichen, 24th August, 1870. For many years he managed the Ayrshire works of the firm. In 1855, he gave 145,000 for the estate of Strichen, Aberdeenshire. On the death of his brother David, he succeeded to the estate of Stichill, in the counties of Roxburgh and Berwick, for which he had given 150,000. He also became proprietor of Hadden and Kaimflat in Roxburghshire, and Stonefield in Berwick. He left 25,000 for religious and benevolent purposes, and, with a portion of this money, there was erected to his memory in 1874 the Church of Coats. By his wife, Cecilia, daughter of Admiral Hatton of Clonard, in Wexford, he had one son, George Alexander, born 1861.

David Buchan Baird, the eighth son, was bom 18th November, 1816, and died, unmarried, at London, i860.

The first daughter and eldest child of the family was Janet Baird. She was born at Woodhead, 6th December, 1794. Her first husband was Alexander Whitelaw of Drumpark, in Old Monkland. Her eldest son, Alexander, rose to a position of great distinction. Educated at Sunderland, he travelled on the Continent, and studying mining and drawing, he first became a manager in the employment of W. Baird & Co., and then a partner. He took a lively interest in all matters referring to Church endowment and extension and national education. He could write and speak with equal facility. He was in his time one of the best known, most respected, and most influential men of the West of Scotland. He was elected chairman of the first Glasgow School Board. In 1874 he was elected member of Parliament for the city of Glasgow. In 1870 he acquired the estate of Gartshore, and in 1873 the estate of Woodhall. He married Barbara Forbes, youngest daughter of Robert Lockhart of Castlehill. His eldest son, Alexander, was born 10th October, 1862. A gentleman of many accomplishments, he was married recently to a granddaughter of Isaac Disraeli, and a niece of the late Lord Beacons-field.

Janet Baird’s second husband was John Weir, residing at Dunbeth, in the county of Lanark, to whom she bore one son, William, now a member of the firm, and one daughter, Janet, who married, in 1857, David Wallace, who also became a partner of W. Baird & Co.

Jane Baird, the second daughter of Alexander Baird, was born at Kirkwood, 24th August, 1804. She married, on the 6th December, 1831, Thomas Jackson, ironmaster, Coats.

Such is a brief and rapid account of the family of Alexander Baird, who began life with little other pro* spect before him than that of eking out a narrow existence on the lands his father had tilled. “But see’st thou a man diligent in business, he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men.” After all those years, since he set agoing his single-horse gin pit, this is the princely position, the princely fortune, and the more than princely heritage of reputation and honour into which his family have now entered. The Bairds have refuted the Baconian maxim. They have shown that the way to great estate may be a clean, open path of probity and fair-dealing. But the old order changeth. The builders depart, but the building remains. Beneath the old sign we find often new men with new names filling the old places of honourable industry. The name of the old firm remains unchanged. The new partners have as much life and energy as the old. They preserve the old traditions which had made the company famous, they fully preserve the old honour and reputation which have made it respected, but one is toucjied when one reads the list of the names of the partners of to-day, and finds that, if something of his blood remains, still the surname of the intrepid farmer is already gone. The following gentlemen are to-day the partners of world-renowned firm of William Baird & Co. :—

(1) William Weir, of Kildonan.
(2) James Baird Thomeycroft
(3) John Alexander.
(4) Robert Angus.
(5) Alexander Fleming.
(6) William Laird.
(7) Andrew Kirkwood M'Cosh.


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