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SMITHS MAUCHLINEWARE FACTORY - MAUCHLINE, AYRSHIRE

MAUCHLINE BOXWORKS ARTICLE FROM 1891 ARDROSSAN & SALTCOATS HERALD

Photo Courtesy of and © Willie Lyle

Left: Thought to be the most important find of recent years, the only decent photograph available of the well known Smith's Mauchline Boxware Factory, home to the phrase Mauchline Ware. This image was found in Willie's collection of glass negatives and processed by ayrshirehistory.com in late 2002. The view is taken from the roof of Mauchline Parish Church, and dates back to the late 1800s. In the full image on the left, Burnbrae House behind the Town Hall is still the older thatched building. The current large double storey sandstone building dates from 1899.

Right: A Close up of the Smith's Box Works factory. The factory produced wooden items which are now so collectable. One only has to try a search on e-bay to see just how collectable Mauchline Ware really is.

Click on the images to view a high res image, and BACK to return to this page

 

Photos Terry Harrison
Staff members of the Smith's boxworks.

 

W & A Smith’s Box Works Site, New Road, Mauchline  

From the recollections of the late Mrs Euphemia Smith who was in charge of the showroom, and was also a Packer, the business of W & A Smith was beginning to run down by the time the fire which destroyed the main part of the factory complex occurred in 1933. The firm however struggled on until 1937, when it went into voluntary liquidation.

Mrs Smith recalls that ‘five young men’ took over, but it didn’t last long. The ‘five young men’ who took over the business were;

Robert Wood Wyllie, Curlingstone Manufacturer, Willowbank, Mauchline
Alexander Anderson, Joiner, An-Cala, Catrine
James Murdoch Jamieson, Grocer, 43 Loudoun St, Mauchline
William Wilson Jr, Clerk, Richardlea, Mauchline
John McKenzie, Hotelier, Loudoun Arms Hotel, Mauchline

The new company operated under the name W & A Smith (1937) ltd, and the above named were first directors. The objects for which the company was established on 22nd March 1937, were to carry on the business of W & A Smith, Box Manufacturers, and many other pursuits.

While wooden articles were produced, the venture did not flourish, and the advent of the 1939/45 was saw the demise of the business.

During the years of the war, and for some time afterwards, part of the premises was used as a potato store; part as a milk marketing board store for dried milk powder produced at the local creamery, and a small part was even used by a local ‘bookie’.

One of the directors, Alexander Anderson built a small factory on the site in the 1950s. He produced steel and timber girders or beams for the building trade in an effort to overcome the timber shortage at that time. The escalating cost of the steel element in the beam and the increasing availability of timber caused this venture to become unprofitable, and this too ceased.

Thereafter the buildings gradually fell into a state of dereliction and the whole, except that which had been the showroom and offices, was demolished to make way for the new fire station, which came into use in December 1963.

The shop currently occupied by Iain Cowan, whose wife is a daughter of Alexander Anderson, was formed from what had been the showroom, and the house above from what had been Mr William Smith’s offices. He died on 13th July 1949.

The attached sketch gives some idea of the layout of the factory complex during W & A Smith’s occupancy. There is no claim as to its accuracy. It is, as stated on the sketch, based on recollections. It is possible that more detailed information may be forthcoming, when a more detailed and accurate sketch could be produced.

W.M.G. 1993

Sources: Miss Phemie Smith, William Anderson, James B Jamieson, and John Bushell, all of Mauchline.



Courtesy Alex Wilson


Above - Courtesy of Burns House Museum, Mauchline

A cutting from THE SCOTSMAN 1959 about Smith's, and an old poster. NB The high res versions of each of these items are 3 and 4 meg.

FURTHER READING: CLICK HERE FOR AN INFORMATIVE ARTICLE FROM THE 1977 BURNS CHRONICLE BY BUIST.

 

 

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Davidson, Wilson & Amphlet

Photo Russel Wylie

Victoria Works, which as can be seen here was at one time used as part of Kay's curling stone works, where it still operates today. The large 3 storey building was taken down in the early 1960s. Before this building was a curling stone manufacturers, it was a box works. The company was at one time Wilson, Davidson & Amphlet. An undated newspaper cutting refers to a fire on the premises of Wilson, Amphlet & Co, which is now incorporated within Alex's text.

 

Davidson, Wilson and Amphlet / Wilson and Amphlet

Text via Alex Wilson

Wilsons were always involved with the Mauchline Box Works Industry. It started with Robert Wilson, known as "The Gallant Weaver", from the song Robert Burns wrote about him. According to research carried out by his descendant, John Wilson, he was living in Loudoun Street, Mauchline, in the early 1800’s and married to Margaret Thomson of Maybole, Ayrshire. They had nine children.

Mr Wilson’s researches say Robert Wilson the Gallant Weaver's second eldest child John did marry and had eight children. The eldest of these, another Robert, started up in partnership in 1855 with John Davidson, manufacturing Snuff Boxes, Tartan and Fancy Woodware at Grey’s Bridge, Back Causeway (Castle Street), close to the Burns House Museum, Mauchline. A third partner Samuel Amphlet of Birmingham joined the business about 1856. On 1st April 1859 the firm now Davidson, Wilson and Amphlet, moved to a new factory at Victoria Works, Barskimming Road, Mauchline. The move to the new factory was well timed as the Great Mauchline Flood of 1859 extensively damaged the empty manufactory. It is reported in the 1861 census, held in the Register Office Edinburgh that the firm employed 47 men, 31 women, 20 boys and 10 girls.

In 1864 John Davidson relinquished his one third share in the company to Robert Wilson and Samuel Amphlet who continued to trade at the same location as “Wilson and Amphlet” - Box Manufacturers.

On 20th August 1867 Robert Wilson, with the consent of Samuel Amphlet transferred his share of the business to his 35 year old nephew Edward McEwan. Robert Wilson died a bachelor age 54 in 1871. He was highly regarded and The Ayr Advertiser said in his obituary “Mr Wilson did a great deal to extend The Fancy Wood Trade. He was highly respected for the interest he took in the working classes, and for the unostentaneous manner in which he rendered to the poor. Out of respect for his memory all public works and shops in Mauchline closed at the time his body was conveyed to the churchyard”.

By an extraordinary coincidence on the day of the funeral a fire broke out at the Wilson and Amphlet Box Works.

THE AYR ADVERTISER REPORTED:

MAUCHLINE EXTENSIVE FIRE - 1000 WORTH OF PROPERTY DESTROYED


Early on Thursday morning a fire broke out in the box work belonging to Messrs Wilson, Amphlet & Co., Mauchline, which destroyed the largest and best portion of the manufactory. Shortly after twelve o'clock fire was seen issuing from the building in the north end, and the alarm being given, the whole of the inhabitants turned out and made every effort to extinguish the flames. Despatches were sent off to Catrine and Kilmarnock fire engines, and water was supplied by a line of water passed through the streets from the rivulet Chalk.

In a short time, the flames got into the adjoining building, and raged fiercely for about two hours, completely destroying the whole three flats, which were occupied as turning, varnishing, and finishing shops. By the help of Catrine fire engine, the south portion of the work was saved, the communication being cut, and water freely played on the doors, windows, and gable. Great praise is due to the inhabitants, both male and female, for their exertions to extinguish the fire, which is the largest we have had for many years. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. The loss, which is partly covered by insurance, will amount to upwards of a thousand pounds. The property destroyed consists chiefly of machinery, manufactured goods, &c.

No one can say how the fire originated, as the buildings are all heated by steam, and the resident partner, Mr McEwing (Edward McEwan) saw the premises locked up, and all right, about ten o'clock. A large number will be thrown out of work for some time by the occurrence. It was a somewhat striking coincidence, that the funeral of Robert Wilson, Esq., the head partner of the firm, and who was for many years its manager, took place on the same day that the fire broke out. Mr Wilson did a great deal to extend the fancy wood trade. His death, which was very sudden, was caused by the bursting of a blood vessel. He was highly respected for the interest he took in the working classes, and for the unostentatious manner in which he rendered assistance to the poor. Out of respect for his memory, all the public works and shops in town were closed while his remains were being conveyed to the churchyard.

It is not known what affect the fire had on production and the Partnership continued to trade until 1885. For 25 years they produced a wide range of high quality Mauchline Ware, held a Royal Warrant and for a while were the main competitors of W and A Smith. Edward McEwan was in charge of the factory and was responsible for the sales operation in Scotland where he had many highly regarded sales outlets including The Burns Monument Trust Alloway, Anderson Bookseller Dunkeld (see needle case below), Shearer Stirling and James Soutter of Princes Street Edinburgh. Sammy Amphlet covered England and Overseas from the Birmingham office. He was a very lively and creative character, and had many patents registered in his name. The Birmingham branch turnover was larger than that of the head office in Mauchline. The firm also made other products such as fastenings for belts and bands patented in 1856 by John Morrison and Samuel Amphlet. Morrison a brother in law of Robert Wilson was a superintendent of a steel pen manufactory in Birmingham.

On 8th January 1885 Samuel Amphlet and Edward McEwen, as Trustees of the firm of Wilson and Amphlet, disposed of the property to George Smith, William Robert Smith and William Smith of the firm of W and A Smith, Box Manufacturers Mauchline. Sammy Amphlet at 54 continued actively in business and died in 1904. Edward McEwan like his Uncle Robert played an active part in helping his fellow villagers and died in 1902. He is buried in Mauchline New Cemetery. Part of the factory remains and is used by Andrew Kay and Co Ltd. who produce curling stones of a standard and finish acclaimed world wide.

 

John Davidson / John Davidson and Sons

From 1864 until 1885 there were three” Box Works” in Mauchline: W. and A. Smith, Wilson & Amphlet and John Davidson and Sons. Much has been written about the Smiths and Wilson & Amphlet's products have been identified many times. John Davidson and his sons thrived for forty years making snuffboxes, Tartan and Fancy Wood Ware, yet little is known about the firm’s high quality products.

John Davidson was born in the Ayrshire village of Dailly in 1817. He was a founder member of Clark, Davidson and Co. who were listed in the 1851 census as having a box manufactory at Grey's Bridge, Back Causeway (now Castle Street) Mauchline, employing fourteen workers.

The company was mentioned in the Ayr Advertiser of 7 July 1853: "The checkers and others in the ornamental department of Messrs Clark, Davidson & Co. have received an addition to their wages of 10% owing to the increased prosperity of trade generally throughout the country and of the Scotch Tartan Fancy Works in particular."

In 1855 John Davidson entered into a partnership with Robert Wilson (see Journal 33, page 3). On 1 April 1859 Samuel Amphlet of Birmingham joined the partnership, trading from that time as Davidson, Wilson and Amphlet at the Victoria Works, Barskimming Road, Mauchline. John Davidson relinquished his share in Davidson, Wilson and Amphlet in 1864 and set up on his own account as John Davidson and Sons, Burnside, Sorn Road, Mauchline. The site is now a doctor's surgery. John was listed in the 1871 census as living in Loudon Street and his occupation Box Manufacturer, Tartan and Fancy Wood. He died in 1872, aged 55, but three of his sons, Joseph, George and William carried on the business until 1889, when they had to close down, as their main customers, the thread manufacturers, amalgamated. The 1881 census described Joseph Davidson as a Manufacturer employing 28 men, 27 women, 13 boys and 12 girls..

Like his contemporaries the Smiths and Robert Wilson, John Davidson was very highly respected and the Ayr Observer of 13 February 1872 said in its obituary of him: "Death of Mr John Davidson, Senior, Box Manufacturer. This much respected gentleman died of typhus fever here, yesterday afternoon, after a short illness, and his death has thrown a gloom over this locality. He has been, for the last quarter of a century, connected with the manufacture of the Scotch Tartan Work etc here - first as senior partner of the firm of Davidson, Wilson and Amphlet and afterwards as senior partner of Messrs. Davidson and Sons. He was of a most amiable disposition, and was much loved by all in his employment. He took a leading part in all movements for the improvement and good of this place, and it was through his most zealous aid that our beautiful Town Hall was erected. He leaves a widow and a family of eight to mourn his loss."

John Davidson is certainly remembered as a great Mauchline townsman, but his Tartan and Fancy Wood Ware is not easily identified. The writer has in his collection a Prince Albert tartan small pocket integral wooden hinged snuff box (l’/2 x 1 “.). Engraved on the lid inside under the Royal warrant is "Davidson - Mauchline" (Clark is obliterated) and on the base “LUND".

William Lund took over his father’s business in 1845 trading from 23/24 Fleet Street, London. He is described in Pinto’s “Treen and other Wooden Bygones “ as a wood and ivory turner making cedar and ivory propelling pencils having bought Gabriel Riddle’s original propelling pencil patent. William’s father had specialized in shapely fitted boxes for cutlery, toilet, picnics etc. Also tea caddies and quill cutters. William Lund was the perfect up market London outlet for the high quality Tartan and Fancy Goods produced by the Davidsons.

Alex Wilson


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