Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

History of the Barrhead Co-operative Society Ltd.
Chapter IX. The Pioneers of the Society

“The rank is but the guinea stamp—
The man *s the gowd for a’ that."

PRINCIPLES, it has often been said, are higher than the man—a remark which is alike trite and true. But not less true is it that the propagation and establishment of principles depend upon man; and principles, no matter how good in themselves, can only be quickly and properly established if they attract to themselves the right kind of man, and that right kind of man in sufficient numbers. That Barrhead Co-operative Society was fortunate in this respect, even a very casual consideration of the qualities of its early supporters will demonstrate. In the preface to his “ History of Co-operation,” Mr George Jacob Holyoake said he had tried to give “ particulars of the persons who had made the movement—it being not enough to treat co-operation as a bale of cotton and discourse of its fineness and value in the market, as he believed it concerned the reader quite as much to know something of the men who were the artificers of the ultimate fabric.” It is in this spirit that the present chapter has been conceived. The following biographical notes on some of the earlier workers —thumb-nail sketches they may be called—constitute a slight effort at doing justice to the memory of the men who devoted their lives to the cause. They were doubtless animated by “ dreams of the future,” and in their own fashion felt that the work they were doing had more than a present value, but they were chiefly concerned about doing the duty that lay to their hand with their whole heart and soul. In Carlyle’s phrase, they recognised that it was a greater thing to build a dog-hutch than merely to dream about building a palace. They had felt the true spirit of Proctor’s verse, and in their own way responded to its call—

"Rise from your dreams of the future,
Of gaining some hard-fought field,
Of storming some airy fortress,
Or bidding some giant yield.
Your future has deeds of glory,
Of honour (God grant it may !)—
But your.arm will never be stronger,
Or the need so great as to-day.”

In most cases only a few details are available, but it is hoped that these will be sufficient to indicate what manner of men they were who fifty years ago sowed the seed which has since borne such notable fruit. Particulars are given of the fourteen original members and such others of their contemporaries as seemed worthy of special mention. The notes are arranged in alphabetical order.


Although not figuring in the list of the fourteen who formed the first membership, John Allan was nevertheless a member before the first shop was opened, and he was elected to the first management committee of the society. He was a native of Barrhead, born at Grahamston corner, near the site of the present offices, and in 1861, when the Society started, was employed as a yarndresser in Messrs Craig & Rennie’s weaving factory in Cogan Street. Young, active, and intelligent, he had up till this period devoted his spare time to the playing—and sometimes to the making of violins. He was caught by the new spirit of co-operation, and cast his fiddles aside that he might help to fashion a new instrument for the production of a finer and deeper music than had yet been conceived of. From the first he played a notable part in the Society. He was three times president, and, as he was a good correspondent and speaker and a careful man of business, most of the early negotiations with merchants and others were conducted by him. He it was who completed arrangements with Mr Gillies for the taking of the Society’s second shop at Bank Street corner. His qualities soon gained him recognition beyond Barrhead, and he was frequently called upon in those earlier years to read papers at conferences and to advise in the establishment of other societies. When the S.C.W.S. was started in 1868, he was selected, on the suggestion of Mr John M'Innes, for the post of first secretary. This position he ably filled until 1874, when he resigned and was elected cashier, and, later, fourth chairman of the Wholesale board. He had a fluent pen, and it was no doubt a recognition of his gift in this direction that caused him to be entrusted with the writing of the historical sketch of the Wholesale Society which was deposited in the memorial-stone of the central building. He was also the first secretary of Barrhead Co-operative Iyand and Building Society, and held this position for some years. He left Barrhead in the year 1874, and was thereafter closely connected with Glasgow Eastern Society.

Although so long away from the scene of his early labours, the Barrhead Society ever occupied a first place in his affections. The writer had the privilege of conversing with him only a short time before his death, and he was then full of pleasant and interesting reminiscences of the old days in his native place. He was gifted with a certain measure of literary ability, and some of his printed papers show evidence of careful thought and wide reading. A testimonial to him from the co-operators of the West of Scotland was promoted in 1891, and was generously supported, Barrhead Society subscribing 5. He died at his residence, Dalmamock Road, Glasgow, on 27th April 1910, and a melancholy interest attaches to the fact that at the Plymouth Congress of 1910 it was intended to have honoured him, along with some other notable co-operators, by making him an honorary member of the Central Board.


was one of the first members, and an active worker from the beginning. The fitting-up and arranging of the first shop was largely his work, and it has always been understood that he was the first to enter the shop and make a purchase on the morning it was opened. He was a devoted, clever, hard-working man, and for many years all the practical details connected with alterations or furnishing of shops and the preparation of tradesmen’s specifications were left in his hands. He was more frequently a member of committee than any of his contemporaries, and had successively acted as vicepresident, treasurer, and auditor. He was not a native of Barrhead, but came to the town some ten years before the Society started. He died on 25th May 1888, aged sixty-two.


joined at the second meeting. He was a member of the provisional committee and also of the first management committee. He was a machine-printer, employed in South Arthurlie, and for a long time took an active part in the affairs of the Society.

THOMAS BIRTWELL was foreman machine-printer in South Arthurlie printworks. He belonged to Rochdale, and was full of enthusiasm for the co-operative system of his native town. He was one of the group which called the first meeting, and his name figures in the list of the first members. He was appointed treasurer of the provisional committee, and he not only received subscriptions at his own house, but some of the early committee meetings were also held there. He was re-elected treasurer to the management committee, but resigned before the shop was opened. He left Barrhead many years ago, and died in America in 1899.


Like all the other pioneers, Charles Burns was of thoughtful, earnest temperament and sterling honesty of character. He was employed with Messrs Smart & Cunningham, and was chiefly responsible for the spread of literature on the subject. He was one of the original members, and took an active interest in the affairs of the Society, although he does not seem at any time to have held office. He was a native of Dundee, and died on 18th January 1869, at Barrhead, at the early age of forty-three.


A great proportion of the early supporters of the Society were workers either in the foundry of Messrs Smart & Cunningham or in South Arthurlie printworks. David Caldwell was of the former, being foreman moulder in the foundry at the time. He was not only one of the original members, but was also one of the small group who tried the experiment of combined buying before " the store ” was opened. He was a member of committee from the beginning, and although not treasurer of the provisional committee, he was the first treasurer of the Society. There was at that time no salary attached to the office, but he was asked to put down 50 of security, and this sum strengthened the capital of the Society very materially. He had excellent business qualities and was a man of the highest integrity, and the members showed their trust in him by repeatedly re-electing him to his first position. Towards the end of 1862 he left Barrhead to take up a situation elsewhere, and it was unanimously agreed to present him with a testimonial for his past services. He returned to Barrhead the following year, and the then holder of the office immediately resigned to permit of the re-election of Mr Caldwell. In those days the Society followed the primitive custom of paying accounts in hard cash.

Merchants were paid once a month, and it was the treasurer’s custom to proceed on the paying-day to Glasgow with the money, in a bag for this purpose. The meeting of committee following this event was always an interesting one, for the amount of extra discount which the treasurer had been able to wheedle or squeeze out of the merchants had an appreciable effect upon the profits. David Caldwell belonged to Paisley, but had been in Barrhead for close on ten years before 1861. About 1876 he went back to his native place, where he started a successful business of his own, and at a later date he served as a member of Paisley School Board. On his retirement he went to live at Kilchattan Bay, in a house which he had bought there. He died" in Kilchattan Bay a number of years ago, and was survived by a family of sons and daughters, one of the sons— Mr William Caldwell, ironfounder, Barrhead—being well known throughout our district.


is not mentioned amongst the first members, but at a meeting of the provisional committee on 16th March 1861 he was elected president, and on 2nd July he was again elected president of the first committee. This position he filled until May of the following year, when he left Barrhead for Paisley, where he continued to reside until his death a few years ago. He was a joiner to trade, of an exceedingly quiet but shrewd and careful type.


We feel constrained to devote a few lines to the memory of this able and useful co-operator, although he was not in any sense a pioneer member of the Society. He was a native of Meams, but settled in Barrhead, where he was employed as a clerk in the Cogan Street weaving factory. Here he met Mr John Allan, and, although the latter was an older man, they were drawn to one another by a similarity of thought and aspiration. As a result a strong friendship was formed between the two, and Robert Craig was thus brought into the co-operative movement. While Mr Allan was secretary of the Wholesale Society, the increase in business rendered the employment of a clerk a necessity, and he recommended Mr Craig for the situation. This position the latter filled with such ability that when the United Co-operative Baking Society got intcf serious difficulties and its first manager had to leave his post, Mr Borrowman, manager of the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society, strongly recommended Robert Craig for the vacancy. He was selected by the committee, and although without any previous experience of the bakery business, his appointment was fully justified, for within a short time he had pulled the society through its difficulties, and set it on the high road to success. A few years later he had to resign on account of ill-health. On leaving he was presented with 100 from co-operators and employees. He went to the South of France where he remained for some time, but without receiving any benefit. He returned home, and resided with a sister until his death at a comparatively early age in 1877. Robert Craig appears to have been a man not only of considerable talent, but of a peculiarly sweet and lovable nature. To this day, although it is so long since his journey ended, the very mention of his name in the ears of those who knew him calls up a kindly look to the eyes


and a warm commendation to the lips, which bear testimony to how highly he was valued. “ To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”


was the fifteenth member to join the Society—the first to follow the example of the original fourteen. He was a member of the first committee, and in a group which was notably happy and good-humoured, he was noted as being the only captious critic in the lot. He has been described by one of his fellow-members as the “ porcupine ” of the committee. But he was a keen and eager worker, and like most critics he was useful in keeping the others up to the scratch.


had the honour of being No. I on the original roll of members. He was appointed secretary of the provisional committee, and the minutes of the first few meetings are written by him. He resigned this position, however, in March, and was succeeded by Robert Stark. He became a member of committee before business started, and was president from September 1862 till February 1863, when his resignation was " reluctantly accepted.” He was a native of Paisley, and a brassfounder to trade. He left Barrhead about 1867, and was for a short time in Belfast; but latterly settled in Greenock, and established a business there which is still carried on by his son. His record, and the fact that he was first selected to act as secretary, and latterly as president, prove him to have been a man of solid capability. He died in Greenock in 1895.


was one of those who helped, along with the first halfdozen enthusiasts, to create the opinions which made the Society possible. He was one of the original members, but the Society was in existence for about a year before he became a member of committee. Whether in committee or out of it, he appears to have t&ken an active and intelligent part in all the earlier business of the Society. Originally he came from Glasgow to Barrhead, where he died in September 1882.


shares with John l,indsay the distinction of being one of the two survivors of the original members. He was a member of the provisional committee, but owing to being frequently working late he had to resign, and never afterwards took any very active share in the business of the Society. He is a native of Derrachie, County Antrim, but came to this country early in life. He joined the Volunteer movement in 1859, an^ is best remembered in Barrhead for the active part he tfok in that movement, having acted as colour-sergeant for twenty years. He has been retired from active labour for a number of years, and now resides in Pollokshaws.


tcok part in the co-operative experiments which were made before steps for the formation of the Society were taken. One of the first fourteen, and a member both of the provisional and of the first acting committee, he had, like John Allan, the honour of being three times elected president. He was a prudent, careful administrator, quiet and unassuming in character, but well-read and with a well-stored mind. It may be worth while quoting a few sentences from his address as president at the fifth annual soiree in 1866. “ I believe,” he said, " that co-operation will yet change the face of society, if working-men only saw it to be their duty to co-operate for mutual benefits. We are bound by everything that is sacred to try and make the world better than we found it—therefore, let us try to bring about that glorious period of universal brotherhood which poets have so beautifully sung. Let all of us think of the men of the past, and what they did for an idea. They saw that to shrink was to lose all, and they stood manfully for principle, and now we are enjoying the freedom they have bequeathed us. Let us remember the words of the Hebrew poet: ‘ Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity ; ’ and of our own Burns who said : ‘ When man to man shall brothers be.’ Let us endeavour strenuously to fulfil that prophecy.” Robert Law died in July 1878.


was an iron-dresser in Messrs Smart & Cunningham’s. He joined the Society at the first meeting, and is mentioned in the minutes of some of the early general meetings, but does not appear to have served on committee.


is one of the two survivors of the first members, and is the only one still resident in Barrhead. He is a son of the Alexander Lindsay just mentioned, and this is the only instance of father and son being fellow-pioneer members. John Lindsay belongs to what may be called the silent branch of the human family, so far as public meetings are concerned. During all these long years he has been a regular attender of the general meetings, but he has rarely taken active part in the debates. He was elected a member of committee in 1865, and in the following years was more than once re-elected to office. He still attends the Society’s meetings, and pays close attention to the business transacted. It is the earnest wish of his fellow-members that he will be long spared to do so.


Walter Lindsay, although of the same name, was not directly related to the two foregoing members, but was a brother of the late John Lindsay, for many years gatekeeper at Boyd’s printfield, a man who had a local reputation for intellectual gifts far above the average. Walter was also an able and well-read man. He early allied himself with the new co-operators, and was elected to the first committee. For many years he gave active and useful service to the Society. He was a native of the Campsie district, but was long settled in Barrhead, where he died many years ago.


like John Allan, was a native of Grahamston. He was a mechanic with Messrs Smart & Cunningham, and associated himself with those of his workmates who were helping to form the Society. He was a steady, determined man, of what is called the practical type, and was associated with


Seated—Finlay JESSIEMAN (Treasurer, Savings Bank), Gavin Pinkerton (Secretary, Savings Bank). JOHN Martin (President), DAVID W. ARNOT (Secretary),

WILLIAM HOWIE (Treasurer).

James Baillie in the arrangements for fitting and furnishing the first and the second shops. He served for a long time on the committee in the early years, and acted for for some time as treasurer. He was for a lengthy period a member of the Parochial Board, and he at one time sought election to the School Board, but was unsuccessful. During his long life in Barrhead, Mr M'Cowatt gained and kept the respect of all who knew him. He died at his residence in Barnes Street, on 30th April 1910.

JOHN m'dearmid was a member of the first committee. He was foreman moulder in Messrs Cochrane’s Grahamston foundry. He was an earnest and strenuous worker, and was apt to be somewhat impatient with those who seemed less fervent than himself. It is related that at one of the earlier meetings he and a friend—David Donnelly—rebuked some of their fellow-members for what they thought slackness in principle, and insisted that they ought to accept “ the whole confession of faith.”


In many respects this was the most remarkable of all the early Barrhead co-operators. Indeed, as we have shown in our account of the formation of the Wholesale Society, he was probably the ablest, the most useful, and the most strenuous worker in the whole Scottish movement for ten years or so from 1863 onwards. He early recognised the importance to the new movement of a journal devoted to propagating its principles and advancing its interests. At considerable trouble and some financial loss, he set himself the task of supplying this want, and in July 1863 he published from Barrhead the first number of a monthly paper, the Scottish Co-operator. The little halfpenny journal was a small affair compared with the armful of printed matter we are accustomed to receive in exchange for our copper to-day. It was a live thing however, if small, and it did a big work in the extension and consolidation of the co-operative movement in Scotland.


Its editor and owner was a man of much experience and many qualities. A printer and stationer by trade, he was also a traveller for wholesale houses, and, in the course of his peregrinations to and fro, he acted as a kind of “ head centre ” for the new movement. Individual societies were springing up in many places, but there was a want of mutual knowledge and of intercommunication between them, and it was to supply this knowledge and create this wider co-operative spirit that John M'Innes bent his energies. A son of the working-class, and selfeducated in all but the barest rudiments of learning, he was yet fitted to play with distinction the part he had chosen. He was lecturer, journalist, organiser to the young movement; guide, philosopher, and friend to many of the early societies. He was the centre of the conference movement, and, as his duties often took him to England, he was able to keep his Scottish friends in touch with what was being done on the other side of the Border. He took part in the Manchester Congress of 1867; he read a paper at the London Congress of 1869 ; and, at the Birmingham Congress of 1870, he presided on the opening day, and moved an important resolution on co-operative production.

From the first number until its incorporation, in 1871, with the first issue of the Co-operative News, the little paper continued to be published from Barrhead, the type being set and the issues struck off in a tiny square building which is still standing, behind what was Mr M'lnnes’s stationery shop at 175 Main Street. In this connection it may be noted that there was some rivalry between Mr M'innes and Mr John Miller, the editor of the Renfrewshire Independent, and that the latter used to refer to the Scottish Co-operator as " the wee boat,” and to its editor as “ the man with the greasy flannels.” To this, Mr M'innes, with even greater bluntness, was in the habit of replying by speaking of the Independent editor as “ the bubly-jock.” Such apparently were the public courtesies of that time !

Before starting his paper Mr M'innes had no experience in presswork, but he proved himself a capable writer, with a ready pen and the gift of lucid expression. His style had nothing that was notably individual about it, but it was clear, crisp, concise, and without useless flourish—the best type of journalism. The photographs of him which still exist indicate a man of much natural shrewdness and breadth of character. He belongs quite apparently to that intellectual aristocracy which leads the world, and which is to be found everywhere amongst the workers, but nowhere more frequently or of better type than in our own country of Scotland. For years the paper was carried on at a financial loss, but during the whole of that time he never once made public complaint; and when he reproached co-operators for being lax in supporting co-operative journalism, it was on behalf of the English Co-operator he spoke, and not in his own interest. It was not till 1870 that he could speak of the position of his own paper with satisfaction, and at that time he pointed out that during all the years the paper had been published it had not contained above half a dozen contributed articles. " The whole writing,” he says, “ even to reports of the societies, have been from our own pen.” “ The present number,” he adds, “ may convey an idea of the labour involved, and it is not wonderful that imperfections exist. We are aware that they do, and are sorry that no one will give us assistance. We are willing to spend and be spent in the good cause; willing to resign our post when a better pen is provided to fill it, but until that time we crave the sympathy and countenance of every co-operator and every society in Scotland.”

How much his paper was to him and yet how ready he was to give it up is indicated by his last words in the issue for July 1871, when he announces that in future the paper will be incorporated with the Co-operative News, then just beginning to be issued. " The giving up of our paper,” he says, “ occasioned a considerable amount of regret—more than many will credit. It was begun when the movement was in its infancy, and carried on for a time with a very limited circulation and under other discouraging circumstances. But gradually the circulation increased until it reached a comparatively large one in Scotland and a rapidly growing one in England, and in every way was growing in popularity and influence. But although regrets and doubts existed, we had no hesitation in sinking these as a matter of duty by looking only at the claims of the movement.” It is pleasant to find that this long-continued connection between Barrhead and co-operative journalism has recently been revived. In November 1909, upon the sub-editorial chair of the Scottish Co-operator becoming vacant, it was to Barrhead that the Newspaper Committee looked for someone to fill the vacancy, and in appointing Mr William Reid they selected a gentleman well qualified for the position, both by reason of natural aptitude for the work and of co-operative experience gained in the actual administrative work of Barrhead Society.

Of Mr MTnnes’s connection with Barrhead Society it is perhaps unnecessary to add to what has been said in the preceding chapter. We have already seen that he took a deep pride in " our society ” and in the work it did. He acted at times as auditor, and was sometimes elected a member of a special committee, but it is evident that his frequent absences from home prevented him joining the board. He came to Barrhead from the Greenock district, and had been settled here a few years before the Society started. Although so ardently enamoured himself with the new doctrines, he was, like many another husband, unable to induce his wife to view the subject through his eyes. Mrs M'innes refused to have anything to do with the Barrhead Co-operative Society, and he had to join without her consent, and had to do his co-operative shopping himself. After the Society had been in existence for some time and a few pounds had accumulated to his credit, he arranged with Robert Stark a plan of campaign for overcoming the goodwife’s objections. Robert called at the house to spend the evening, and, over a cup of tea, he cautiously inquired at Mrs M'innes what he was to do with the money he had belonging to her in the stQre. She retorted by advising him to take his fun off somebody else, as she was not so green as he evidently thought her to be. He succeeded in convincing her, however, that a fund had accumulated from the dividend on her husband’s purchases. From that day Mrs M'innes needed no pressing to visit the store, and, like her husband, she became a missionary for co-operation.

Very much more might be written of John M'innes, but we cannot afford to devote too large a measure of space to any one individual. Of the man himself it is only necessary to add that, although he has had detractors, yet all those who came longest and most closely in contact with him speak in the highest terms of his personal qualities. As typical of a number of such tributes, we may quote Mr Mallace of St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh, who, in a letter to the writer, says: “ When I first knew Mr M'innes he used to travel about the country, visiting nearly every town and village in Scotland taking orders for jewellery and stationery goods. He was well known to all the principal co-operators in Scotland, and he knew all the store managers, and could give you the history of each. In fact, I understand he was the chief speaker at most of the important co-operative gatherings from i860 to about 1874. His travels enabled him to gather many stories and anecdotes, and he used to retail these .with great glee at the tea meetings, and it was nothing unusual for him to stop in the middle of a/speech and sing a song to his audience. Altogether he was a genial and a lovable old man.”

In connection with Mr M'lnnes’s occasional habit of treating his audience to a song, Mr William Maxwell recently related to us an instance of this which had come under his own notice. Mr M'Innes was one of the speakers at the annual social gathering of a country society. A dance was to follow the soiree, and Mr M'Innes’s speech came on at a late part of the programme, when the young folk were beginning to grow impatient for the pleasure which was to follow. During the speech this section of the audience began to manifest signs of impatience. “ Ah well,” said Mr M'Innes interrupting himself, “ if you’ll not listen to a speech, maybe you’ll listen to a song.” There was an immediate burst of applause ; but, when he had finished his song, Mr M'Innes looked pawkily down at his hearers, and, said he: “Maybe you’ll take the rest of the speech now ? ” This was received in icy silence, but they had to take the speech before the dancing after all! It is another proof of his acumen that Mr M'Innes was one of the first to realise the outstanding qualities of Mr Maxwell and their potential value to the movement, and in those days he used to insist on dragging the younger man with him to as many of his meetings as possible.

Some time . after the incorporation of the Scottish Co-operator with the Co-operative News in 1871, Mr M'innes removed both his home and his business to Glasgow, and he died there on the 3rd March 1880, at the age of sixty-three. He rests in Woodside Cemetery Paisley. In June 1886 a tombstone was erected to his memory, his friends in the movement subscribing the necessary funds, for which Mr Macintosh, accountant to the Wholesale Society, acted as treasurer. Sufficient, we hope, has been said in this brief story to show that, as John M'innes was proud of his own Society, so, in turn, his Society has every reason to be proud of him. He was a worker whose memory the co-operative movement as a whole ought to cherish.


was a man in some respects even more remarkable than his friend M'innes, although his work for co-operation was neither so great nor so sustained as that of the latter. He is best remembered by his temperance advocacy, but he really began his public life in the co-operative movement, and, as we have shown elsewhere in this book, was at one time its principal public exponent in Scotland. Paton, M'innes, and Robert Stark were close friends, and in many ways were helpful to one another. Paton joined the Society shortly after its formation, and although he never held office he often attended its general meetings and was a frequent speaker at its social gatherings. He was always a candid critic and a master of invective, whose trouncings were feared at times not only by the co-operative committee but by other sections of the community as well. It is told of him that he would occasionally give the directors a terrible word-thrashing, and once, when he thought they were usurping too much power, he characterised them as “ a wheen gilded aristocrats.” As an orator, John Paton occupied a commanding position amongst the best speakers of his time. His temperance work continued for many years, and made him well known all over the kingdom, but particularly in some of the larger English towns, where the announcement “ John Paton is coming ” was sufficient to fill the largest halls with expectant audiences. Like many another notable man, Paton had to fight against the heavy handicap of a childhood of poverty. The portrait which we give in this book reveals a man of great and unusual natural capacity, who, born under more auspicious circumstances, would have adorned any position, however lofty, to which he might have been called. He was a shoemaker to trade, and in the early years the members procured their boots from him and paid them through the Society. He was a native of Stewarton, but had settled in Barrhead early in life, and died there on the 14th December 1892, in his seventy-sixth year.


was a member of the first committee, a block-printer by trade, and a native of Busby. He lived in Grahamston, where he was well known as an enthusiastic keeper of bees. A simple, honest, kindly man, who was useful to the young Society in many ways.


was one of the first fourteen, but does not appear to have taken a very active share in the work of the Society. He was a native of Rutherglen, but came to Barrhead as a young man and was employed in the foundry of Messrs Smart & Cunningham. He spent almost his whole life in the town, although he resided for the last few years of his life with a sister in Glasgow. He died there in 1892, aged eighty years.


was one of the early members, and a good worker in the first committee. He it was who interested John Allan .in co-operation and induced him to join. They lived near one another and had similar tastes, both being interested in violin making and playing. In 1862 he taught a mechanical drawing-class on certain evenings in the committee-room. ,He was an irontumer to trade, and died many years ago.


was the sixteenth member to join the Society, and was a member of the first and some of the later committees. He was a blockcutter in Boyd’s printfields, and, it is said, was an exceedingly clever man, both with his head and his hands.


An account of Barrhead Co-operative Society without some particulars of Robert Stark would be almost as bad as “ Hamlet ” with the part of Hamlet left out. Those who only knew Mr Stark in his old age, and when he had long bome the cares of an office which he had naturally come to regard as his own peculiar preserve, would be very apt to misjudge the nature and capacity of this man who for forty years was the Society’s chief officer. He is to be judged not merely by the plodding work of his later years, but by what he did in his youth and prime. It is comparatively easy for the present generation of officials and members to build securely on the foundations their predecessors had laid, but Robert Stark and those who worked with him had to dig the trench and hew the rock before even a foundation was possible.

Robert Stark was one of those whom Carlyle has called “ inarticulate.” He was a man of little speech, and as he grew older his habit of silence became more pronounced. But he was full of a burning enthusiasm, and when the Society commenced he was probably the central force that gave it life. He was present at all the early meeting's; whoever else might be absent, Robert Stark was in his place. It was he who read the rules of the Rochdale Society at the second meeting, and although not then acting as secretary, he it was who corresponded with Vansittart Neale in regard to the drawing up of rules for Barrhead. This spirit of enthusiasm he maintained to the last, although it was concealed under a very quiet exterior, and the writer has more than once detected him with tears in his eyes at meetings where thoughts with which he sympathised were being expressed. He was a great admirer of George Jacob Holyoake, of whose writings he had made a fairly complete collection. He was undoubtedly a man of large, confident, childlike spirit, and he had that gift—rare in old age—of seeing beyond his own day and recognising that the work his generation had done was not a finality but merely a link between the past and a higher future. At the same time there was a certain element of secretiveness and what, for want of a better word, may be called “thrawnness” in his composition, that was apt at times to be irritating to those with whom he worked. He doubtless made many errors, but in his patient, plodding way he managed the Society’s affairs with wonderful success for many years, and well deserved the praise of Bailie Grandison, who had long been his colleague in office, and who spoke of him as "a perfectly honest man.” That his qualities were appreciated by his fellow-members was proved by the long period during which he retained their confidence. In the early years of the Society this confidence was displayed in a variety of ways, although it must be added that the payment of a reasonable salary was not one of them. Up till 1870 his'first salary of 2 had only been increased to 8, and in that year it was agreed to pay him 10 per annum.

At the quarterly meeting in February 1866 it was unanimously agreed to record in the minutes the Society’s appreciation of his services, and at the same time it was decided to hold a social meeting and present him with a testimonial from the members. This meeting was held on 16th February 1866. It was a crowded one, and during the evening Mr Stark was presented with a silver watch and gold chain, with a ring for Mrs Stark. John Paton made the presentation, and “as a close and intimate friend, he (Mr Paton) earnestly and fervently did justice to the moral and social character of his friend, and congratulated the members on the unanimity and heartiness shown in getting up the testimonial.” A number of similar speeches were made, songs were sung, and the following lines were recited by Mr James Rigg, the author at a later date of “ Wild Flower Lyrics ”—

“Wrap we the man in plaudit’s misty shroud,
That fadeth as the fleecy morning cloud?
No ; we of gold and silver do him give,
Symbolical of deeds that ought to live.
He, in the triumphs of his lofty mind,
Hath left the common multitude behind,
And soared in regions of ennobling aim.
Nor made he trumpets to resound his fame.
There is an impulse in his generous soul
That for the common good doth ever roll.
No empty, fleeting shadow is his aim ;
But, like the sailor on the sweeping main,
He rides majestic on to golden shores.
The days of peace and love his mind explores.
Enlist with him, O friends ! the aim is great.
The aim is good ; this makes it doubly great.
Arise, ye sons of labour ! Lift your eyes !
Above your heads are beaming brighter skies,
And glorious fruits hang rich on every tree,
For better days are near us, fair to see.
Then forward, O my brothers ! at the call ;
Truth’s sure to conquer, error sure to fall.
We’ll win the day, if steadfast we remain ;
Be principle our armour, truth our aim.”

As being in itself of some interest, and as an example of one of Robert Stark’s very rare utterances, we may quote the following sentences from his fifth annual report, submitted at a soiree held on 6th October 1866 :— " During our five years’ trading the total cash drawn has been 20,737, is. 8d., which, after paying all expenses, has realised a net profit of 1,566, 19s. 8d., disposed of as follows—interest on members’ shares, at five per cent., 108, 19s. nd.; reduction of fixed stock account, 75, 3s. id.; and dividend on members’ purchases, 1,372, 3s. id. From the commencement of the Society to 10th July, the total amount received on account of shares has been 573, 10s. gd. ; the sum paid for withdrawals and profit, 1,086, us. nd.—so that the amount withdrawn exceeded the subscriptions by 513, is. 2d. Yet still the capital has increased to 809, os. 9d. during the five years and six weeks of its existence.” Continuing, Mr Stark said:—“ Burns says ‘ facts are chiels that winna ding,’ and these are facts that show co-operation to be no idle dream. Co-operation is the only means whereby we can elevate ourselves above the bar of wages. I would press upon our members the necessity of capitalising their profits, for there has been a fierce war raging these few months past all over the country between capital and labour, and I can see no better way of obtaining a victory over the capitalists than by fighting them with their own weapon—capital, applied by co-operation. One great reason why the working-classes are in their present condition is because hitherto they have not placed that confidence in one another that they ought to have done.” Much water has run under the bridges since these words were uttered, but there is still need for their truth being pressed upon us. As in 1866, so to-day we have fierce wars between capital and labour, and the workers have still to learn that it is only the co-operative use of capital and a growing spirit of union and trust amongst themselves that can banish the evils from which as a class they suffer.

Mr Stark was a native of the little Fifeshire village of Crail, where he served his apprenticeship as a ship-carpenter, but removed to Barrhead when his apprenticeship was completed. He retained the confidence of the Society to the last, and about six years before his death he was practically pensioned at his full salary, with the position of honorary secretary. 'He only once sought office outside the Society, this being at the formation of the burgh in 1894, when he stood unsuccessfully for the Town Council. He died in Barrhead on 13th February 1905, in his eighty-third year.


a dryer in Messrs Cunningham’s bleachfield, was a native of Barrhead. He was one of the original members and a member of the first provisional committee, but does not appear to have taken active part in the later proceedings. He died in 1867, at the age of fifty-eight.


was a member of the first management committee. He was employed in the carding-room of West Arthurlie Mill, and has been described as an intelligent, judicious, and fair-minded man. He died in Barrhead many years ago.

" Honour and shame from no condition rise.
Act well your part ; there all the glory lies."—Pope.

Return to the Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus