John Kirsop & Son

John Kirsop & Son, Hatters, 98, Argyle Street.—

    In reviewing the great representative industries and noteworthy commercial enterprises of Glasgow, it is a distinct pleasure to make prominent mention of a house of such eminent status as that of Messrs. John Kirsop & Son, a firm who hold the premier position among the high-class hatters of the city. There is no more thoroughly typical house in its line than this, not alone in Glasgow but, indeed, in Great Britain ; for Messrs. Kirsop have an association with the hat trade extending back over a period of nearly a century and a quarter, and their business has now entered upon its sixtieth year at its well-known Argyle Street headquarters.

    To the courtesy of the present principal of the firm, Mr. John Kirsop, we are indebted for some interesting notes and information respecting the history of hat and bonnet making in Scotland and Glasgow. The earliest information obtainable regarding the manufacture of hats or bonnets in Scotland goes back to February, 1473, when, at the request of the craftsmen, the provost, bailies, and Council of Edinburgh granted seals of cause to the several crafts of the burgh of Dundee, the hat-makers being granted the power to formulate laws for the government of their craft. Afterwards, the provost and Council confirmed the laws thus made, and empowered the craftsmen to enforce the same. On October 13th, 1726, the trade of hatters or bonnet-makers in Dundee met to remonstrate against Glasgow bonnets being sold as of Dundee make by the retailers ; and, to guard against repetition of this offence against the privileges of the craft in the town on the Tay, the trade in the latter place, in pursuance of the power vested in them, enacted very stringent ordinations, coupled with heavy penalties, against such trangressors of their rights. This shows that the principles of “boycotting” are not of yesterday. It is mentioned that in the year 1707 there were made by the Dundee craft 1.021 dozen bonnets. In 1708 this number was increased to 1,904 dozen ; but in 1764 the annual output was only 586 dozen, an indication that the trade was considerably falling off.

    Turning next to the western metropolis, we find that the dyers’ and bonnet makers’ trade in Glasgow was incorporated in 1597. In the united escutcheon of these crafts in the Glasgow Trades Hall, the insignia of the bonnet makers is represented by a blue bonnet with a red and white border, such as is worn by the Cameronian regiment. Bonnets were apparently very generally worn by the commonalty in Scotland up to 1825, for in that year an issue of the Glasgow Looking Glass gives an illustration of the fair held at the foot of the Saltmarket, whereat the majority of the visitors appear in the Tam o’Shanter bonnet. An old line engraving, however, executed in the Glasgow Academy of Art, created by the celebrated Foulis Brothers, depicts the assemblage of citizens at the exhibition of pictures held in the inner court of the Old College, in celebration of the coronation of George III., in 1761, and indicates a somewhat extensive departure from the bonnet-wearing custom even at that remote time, for most of the males are shown wearing what Captain Paton quaintly termed the “wee three-cockit” — that is, the hat the magistrates mostly wore. Still it is very certain that the people of Scotland have been most commendably faithful to the national and likewise rational headgear so frequently celebrated in the songs of the country, and the jaunty and comfortable bonnet is still an institution in the “land of brown heath and shaggy wood”, though in the cities and towns it is, of course, heavily handicapped by the laws of a more modern fashion, which all rule in favour of the universal hat.

    The fame of Kilmarnock and its district as a bonnet-producing centre, during the last century and a large portion of this, is traceable to the ascertained fact that about one hundred and forty years ago a native of Stewarton went to Dundee, and, after learning the trade there, returned to Kilmarnock and established a business, which took root, flourished, and multiplied with exceedingly prosperous results. Looking at hat-making as a Glasgow industry, in the first directory of the city (1787) four hatters are named — one in Gallowgate, two in Saltmarket, and one in Trongate. The hats, however, were probably all made in the suburbs of Glasgow rather than in the city proper, for in Ure’s interesting “History of Rutherglen”, 1793, it is recorded that there were ten hatters (presumably journeymen) in that place. Although the trade has now left Rutherglen, there still exists in that ancient burgh what is called Hatters’ Row, and the same is to be found in Dalmarnock. The principal trade done at that time appears to have been in the manufacture of negro wool hats, which, were shipped to the West Indies in rum puncheons ; and the industry was evidently profitable in those days, for two of the firms engaged in it prospered exceedingly, and became large West Indian proprietors.

    The emoluments of the trade to-day are perhaps not as great as in the “good old times”, but it is none the less within the power of the modern hatter to win and retain both fortune and renown, if the right course be pursued towards the attainment of that end. In substantiation of this assertion it is only necessary to point to the records and achievements of such a house as that of Messrs. John Kirsop & Son, whose position is one of undisputed eminence and prestige. This firm is the oldest of Glasgow hatters, if not, indeed, the oldest of Scottish hatters, the great-grand-father of the present Mr. John Kirsop having come to Cambuslang as a, hatter about a hundred and twenty years ago. This may fairly be set down as the foundation of the firm, for the same gentleman went from Cambuslang to Rutherglen, still in the same business ; and from the latter place his son (Mr. Kirsop’s grandfather) came to Camlachie, where he established a hat factory which was carried on there for half a century. Then, in 1816, he inaugurated a place of business in Gallowgate, and shortly afterwards started a wholesale establishment in Smith’s Court, Candleriggs, which was conducted with much success until 1850. His eldest and youngest sons opened branches in Argyle Street ; and when the Argyle Arcade was inaugurated, in 1828, the present Mr. Kirsop’s. uncle, Mr. Richard Nixon, occupied the premises at the corner of the. Arcade, where he had the honour of being appointed hatter to his Majesty King George IV.

    It is worth noting, as an evidence of the really patriarchal character of this distinguished house, that the three principal wholesale hat manufacturers of Glasgow derived their practical training and initial experiences of the trade from the Nixon establishment, with which they were formerly connected. Messrs. John Kirsop & Son’s, premises, at the corner of Argyle Arcade and Argyle Street, occupy a position of singular advantage and are very extensive. The sale shop and showroom is fitted up in a manner and style well suited to the high-class, character of the business, and contains a superb stock, representing the very best products of the modern hatter’s craft. On the floor above (which was formerly a picture gallery — the first in Glasgow), Messrs. Kirsop have laid out a fine spacious saloon of handsome appointment, wherein they make a magnificent display of ladies’ superior millinery, a department developed by them with very great success. Every characteristic of this noted establishment suggests the eminence of the firm’s position in the trade, and indicates the satisfactory progress of a business that has been substantial, prosperous, and most valuably connected from the first.

    In the person of Mr. John Kirsop this house has a principal respected and esteemed, alike as a citizen and as a business man, devoted to the observance of sound and honourable commercial principles, active and energetic in his administrative policy, and well qualified to maintain, by virtue of experience and ability, both the reputation and good fortune of his own undertaking, and the dignity of the ancient trade of which he is such a distinguished and influential representative. The firm exhibits at the Glasgow International Exhibition, the number of their show-case being 1,027.

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