Boot & Shoemaking in Maybole - Page 2
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This article was written and contributed by J. Murray Cook with illustrations from ‘The Kingdom of Carrick and its Capital’ by John Latta and William Millar, 1904.

By 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.

In 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.

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For more on boot and shoemaking in Maybole see Maybole's Shoe Factories , John Lees & Co. Limited Shoe Factory, Our Shoe Factories by Rev. R. Lawson A Day in the Life of a  Shoe Factory Worker, When Maybole Had Boot Power by Edwin Lawrence and Dick Goudie: Last of the Maybole shoemakers.