Lanark Museum and Lanark Museum Trust

Trade and Industry

Over the centuries since its foundation as a Royal Burgh c.1140 Lanark has had a wide variety of industries and trades at business within its boundaries. The history of a small selection of these crafts and industries are detailed in this section. Some are the traditional crafts that were in existence since the foundation of the town and others were relative latecomers, some of which relied on the establishment of rail links with the town for their ability to trade from this central location.


Reproduction of a medieval upright loomLanark’s prosperity developed from trade in wool and hides with other parts of Scotland and further afield, Although in Scotland as a whole cattle were the most numerous, nevertheless the wool trade was important especially so in Lanark, one of the interpretations of the meaning of the place name Lanark is "The place of the wool workers". Great quantities of wool were exported and fine cloth imported in return. The animals involved came to the market on the hoof to be slaughtered in the burgh. Some sheep were killed aged one year for meat and woolfells and others at about four years old having produced annual crops of wool.

Although a large proportion of Lanark's trade was the export of wool, the crown ensured that enough good quality wool was retained for home production, to avoid dependence on expensive imported cloth. This helped the economy by providing work for fullers, dyers and weavers.

The Royal Burgh of Lanark had a long history as a centre of handloom weaving with the Incorporation of the Weavers Trade being mentioned in council minutes as early as 1567. By 1790 weavers were among the highest paid workers. In 1835 however the Lanark weavers had fallen on hard times with 43.1% of the 605 workers unemployed. The trade recovered and by the mid 1850's there were over 1,000 handloom weavers in the town. The population of Lanark in 1851 was 5,008. Thereafter a decline started caused mainly by improvements in machine weaving. In 1881 there were only 140 weavers left in Lanark.

Medieval lead spindle whorlThis shuttle and spindle pre-dates the Jaquard loom

Beaming machine
Part of the weaving process involved the production of the warp. In Lanark this developed into a separate business know as "beaming". This beaming machine is one of only two known to exist. Both were found in a Lanark attic in 1996.

By 1900, about the time the photograph below was taken, only five handloom weavers remained. The last, Mr Thomas Chalmers, died in 1938 aged 84.


Handloom weaver circa 1900



The history of Lanark has numerous references to the craft of shoemaking. It was one of ten crafts listed in 1658 having received a new Seal of Cause (official recognition by the Town Council) in 1639. During the Covenanting period the Earl of Strathmore’s regiment was quartered in Lanark for 21 days in late 1678. It formed part of the “Highland Host” and being from Angus had little in common with the local population and less sympathy for their views on religion. When they left they were laden with booty which included the stock of shoes held by all the local shoemakers. Fortunately the shoemaking trade at this time was entering a period of prosperity and whilst the theft of the shoes was a major inconvenience it did not destroy the trade. Shortly after this the shoemakers had risen to become the largest craft in the town.

At the start of the 18th century Lanark shoemakers were doing very well supplying Glasgow, with its American connections, with stout shoes for the workers of the city and regular Shoe Markets were held in the Castlegate. Bernard Bell a shoemaker based in a wynd that became known as Bell’s Wynd (A name still in use today) spent much of his time furthering the interests of the burgh. Bernard Bell’s son Robert later became Provost of Lanark between 1757 and 1779. Another shoemaker of that period, John Paton, amassed a small fortune that was useful to the burgh when it found it needed loans.

By the end of the 18th century the craft had about eighty fully qualified shoemakers in its lists. The population of Lanark in 1791 was 2,260. The prosperity of the craft continued as, in 1833, the town council borrowed £600 from the Shoemakers, this being the equivalent of about £43,500. (2005)

The passing of the Reform Bill in 1832 and further legislation in 1846 abolishing all trading privileges enjoyed by Royal Burghs were abolished led to the decay of some of the craft organization in Lanark and the disbandment of others. The shoemakers, whilst still rich and numerous decided to realize their organizations assets and divided the sum among their members.

Although the official organization of the craft had ended the making of shoes continued in the town well into the 20th century but suffered gradual decline throughout this period.

David Brown, shoemaker David Brown, Shoemakers, Lanark commenced in 1905. Mr. Brown had various shops, first at 7 Broomgate (shown here) then 2 High Street. Later moves included 18 High Street, and 10 Broomgate and in 1947 finally to 16 Bloomgate. David Brown is on the left. The wooden clamp between his legs was used to hold pieces of leather together whilst stitching. The craft of shoemaking in Lanark ended when Mr David Brown, the original owner's grandson closed for business in August 2002.




Early evidence for brewing in Lanark is scarce but one can safely assume that in common with other mediaeval burghs in Scotland brewing was an important part of daily life from an early time.

The Minute Books of the Royal Burgh of Lanark are scattered with references to brewing mainly on the topic of regulation of prices but also on the punishment of those found not to be observing the regulations laid down by the burgesses. The first such entry is from 13th April 1553 and sets the price of "aill" at no more than twenty pence the gallon.

From the beginning of the 18th century a sea change occurred in the methods used in brewing. A shift from small scale individual brewers, frequently in association with a specific ale house or tavern, to larger scale more 'professional' production occurred. Various influences brought this state of affairs about. Growth in the population, increasing industrialisation, improvements in agriculture which led to influxes of people to the towns and the increasing effectiveness of the application and collection of excise duties.

From 1756 no one was allowed to sell liquor unless they had a licence to do so, this included not just the brewers but the inn-keepers and the equivalent of what were to become licensed grocers. The Magistrates were responsible for their issue and thirty four were granted in the first year.

By the beginning of the 19th century there were four firms brewing in Lanark. These were John Todd, High Street, Robert Hutchison, North Vennel, Muir & Brown, Wellgate and Gilroy & Son also in the North Vennel. This last firm was to become the dominant player as far as brewing in Lanark was concerned and despite a challenge during the later part of the 19th century from the Stevens brothers, John and William, went on to stabling a thriving business producing a range of their own ales and soft drinks as well as bottling beers from other brewers such as Bass.

Bass pale aleGilroy's bottle label

John Gilroy's brewery sale catalogueJohn Gilroy and Son, brewers was founded when John Gilroy moved to Lanark in about 1816 when there were four breweries in operation in the town. He became a local Spirit Dealer and later bought an established brewery in North Vennel, Lanark and the business thrived. By 1855 they were offering 'Porter, Ales, Beer, etc. in cases or bottles' and in 1858 started trading as Thomas Gilroy & Company.

A bottling plant installed in about 1860 allowed the firm to bottle other brewer's products and the business expanded. Later the firm diversified into soft drinks and in 1886 a local newspaper reported that their lemonade and other temperance drinks had a widespread popularity.

By 1892 the firm were employing thirty men. In 1911 John Gilroy, the grandson of the founder, decided to emigrate to Canada. The death of his father James in 1901 and the subsequent death, in 1907 of the head brewer Mr John Heron may have brought on this decision.

The brewery contents were auctioned off in lots. Included in the sale were over 600 barrels, half barrels, firkins, half firkins and hogsheads; 60,240 pint beer bottles and over 37,000 soda bottles.


The Railway and its Impact

From the middle of the 19th century, when the railway arrived in Lanark, the improved communication had two major effects on the town. First, it greatly increased the trade in livestock at the local market, and second, it allowed the development of a tourist industry based on the beautiful scenery in the surrounding countryside. Hoteliers, tour arrangers and vehicle hirers and photographers all benefited.

In 1848 the Caledonian Railway Company opened the main railway line from Glasgow to Carlisle via Carstairs. It bypassed Lanark by three kilometres. As a result calls were made for a branch line to be constructed to link with the main line.

In November 1852 the Lanark Branch Railway Company was formed and a provisional Committee appointed. The committee included James Baird, M.P. and John Marr, Provost of Lanark.

The estimated cost of construction was just over £5,367. To cover this cost the management committee recommended raising £6,000 and offered 300 shares at £20 each. The prospectus pointed out that to 'the small local capitalist' it would be a safe investment and 'an opportunity of contributing to an important local improvement'.

Lanark railway stationIn 1855 the Lanark Branch Railway branch line from the main Glasgow-Carlisle line at Cleghorn Junction was opened. Due to the prior agreement of all the landowners along the four-kilometre route there was no need, as was usual when similar railway lines were built, for an Act of Parliament.

The line ran successfully until the 23rd July 1860 when the Caledonian Railway Company bought it. Soon after this purchase improvements were made by the company to the line and the Lanark Terminus. One of the improvements was the station building shown to the right. The building is still in use as a ticket office and store.

The Station Hotel, Lanark was one of a series of hotels built after the construction of the Lanark Branch Railway in 1855. Lanark had always been a tourist destination due to its proximity to the Falls of Clyde but the railway construction meant a great boost in the number of visitors.

Station Hotel, Lanark

Francis Clark, butler and innkeeper built the Station Hotel in 1863. In 1872 his son Archibald took over. As he already ran the Albion Hotel in the town he sold the Station Hotel to Andrew Selkirk in 1875 who in turn let it to James Blackwood. Blackwood ran the hotel until 1893 when a new owner, Philip Scott, took over. The hotel is still trading today under the title of The Royal Oak Hotel.


Oil Refining

Within two years of the expiry of James Young's patent on the production of paraffin oil from shale around eighty companies were established to exploit Scottish shale deposits. One of these was the London based North British Oil and Candle Company Ltd.

At a cost of £25,000 it built an oil refinery at Lanark, at Whitelees next to Lanark Golf Course, and shale mining works at Tarbrax seventeen kilometres to the north-east.

British Oil and Cabdle Company poster It made a range of oil and wax products from processing 'coal, shale, petroleum, fat oils, tallows and other substances'. Concerns were expressed locally at the possible effects on the environment. These were initially overruled by the efforts of Dr Alexander Maxwell-Adams, Provost of Lanark. The company continued trading until 1883.

Two further companies followed until the fourth change in ownership led to the formation of the Caledonian Mineral Oil Company which in turn ceased trading in 1903.

After its closure the Bonnington Electric Laundry used part of the Lanark site for a short period. Later uses included accommodation for trainees of Marshall Braidwood for those preparing for the annual Powderhall Sprint in Edinburgh, J. & J. Baxter, Builders, Lanark and Clifford Timber Ltd., makers of wooden pallets.

Today part of the site is residential housing and another is in use by Moorpark Homes Ltd who make prefabricated housing units.


Fancy box making (Mauchlineware)

Fern design Mauchlinware vaseThis fern design Mauchlineware vase was at one time the property of Miss Mary Brown, Lanark. Her grandfather, Archibald Brown established his factory, in Lanark, manufacturing similar products, in 1866. Before building his factory, 'The Caledonian Fancy Woodworks', in Lanark, in 1866, he traded for a short period as a 'Box Manufacturer' in Mauchline, Ayrshire.

Advert for Archibald Brown's fancy box works at Lanark 1876A provisional patent granted to Archibald Brown in 1870 describes a process that would, if applied, result in the finish as seen on this vase. Interest in all things to do with ferns was a Victorian craze. Other finishes Brown created were ebony, mosaic and oriental. Brown and his family lived in a house next to the works. He named it, and a later residence, Fernilea.

Archibald Brown held several patents and registered designs and is believed to have developed the application of photographs to 'Mauchlineware'. His registration documents for a thread dispensing terrestrial globe design are one of the earliest to include a photograph of the article being registered.

Know as 'Mauchlineware', production of decorative wooden items in a variety of finishes was started by the firm of W&A Smith in Mauchline. Most of these articles also had a practical use.

At its height Brown's factory employed over ninety people. He sold it in 1889 to two employees, William MacKenzie and John Meikle who continued production until 1907.

Two more examples of trade and industry in Lanark

David Anderson was born in Lanark in 1831, the son of Robert Anderson a master tailor. By the age of 20 David was a tinsmith to trade and shared premises with his father at 48 High Street, Lanark.

David Anderson, Tinsmith

Anderson, a keen student of astronomy, was renown for his mechanical skill. He patented improvements to churning machines and developed an acetylene gas generator that he used to illuminate his workshop. The small objects in the top left of the photograph hanging from the ceiling are miners oil lamps.

A skilled musician he was well known in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire acting as an instructor to many bands and was a member of the Lanarkshire Yeomanry Band for many years. He died in 1900 aged 69.

Masons at work on the Lindsay Institute, Lanark

These three stonemasons, from the firm of William Morton, Lanark, are at a site in North Vennel, Lanark. The stone being dressed on the banker (mason's bench) resembles one of the plinths under the Ionic columns of the Lindsay Institute, Hope Street.

The Lindsay Institute, built with money left by Mr. Charles Lindsay of Ridge Park, Lanark, to provide a free public reading room, library and museum within the town, was opened in June 1914. It occupies a site at the corner of Hope Street and North Vennel and is classic in design with elevations built of ashlar stone from Denwick quarry, Northumberland.

It was one of the last buildings of this quality to be built in Lanark as a result of the decimation of many of the skilled workers during the First World War.