Minutes of an Ordinary Meeting of the Old Glasgow Club

Held at Adelaides, 209 Bath Street

On Thursday 10th December 2015




Mr Stuart Little (President)


Mr Little thanked everyone for coming along to the last meeting of 2015.

The fire drill procedure and house keeping rules were explained and all mobile phones were requested to be switched off or to silent.

Mr Little also told members that the November minutes had been distributed electronically to members who had requested them that way. Apologies

Isabel Haddow, Ronnie Know, Ian Henderson, John McKnight, Ian Frame, Alison Sannachan, Jim O'Kane.


The minutes of the last ordinary meeting, held on Thursday 12th November were approved and proposed by Sam Gordon and seconded by Eileen Campbell.

There was one amendment to November 12th Minutes. Next Ordinary Meeting and Directors Meeting date should both read 10th December, not 10th November as written.

There were no matters arising.

President's Report

Mr Little told us that himself and past Club President, Petrina Cairns had attended a talk on the 4th of December at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA).

The talk was given by Emily Malcolm, the Marine Curator at the Riverside Museum. She presented a very informative illustrated talk on an engraving made in 1864 of Glasgow City Centre.

The engraving showed every street, building, river traffic and squares in great detail. As if taken from a hot air balloon or in todays parlance, a 'drone'.

The engraving was based on ordinance survey maps of the time and can be examined at the Mitchell Library or online.

Secretary's Report

Mrs McNae asked members to take note of upcoming events and dates that were on the screen.

Mrs McNae also told members that if they had missed last months meeting and would like their OGC Minutes delivered electronically before a meeting to give their details at the sign in desk or at the tea/coffee area at the back.

There's lots happening in the coming months which you can keep up to date with on the OGC Facebook page, People Make Glasgow peoplemakeglasgow.com and What's On Glasgow www.whatsonglasgow.co.uk.

 A reminder that the Turner Prize is being held at Glasgow's Tramway. An exhibition of work by four shortlisted artists is free and is running until 17th January, 2016. The winner, Assemble, was announced on the 7th December. 

Speaker -  Jean MacDonald "Local Boys Made Good - James & Robert Couper".

Mr Little introduced tonight's speaker, Jean MacDonald, who is from Holmwood House. Jean is a guide at this National Trust property which is a huge asset to Cathcart. Without further ado, could we please give Jean a huge welcome.

Jean tells us that she is not an historian, she's an artist who happens to be a guide at Holmwood House. And, although a fan and admirer of Alexander 'Greek' Thomson, buildings are bricks and mortar, for people to live in.

19th century Cathcart was a river of mills. Grain mills, paper mills, carpet works and an iron foundry were built on the banks of the White Cart.

James and Robert Couper, along with two sisters, Agnes and Janet were born to parents, James Couper and Janet Hamilton. James was a tennent farmer in Cathcart.

James died at the age of 34, when James and Robert were quite small. Sadly, when I  was looking into the family I also found that an infant of James Couper and Janet Hamilton had been recorded around the same time. I was puzzled but found out that there had been an outbreak of Cholera at the time.

Janet was now left to bring up four children, but being an enterprising and resourceful woman she decided to move across the river to Braehead and open a shop. Braehead is just over Snuff Mill Bridge, at the top of the present day Rhannan Road.

We have to imagine a woman who had to make her way, opening a grocers shop whilst rearing young children. Janet knew that the way forward in those days was education, and Janet wanted her children to be educated. She probably couldn't had afforded a private education so it would likely have been a Church education. The children would have had this for a small fee.

The boys both took a big step when they left school and were employed at a local mill called Millholm Paper Mill. The Mill  was located on the banks of the White Cart Water. The river has quite a high race and quite a lot of weirs. There's been a long history of mills here.

In 1841 they took a huge risk. They borrowed money and took over the mill. I have no idea how they managed it but they did.

At this time paper was still being hand done in individual sheets, pressed by women and hung up to dry. This was a time consuming process so the brothers decided to install gas. This now means that the paper is made in large rolls and cut into size. The entire process now being more efficient, producing larger volumes of paper.

The turning point in the brothers fortunes was the Crimean War. This little known company and mill got the Westminster contract to supply paper. I haven't found any records as to how they managed this, and, as far as we know they continued to have this contract for the rest of their working life.

As well as running a successful company they interested themselves in the welfare of the employees and in cases of illness, paying their wages in full. This was most unusual for the time.

They were now making serious money and became part of the upper middle classes, part of the ruling industrialists. I've often wondered how they fitted in as they were Glasgow boys with quite strong accents. I wonder if they got invitations to the big house.

James and Robert did what lots of industrialists did at this time, they built holiday houses called 'Ashlea' and 'Elderslie" at Cove. A pretty place right on the waterfront that you reached by train from Glasgow to Greenock and then got a small boat across.

They also decided to go a bit more upmarket with their Glasgow homes and have two built. Funny enough on the land where their Father's farm was.

Robert's house, 'Sunnyside' was built first (sadly this was demolished at the end of the 1960s). It was a fairly traditional Victorian Gothic villa that stood a little to the east of Holmwood House. It was designed by Glasgow architect James Smith, father of the notorious Madeline Smith who stood trial for the murder of Pierre Emile L'Angelier.

James, however, wanted something a little more unusual. "As a result he commissioned, arguably, Glasgow's second most famous architect, Alexander 'Greek' Thomson, to design a unique villa for him".

James wanted a house to impress, a house with a beautiful entrance, a coach house, a kitchen garden. Holmwood

House is a striking house with a staggering amount of detail on both the exterior and interior.  The dining room is in many ways the most ornate room in the house with a very detailed frieze of the Greeks and the Trojans. It was a room built for entertaining.

James and 'Greek' Thomson became very good friends and "what emerged is usually regarded as Thomson's finest domestic building. As a result the house attracts visitors from every corner of the globe".

When you consider where they came from, a farm and above a Grocer's shop, and, now there was a coachhouse with a live in coachman. The significance of having this is the equivalent of having two Rolls Royces and a full time Chauffeur now.

Robert married Mary Crawford Smith, a daughter of the manse in 1863, when he was slightly older. Robert retired to Rhu where he had an estate, 'Dalmore Rhu'.

James' first wife, Marion, died of Consumption in 1869. He re-married in 1871 to Kate Peebles, the daughter of one of Couper's Agents. James died aged 59 in 1877 and is buried, along with both his wives in Old Cathcart Kirkyard. Kate lived on at Holmwood until her death in November 1908

There was no issue from either James or Robert so when they died the mill went up for sale along with the cottages. Some of the money would have been settled on the wives. The last of the line, Robert, died in 1883.

Although the brothers left no children they left a legacy to their staff, the Couper Institute building, a library and a librarian. They also left a great deal of money, 40-45,000 to build a local hospital. The hospital being the Victoria Infirmary. That would have been a huge amount of money then.

We have one last bit of legacy left and that is Holmwood House. The Coupers were not famous but you will find them in the history books. I feel an empathy with the brothers, two young men who took a chance with a loan, built up a

business, were good employers, generous, fair and also leaving large amounts of money when they died.

Q  I'd like to ask how they managed to get the contract for Westminster Government for being such a small company.

     I don't imagine that they were known out-with Glasgow and it's a major contract?

A   I'd love to know that too and I have been trying to find out. We do know that James knew Mr Peebles, who was a well      known paper agent in London. That may have been something to do with it.

Q  Do you know what happened to the sisters?

A   The sisters never married but they did give up being grocers. James and Robert were generous to their sisters and      built them houses in Cove.

Q   Earlier on in a map that you showed there was a place called Maress (?spelling). What does that mean?

A   Let's look on the maps of Cove and Cathcart. Sorry, I can't find it and I'm not familiar with it.

Q   On the register there was the name Algie. There were tea merchants with that name, are they related?

A   They were probably distant relatives. I think if they had been close relations that they would have probably worked for      the tea merchants.

Q  Did you have any interest in Holmwood House before you worked for the National Trust?

A   No, not until I moved into the area. My friend was head of volunteers and wanted me to work with them when they      found out I was and Artist and Graphic Designer.

Vote of Thanks - Neil Houser

Neil wished everyone a good evening and thanked Jean for a well researched and informative talk. We know these buildings by sight but it's great to hear about the buildings, the people that lived in them, their developments, their staff and their generous donations to local hospitals and causes. Let's all thank Jean for a wonderful talk.

AOCB - None

Next Ordinary Meeting - 7pm, Thursday 14th January at Adelaides, Bath Street.

Next Directors Meeting - 6.15pm, Thursday 7th January at Glasgow Unitarian Church, 72 Berkeley St, Glasgow G3

Mr Little wished all a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and safe home on behalf of himself and the the Club's Directors.

                                                                                                                                       Shona Crozer

                                                                                                                                       Recording Secretary