Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Reminiscences of Dollar, Tillicoultry and other Districts adjoining the Ochils
Chapter VII - Begin Business in Dollar

After finishing my apprenticeship in Dunfermline, I got into Stewart & M'Donald's, Glasgow, and continued there for some little time. This prosperous firm was then doing a very large retail business (their premises being generally crowded every day), and was just creeping into a wholesale one, although no hands were then specially employed for this branch of their business. Mr. Stewart appeared considerably older than Mr. M'Donald, but both were very active and pushing—the latter particularly so. Mr. Hugh Fraser (who afterwards commenced business in company with Mr. Arthur, under the firm of Arthur & Fraser) was one of the principal hands in the establishment, and frequently accompanied Mr. M'Donald to London, Paris, etc., and assisted him in buying. Mr. Byars (who afterwards commenced business in company with Mr. Mann and Mr. Simpson, under the firm of Mann, Simpson, & Byars—now Mann, Byars, & Co.) was at the head of the counting-house; and Mr. Archibald Crombie superintended the execution of all orders that were sent in to the firm. Mr. James Dawson was 'shop-walker;' and Mr. Alexander M'Donald, Mr. Alexander Miller, Mr. Robert Mason, Mr. Brown, Mr. M'Kechnie, Mr. John Innis, and Mr. James Fairlie (of Mr. Girdwood's, Tanfield, Edinburgh), had all charge of important departments.

At the same time that Stewart & M'Donald were pushing such a prosperous business in Buchanan Street, the old-established firm of J. & W. Campbell & Co. had a large retail business in Candleriggs—in addition to their very extensive wholesale one. George Smith & Sons, in London Street, and Wingate, Son, & Co. in Queen Street, were then doing large wholesale businesses.
Mr. James Campbell (of J. & W. Campbell- & Co.) was seldom seen in the warehouse, but Mr. William— who was very active and pushing—was constantly moving about through the wholesale departments of their large establishment, and was well known to, and much respected by, every buyer who called. Mr. George Smith (of George Smith & Sons)—although always superintending—left, at that time, the active management of their extensive business to his two sons, who were exceedingly shrewd, pushing business men. Mr. Brock was, for a very, long period, one of their much- respected travellers, and was well known throughout all Scotland.

Mr. Andrew Wingate (the senior partner of Wingate, Son, & Co.) was a very worthy old gentleman, and greatly respected in Glasgow. Mr. William Page (brother of Mr. John Page, Aba) was for a considerable time shawl buyer for this firm, and in that capacity regularly visited 'the hillfoots.' He was a very pushing business young man, of 'a warm-hearted, genial disposition, and for a number of years mixed a great deal with the society at the foot of the Ochils.

To give an idea how much Glasgow has increased to the west since those days (forty-four years ago), I may mention that Woodside Crescent was then just newly built (if indeed it was quite finished); and between it and the city there were brickworks and sawpits; and, being the only crescent in that quarter, it was always spoken of as 'The Crescent.' Woodlands House stood in the centre of the field which is now the grand West End Park.

After leaving Glasgow, and the prospect being at that time that the New Town of Dollar (as it was called) would by and by become the most important part of the village, my father resolved to build that house and shop at present owned and occupied by Mr. Gibb (which were afterwards largely added to by my brother), and gave up to my brother and me the clothing and drapery part of his business; and in the end of the year 1839 the firm of J. & W. Gibson was started as a drapery establishment, my father continuing the grocery and ironmongery business in the Old Town.

Shortly after we commenced business, we were asked to open a sub-branch, under Tillicoultry, of the Edinburgh and Leith Bank, which continued for a number of years, and ultimately became a branch by itself of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Bank. This was the commencement of that banking business which my brother has now carried on for so long a period, and for the last twenty-five years in connection with the Clydesdale Bank.


The present generation can scarcely form a proper idea of the many advantages they enjoy, as compared to the state of matters forty years ago. Gas had not then been introduced into any of the smaller villages of Scotland; and houses and shops had to be content with the dim flicker of the tallow candle (paraffine oil not being then known), requiring 'snuffing' or 'topping' every few minutes all the night over. Now, we have not only gas—that most useful illuminator—but the still more wonderful electric light, which as much casts gas into the shade as gas did the tallow candle. The Dollar gas-work was started in 1845, and my brother was instrumental in getting it up, and for many years took an active part in its management.

When he and I commenced business, it was the days of dear postage (a letter to Glasgow costing 7d., and one to London about is. 21); and in place of sending our orders to Glasgow through the post office three times a day as at present, we sent them once a week by Robert Young, the Leslie carrier, who, with from eight to ten heavily-laden carts, made the journey from Leslie to Glasgow, and vice versa, once a week, collecting and delivering goods at all the little towns by the way. On reaching Glasgow, he opened the parcel of letters, and delivered them to the different parties to whom they were addressed. Now we have the 'one ounce' letter for a penny, and the halfpenny post card, which have proved such an inestimable boon to the country, and facilitated business to an extent that the present generation can scarcely conceive of. And we are not content with this only, but must have our orders and communications flashed through the electric wire with lightning speed, and think less of the expense of a telegram now than we used to do in days of old of a letter that took days for its journey by the lumbering old mail coach.

The electric telegraph is truly one of the greatest discoveries of the age, and will for ever make the nineteenth century memorable. It really seems fabulous that events that happened in America, and indeed in almost any part of the world, yesterday, can be published in to-day's newspapers! Yet so it is; for, scorning the dangers of the mighty depths of the ocean, the electric current speeds along as quickly at the bottom of the great world of waters as it does above ground, and binds the different nations of the earth together as with a magic band.

On the 17th of August 1858, the extremities of the first Atlantic cable were put in connection with the recording instruments, and the following message was flashed through the ocean: 'Europe and America are united by telegraph. Glory to God in the highest; on earth peace, and good-will towards men.'

Electricity is now being largely used, also, as a motive-power on short lines of railways, and for other purposes; and, where water-power can be made available for generating the electricity, is one of the cheapest motive-powers that has yet been discovered. The most wonderful thing regarding it is that it can be stored, and made available long after it has been generated.

Then we have got recently introduced that most scientific discovery, the telephone, by which we can talk to each other through a wire, when far separated from one another; and thus business people save an immense amount of time and shoe leather. Place one of our forefathers in some of the principal streets of any of our great cities,—say at the Exchange, or in Queen Street, Glasgow,—and make him look up, and what would be his surprise to see a very network of wires stretching in all directions, and so close in some places that the very birds will have some difficulty in flying through them. Then what are all these for? How astonished would he be when told, they were to enable the inhabitants of the great city, although miles apart, to talk to each other through the telephone office, and thus save an untold amount of time and running hither and thither to see each other. But how wide would he open his eyes when told that not only can this be done, but that talking goes on through It between places at great distances from each other, and that business transactions between Glasgow and Greenock are regularly carried on by means of it. The services of the sanctuary, also, can be enjoyed by invalids in their beds, at great distances away from church, through this great discovery; and our worthy townsman, James Paton, Esq., Tillicoultry, has for the last twelvemonth been indebted to it for hearing all the services in the U.P. Church; and a whisper, or even a loud sigh, can be heard distinctly through it. The singing of the choir, too, with all the different parts, is distinctly heard.

In an article published recently on 'Progress in Telephony,' some most interesting statements are given of the rapid progress that has been made, and I think I cannot do better than give a few extracts from it here. It says: 'No invention of modern times took the public more by surprise than did the telephone, a result due not more to the marvellousness of the thing done—namely, the transmission of spoken words along a telegraph wire—than to the simplicity of the means by which it was accomplished. Seldom, also, has an invention given rise so soon to an important industry. Five years ago, the telephone was being viewed by the savants of the British Association with the interest attaching to the very latest novelty in scientific toys; it is now, according to Mr. Preece of the Telegraph Department, employing in the United Kingdom alone more than a million and a half sterling of capital, and earning over £100,000 in dividends. The practical instrument of to-day, however, differs considerably from the scientific toy patented about six years ago by Professor Bell.' After describing the construction of the instrument, and the various improvements made on it by different scientific men, it continues: 'Conversation has been carried on by telephone over a distance of 500 miles in India, and over 410 miles in America; and Mr. Preece states that if a wire were placed on lofty poles, and away from all other wires, between John-o'-Groat's and Land's End, there would be no difficulty in speaking between those two places. ....Already the telephone exchange system is being worked in almost all the principal cities and towns of Europe and America. Paris has its central exchange, with nearly a thousand wires converging upon it, besides several branch exchanges connected with the central one. The Parisians avoid the unsightliness and danger of a great network of overground wires, however, by placing the telephone wires in the sewers. Nowhere is the system better organized than in Berlin, where there are four exchanges, besides two public telephone offices, in which any person, on payment of sixpence, is permitted to have five minutes' conversation with any one whose house is connected with the central office. ....In New York alone there are thirteen exchanges, with over 5000' subscribers, besides 1500 private telephone wires. The use to which those exchanges may be put need not be confined merely to enabling subscribers to converse with each other, and already many other purposes are being found for them. Thus, according to Colonel Webber, in a recent paper on the subject, subscribers can arrange to be wakened by the exchange ringing their bell at any appointed hour; and correct time, say at noon, might be sent on all subscribers' wires by the striking of a public clock heard simultaneously on every telephone on the system. In the New York prisons transmitting telephones are placed in the cell walls, from which wires are led to receivers in another part of the building, and important conversations between prisoners have, it is said, been thus heard, which have materially assisted the ends of justice.'

With the aid of a newly-patented wire, experiments were recently made with the telephone between New York and Chicago (1000 miles apart), which proved entirely successful--a conversation being carried on between those two ftir - distant places! This is certainly the crowning triumph of this wonderful discovery.
It is contemplated, I understand, to introduce penny telephone messages into London; and if this is carried out, it will likely be extended over the whole kingdom. People will then be able to carry on a conversation between 'Land's End' and 'John-o'-Groat's House' for the small charge of one penny.

What wonderful discoveries have been made in our day in chemistry, geology, astronomy, etc.! Notably among the first of these may be specified the beautiful aniline dyes we are now possessed of, which have so thoroughly superseded a great many of our old dingy- looking colours, and which, from their gorgeous brilliancy, have added so much to the beauty of all our textile fabrics. Chemical science has given us these, and principally from an article that was at one time looked upon as of little value, and for which it was difficult to find any use, viz, coal tar. Then, in geology, what wonderful revelations have been made to us of the age of our world by Hugh Miller and other scientific men. In astronomy, every increased power of the telescope has revealed to us greater and greater wonders, and given us such glimpses into the mighty universe of God, that the mind is overwhelmed with awe. In art, those beautiful oleograph pictures we now possess are of but very recent date, and furnish another proof of the scientific skill of the present day. When we are told that in some of those pictures as many as sixteen colours require to be printed, separately, ere the picture is finished, it will be seen at once with what scientific skill the machines on which they are produced must be constructed. Then photography is one of the great discoveries of this century, which has enabled people in humble circumstances in life to get portraits of themselves and their friends, who could not otherwise have possibly obtained them. It was unknown in my young days, and the first portrait (or profile, rather) I ever got taken of myself was done by a machine, was painted black, and had golden hair put in!

The first time I went to London by land (about 1841), there was no railway beyond Lancaster, and I had to 'coach it' from Edinburgh (by Hawick, Langholm, Carlisle, and Kendal) to Lancaster; and from thence to London by rail, taking part of two days and two nights for the journey, and costing between £5 and £6. Now the journey can be accomplished in ten hours, and a return ticket from Edinburgh got for about £2, 10s.

Before the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway was made, we had to walk to Alloa, and get the 'Earl of Mar' coach from there to Glasgow, taking five hours on the road. The coaches entered the city by Duke Street, High Street, and drew up at Mein's Hotel in the Trongate, a little to the west of the Tron Church, and on the opposite side of the street. After the Edinburgh and Glasgow line was opened (in 1842), an omnibus was started from Tillicoultry to Stirling (with Hugh Black for driver), and we got the coach (driven by Lowrie M'Laren) from there to Castlecary Station; and from Alloa the coach ran, by way of Dunmore, Airth, and Carron, to Falkirk Station. Thus gradually the benefits of railway travelling were approaching nearer us. When the Scottish Central line from Greenhill to Perth was opened (in 1848), the journey from Stirling to Edinburgh or Glasgow could be accomplished all the way by rail. Afterwards the Stirling and Dunfermline line was made, and then the Devon Valley; and thus the great iron roads which we now possess were gradually introduced into Scotland, and the old mode of travelling by the stage-coach done away with.

The portion of the Stirling and Dunfermline line from Alloa to Dunfermline was opened in 1850; from Alloa to Stirling and Tillicoultry in 1852. On the Devon Valley route, the portion from Kinross to Rumbling Bridge was opened in 1862; from Tillicoultry to Dollar, in 1869; and the connecting link between Dollar and Rumbling Bridge (thus completing the railway), in 1871.

Rumbling Bridge

The present generation can scarcely conceive of the dread with which people looked on a journey by rail when railways were first introduced, and many of the old folks wouldn't think of such a thing. My worthy old aunt of Clackmannan used to say 'it was a tempting of Providence' to go into a train, and she never did, although she lived long after they were introduced. This same aunt used to tell me that in her young days she walked all the way from Clackmannan to Paisley to see her brother; but after the Forth and Clyde Canal was constructed, she walked to Lock 16, and got the canal boat there.

I recollect well of another old lady friend of mine, who was going from Edinburgh to Glasgow shortly after the railway between those two places was opened, and I urged her strongly, of course, to go by rail; but no, she was sure to be killed if she hazarded her life on any such perilous undertaking, and so, clinging to her old notions of things (like so many old folks), she went by the canal boat, taking some ten hours by the way, and passing through who knows how many locks.

We cannot now appreciate too highly the immense strides the press has taken since those early days, and the great social, political, and religious advantages we derive from the cheap and excellent literature of the present day. Those charming pictorial books that are now produced every year in such profusion for the children, were unknown fifty years ago; and who can estimate the advantage this is to a rising generation? Then the beautifully-illustrated school-books we now possess, and the interesting and instructive matter of which they are generally composed, give an interest to the scholars in their lessons that didn't exist formerly, and must tend greatly to forward the education of the young. In the matter of cheapness, also, it seems perfectly fabulous the prices at which books can now be published, as compared to the early times of which I have been writing. The first Testament I ever possessed cost 3s. 6d.; and just think of getting one now for 3d.!

But dear as my Testament was, what would one have cost before the art of printing was discovered at all? The town of Mayence on the Rhine has the honour of being the birthplace of the genius who made this invaluable discovery. John Gutenberg showed his first printed sheets to Faust in 1448; and the first book (supposed to be a Bible) was printed in 1450.

A heavy duty existed in my young days on paper, and the Government imposed a heavy tax on newspapers; and instead of getting our morning and evening papers, as we do now, for the small sum of a penny and halfpenny, a club of half a dozen or so got a newspaper once a week among them—costing .7d.; and each got a reading of it, for a few hours, in his turn. I remember well of my father being a member of such a club. When the Government removed both duties, the press, being freed from such unnatural shackles, took a bound in the way of progress that seems now perfectly fabulous. This is seen specially in the charming illustrated weekly newspapers that are now published, such as the Graphic, Illustrated London News, etc., where, for the small charge of sixpence, you can get as many really highly artistic engravings as would have cost pounds sterling in days of old, and, in addition, all the general news of the week. Our advantages now are unspeakably great, and our responsibilities in consequence immensely increased, and it would be well that we should all feel this, and act accordingly.

While the press is powerful for good, it is also powerful for evil, when the streams which flow from it are polluted; and it is very much to be regretted that at the present day such an amount of pernicious literature is constantly making its appearance, and poisoning the minds of all who read it. Parents, therefore, cannot be too careful what sort of books they allow their children to get into their hands, and should exercise the strictest scrutiny in this respect.

Truly it has been my lot to live in the age of the greatest discoveries in the arts and sciences of any period of our globe's history, and our advantages now are very great indeed. I often wonder how we got on at all in those early times, and how business was ever managed. But, knowing no better, we jogged along somehow, and people contrived to make money then as they do now, and seemed to enjoy the comforts of life as much as at the present day.


It was during my partnership with my brother that the building of the present Established Church of Dollar was commenced (about the year 1840), and I used frequently to go up and inspect the operations as they were going on.

The feuars of Dollar were very indignant at being brought in by the heritors to pay a share of this new church--a thing that had been almost unheard-of till then; and my father (from being possessed of a good deal of heritable property) had a pretty large sum to pay. He, however, got in consequence a very nice seat allocated to him in the new building; but the Disruption coming on very soon after (in 1843), he didn't enjoy it long, for, casting in his lot with the Free Church, he joined the church that was built at Shelterhall, and left the Church of his fathers. This church at Shelterhall was a plain one-storied building, with a slated roof, and was built at Shelterhall, as being about half-way between Muckart and Dollar, so as to accommodate both places. The Rev. James Thomson of Muckart was chosen as the first minister of this joint congregation. It was found, however, to be very inconvenient to have to go so far to church, particularly in winter, and ultimately a church was built in Dollar for the inhabitants of Dollar alone—the folks in Muckart having either to go back to the Established Church, join the U.P. one, or go to Fossoway Free Church. Mr. Thomson married Miss Monteath of Dollarbank, who was cut off in the prime of life, and was interred in Tillicoultry Cemetery in May 1867. Mr. Thomson died in Edinburgh, and was buried there in December 1871, aged seventy-one years.


After nearly a four years' copartnery with my brother in Dollar, I left in 1843, to commence business in Milnathort, where I continued for four years. While there I attended the ministry of the Rev. James Thornton of the Free Church. I boarded, during my sojourn there, with Mrs. Mitchell, Mr. Thornton's sister, then a widow with a large young family. The Rev. Mr. Little was then (and still is) minister of the Established, and the Rev. Mr. Leslie of the U.P. Church.

The Rev. James Hay, D.D., and the Rev. Robert Leishman, were ministers of the two U.P. Churches in Kinross; the Rev. John Wright was (and is still) minister of the Free Church; and the Rev. William Peters was (and still continues) minister of the Established Church. The Rev. Dr. Hay died 14th June 1849.

Mr. Shaw and Mr. David Reddie were the only drapers in Milnathort when I went there; and the principal ones in Kinross were Mr. John Brough and Mr. Thomas Crooks. The most extensive grocery businesses in Kinross were those of Mr. Joseph Hardie (afterwards Mr. David Sands), Mr. Hutton, and Mr. Steedman.

Mr. Williamson and Mr. Hugh Laird were the principal writers and bankers; and Dr. Annan and Dr. Gray were the two medical men in Kinross. The two doctors in Milnathort were Dr. Roy and Dr. Lilburn. Mr. George Barnet was (and still is) the only printer and publisher in the county town of Kinross.

I may here give the names of a few of the gentlemen in the town and neighbourhood of Milnathort:-


The tartan manufacture was at that time in a very flourishing condition in Milnathort and Kinross, and gave employment to a great many hands. The principal manufacturers in Milnathort were:-


The only two firms now in the trade are Messrs. Wittet & Chapman in Milnathort, and W. & R. Beveridge in Kinross. Mr. Stark now carries on the business of Wittet & Chapman, and two Sons of Mr. William Beveridge that of W. & R Beveridge. The only survivors of the original foregoing firms are Mr. Michael Chapman and Mr. Robert Gordon, neither of Whom is now in the trade. My good and worthy minister, the Rev. James Thornton, died on 3d September 1874.

One of my old apprentices (Mr. John Hogg, a native of MiInathort has been long at the head of one of the largest drapery establishments in Boston, America; and Mr. George Hutton was another of my apprentices while in Milnathort. Mr. Thomas Forbes, Kinross, and Mr. John Henderson (afterwards of the Castle Campbell Hotel, Dollar) were also with me for some time.

There was rather an eccentric blacksmith in Milnathort in those days, and his signboard caused great amusement to strangers when passing. It was as follows :-

Tammie Wallace, jobbing smith,
Works up this close wi' a' his pith;
He'll dae yer job baith neat and sune,
And hopes ye'll pay whene'er it's dune.'

Milnathort being situated on the Great North Road which runs from Land's End to John-o'-Groat's House, the amount of traffic that passed through it at certain seasons of the year was very great indeed. There were four public conveyances between Edinburgh and Perth each way daily—the Mail and 'Defiance' stage-coaches; and the number of gentlemen's carriages when the shooting season approached was something fabulous. It was said that at Mr. Mitchell's hotel and posting establishment at North Queensferry about one hundred horses were regularly kept; and the number at Kirk- land's hotel, Kinross, would, I suppose, be about the same—as fresh horses were regularly got at Kinross. When the Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee Railway through Fife was opened (in 1848), all this was entirely changed; and where all was stir and bustle before, something like a deathlike silence at once took its place. In this way the introduction of railways suddenly changed many bustling country towns and villages throughout the kingdom into quiet, rural, deserted- looking places, and completely ruined many prosperous hotels.

In 1846 my father paid me a visit in Milnathort, and remained with me for some days, and although not feeling quite well, was not much out of his usual. On his return to Dollar (on a Thursday, I think it was) I walked with him the length of Thomanane, and there bade him good-bye—a last good-bye, as it turned out to be, in this world, for on the Monday morning following, a conveyance came for me from Dollar, with the sad news that my father had taken suddenly and seriously ill on coming home from church on Sabbath-day, and was no better. When nearing Dollar, George Tod met and told me that all was over—that my father was gone, cut off after a few hours' illness. Thus, at the comparatively early age of fifty-seven, I lost my good and worthy father—taken suddenly away in the midst of his usefulness, and leaving my three young sisters alone in the old home.

The manufacturing trade at the foot of the Ochils being very good at that time, I was induced to leave my old business, and left Milnathort for Tillicoultry in the year 1847. Through the kindness of my brother-in- law, Mr. Robert Archibald, of Devonvale, I learned some of the branches of. manufacturing, and commenced business on my own account in 1848; and now for thirty- five years I have been engaged in wool spinning and manufacturing. In 1851 my brother-in-law and I entered into partnership, and under the firm of William Gibson & Co. carried on business together for nineteen years, in Craigfoot and Dawson's Mills. In 1870 Mr. Archibald left the business, and I then carried it on for some years by myself, and since then in partnership with my eldest son, under the same old firm.


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus