Alexander Cross & Sons

Alexander Cross & Sons, Seed Merchants, Importers & Manufacturers of all the various descriptions of Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs, Hope Buildings, 19, Hope Street; and at London and Dublin.—

         It has not fallen to the lot of many British firms in the agricultural trade to attain to an eminence of reputation and a stability of position equal to those achieved by the house whose title heads this sketch. Such a result means, no doubt, advantages, resources, and capabilities not common mercantile property even in this land of immense commercial activity and trade; but it means also that these have been utilised by no idle hands. It is the object of these pages to note briefly some of the history that has brought this about.

          The firm of Messrs. Alexander Cross & Sons commenced business in Glasgow about the year 1830, occupying premises on the north side of the Gallowgate, about one hundred yards east of the Cross. For many years, however, previous to his coming to Glasgow, Mr. Alexander Cross, the founder of the house, had carried on operations as a seedsman from his residence on the Farm of Clydeside, situate on the banks of the Clyde, not far from historic Bothwell, with its famous bridge and battlefield. When his family grew old enough to assist him in the development of that business he removed into Glasgow, took up house in Monteith Row, and, with his two sons, William and David, established the business in the Gallowgate under the name and style, which has ever since been retained, of Alexander Cross & Sons.

         In those days the undertakings of the firm consisted mainly in the supply of seeds and seed grain to the farmers of the neighbouring counties, as well as in the dispatch of fine grain and rye-grass seeds in considerable quantities to England and elsewhere, the Scotch seed being widely esteemed for “sowing down” pastures. The perennial rye-grass plant develops to great advantage in the West of Scotland, and, even in the early days referred to large quantities of its seed were grown in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire for the use of England, as well as for the eastern agricultural counties of Scotland. Long before the advent of the revolutionising railway, long lines of carts might frequently be seen coming from Kilmarnock en route for Glasgow, with loads of this seed for shipment to outside districts and distant parts. The trade not only still exists, but is, indeed, a large and well developed industry; and shipments of Scotch grass-seed find their way as far as New Zealand, as well as to Continental countries, the United States, and to many other distant parts.

           Emboldened by the success that stimulates to increased effort, the business whose history we are tracing developed a spirited enterprise in other directions. In conjunction with Messrs. John Ramsden & Co., of London, they undertook large supplies of forage to the various military depots over the country, which business was vigorously carried on for many years. And, in connection with this branch of activity, is associated one of the earliest recollections of travel of the present senior partner, who, when a boy, journeyed with his father, the Mr. William Cross already mentioned, all round the North of Scotland, from Inverness to Aberdeen, through Nairn, Forres, Elgin, and Banff, in the old-fashioned stage coaches, eminently typical of the “good old times” that have so utterly disappeared before the railways. Yet this incident occurred not so many years ago.

          In 1848 a new era was marked for the house. About that time an event occurred destined to give a new stimulus to agriculture in this country. Peruvian Guano was introduced, and farmers gradually began to recognise and appreciate the value of this splendid aid to fertility. One of the first cargoes was brought to Glasgow, and was there sold by Messrs. Cross. This cargo was not from the great Peruvian deposits. It came from Kooriamooria, and was a kind of Ichaboe guano, full of feathers, and contained about 18 per cent, of ammonia. As a fertiliser it had amazing success, and in a short time attracted widespread attention. The old letters of the firm contain quite graphic accounts of the efficacy of guano as a manurial agent, and of the wonder it excited thereby among the comparatively uninformed farming classes. It seemed to them little less than marvellous that a few handfuls of this mysterious material from a distant country should so rapidly produce such surprising results. At all events, Messrs. Cross speedily established an important trade in the new fertiliser, and when the Peruvian Government opened their great deposits of guano on the Chincha Islands the arrangements for the supply of the West of Scotland were at once undertaken by the firm. Before many years had passed this guano business grew extensively ; the rate of importation into Glasgow even in the fifties (1850—1859) rose as high as from 7,000 to 10,000 tons per annum; and by and by the Messrs. Cross undertook the importation for all the Scotch ports, as well as at other places.

          A few years later the powerful properties of Nitrate of Soda as a fertiliser began to be utilised, and the Messrs. Cross did not neglect this article. Again, about 1860, the practice of using oil-cakes for the feeding of cattle became more general, and, the importation of these being germane to an agricultural business, this branch of trade fell naturally within the scope of Messrs. Cross’s undertakings, and was, in their hands, developed with energy. At first these oil-cakes, in addition to certain supplies of home make, were brought mainly from Marseilles, Copenhagen, and the Baltic ports; but, as in many other instances, the almost unlimited resources of America soon brought her to the front as a great source of production and supply of linseed and cotton-seed cakes, and the trade in these is now an important department of the representative Glasgow business under notice.

           A later, but decidedly an epoch-making departure, was the founding by this firm of their extensive chemical works at Port Dundas, in 1872. This project was largely the undertaking of the present partners — chiefly, perhaps, of Mr. Alexander Cross, senior. Through the forethought of his predecessors, Mr. Cross had had the advantage of some training under Dr. Anderson, the distinguished professor of chemistry at the Old College in High Street. He spent two years in the laboratory there, a place which will be well remembered by many old Glaswegians. It stood at the comer of Shuttle Street, just opposite the Fire Brigade Station, and from it emanated the first beginning of those agricultural analyses which have since assumed such importance and universal utility.

         The Port Dundas Chemical Works were chiefly devoted to the production of various chemical fertilisers. Though comparatively small in area when inaugurated in 1872, these Works have developed with remarkable rapidity, and are now among the largest in the kingdom, covering nearly six acres of ground. Besides extensive grinding mills and many new and ingenious adaptations of mechanical apparatus and chemical plant, the Works contain two very large sets of improved acid plant, each complete with Gay-Lussac and Glover towers, and three large ranges of furnaces and leaden chambers, capable of producing 16,000 to 18,000 tons of Sulphuric Acid per annum. Direct railway connections are carried into the works, and vessels are loaded alongside, the premises having a long and imposing water frontage.

          A large quantity of sulphuric acid, of which, as above indicated, the annual production is very great, is sold for chemical purposes generally, also for the manufacture of sulphate of ammonia, the purification of oil, and for bleaching, dyeing, the manufacture of soda water, and many other purposes, independent of the considerable proportion that is employed in the making of superphosphates. The production of chemical manure is a principal feature in the works, and is carried on most vigorously and economically. The analyses of all these fertilisers are guaranteed. A head chemist and two assistants constantly watch the manufacture and analyse the manures, ensuring uniformity and reliability of quality.

           The specialities of the house may here be briefly enumerated: dissolved guano for export to sugar-growing colonies, tobacco fertiliser, Peruvian guano (Cross’s riddled and prepared); Cross’s ten per cent, SPECIAL FERTILISER, a successful substitute for guano; Cross’s fine BONE MEAL; AGRICULTURAL SALT ; GUANITIC SUPERPHOSPHATE ; high-class SUPERPHOSPHATE ; SUPERPHOSPHATE (25 to 27 per cent, soluble) ; POTASH MURIATE and POTASH SULPHATE ; NITRATE OF SODA ; SULPHATE OF AMMONIA ; KAINIT ; GROUND PHOSPHATE ; and Scotch SLAG-PHOSPHAT-MEAL, a new fertiliser, produced in large quantities from the refuse slag of the new basic steel works, of which many highly favourable accounts are to hand. The Standard Feeding Stuffs include the following: finest linseed cakes, of leading American brands; linseed meal, of guaranteed purity;; Cross’s improved cotton cake ; decorticated cotton cake ; Cross’s improved meal for calves ; finest grocery treacle ; Indian pea-meal; Indian corn, specially of the fine River Plate quality; FEEDING MEAL ; and UNDECORATED COTTON CAKE.

         The success achieved by all the above articles constitutes their highest and only necessary recommendation. Messrs. Cross’s Nitrate and Guano Stores are in Centre Street, South Side, where they hold large stocks. In Dublin they have a branch office, where the Irish business is well looked after by Mr. Rowland W. Rose, resident representative. Recently, also, in order to meet the requirements of the English business and to develop the Southern connection, the firm have opened a, branch office at 79, Mark Lane, London, E.C., which is well managed by Mr. J. G. Mackay, who has gone from Glasgow to assume that post.

The old original premises of the house in the Gallowgate have gone the way of all antiquities. They served their purpose, and have vanished from the scene in which they once played a tacit but prominent part. They were left by Messrs. Cross about the year 1652, and not long afterwards were demolished to make room for the Union Railway line. The firm, meanwhile, had removed to 51, Argyle Street — a position just next door to the old Buck’s Head Hotel. The curious double stair of this establishment, with platt on the top, and the quaint main entrance hall, one floor above the street level, were familiar landmarks for many years in Glasgow ; but these also have silently passed away.

          In 1877 another move was made, resulting in the firm taking possession of their present spacious and handsome counting-house premises in Hope Buildings, Hope Street. And thus, in the case of this firm, diligence and prudence and hard work for more than half a century have manifested their customary outcome, and the business of the firm of Messrs, Alexander Cross & Sons has never ceased to increase in volume and develop in resource in each and all of its numerous departments. The house now holds a position of well-earned prominence among the largest agricultural concerns, not alone of England, but of the world. Goods bearing the brand “Cross” are known and esteemed in all the colonial and most of the foreign markets, and there are few old and valuable connections amongst farmers and agricultural dealers at home that are better looked after or more carefully handled than that maintained by this reputable firm.

            Mr. Alexander Cross, the founder of the concern, died in 1847, Mr. William Cross in 1865, and Mr. David Cross in 1885. The two present partners are. the sons of these two last-named gentlemen, and under their proprietary those principles which have sustained the house throughout a long and honourable career are accorded a faithful observance, powerful in the full retention of a support and public confidence for many years enjoyed. It is always gratifying to the reviewer to note instances of well-directed energy, capability, and resource, successfully-directed to the development of any branch of trade or industry, in which it is fitting that the nation should stand to the front among the peoples of the world; and, in so far as the Messrs. Cross have displayed such qualities, they may be held entitled to this brief notice in these pages. Even in commercial Glasgow there are few firms of older standing, and not many with greater claims to be considered a typical Glasgow house.

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