1890 John Gray & Co. not only owned the Ladywell but also 65 retail shops
throughout the United Kingdom. With its 400 factory hands and an output of
5,000 pairs of boots and shoes weekly, it ranked amongst the foremost
Scottish manufacturies of any description. John Gray himself, the founder
of Maybole prosperity died at the age of 87. He was succeeded by his
younger brothers (Provost James Gray and Mr. William Gray, Fiscal) but they
died soon after him. Production slumped and with it the number of people
employed - down from 500 to 325 in 1897.
1907 following a severe run-down the Ladywell Tannery and Boot Factory
closed with the loss of all jobs. The Ladywell was twice offered for
auction but failed to reach the upset price of £1,500. It was eventually
sold to Millars, the Glasgow tanners who closed the boot and shoe factory
and turned all production over to sole leathers using a reduced work force
of 45 persons. Millars continued to produce sole leathers at the tannery,
latterly under the management of my uncle Provost Tom Murray whose dynamism
kept it going until 1969.
T. A. Gray was a
comparative newcomer to Maybole arriving there in the late 1860’s to work
for his uncles John, James and William Gray. In 1875 he borrowed
extensively to set himself up in business by buying the Lorne Boot and Shoe
Factory and small tannery attached from the sequestered estate of John Dick.
The Lorne Boot & Shoe Factory
In 1881 on the
buoyant state of the demand for Maybole footwear he embarked on a furious
round of expansion, expanding the tannery by 95 pits and installing electric
light to facilitate longer working hours in the winter period. Two years
later, in 1883 he was the second largest employer in Maybole with 283 men
producing 3,000 pairs of boots a week. In the following decade he built up
his own distribution network and retail chain of 31 shops and a large
warehouse in Glasgow.
In 1893, aged 40,
Thomas Aitken Gray presented the acme of Victorian business endeavour.
Socially successful, he was a married man with 7 children, a personal estate
valued at £36,000 (which included the house, Ashgrove valued at £2,000).
According to Maybole legend he built it in its elevated position so that he
could look down on everyone else in Maybole. He was a member of Maybole
Town Council, a Police Commissioner in 1890, and was elected as a County
Councillor for the Burgh in 1893.