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Maybole, Carrick's Capital Facts, Fiction & Folks by James T. Gray, Alloway Publishing, Ayr. First published 1972. Copyright Permission for display on this site granted by David Gray. You may view and download chapters of this book for personal research purposes only. No other distribution of this text is authorized.

The story of this ancient Ayrshire town from its early beginnings in the 12th century through its growth and development until the nineteen sixties. A fascinating record of the history of a town including a wealth of factual information on its outstanding buildings  growth of industry etc., the book also gives an insight into the life of the community and townsfolk themselves.
Table of Contents


Chapter 10

INDUSTRY

THROUGHOUT the centuries there have been many varied trades in the town but to Minniebolers weaving and shoemaking have been the main ones and they both brought prosperity to the town. Unfortunately the townsfolk concentrated so much on these trades that, when tastes changed and the Maybole products fell from favour, there was nothing else to turn to and after the sunny times there were long periods of dull times with unemployment and hardship.

Originally agriculture in one form or another was the principal employment in the town and district and all townsfolk were connected with it in some way. Everyone was entitled to share the common grazings at what are now Whitefaulds and Lyonston Farms and gradually a system evolved where common barns were erected to hold grain, and yards and buchts were formed to pen cattle and sheep when they were brought in from the grazings at night, as there were no hedges or fences to keep stock from straying and they had to be constantly herded. It is believed that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Minniebolers reared huge flocks of geese, grazing them on the marsh below the town, which is to this day known as "The Bog" although it has been drained and is now fertile farm land. These geese were driven in the evenings up a narrow lane, still known as the "Croft" or "Croft-e-geish", (the croft of the geese), to the goose pens sited in the Ladylands near the railway station, and this part of the town seems to have been chosen for the penning of all the agricultural animals, as the goose pens, cattle yards, town pound for stray horses, barns for grain and sheep pens were all in the area between what is now the railway station and the Cargill-Kincraig Church. 

The present names still refer to these, as Buchty Bridge is where the sheep buchts were sited and Barns Road was the site of the public barns. Once a year the geese, when fattened and ready for market, were driven through a layer of tar and then through sand which stuck to the tar and made "bootees" which saved wear and tear on their feet when they were driven in great flocks to markets, sometimes as far away as Carlisle. This method of tarring and sanding seems to be peculiar to Maybole district although it is said the same practice was carried out by gooseherders in parts of Yorkshire.

The first recognised manufactory trade was weaving and by the eighteenth century most of the townsfolk had given up crofting and set up hand looms in their houses. It was then a family trade and the looms were set up in the lower rooms of the houses, which had earthen floors, the weaver and his family living in the apartments above. While the menfolk worked the looms the women and children were kept busy washing, cairding and spinning the wool for the looms and this was the common lot of nearly all Minniebolers for some generations. To begin with it was mainly blankets and rough cloth which was produced but gradually weavers from North Ireland infiltrated and cotton looms were set up and Maybole clacked its way to prosperity and sold its produce to Glasgow merchants who distributed it throughout the country. Because the weavers were mainly individualists and would not combine to set up mills but preferred to work at home and sell their cloth to merchants it was understandable why the weaving trade declined when the powerboom was developed and large mills began to produce cheaper cloth and this was the death knell of weaving in Maybole.

With the failure of the weaving trade there was a great deal of unemployment and labour was cheap and easily procured and about the middle of the nineteenth century some small shoe-makers who had been producing boots and shoes mainly in their own homes or having it done by other shoemakers on piecework rates, decided to start boot and shoe making in a large way and they built factories and trained and employed the old weavers. These firms prospered exceedingly well and by 1883 there were eight large shoe factories, (three with tanneries and currying departments), employing 1,184 workers and producing 12,360 pairs of boots weekly. The main factories in that year were:

John Gray & Co. (Ladywell)     498 workers   4,500 pairs per week
T. A. Gray (Lorne)     283 do   3,000 do
Charles Crawford     156 do   2,000 do
Robert Crawford     118 do   1,500 do
James Ramsay       51 do      550 do
Other factories (3)       78 do      810 do
 1,184 12,360

By 1891 there were ten shoe factories in full production employing 1,500 workers and producing about one million pairs of boots and shoes annually. Shops were opened throughout the whole of Britain, named "The Maybole Shoe Shop", (one being opened as far away as Manitoba) and these sold the products of the factories direct to the customers. The list of factories in the town at that date were:

John Gray & Co. Ladywell
T. A. Gray Lorne
James Ramsay St. Cuthberts
Charles Crawford Kirkwynd
John Lees & Co Townend
William Boyd     St. Helens
Maybole Shoe Factory Drununellan Street
J. M. Rennie  Greenside
G. Dick Ladyland
McGarvie & Co. Society Street

The boot and shoe industry continued to provide work for nearly all the townspeople until 1907 when the Ladywell Factory, which was the largest in the town, had to close down (an event which was reported in the local press as "a major tragedy") and once again many Maybole men were out of work and there were hard times, as there had been when the weaving trade failed. Many shoemakers emigrated with their families to Canada (some estimates give 2,000 persons as the number that left Maybole at that time) and some went to work in the shoe factory at Shield-hall. The cause of the failure was once again the insularity of the Maybole men, who would not change from the craft of making shoes by hand to making them by the machines which had been invented about that period. The owners of some of the smaller factories, however, were more far sighted and gradually Crawford, Ramsay and Lees installed modern machinery and absorbed the remainder of the shoemakers who had stayed in Maybole. 

The First World War was a boon to the shoe trade as large army orders were obtained and full employment again came to the townspeople. The workers started at 6 a.m. and worked to 6 p.m. and there was a short period of well being among them, but after the war trade again fell away. The rubber wellington boot had displaced the farm worker's heavy boot which was one of the main products of the Factories and the loss of the Irish market, through heavy tariffs imposed, was a great blow, and gradually trade dwindled, factories closed and finally only Lees & Co. and McCreath & Co., who had started a small factory in Society Street, were left. The Second World War again brought a short term of full employment but as before, after the war ended, shoemaking as the main manufactory in the town fell into the doldrums. Lees & Co. continued to produce boots and shoes and modernised their factory. They started trading in other commodities and were the only large employers of labour up until June, 1962, when unfortunately their factory was completely destroyed by fire and this was really the end of the hundred years of shoemaking when Maybole craftsmen were famous for their products throughout the whole of Britain and the old jinkle had it that:

"Go where you will through Scotia's land, You'll see our boots on every hand, It's Maybole on which Scotsmen stand, This auld toon o' Maybole".

McCreath's carried on for a few years after the disastrous fire at Lees' but in 1968 competition from larger factories, cut rate prices in the trade and their unwillingness to lower the high standard of their products finally forced them to close, and apart from a small factory run by Messrs Harrison and Goudie, which employs a few men and deals mostly with special orders, the boot and shoe trade in Maybole is now a memory like the weaving trade.

The tanning of leather, which was ancillary to the shoe trade, also flourished during the period from the 1850s to the l960s and originally some of the factories had their own tanneries. These were, however, finally replaced by one large tannery at Ladywell which was owned by the Millar Tanning Co. Ltd. This company took over the buildings (which had been erected by John Gray) when the Ladywell Tannery & Shoe Co. failed in the first decade of this century and started the Ladywell Tannery with 45 employees. The company prospered and continued in business until May 1969 when once again the march of time and the change to the method of making shoes with materials other than leather forced it to close down and the last link with the old leather trade was swept away.

At the same time as the shoe manufacturers started their industry in the town another farseeing and forceful personality laid the foundations of what was to become one of the best known agricultural implement businesses throughout not only Britain but many countries in the world. This was Alexander Jack who began business with a capital of 10 and made masons' mallets in a small mill at Auchendrane near Minishant. In 1852 he also saw that labour could be got cheaply in Maybole from out-of-work weavers and he started in a small way to make carts, etc. for the surrounding farmers. The business grew rapidly and he built at "Townhead", at a cost of 6,000, the works which became widely known as "Jacks" and employed over one hundred men.

With the expansion of trade, and the efforts of his successor, Mr. Marshall, after Mr. Jack died in 1877, another smaller implement firm which had been carried on by Mr. Thomas Hunter (who started in a small blacksmith's shop sited at the foot of the "Castle Brae" where H. & T. McQuiston's ironmongery shop now stands and later built a factory near "Brandy Row" in Alloway Road), was absorbed into the business and early in the twentieth century the famous firm of Alexander Jack & Sons was producing every type of implement for farmwork. Their products were exhibited at Agricultural Shows throughout the whole land, many being bought by farmers in Canada, Australia, etc. The firm started their own moulding shop for the metal work required, employed their own fellers for the timber, and their own painters, sawyers, cartwrights, etc., and produced the finished implements from raw materials. They experimented on improvements to ploughs, grubbers, turnip, sowers, etc., were the first to make the rubber-tyred wheels for carts in 1932 and produced the famous Oliver ploughs demonstrated so ably at ploughing matches by Mr. Houston who was a famous ploughman in the district early this century.

In those days ploughing matches were regularly held at Tunnoch and other farms round about where all the local ploughmen gathered to show their skill. It was a brave sight to see pair upon pair of gaily bedecked Clydesdales steadily drawing the ploughs so earnestly guided by shirt sleeved experts who were entirely oblivious of the comments of the numerous critics who always gathered at a "peughing match". There were prizes for nearly every competitor, from the most skilful to the poorest exponent of the art, the oldest and the youngest, the married ploughman with the largest family, the competitor with the most colourful braces, etc., and everyone, competitors and spectators alike, had a wonderful time. Such days are now past and the handsome Clydesdales have given way to the tractor, which is perhaps more practical, but can never have the magnet-ism to the spectator of a "furr and land" pair with satiny coats and steaming nostrils on a crisp frosty morning drawing a straight rich brown fun soon to be covered with a seething line of noisy seagulls.

Up until the First World War the firm had a great influence in the agricultural implement world but from then on the business waned, and fewer and fewer men were employed until after the Second World War it finally was taken over by the firm of John Wallace who carried on the business until the 1960s when, like the shoe industry, it finally had to close down. It is strange that both industries started in the town about the same time, gained country wide fame and finally died out about the same time. Unfortunately Maybole's geographical position made it impossible for employers to compete with the products of new factories which had been built nearer larger centres of population where transport was cheaper to such centres and where raw materials were more easily procurable. Goods could be sent much cheaper from places like Kilmarnock by rail direct to English markets and Kilmarnock has now large shoe factories and agricultural implement works while Maybole has neither.

In the eighteenth century the women of Maybole were famous for their needlework and their speciality was "flowering", in which some were expert, and their work was much sought after throughout the whole country. Two women were the acknowledged mistresses of this craft and these were Ann Jenkinson and Janet Inglis, both of whom lived in the Kirkwynd. This was the start of the famous Ayrshire embroidery and this unique style of white embroidery on muslin and cotton gave work to a large number of the local womenfolk whose husbands worked the looms which made the cloth to be embroidered.

Two lemonade factories started up business in the town about the end of the nineteenth century, one (McPherson's) in the factory in Society Street which was later taken over as a shoe factory by McCreath and Sons, and one (Gellatly's) at the corner of Crosshill Road and Drummellan Street. Artesian wells were sunk on each site and the water proved most suitable for the manufacture of lemonade and the factories were both successful for many years. The lemonade was put into bottles which had a twisted neck and were sealed with a small glass ball which had to be "plunked" down into the bottle to allow the contents to be poured, and some of these bottles with the glass marbles in them are still to be found in many of the out premises of houses in the town. The factories enjoyed a good business while the shoemaking trade was in full swing and the products were mainly sold to the local people but when trade became bad and many of the inhabitants emigrated there was little demand for the lemonade and both works closed down.

During the Second World War part of Ramsay's old shoe factory was taken over by Hutchison & McCreath, Grain Merchants, as a store, and for some time experiments were carried out in trying to process a quick cooking oatmeal for porridge but the experiments were not successful and the proposal to start a factory to process meal fell through. When Crawford's factory was demolished Hutchison & McCreath built a large store on the site. The business was later taken over by West Cumberland Farmers Society but it has also gone and the buildings are now occupied by McQuater Bros., local grain merchants, who have a thriving trade with the local farmers.

Although weaving, shoemaking and agricultural implements are the industries mainly associated with the town throughout the centuries there have been other trades which started up, flourished for a time and died out and are now forgotten by most of the townspeople. At the end of the seventeenth century a Frenchman, Albert Daneil Geli, set up a bellfoundry (said to be near the site occupied by the gasworks) and carried on his business for a few years. He cast the bells for some churches in Scotland after he cast the old town bell for the steeple of the Tolbooth, which is the only remaining bell in Ayrshire that he cast. It is not known how long he remained in Maybole but in 1696, one year after he cast the town bell, he removed to Irvine and there cast a bell for the laigh Kirk in Kilmarnock but this bell has not survived. In 1702 Geli moved to Aberdeen and took over a bell foundry there which had formerly belonged to a Patrick Kilgour. In this foundry he cast many bells, the last known one being cast in 1713, and his work greatly improved and his later bells are said to be much finer than the first known one which he cast in Maybole.

In coaching days there was a great deal of money brought into the town through Maybole being the "half-way house" between Glasgow and Port Patrick, at that time the port where people sailed to Ireland. There were three famous coaching houses, the Dunnering Inn, the Sun Inn and the Kings Arms and all travellers stayed the night in one or other of these inns when journeying to and from Ireland. Relays of coach horses had to be kept and a great many people worked at the inns and while this may not be classed as a "trade", it was certainly a busy industry which gave a lot of employment to the townspeople.

The 1960's brought much unemployment to the town, as in the early years of that decade the boot and shoe factories of John Lees & Company Ltd., and John McCreath & Sons Ltd., both closed down, as did the famous agricultural implement works of Alexander Jack & Sons Ltd., and, as these firms had given employment to most of the townspeople, it seemed that
once again Maybole was facing a period of hardship. The Town Council, however, faced up to the problem with all the force and energy of the councillors of last century and due to the efforts of the councillors in 1967 Maybole was granted "Development Area" status by the Government. This was a tremendous step towards attracting new industries to the Burgh as it made financial and tax incentives available to any new industry starting up in the area while the great number of unemployed provided a ready pool of labour. 

The Town Council, with great foresight (and in the face of much criticism) committed itself to a policy of acquiring all vacant industrial buildings and sites suitable for industrial development, at the same time taking the difficult decision, in a period of great shortage of housing, to provide houses for key-workers of incoming industry. The Council also committed itself to assist incoming firms to finance the purchase of existing factories or to build new ones, using the new powers given to Local Authorities under the Industrial Development Acts. 

This was a courageous attitude by the Council as it meant stepping out of the past century of leather working and agriculture implements into a new and unknown era of unknown trades, and Minniebolers, like people in all small communities, are loth to depart from old customs. Time has proved the Councillors to be right and although their early efforts met with some setbacks, they persisted in striving to attract new industries and now the town has seven completely new industrial firms, and two new factory buildings which provide about 450 new jobs of which over 100 are for male workers. 

One of the first new industries to start was the making of slippers by Monteith's Ltd., a Glasgow firm who took over Townend Factory but unfortunately after a short period this firm went into liquidation. Then the John Wallace Group of Companies which had taken over the old Jack & Sons implement works closed down their works in Maybole and these two closures were not a happy start to the promise of better times for the townsfolk. Since then, however, progress has been steady and new firms have brought their industries to Maybole and it would seem that good times will come again and the old Burgh will flourish as in years long past.

In 1967 the old implement works of Alexander Jack & Sons were purchased by the Town Council and part of it was resold the same year to the American firm of International Packaging Corporation who are one of the world's leading manufacturers of presentation cases and whose parent company is based in Rhode Island, U.S.A. This firm completely modernised the buildings to provide 60,000 square feet of factory and office space and at present employ 39 men and 137 women.

Another part of the old works were taken over by the firm of William McCulloch & Son who were formerly blacksmiths in Maidens and this firm, who employ 7 men, are now carrying on the tradition of agricultural implement makers, etc., in the old buildings made famous by Alexander Jack & Sons.

The Council purchased the former warehouses of John Lees & Co. Ltd., in Alloway Road which had escaped damage when the disastrous fire in 1962 destroyed the factory buildings and in 1968 sold them to a printing firm from Yorkshire who specialise in colour printing. This firm was formerly known as Northern Gravure Ltd., but is now called Clyde Gravure Ltd., and it is associated with the old established London based printing firm of Ripley & Co. Ltd. The premises have been completely modernised and reroofed and extend to 18,000 square feet and the company presently employ 18 men and 9 women.

In 1968 the Town Council, with great foresight, granted the use of the Town Hall to the firm of Jersey-Kapwood Ltd., of Nottingham, to allow them to set up sewing machines to train local women to make lathes lingerie, blouses, etc. Although the townspeople lost the use of the Hall for social functions and dances for over a year, all were only too glad to know that new
industry was being introduced into the town and that prospects of local employment were steadily improving. At the same time the Council acquired the disused Railway Goods Station at Redbrae and cleared the site and then sold it to Jersey-Kapwood Ltd., who built a modem factory with 15,500 square feet of floor space. The machinery was then cleared from the Town Hall and installed in the new factory and it was formally opened in July, 1969, by Dr. J. Dickson Mabon, Minister of State. The factory is one of the most modern of its kind in the country and the firm at present employs 12 men and 149 women.

Early in 1971 the Jersey-Kapwood factories in Scotland were amalgamated with Saracen Ltd., of Northern Ireland, who are within Carrington Viyella Ltd. Since then a large building at Maybole Station has been taken over by the firm and converted into a modem warehouse where an extra 6 men and 5 women are employed. On 1st January, 1972, the company became known as Saracen Ltd.

In 1969 the Council pursued their effective policy of acquiring old industrial buildings by purchasing the old implement works of Hunters Ltd., in Alloway Road and in 1970 they resold them to the packaging firm of Wm. Clark Stephen Ltd., a family business which started in Glasgow in 1919. This firm, which specialised in the manufacture of cardboard boxes, had steadily expanded and in 1964 started a Screen Process Printing Department. Eventually this department grew to such an extent that new premises were required and the firm decided to transfer the whole printing department to the 13,000 square feet factory in Maybole. The firm now employ 20 local people and is still very much a family business and the present Managing Director, Mr. Robert McGhie Stephen is a grandson of the founder of the firm, the late Wm. Clark Stephen.

Another new industry was started in 1971 when the old gas works site in Drummellan Street was cleared of its gasometer and sheds and a modern factory of 3,000 square feet with separate works canteen and offices were erected by a group of Ayr businessmen headed by Mr. Thomas Gray of Messrs Hunter & Gray, Fish Salesmen, Ayr. This company is called Sea G. - G. Ltd., and the firm installed in the new factory the most modern plant for processing and freezing fish. It specialises in producing "Scampi" (now a favourite sea food made from prawns which is in great demand) and most of the fish and prawns are purchased from the fishermen who land their catches at Ayr harbour. This company already employs 7 men and 40 women and the venture is proving so successful that it is planning further expansion in the near future.

In 1971 the Town Council, which had purchased the old boot and shoe factory formerly occupied by Messrs McCreath and Sons in Society Street in 1969, resold the buildings to Hunter Wilson & Partners Ltd., and these companies moved to Maybole from Ayr in July 1971. Hunter Wilson and Partners design a comprehensive range of equipment for High Tensile Fencing based on the most modem metallurgical conception which is erected by special techniques particularly suit-able for moorland areas where access is difficult. Stainless Steel Silencers Ltd., design exhaust conversions in stainless steel for a wide range of cars. These companies at present employ 9 men in the works in Society Street with others employed outside on erection contracts. The buildings cover about 7,000 square feet, most of which has already been modernised and new buildings will be developed as required.

In the 1960's the old established Maybole firm of McQuater Bros., Grain Merchants, took over the old factory originally built by Messrs. Ramsay, Boot & Shoe Manufacturers, and occupied after the boot and shoe industry closed down by Messrs Hutchison & McCreath, Seed Merchants, for some years McQuater Bros. have now excellent works and storage premises, employ 25 men and 3 women and carry on a thriving business with the farmers throughout the district.

In the short space of five years all these new industries have started up in Maybole, giving employment to over 100 men and 350 women and much credit must be given to the local Council for their continued efforts to bring work to the area after the old trades of boot and shoemaking and agricultural implement making died out. It shows the spirit of the Minniebolers is as prominent today as it was a hundred years ago when the weaving trade collapsed and the civic fathers had to look for other means of employment for the townspeople and introduced the boot and shoe trade which prospered for over a century. It may be unfortunate that most of the new industry predominantly employs female labour and the majority of the townsmen have to commute to Ayr, etc., to find employment but no one can tell what the future may bring and expansion in the new trades in the town may, at a not too distant date, give full employment to the townsmen as well as their womenfolk.

Many confirmed pessimists (who, like the poor, are always with us) are voluble in their arguments that there is much unemployment in the town and that the future holds no promise of better times, but facts disprove this when thought is given to the number of jobs open to the people of Maybole. In addition to the 450 jobs in the new industries over 430 men are employed by the local builders, joiners, plumbers, etc. This does not take into account the employment for shop assistants, Post Office workers, Burgh workmen, and many other positions which accounts for at least another 200 jobs. Altogether there are at least over 1,000 jobs available within the town which compares favourably with the number employed at the end of last century which was considered one of the most thriving periods of the town's history. In 1883 approximately 1,180 people were employed in the boot and shoe industry out of a total population of approximately 6,500, while today there is employment for over 1,000 persons from a greatly reduced population of around 4,500 townspeople. When these facts are considered in a true perspective it must be admitted that times are not really so bad as the pessimists declare.