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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XXXV - The Coming of Cotton—James Monteith and David Dale

THE revolt of the American colonies in 1775, and the declaration of their independence and the success of their arms which followed, brought the great tobacco trade of Glasgow to an end. The magnitude of the disaster may be judged from the fact that in the year which ended on 5th January, 1772, the amount of the "weed" imported by the merchants of the city had been 46,055,139 lb., [Gibson's History of Glasgow, p. 222.] the value of which was about £2,250,000 sterling. In the course of half a century many great businesses, and the fortunes of many families, had been built up on the trade. Latterly, however, a number of the "Tobacco Lords" had invested fortunes in plantations in Virginia. These were confiscated by the Government of the new republic. In consequence several of the great tobacco importing houses, like Buchanan, Hastie & Co. and Andrew Buchanan & Co., came down, and the estates of their partners were sold to pay their debts. [Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship, p. 23. Supra, p. 293] Amid the general ruin and exasperation it is little wonder that the city raised a battalion of men for the purpose of "quelling the present rebellion in America." The "rebels" in America, however, were not put down, the estates of the Glasgow "Tobacco Lords" in Virginia, and the Glasgow tobacco trade itself, were gone for good, and the city had to look elsewhere for its means of livelihood.

Fortunately this means was already in sight. As early as the year 1752 a new industry had been started by the weaving of cambrics from yarns imported from France. At first the fabric, named after Cambrai, the town of its original manufacture, was made of flax or linen, but soon a fine hard-spun cotton was substituted, and out of this grew the industry which was to be the staple business of Glasgow and the West of Scotland for more than fifty years. In Gibson's list of Glasgow imports for the year 1771 appears the item, "Cotton Wool 59,434 libs." Of this supply only one hundred pounds came from Virginia; the rest was produced by the islands of the West Indies. [Gibson, History, pp. 213-222.] The rebellion of the American colonies, therefore, did not interrupt this trade, and left the spinners and weavers on this side free to develop the new enterprise. To begin with, the fabric produced was a mixture of linen and cotton, but in 1780 the first web of pure cotton was produced by James Monteith of Anderston, and from that time the trade developed with great rapidity.

It was to the sagacity and ability of James Monteith and his sons that the cotton industry of Glasgow owed its chief impetus in those early years. The Monteiths therefore must be credited with the opening of the second great era of the city's prosperity. The progenitor of the family was a small laird who farmed his own land in the neighbourhood of Aberfoyle. The region, unfortunately, lay within easy reach of the Highland reivers, and as the laird refused to pay "Blackmail," or insurance against plundering, to Rob Roy, his stock of cattle and sheep was carried off again and again, till he was all but ruined, and died of a broken heart. His son Henry, to avoid a like experience, sold his small property, removed to the little village of Anderston, near Glasgow, and began life there as a market gardener.

Peden "the prophet" in Covenanting times, is said to have declared that Anderston Cross should one day become the centre of Glasgow. It was the descendants of the humble market gardener who now settled there who were to give the little cluster of thatched cottages its first lift towards the fulfilment of that prophecy. During the Jacobite rising of 1745, when Glasgow raised two battalions to fight the Highlanders, Henry Monteith shouldered a musket and went out to fight his old enemies. The defeat at Falkirk was a mortification to him till the end of his days. It was this old gardener's son, James Monteith, who gave his family a step to fortune. Handloom weaving then afforded a comfortable subsistence, and Monteith, forsaking the cultivation of syboes and kale, took to this. Next, pursuing the higher branches of the craft, he took to importing the finer yarns from France and Holland, becoming not only the largest importer of these yarns at the time, but a cambric manufacturer on a large scale. He further established a bleach-field beside his own dwelling house and warehouse, at the northwest corner of Bishop Street, about the spot where Bothwell Street now crosses that older thoroughfare.

The cambric industry grew rapidly. From 29,114 yards in 1775 the export from Scotland rose to 83,438 yards in 1784, representing, at an average value of 6s. 6d. no less a sum than £158,577 18s. for the ten years. [Curiosities of Citizenship, p. 97. By 1787 there were 19 cotton mills working in Scotland, by 1834 there were 134, of which 74 were in Lanarkshire and 41 in Renfrewshire.—Mackinnon, Soc. and Indus. Hist. p. 117.] Monteith's example was followed by other manufacturers, among them Messrs. Grant & Watson, who established a large factory at Manchester, an ominous departure which led the way in the great migration which ultimately transferred the whole cotton industry to Lancashire. [The brothers Grant of this firm are said to have been the originals of Dickens's Cheeryble brothers.—Curiosities of Citizenship, p. 100.]

James Monteith's sons, following in his steps, were helped by circumstances to carry the cotton industry to success on a still greater scale. The chief help to this development was the power-loom. After a visit to a cotton-spinning mill near Matlock in 1784, the Leicestershire clergyman, Edmund Cartwright, had conceived the idea of a weaving mill, and three years later patented a power-loom. Though Cartwright lost all his wife's fortune and his own in the attempt to run a power-loom mill, his invention was sound. In 1793, Dr. Robertson, an ingenious Glasgow practitioner, brought two looms from the hulks in the Thames, where they were used to employ convict labour, and he set them up in a cellar in Argyle Street, where the power was supplied by a large Newfoundland dog, trained to trot inside a drum. From this it was only a step to the employment of water-power. The owners of a bleachfield at Milton near Bowling set up forty looms driven by this means, and John Monteith, the eldest of the old Anderston weaver's six sons, having seen these, formed a company, and erected at Pollokshaws a factory containing two hundred looms. [Mitchell, Old Glasgow Essays, p. 380 note.]

The second son, James Monteith, began as a dealer in cotton twist—the material for weaving—at Cambuslang. [Jones's Directory, 1789.] By that time the enterprising David Dale was in the field, and had erected a cotton spinning mill at Blantyre on the upper Clyde. In 1792, James Monteith bought this mill. The moment, however, was unfortunate. Within a year, trade and industry everywhere were paralyzed by the effects of the French Revolution. With nothing before him but the prospect of ruin, Monteith went back to David Dale and begged him to cancel the transaction. But Dale would not consent, the bargain must stand. In the emergency, driven by that excellent spur to human effort, stern necessity, the young owner of the spinning mill hit upon a plan. There had recently been set up in London a method of selling linen and cotton cloth by "vendue," or public auction. Monteith bethought him that here was a means of disposing of his yarns if only they were made up into cloth. This he proceeded to do, and within five years, while the vogue and possibilities lasted, he realized a fortune of no less than £80,000. [Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship, p. 112.]

But it was the third of the brothers, Henry Monteith, who was to raise the family to its pinnacle of success. When he was no more than twenty, Henry Monteith was the owner of a great weaving mill in Anderston. Like his brother he was met at first by serious public troubles. In the face of strong competition abroad and at home, it became necessary either to reduce wages or to close the mills. Against any reduction of wages there was an immediate outcry. Glasgow had its first taste of industrial troubles, the contest between brains and brawn which has arisen again and again from that day till this. The weavers' leaders denounced the demand as unjust and oppressive, and endeavoured to secure the passing of an Act of Parliament to fix wages in the industry. When they did not succeed in this, they broke into open riot. In Anderston the malcontents vented their wrath on Henry Monteith by smashing the windows of his warehouse. They even went further, and assaulted the young mill-owner himself—it was the year 1785, and he was no more than twenty-one—by cutting off his queue, an appendage then as necessary to a young man of fashion as the wristlet watch and the cigarette-lighter of to-day. [Ibid. p. 114.]

Another experience which he might have found still greater reason to resent befell him at the instance of the young bloods of Glasgow itself. The ruling clique in the city—"Tobacco Lords," owners of plantations in Virginia and estates at home—were a very exclusive set, with high ideas of their own superiority and importance. Their sons and daughters, with less experience of life, were probably more exclusive still. By these young persons, Henry Monteith, being only the son of an Anderston manufacturer, was not regarded as an equal. Accordingly when, on one occasion, he presumed to attend an assembly, his appearance was resented, and next day a notice appeared on one of the pillars of the Tontine news-room, intimating that, if the young gentleman who attended the assembly on the previous night appeared at another of these gatherings, he would go out quicker than he came in. [Minute Book of the Board of Green Cloth, p. 116.]

But Henry Monteith was destined to go farther than any of these young autocrats. He acted a chief part in the building up of the cotton industry of Glasgow, and incidentally accumulated a handsome fortune. He was chosen Lord Provost in 1815 and 1816, and again in 1819 and 1820. Both of these periods were among the most difficult in the city's history; the first through the ruinous crash which followed Waterloo, the second on account of the Radical risings and riots. Through these crises he steered the affairs of Glasgow with caution and moderation to safety, and so greatly gained public esteem that he was chosen Member of Parliament for the Lanarkshire group of burghs in 1821 and 1831. Following the fashion of so many successful Glasgow men, he purchased the estate of Carstairs, near Lanark, and there, in 1824, built the great mansion which still stands, though it has twice changed ownership since his day. And his dust lies, along with that of most of the burgess aristocracy of the Glasgow of his time, in the Ramshorn churchyard. [Curiosities of Citizenship, p. 115.]

While the great weaving industry of Glasgow was thus developed by the Monteiths, the business of spinning was developed by a still more remarkable personage. David Dale was the son of a small shopkeeper at Stewarton in Ayrshire, and born in 1739. He began life as a herd boy, was apprenticed to a weaver in Kilmarnock, and in 1763 became a clerk in a Glasgow drapery store. Shrewdly noticing the difficulty experienced by the weavers in procuring yarns, he took to tramping through the country and buying up the small quantities of linen thread spun by the farmers' wives. From this, he proceeded to the importing of yarn from Holland. In a small shop in Hopkirk's Land, a few doors above the Tolbooth in High Street, which he rented at five pounds yearly, and shared with a watchmaker, he carried on a rapidly growing trade. With a partner, under the firm name of Campbell, Dale & Co., he became a manufacturer of inkle, or linen tape, and as a partner in another company, Dale, Campbell, Reid & Dale, he set up a factory for the production of cloth for the printfields. [Ibid. p. 49 ; Old Glasgow Essays, p. 41.]

Dale's great opportunity came, however, in 1783. Richard Arkwright, formerly a barber at Bolton, had in 1775 invented a machine for the spinning of yarn, known as the "spinning jenny." In this machine David Dale shrewdly recognized the means of supplying yarns in greater quantities to the weaving factories. Accordingly, when Arkwright paid a visit to Glasgow in 1783, to be banqueted by the city merchants, Dale induced him to make an excursion to the Falls of Clyde at Lanark. There the inventor was sufficiently impressed with the water-power available, and was easily persuaded to join his cicerone in the project of setting up a great spinning mill at the spot. A boggy level in the river gorge was secured from Lord Braxfield, [Stevenson's Weir of Hermiston.] and in March, 1786, the famous spinning mills of New Lanark began work. [The New Lanark mills were the second to be set up in Scotland. The first were established by an English company at Rothesay in 1778—Senex, Old Glasgow, p. 323. Steam was not used for the driving of a cotton mill till 1792. It was first employed in that year in the mill managed by William Scott at Springfield, near the site of the present Kingston Dock.—Ibid. p. 352.] In five years, four mils were busy on the spot, and 1334 men, women, and children were employed. Among these were two hundred Highland emigrants driven back by stress of weather, and landed destitute at Greenock, as well as other Highlanders, and children from poorhouses and orphan asylums, all of whom Dale fed, clothed, and housed till they attained skill enough to earn their living.

Another venture, farther afield, in which David Dale was concerned, to manufacture yarns for the Glasgow weaving factories, proved less successful. The Highlands just then were hard hit by the change of the times. The old raiding and reiving days were over, and the people had settled down on their small holdings, which were divided and subdivided as children and grandchildren grew up and married. The glens and valleys were ruinously over-peopled, and the poor soil was scourged with crop after crop of oats and barley, till it was not worth sowing. When the crops failed, as they often did in that cold northern region, the people were at once in starvation, and forced sometimes down to the sea beaches to eke out a subsistence from the shellfish of the rocks and sands. With a view to helping these poor people by the introduction of an industry, and also, no doubt, to secure an advantage from the cheapness of labour (an able-bodied man's wage was sixpence to eightpence per day), David Dale and George Macintosh, of Cudbear fame, in 1791 built a village and factory on the Dornoch Firth, to which they gave the name of Spinningdale. Everything seemed to promise success, but the enterprise failed by reason of the habits of the people, who could not be induced to settle down to regular work indoors. It was no work for men, that spinning of thread, when the trout were leaping in the rivers and the black-cock calling on the moor. Spinningdale had to be abandoned. The mill was sold for a trifle to an individual who insured it against fire, and it was burned down shortly afterwards. [Curiosities of Citizenship, pp. 76-82.]

David Dale, however, with various partners, established other mills, such as those at Blantyre, at Catrine, at Oban, at Stanley, and the industry of cotton manufacture, of which he was one of the chief founders, became the staple, not of Glasgow alone, but of every town and village in the West of Scotland. [By the end of the century Scotland consumed 6,500,000 lb. of cotton and in its manufacture employed 181,753 persons and 312.000 spindles.—The Industrial Revolution in Scotland, by Henry Hamilton, 1932.] Richard Arkwright was not far wrong when, on returning to the south after his visit to Lanark with David Dale, and on being twitted with his original occupation as a barber, he told his tormentors that he had put a razor into the hands of a Scotsman who would shave them all.

Curiously enough, both James Monteith and David Dale were, in religious matters, of the type which was to be characteristic of the weaving fraternity in the West of Scotland till the last. Monteith began as an elder in the Anti-Burgher church in the Havannah, which had split from the Original Secession church in Shuttle Street. The Anti-Burghers, however, quarrelled among themselves, and censured him for circulating a pamphlet advocating a more Christian spirit, and for the sin of "promiscuous hearing" when one Sunday, on the way to service, he and his wife were forced by rain to take refuge in the Tron church. Accordingly he headed the little band who in 1770 erected in Anderston a small Relief Kirk. David Dale, again, disapproving of a minister appointed by the Town Council, left the Church of Scotland, and presently, finding none of the existing dissenting bodies exactly to his taste, founded a church of his own, known afterwards as the Old Scotch Independents. For this body a place of worship was erected in Greyfriars Wynd by one Paterson, a candle-maker, and for this reason it was known as "the Caunel Kirk." To the congregation, which grew in numbers and influence, Dale acted as pastor till the end of his life. To qualify for this work he actually taught himself to read the Scriptures in Hebrew and Greek.

Because of his religious practices, Dale was hooted and jostled in the streets, and saw his kirk invaded and the service ridiculed by unruly mobs. But he lived to be acclaimed as a great public benefactor. For charitable purposes it was said he gave his money "by sho'els fu.' " and in the years of stress between 1782 and 1799 he chartered ships and imported grain which he sold cheap to the poor. [Curiosities of Citizenship, p. 55; Old Glasgow Essays, p. 43.]

Besides his spinning mills, David Dale was concerned in many enterprises. Among these was coal-mining in the unlucky Barrowfield, and, along with George Macintosh, as already described, the great Turkey Red dyeing industry in the same region. In 1783, he was entrusted with the first agency of the Royal Bank in Glasgow, and in 1791 and 1794 was chosen a magistrate of the city. Among the public institutions which he helped to found were the Chamber of Commerce, the first of its kind, in 1783, and the Humane Society, of which he was president in 1792 and 1793. [Cleland's Annals, ii. p. 155.] In 1798 he removed bank and store from Hopkirk's Land to the south-east corner of St. Andrew's Square, the new commercial centre of the city, and in his town house in Charlotte Street at hand, built for him by the famous architect Robert Adam, and at his country house, Rosebank, near Cambuslang, he practised a handsome hospitality of which many traditions remain. [One notable memory of the Charlotte Street house is recounted by Senex. On 18th November, 1795, Dale had invited a party of distinguished Edinburgh and Glasgow citizens to dine. While arrangements for the feast were being made the waters of the Clyde began to ooze through the floors of the kitchen and other underground apartments. One of the greatest floods of the river had begun. At the same time the Monkland Canal burst its banks, and its waters, pouring down the channel of the Molendinar, submerged the kitchen to a depth of four feet. The servants fled for their lives, but managed to save the materials of the dinner. In the emergency two neighbours lent their kitchens, and the cooking proceeded. The wine cellar also was flooded, but a porter was found, who waded in, breast high, with Dale's eldest daughter, then aged sixteen, on his back, to point out the desired binns. As a result everything was ready for the guests when they arrived, and the mirth of the party was increased rather than diminished by the peculiar circumstances of the occasion.—Old Glasgow, p. 119.] When he died at last, in r8o6, his funeral was attended by a great cortege of gentle and simple, who laid him among the mercantile aristocracy of the city, by the eastern wall of the Ramshorn Kirkyard.

Dale left no son, but the eldest of his five daughters married the Welshman, Robert Owen, whose social experiments at New Lanark and New Orbiston in this country and New Harmony in America remain famous as early attempts at practical Socialism.

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