Category Archives: Stow’s businesses

Further details of Stow’s business affairs

Contrary to common understanding, Stow’s family in Paisley was not especially wealthy.  Granted William, the head of the family of ten children, owned three houses, plus the feu duties in Stow Street and Stow Place, but the 1825 codicil to his will adjures ‘such of my children as are not settled in life nor have any establishment of their own, to live together in the most harmonious and cheapest way’. So anxious was he for their welfare that he was forced to apply to his brother in Berwick-upon-Tweed1

to make provision for the unmarried daughters (Elizabeth, Margaret and Marjorie). The £600 each of these received appears to have been badly invested for by 1829, another codicil was added to the will: ‘There is, owing to bad trade, a great depreciation of heritable property and as I have lent out money upon bond upon tradesmen’s houses and placed it in the name of my unmarried Daughters and as it is probably that they may lose by it I therefore by this Codicil ordain that the property shall be valued by Judges, and that they are to have that property according to their division that all be alike.

It is not unreasonable to suppose, therefore, that in 1811, at the age of eighteen, David as the second son had no choice but to move to Glasgow where he was indeed ‘a clerk in a counting house’ as Fraser states. The counting house was ‘Wilson, Hervey and Co. Silk warehouse’, No. 115 on the south side of the Trongate, so named because of the large weighing and measuring scales for merchants at the market cross. Even in Stow’s day the area was associated with commerce and innovation.2The first street lights were provided on the south side in 1780, to reward the shopkeepers for constructing a pavement 3and the ‘plainstanes’ or pavement in front of the Tontine coffee house nearby had once echoed to the sound of the barter of the ‘tobacco lords’.

The ‘Wilson’ was Stow’s brother-in-law, John, who had married his eldest sister, Ann, in 1807. The Herveys were close friends. John Hervey’s daughter was married to (unhelpfully) another John Wilson who was also a silk merchant: Rev Patrick Mcfarlan, a staunch supporter of the Glasgow Infant School Society, officiated at the wedding.   The business was still listed as ‘Wilson, Hervey and Co. as late as 1816 4but in 1817 it was entered as ‘Wilson, Stow and Co, Silk Warehouse’. In that year Stow became a burgess of the city of Glasgow.

‘Stow, David, merchant, one of the partners of Wilson, Stow and Company, silk merchants, 115, Trongate, (admitted Burgess and Guild Brother by purchase – August 11th, 1817’. 5 Stow was launched on his mercantile career.

By 1825 the ‘silk warehouse’ was at 38, Argyle Street, moving to 76, Argyle Street in 1826. In 1832, John Wilson died, leaving Stow in sole charge of the Company.  By 1834-5, the business had moved to even more salubrious surroundings at 85, Buchanan Street.  Buchanan Street had been originally considered too far west to be a viable property, but from the late eighteenth century the first residences began to be built. It was not until the opening of the Argyll Arcade in 1828 that commercial premises began to appear. Stow obviously moved in the wake of that venture.6

Sometime before 1825, a new branch of the business was established at Guildford Street, Leeds.7 This enterprise initially involved John Wilson and the two Stow brothers, David and William Fenwick, who purchased a plot with others for £1,554.17.6 to build a warehouse. Since ‘the said John Wilson David Stow and William Fenwick Stow had made the said purchase by and out of the monies of the Partnership Trade and Business carried on by them in Leeds’ Stow must have been trading in Leeds before 1825. In 1833, after John Wilson’s death, his partnership was initially inherited by Ann, his widow, and then Lorraine his eldest son:

The said John Wilson departed this life on or about the twentieth day of August One thousand, eight hundred and thirty two intestate and Letters of administration of his goods, Chattels, rights and credits were shortly afterwards duly granted to Ann Stow Wilson his widow by and out of the Exchequer Court of the Archbishop of York And whereas by Indenture bearing date on or about the seventeenth day of December One thousand, eight hundred and thirty three and made between the said Ann Stow Wilson of the first part and Lorraine Wilson therein described as the eldest son and heir at law of the said John Wilson.

However, Stow and his brother bought out this share for £1,254.3.4. In 1840, they mortgaged their share to the other partners for £3,820 and some time after 1845 8 Matthew Kenyon- Stow, Stow’s youngest brother, joined the firm which was by now ‘Stow, brothers and Company’. By 1852, Stow having paid off his share of the mortgage, was bought out for 5 shillings. The Glasgow Post Office address is given as ‘Guildford Street’ just off the famous ‘Heads Row’ in Leeds. Land ‘Fountain Street’ was also purchased.

The Leeds Branch may have been re-mortgaged to finance the purchase of ‘The Port Eglinton Spinning Company’, in 1847-8. This was a shrewd business move since Port Eglinton benefited from being on the Paisley-Glasgow canal 9 a half-hourly bus service for workers (although many lived nearby), and the railway. The Port Eglinton Spinning Company was a very substantial Mill:

 ‘The building forms almost a square, having Eglinton Street on the east, Francis Street on the west, Victoria Street to the south, and Canal Street on the North. The frontage to Eglinton Street is five storeys in height, and extends in length nearly 250 feet. Immediately behind the front building is a court, some fifteen or twenty feet in width, which separates it from a three-storey erection of brick, used for preparing wool in the rough. Then comes another court of similar width, which is bounded on the west by a third building, extending from Victoria Street to Canal Street.’ 10

Port Eglinton was a busy site with an iron foundry, several other factories. The following accident might well have involved one of Stow’s employees:

 About ten o’clock on Thursday forenoon, a number of boys got in about the goods station of the Glasgow and Ayr Railway Company, Port Eglinton, and commenced pushing along a line of rails one of the empty trucks. They had not been long thus employed, when one of their number, a boy aged about ten years, the son of a carpet weaver residing in Bedford Street, fell before the wheels of the carriage, which passed over his body. The boy was immediately conveyed home, and medical aid procured, but we regret to add he expired in about an hour afterwards. 11

Stow also made legal history. In 1842 in ‘Inglis v. Port Eglinton Spinning Company’ it was laid down that an insolvent could reject goods sent to him after he became bankrupt, but could not then use them to pay off creditors, or accept a portion of them later 12

By 1852 John Freebairn and David George, two of Stow’s sons, appear in the firm, although John died in that year. David George, therefore became Stow’s sole male heir and he ensured that his will allowed David George to take over the reins immediately on his death:

Immediately after my decease to appropriate assign and transfer to my son David George Stow in fee to the Credit of his Account with the Port Eglinton Spinning Company out of the sum at my Credit with the said Company the sum of £3500. 13

Thereafter, David George and Jessie Graham, his wife, inherited the company, which at Stow’s death was valued at £22,864. However, in 1874, ten years after Stow’s death, part of the Port Eglinton Spinning Company burned down.

‘About noon yesterday fire broke out in the Port Eglinton Spinning Mill, situated near the south the end of Eglinton Street, Glasgow, and before the flames were got under, damage to the extent of from £10,000-£12,000 was done.’

The fire originated in the reeling and finishing mill and because of the nature of the material spread rapidly. About 250 girls were forced to evacuate along with ‘A great number of families who inhabit houses in Francis Street, contiguous to the fire, were during the time this scene was being enacted busily engaged carrying their chattels to the street.

Despite the best efforts of the Fire Brigade the mill fronting Canal Street was soon ablaze. : ‘the iron girders shortly afterwards showed signs of giving way, and in a few minutes the whole front wall fell out into the street…….. One engine situated in the spinning and finishing mill, was destroyed, in addition to a large quantity of valuable machinery. 14

The fire resulted in all the employees being thrown out of work, but the buildings were exceedingly well insured. Stow had been a Director of one of the first insurance companies, ‘The Scottish Provident Institution’ in Edinburgh and the Mill covered (with a number of other companies) for £55,000.

According to a document, probably dated 1898, found in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Caledonian Central Station Co. demolished the remaining buildings. The Caledonian Railway Company was formed in 1845 and originally ran trains between Carlisle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. In 1848, the company ran the first direct train from Scotland to London. The engines used were painted a shade of blues that became known as “Caledonian Blue”. 15

By 1881, the English Census of that year indicates that David George Stow had moved, with his family, to 32, Princes Square, Paddington. He was only 51 and spent the rest of his years in the south of England, dying in 1865 in Rochford, Essex at the age of 65. Maybe he had inherited the family’s poor health: maybe the insurance money was too tempting.

As a postscript, Andrew Aird in his book ‘Glimpses of Old Glasgow’ refers to Cumberland Street in Hutchesontown where was the ‘Port Eglington Hotel and the entrance to the Paisley and Johnstone Canal. Immediately above this was the large wool-spinning and carpet manufacturer of Wilson, Stow and Co. the chief partner of which was the late Mr David Stow’. 16

Throughout his life Stow describes himself variously as a: Manufacturer: Roll of the Freemen of Berwick 1800-1899;

Silk Merchant: Glasgow Burgesses and Guild Brethren 1811-1825
Silk mercer: Glasgow Post Office Directory 1828
Silk and Stuff (archaic name for worsted cloth): Glasgow Post Office Directory, 1829
Woollen Manufacturer: Scottish Census 1841
Mill Owner: Scottish Census 1861
Merchant: Sarah and Agnes Stow’s baptismal records; William’s entry in Glasgow University’s Academic Lists;  his own Death Certificate; Inventory of his Estate;
Worsted and Spinner: Sarah Stow’s death certificate

Yet at his death more than half of Stow’s wealth was tied up in property and from the scraps of information available, he might be better described as a property developer.17

Stow does not seem to have been particularly interested in his business. In the early years he spent a great deal of his time on church work, being involved in the Parish Poor Relief and taking a very active part in establishing and maintaining the Sabbath Schools in St John’s. When the Normal Seminary was opened in 1837, and possibly before hand in the two model schools were open, he spent Tuesday and Thursday afternoons attending the public ‘criticism’ lessons.  He never attained the huge financial sums such as his compatriots James McConnel and John Kennedy, from whom his father and possibly Stow bought machinery.18

1844 Sylvan Manuscripts: Reconveyance of land and houses in St. Pancras, Middlesex, between David Stow of Glasgow, merchant, William Henry Langley of John Street, Bedford Row, gent, Francis Parkyn of Bedford Street.  A triangular piece of ground in St. Pancras of 1 acre, bounded by the Hampstead, Kentish Town Road, and Ferdinand Street, with all houses erected thereon.

They had moved to Manchester and ‘set up their own firm in 1795 with an initial capital of £1,770…… by 1810 their capital had risen to £88,000………, By 1820 the company had three mills and had established itself as the leading spinner of fine cotton in Manchester,’[19]19 Conversely, Wood (1986) suggests that, in modern terms, Stow spent between £100,000 and £150,000 on his educational interests.20

Stow’s business affairs are crucial to his story. Had he concentrated on his carpets he would have been a wealthier man; but had he done so, there would be no story to tell.

Stow’s Business Interests

‘We are all so engrossed in this city in labouring for the means that perisheth’.

Letter from Stow to Chalmers,
7th April, 1824

Stow probably left school at the age of fourteen when at least some of his peers would go on to university. Instead, he worked at a loom,21either with his father or his eldest brother, both of whom had premises in Causeyside Street.2

In 1811, however, at the age of eighteen, Stow was ‘extensively engaged with a commercial firm’3in Glasgow. The move to Glasgow could suggest that there was no room for another son in the family business in Paisley, or that Stow was sent to the industrial capital to extend the business, or that the demise of the silk industry in Paisley was already becoming apparent,4or simply that since his sister Anne had married into the silk trade, there was an obvious position available for her brother in her husband’s firm.5

The firm he joined was Wilson, Hervey and Co., situated at 115, Trongate. The Wilsons and the Herveys were clearly friends as well as partners. John Hervey, along with John Stow (Stow’s brother), witnessed the registration of the Wilson’s second child.6

Fraser refers to Stow, at this time, as a clerk in a counting house but by 1817, both Stow and Wilson had become partners in the firm of Wilson, Stow and Company and, according to the records of the Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Glasgow, admitted as Burgesses:

‘Stow, David, merchant, one of the partners of Wilson, Stow and Company, silk merchants, 115, Trongate, (admitted Burgess and Guild Brother by purchase – August 11th, 1817’).7
David Stow company

Interestingly, the contribution from John Wilson to ‘The Glasgow Gaelic and English Schools Society’ in 1833 is signed ‘John Wilson, W. S. & Co.’ suggesting that Stow’s father, William, was still the elder partner. William Stow died in 1831, and John Wilson in 1832, so it was probably about this time that, at the age of 39, Stow became sole owner. 8

A survey of the Glasgow Post Office Directories shows various addresses for the firm. In 1815, the address is given as 115, Trongate, Glasgow. By 1825 the ‘silk warehouse’ was at 38, Argyle Street, moving to 75, Argyle Street in 1826; in 1834-5 the business had moved to 85, Buchanan Street.9

Such moves do not necessarily indicate that the firm was becoming increasingly successful, but since there is considerable evidence that Stow drew on his own financial resources to subsidise his educational ventures, and that he died a wealthy man, 10

it may be assumed that his business flourished. Throughout his life, Stow describes himself variously as a Manufacturer,11 Silk Merchant,12Mercer,13Worsted Spinner,14Woollen Manufacturer,15Mill Owner,16and Merchant.17Indeed, in one Post Office Directory Stow is listed among the Carpet Manufacturers and Merchants, and the Wool and Worsted Spinners and the Cotton Spinners.18

He was probably astute enough to realise that the British climate was fundamentally unsuitable for the sericulture of silk worms. Raw materials had to be imported from the colonies of India and Bengal and the silk industry was overly dependent on fluctuating import duties.19

Besides, the industry was riven with complications.20The income of the weavers (particularly in silk and cotton) fluctuated in parallel with political interference and, in turn, sparked unionism, strikes and riots. Possibly, all these difficulties affected Stow’s silk business. Certainly, at some point, in moving from silk to wool, Stow obviously felt it was judicious to keep faith with a similar process of production but change the product.


Although most references to Stow’s business refer to his firm as ‘The Port Eglinton Spinning Company’, it did not achieve this title until 1847-8. Andrew Aird in his book ‘Glimpses of Old Glasgow’ refers to ‘the large wool-spinning and carpet manufacturer of Wilson, Stow and Co., the chief partner of which was the late Mr David Stow’21near the Port Eglinton Hotel and the entrance to the Paisley and Johnstone Canal22in Hutchesontown. Eglinton was a good choice for a manufacturing works. It was served by an omnibus every half-hour and by canal boat from Paisley. It was a thriving business centre including timber and wood merchants, sawmills and a power-loom manufacturer.

By 1852-3 John Freebairn and David George, two of Stow’s sons, appear in the firm, the latter continuing after his father’s death until the fire of 1874. His nephew, Lorraine Stow, was also employed. By 1825, Stow was also a partner in the firm of ‘Stow, Brothers and Co.’23

in Leeds, the brothers being William Fenwick Stow and Matthew Kenyon Stow. They owned a shop in Guildford Street at the western end of Head Row, one of Leeds’ finest streets. He also owned a part of a house in Fountain Street nearby.

The acquisition of property may be significant in understanding Stow’s motivations. He could not be unaware that industrial capitalism was providing significant wealth to those willing to invest time and money in business. Two Scots, James McConnel and John Kennedy, from whom his father and possibly Stow bought machinery,24had moved to Manchester and ‘set up their own firm in 1795 with an initial capital of £1,770 …… by 1810 their capital had risen to £88,000. By 1820 the company had three mills and had established itself as the leading spinner of fine cotton in Manchester’.25

Yet at his death more than half of Stow’s wealth was in property. Granted, he owned £22,864 in stock in the Port Eglinton Spinning Company (and his second wife had twenty shares in the Scottish Union Insurance Company) but most of his capital was tied up in estates in Glasgow 26and Dunoon which, in addition to providing his own housing, brought in over £740 per annum in rents. It would appear he inherited a preference for investment in estate rather than industry. And as other articles will illustrate, his business does not appear to have been of much interest to him. ‘Business, business appears to be the morning and evening song,’ he wrote to his first wife, Marion, on 6th February, 1826. ‘Oh that we could always feel equally alive about the one thing needful, and that better portion which can never be taken from us’.27

He was conscious of his merchant and industrial background: ‘You will excuse the hurried lines of a Mercantile Pen’ he wrote to Thomas Chalmers.28He organised his Sabbath Schools ‘upon the principle of a division of labour’.29

He used the language of the market place to argue his case that trained teachers employed by the Poor Law Unions must be treated as professionals: ‘Commercially, a fair price must and should be paid for a good article, according to the principle of demand and supply’.30

And he speaks of the need for little children to ‘let off steam’ after each fifteen minute lesson. However, as ‘a sort of amateur schoolmaster’,31he seems to have found the business side of his life frustrating:
‘I must apologise for not writing sooner’ he writes to Chalmers in 1824, ‘but ever since my return, the late alteration in the Silk duties have so overturned the system of our business, as almost completely to engross my time and attentions. We are not yet over with this affair, half of our Goods still being in Bond for drawback. I find our affairs scant (?) now and this organising of a board continues to occupy too much of my attention to the exclusion oftentimes of higher and more important objects.’32

The absence of a silk waistcoat in any of his three surviving portraits perhaps also indicates that education was a more absorbing interest than his business. In any event, he was aware that God and mammon were uneasy bed-fellows. And, unlike other Glasgow firms, he never advertised his business when making charitable donations.