SIR WILLIAM BILSLAND was born on St. Patrick's Day, 1847,
at Ballat, near Balfron, of forbears who had been for several centuries farmers
in the neighbouring parish of Kilmaronock. He was educated at Dalmonach School,
Bonhill, living there for the purpose with his uncle, Dr. Alexander Leckie, a
noted physician and temperance advocate. At the age of thirteen he was
apprenticed to a grocer in Glasgow, and remained in his first situation for nine
years, till he started on his own account. This undertaking, begun in Garscube
Road in 1869, was a grocery business. Three years later, feeling the limitations
of his first venture, and with the idea that the baking of bread might be made
one of the great industries of the city, he opened a bakery in Greenhill Street.
To this presently he added by purchase an old-established bakery business in
Elderslie Street, and thus were laid the foundations of the firm of Bilsland
Brothers, and the great Hydepark Bakery which supplies the bread for so large a
number of the citizens of Glasgow. Messrs. Bilsland Brothers further, in 1890,
became partners in the business of Gray, Dunn, & Company, biscuit manufacturers,
and since then that business has made a new departure in prosperity.
After declining several invitations to become a candidate for the Town Council, Mr. Bilsland entered that body as a member for the Thirteenth Ward in 1886, and he has continued to represent the same district to the present day. Among the many committees of the Council upon which he wrought were those of Health, Hospitals, Museums and Galleries, Libraries, Parks, Statute Labour, and Street Improvement. On the Health Committee he took part with Sir James King, Sir John Ure Primrose, and Bailie Crawford in the work of visiting unhealthy dwellings in all parts of the city, and he had a share in the enquiry regarding the powers of Local Authorities in other cities in dealing with unhealthy houses, which resulted in the passing of the Sanitary Act of 1890, giving the Corporation power to close houses certified as unhealthy. He took an active part also in the erection of the art Galleries at Kelvingrove, and of the People's Palace and Winter Garden on the Green. As convener of the Museums and Galleries' Committee he instituted the successful Saturday Evening Lectures in the old Corporation Galleries, which have been continued at Kelvingrove, and he was a strong advocate for the adoption of the Free Libraries" Act. At the Licensing Courts his decisions have been given on the side of temperance, but always with a liberal fairness. He is a member of the Merchants' House and the Chamber of Commerce, and in the Trades' House is a member of the Incorporations of Bakers, Hammermen, Gardeners, and Coopers. He is an elder in Woodlands U.F. Church, Vice-President of the Canal Boatmen's Mission, a Director of the Workmen's Dwellings Company, and the Scottish Temperance Life Assurance Company.
He was a Bailie from 1891 to 1894, and though he did not often speak at Town Council Meetings, there could be no doubt he was one of the men of most weight there, and his election as Lord Provost in 1905 was regarded as an eminently safe and wise choice.
After succeeding to office he more than fulfilled all the best traditions of the Lord Provostship. He took a constant and energetic part in furthering the countless varied interests and public enterprises of the city, and along with Lady Bilsland added fresh warmth and lustre on every occasion to the civic hospitalities. It was largely to his tact, energy, and initiative that in 1906 Glasgow owed the success of the celebration of the Quarter-centenary of George Buchanan. In recognition of the Scottish gift presented to King Haakon and Queen Maud of Norway on the occasion of their coronation he was received by their Majesties at Buckingham Palace in November, 1906, and was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Olaf. On the occasion of the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to the city in April, 1907, to open new buildings at the University, he received, along with their Royal Highnesses, the degree of LL.D. In June, following the visit of Prince Fushimi of Japan to the city, he received the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure (Third Class), and in November, on the occasion of King Edward's birthday, he was created a Baronet of the United Kingdom.
In virtue of his position as Lord Provost he was Lord Lieutenant of the County of the City of Glasgow and President of the new Territorial Army Association for that County. He is a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of the Counties of Glasgow and Lanark, a member of the Carnegie Educational Trust for Scotland, a member of the Glasgow University Court, a trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Sir William married in 1885 Agnes Anne Steven, third daughter of the late Alexander Steven of Provanside, and has a family of two sons and two daughters. The summers he spends at Biggarshiels, near Biggar. On demitting the Lord Provostship in November, 1908, he went with Lady Bilsland for an extended stay on the Continent.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)