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Wilson family of Pollockshaws and Alva

  • Family
  • 1756-

James Wilson (1756-1830) originally apprenticed to A. Murray, cooper of Beith, between 1771 and 1774 was a cooper in Pollokshaws and later (possibly) a farmer in Lochwinnoch, near Paisley. In 1782 he married Margaret Blackburn, daughter of John Blackburn and Margaret Clark. They had ten children, the sixth of whom, James Wilson (1794-1863), carried on the trade of cooper and in 1816 also entered into partnership with his elder brother John (1783-1834) as a soap and candlemaker, continuing to pursue both trades in Pollokshaws.
In 1825 James married Helen Primrose, the eldest of sixteen children of William Primrose and Christian Brown. James and Helen Wilson had ten children, two of whom - William Primrose Wilson (1836-1926) and James Wilson (1848-1919) - formed the company of Wilson Brothers to manufacture wool in Alva, Clackmannanshire. Both William and James Wilson became members of the Bakers' Incorporation of Glasgow in 1893 and Burgesses of the City of Glasgow in the same year.

In 1878 the younger James Wilson married Margaret Steven, the second of seven children of Alexander Steven and Agnes Ann McNeil. They moved down to London in 1893 where he looked after the London end of the business and built it into a more successful concern. His older brother was responsible for the company's affairs in Alva. The family moved back to Alva in 1908. James and Margaret Wilson had four children: Alexander Steven Wilson (1882-1976), Helen Primrose Wilson (1885-1958), James Blackburn Wilson (1888-1961) and Agnes Ann McNeil [Nancy] (1894-1944).

Alexander Steven trained as an electrical engineer at Finsbury Technical College and then worked with the German firm of Siemens Schukert Werke in N├╝rnberg and with Siemens Brothers and Co Dynamo Works in London. The letters he received from his family during this period give a fascinating glimpse of life in early Edwardian London. In 1907 he was asked to help his father with the family's woollen manufacturing business in Alva, and he became a partner in 1908.

James Blackburn became a partner in 1922, along with their cousin A H W Forrest. The family connection with Wilson Brothers was continued through Alexander Steven's son Peter Sidney Steven Wilson (1925-1992).

Helen Primrose was a nurse during the Great War of 1914-1918, while James Blackburn Wilson served with the French Red Cross, in the Verdun Sector, between February 1916 and April 1917, and later the British Army, between May 1917 and February 1919, serving in both Britain and France. In 1922 he married Mary Taylor Watt, the youngest of seven children of John Watt and Agnes Taylor Dickie, and a sister of Professor Hugh Watt, sometime Moderator of the Church of Scotland.

James Watt Wilson, who gave the collection to the University, is the youngest of three children of James Blackburn and Margaret Wilson, and was born in 1930.

Wilson Bros (Alva) Ltd

The Wilsons were soap, candle and wax manufacturers in Glasgow. Two brothers, William Primrose and James Wilson decided to discontinue this business and turn their attention to textiles, choosing to set up their looms in the Hillfoots, Clackmannanshire, an area that, because of its ideal topography, already contained many spinning and weaving mills. William, under the partnership of Wilson and Anderson, had already manufactured shawls in the Boll Mill in Clackmannanshire from 1866 until 1872. Wilson Bros (initially W & J Wilson) was founded and Dalmore works built in Alva in 1874. The production of shawls was superseded by tweeds for men's wear. Wilson's took a leading part in the founding of the ladies costume tailor-made trade and specialised in Ladies' Woollen Novelty fabrics. This was later supplemented by the manufacture of rugs in mohair and wool, as well as the Wil-Bro-Cel blankets. In 1907 Wilson Bros took over the patterns and yarns of the Bannockburn Tweeds. Wilson Bros became a limited company in 1930, and in 1955 its assets were transferred to Wilson Bros (Alva) Ltd. The original mill was added to in 1888 and partly rebuilt in 1895 after a hurricane had blown over the main building. There were further additions in 1912 and 1916, and a partial rebuilding after a fire destroyed almost ninety percent of the factory in 1941. Extensions were added in 1950 and 1955. In 1933 Wilson Brothers created a subsidiary company to sell to retail stores, makers-up etc. under the title Craigleith Fabrics. In 1961 Wilson Bros (Alva) Ltd formed a joint company called Glentana Mills Ltd, with a Glasgow based scarf making firm, McBean and Bishop Ltd, a venture which resulted in the loss of Dalmore Works in 1964. This necessitated the renting of various other mills, such as Greenfield Works. Wilson Bros (Alva) Ltd stopped trading under that name in March, 1967, when they were taken over by Pringles of Inverness.

William Watson (Dundee) Ltd

The company started trading between 1890 and 1902 as 'Bleachers Dyers and Finishers of all kinds of flax, cotton and jute yarns and piece goods' at Forebank Dyeworks. It was a successor to James Stevenson & Co, who had been engaged in the same business in the same site since 1850. William Watson (Dundee) Ltd was incorporated in 1925 and in 1969 acquired Cargill & Company Ltd. By 1980 production at Midmill had ceased, and by the following year the company had become a fully owned subsidiary of A & S Henry & Co (Dundee) Ltd.

William Taylor Ramsay

William Taylor Ramsay was born in Forfar, but moved to Dundee when he was very young. He worked for Baxter Bros, before becoming caretaker at Arthurstone Branch library. In 1914 he became caretaker at University College, Dundee. His youngest brother served in the Great War and may have been a casualty.

William Smith, Dundee, Ltd

William Smith, Dundee, Ltd was a jute and linen merchants founded in the late nineteenth century. In 1939 it was reconstituted as William Smith (Dundee) 1939 Ltd. Don Bros, Buist & Co acquired the firm in 1964 at time when they were trying to expand their textile merchanting interests. The firm seems to have ceased to exist as a distinct entity in the late 1970s.

William R Stewart & Sons (Hacklemakers) Ltd

William R Stewart & Sons owned Hillbank Hackle Works on Dens Road, a converted hand loom factory. The company is still in operation, manufacturing drilled and pinned rollers, segments, strips etc. used for processing cotton, synthetic and other textile fibres, waste recovery, perforation and tobacco.

William Pringle Laird

William Pringle Laird was a seedsman, bulb importer, florist and nursery proprietor. There was a William Laird operating in Union Street, Dundee from at least 1837. By 1845 he had moved to Nethergate and later established nurseries in Blackness and Monifieth. His business had become the firm of W. P. Laird & Sinclair by 1861. The company had offices at various times in the High Street, Nethergate, City Square and Crichton Street. The business remained in the family and a William P. Laird continued to live at Taybank, High Street, Monifieth until around 1936. The company itself operated until at least 1971.
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