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Charity No. SC003935

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The paper below is, we hope, the first in a series of reprints from the Scottish Pottery Historical Review (SPHR). As each new paper is published the older one will be put into an archive page where it will remain available.

This 'Possil Pottery, Tennent, and Glasgow Trading & Transport Ltd.' article was previously published in SPHR No. 17



POSSIL POTTERY, TENNENT, AND GLASGOW TRADING & TRANSPORT LTD.

by Henry E. Kelly


(click on pictures to get larger size)

During the First World War potteries of all kinds found supplies of clay becoming more and more difficult to obtain, due in part to the absence of men who had gone into the armed forces from the clay mining districts. This shortage of men made itself felt also directly in the potteries by conscription from them, so that output from some of them decreased and supplies to their customers could be severely restricted. Exactly the same factors applied in the glass industry: shortage of basic supplies and of manpower. Shipping too was scarce throughout the War for obvious reasons.

This naturally affected the business of other trades which depended on stoneware or glass containers such as the jam and beer trades. Jam makers were further restricted in output because of a world shortage of sugar caused by the disruption of the European beet sugar industry, leaving Britain dependant on cane sugar from across the Atlantic Ocean.(1)

The stoneware and glass bottle industries seen to have been amongst the most heavily affected by wartime shortages and by late 1915 J. & R. Tennent, Limited, brewers, of Wellpark Brewery, Glasgow, found themselves in such a difficult position that drastic measures were required to deal with it. They decided to take over both a pottery and a glassworks and run them on their own account. It is with the former of these ventures that this paper is particularly concerned. (2)

Photo: beer bottle.

Tennent’s need for stoneware bottles was very great since the Cuban market was flourishing, the world shortage of sugar having made Cuba a very rich country, at least temporarily. Cuban workers liked Tennent’s Export Beer but showed a distinct preference for stoneware bottles and, since Tennent had a large share in the Cuban market, their consumption of stoneware bottles was very great and they were finding extreme difficulty in buying anything like the supply they needed. (3)

Their choice was the Possil Pottery in northern Glasgow. This had been standing empty since 1911 when McDougall and Sons, makers of Nautilus Porcelain and retail dealers in china and earthenware, had moved out. The Pottery was by this time in a very dilapidated state. It was leased for six years from Whitsunday 1916 from McDougall & Sons but production was not begun until January 1917 and then with great difficulty due to shortages of men and clay. (5) Only part of the Pottery had been leased but by January 1917 this was found to be inadequate and the rest was leased at an additional rental of £100 per annum – the original rental is not known. (6)

In all about £6,000 had to be spent on refurbishing the Pottery before production could start. Three kilns had to be erected as well as drying room accommodation with steam piping, and various lesser changes. By November 1919 a new pug mill had to be purchased at a cost of £250. Even with the expenditure of all this money only the ground floor of the buildings could be used, since the upper floors could take very little weight. (7) There were other difficulties too since Mr Brown who had been appointed pottery manager fell ill in 1917 and never returned to work, dying on 27 January 1919. E.W. Kirk of Tennent looked after the Pottery temporarily until June 1919 when a Mr Wilson was appointed manager at a salary of £250 pen annum.(8) In spite of all this, the taking over of the Pottery was considered a success since an adequate supply of beer bottles had been assured. In 1917 the Managing director and the Secretary visited the Devon clay district and Skey’s Pottery at Tamworth, presumably to enquire into manufacturing techniques and to obtain greater supplies of clay.(9)

In 1919 the question arose of the position of the Pottery, (10) since the lease was due to run out at Whitsunday 1922. In a long and elaborate report the management reported three choices to the Board of Directors (App1). The lease could be extended; Tennent could buy the Pottery; or a completely new pottery could be built in Glasgow’s East End. The Directors foresaw a possible end to the Cuban demand for stoneware bottles or indeed Tennent’s beer (this proved to be prophetic) but felt that nevertheless it was expedient to retain a pottery of some kind.

An extension of the lease was barely considered as a possibility; the alternatives seriously considered were buying Possil or building anew. The management was decidedly in favour of the latter and the report detailed the probably expense and the saving that would ensue, but the Board nevertheless decided on buying the old Pottery outright. (11) At the same time it was decided to form a subsidiary company to carry on Tennent’s ancillary activities. The company was called Glasgow Trading & Transport, Ltd. and its Board of Directors was simply the Board of J & R Tennent, Ltd. under another name. It consisted of four men: James Archibald Campbell, a landed proprietor, of Craigie, Ayr as Chairman: John Alexander Yeaman. W.S., of Napier Road, Edinburgh, who became Managing Director; William Brown, a retired broker, of Vellore, Polmont; and Lt. Col. William Auld, a chartered accountant, of The Grange, Bridge of Weir and 24 St Vincent Place, Glasgow. J.A. Campbell of Craigie was related to the original Tennent family by marriage. (12) Also present at the first meeting on 12 January 1920 was Mr Johnstone of Messrs Wright, Johnstone & Mackenzie, the Company’s solicitors.

Photo: Spirit jar.

Ernest W. Kirk of ‘Ardyne”, Sandyhills Road, Mount Vernon, was appointed manager of the Company at the salary of £25 per annum. In some of the initial documents he is described as Company Secretary but since he was already manager of Tennent and since Alfred St. Clair was appointed Company Secretary at the same meeting, also at a salary of £25, and since E.W. Kirk throughout carried out the duties of a manager, we must assume that that was his real function. (13)

The Articles of Association give a long list of activities but the principal functions of the Company seem to have been three: (a) to run the Pottery: (b) to look after motor transport for Tennent: (c) to be a holding company for stocks and shares. (14) This last was eventually the only function of Glasgow Trading & Transport . Many other activities are mentioned in the Articles but seem never to have been carried out, or only marginally. Timber dealing is mentioned in the Articles, for instance, but never in any of the surviving minutes.

A report prepared for the Board of Tennent showed that the Pottery had made a profit every year except for the first, and that in full production it was expected to make a profit of over £5,000 per annum. (15)

On 12 April 1920 Tennent’s Board approved of making an offer of £7,500 for the Pottery going up to £8,000 if necessary. In the event it was necessary and on the 6 May 1920 the Pottery was purchased for £8,000 from Daniel McDougall and Daniel Douglas McDougall as Trustees for McDougall & Sons. It was bought in the names of John McLeod, MP, who was the Company Auditor and William Johnstone, the latter being the Company Lawyer. It was then immediately sold on to Glasgow Trading & Transport Ltd. for £15,000 as at 1 June. (16)

The new subsidiary Company was now fully functional and issued 10,000 £1 shares which were distributed as follows:

At the same time the new Company got 100 ordinary shares of £10 each in Tennent and 250 Preference shares of £10 each fully paid. (17) There is a list of principal assets of the Pottery when it was taken over with valuations (App.II) As well as the items already mentioned we find there were thirteen functioning throwing wheels as well as three others, two of which were on loan to Govancroft Pottery in Tollcross. There were also two jolleys, one of which had been converted from a throwing wheel, two turning lathes, and two revolving stoves. A jolley is a machine for making hollow ware. A hollow mould of plaster of Paris has the clay put into it and a template is then lowered onto it. This presses the clay against the sides of the mould. When it is removed the required space is left inside the clay. The plaster mould is then taken to the stove or heating room and it absorbs much of the moisture from the clay which can then be removed.

Photo: sugar & cream.

Almost immediately after the Pottery was purchased disaster struck. In October 1920 a moratorium was declared by the Cuban Government to last until 1 December. Owing to speculation in sugar there had been a run on one of the smaller banks which had been recently established and money was no longer allowed to leave the country. (18) This was a terrible blow for Tennent who had beer on the way to Cuba from the port of London and more at Glasgow and Hull waiting to go on board ship. For the Pottery the disaster was less immediate, but id did mean at least a long hiatus in the purchase of stoneware bottles by Tennent. In fact the moratorium lasted until the end of January 1921 but by that time the sugar industry in Cuba had been plunged into total chaos by a corrupt and incompetent government and the demand for Tennent’s beer never really recovered. (19) This in turn meant, of course, that the demand for stoneware bottles from Tennent never recovered and the Pottery had to look elsewhere and to other products for its profits. Directly due to this, the throwing shop was closed down on 18 March 1921. Circumstances were to delay its reopening for a considerable period. (20)

By the end of 1920 rumour of disorder was in the air and the Board of Tennent’s was discussing taking out insurance for themselves and the Pottery against riot and civil commotion, there having been trouble already in Liverpool. (21) The causes of the trouble are not far to seek when we find that Tennent, like many other companies of the time, had promised the men who fought in the First World War that their jobs would be waiting for them on their return and then, at Board meeting on 2 April 1917, had renaged on that promise. (22)

In April 1921 the Coal Strike closed down many works through lack of supplies. Tennent and Glasgow Trading & Transport Ltd., having the same Board of Directors, were able to work in concert and the Pottery was closed down. Its reserves of coal were transferred to the Wellpark Brewery where they were use to keep the cold storage plant running all through the strike. The closing down of the jolleying section meant that the trade which had been built up in jam jar making was now lost at least temporarily. Tennent did compensate Glasgow Trading & Transport Ltd. for their losses. (23)

The Pottery re-opened for normal work on 5 July 1921 and a report on the working of the Pottery, prepared in September of that year, gives much valuable information. (24) Firstly the jam jar trade had began to pick up again, and the Pottery was optimistic about covering its expenditure over the year. The main trade was still stoneware bottles and a small demand for ginger beer bottles was helping to make up for the smaller demand from Tennent. They were being forced to store stocks of jam jars,, since the jam manufacturers would not, and this storage was expensive. As well as this, decreasing spending power in the public had lead to 1lb jars replacing 2lb jars as standard. The Pottery was also making small amounts of furniture polish and blacking bottles, cream jars, acid jars, foot warmers, etc., but the newest development was the making of stoneware electric insulators. Amongst their customers for these were Glasgow Corporation, British Insulated and Helsby Cables Ltd., Callander’s Cable and Construction Co. Ltd. and “other smaller people”. They looked forward to greater sales ‘when municipalities have the means of embarking upon extensions of their electricity schemes.”

Photo: potted meat.

There was a suggestion that two of the thirteen throwing wheels be converted into jolleys, giving them four of these, principally for the making of jam jars. This would involve more drying store accommodation and steam piping. The making of bottles by machine was considered more economical. There was also a proposal to have the central courtyard covered over, since the presence of stocks of clay mean that it was always in a mess after rainfalls. Both of these suggestions were agreed to by the Board at a cost of £500. Wages had been reduced and the report looked forward to their being reduced again.

In February 1922 a loss of £296. 18s. 7d. for the year was reported but a report to the Board dated 5 June 1922 was optimistic.(25) While the bottle and jam jar demand had lessened there has been a brisk trade in food warmers and a start has been made in the production of the larger kinds of stoneware such as spirit or varnish jars ranging from 1 to 6 gallons either plain or basketed. 2,000 acid jars are being manufactured for India whither acid was shipped in jars from Glasgow, though now India is making its own acid. In spite of encouragement by the Indian Government the manufacture of stoneware has not been successful in India. The trade in insulators is small but satisfactory. ‘

A slightly sinister note is struck by the fact that the other stoneware potteries in Scotland were so concerned by Possil’s headway in the market that they has had various meetings to decide what steps should be taken and they had greatly reduced their prices so that Possil was being forced to sell at cost, particularly in the jam jar and acid jar trades. The following sentence gives food for thought: ‘We have in many cases an advantage over the other Potteries, as we find that customers have become sick and tired of their methods in the past and are only too glad to be supplied by an independent firm.’ In view of the numbers of small customers, they were considering taking on a traveller but thought it too expensive meantime. The management was pleased with the growth of a fairly good connection in all classes of stoneware.

Trouble with the engine led to the spending of £599 on two electric motors as stand-bys, one to drive pug mills and glaze mills and a smaller one for the throwing wheels and jolleys. (26)

Most of the other stoneware potteries in Scotland belonged to the Federated Potteries, a group which had banded together for various reasons, one of which seemed to be the fixing of prices. The demand for jam jars was so low that the Federated Potteries had been forced to come to an arrangement with Govancroft Pottery to price at cost. Govancroft seems to have had the lion’s share of the jam jar trade.

The situation in Cuba had not improved, so that the demand for beer bottles was very slight. Nevertheless in a memorandum dated 17 May 1922 which was not read to the Board of Tennent but which was preserved, the managing director, J.A.Yeaman, envisaged Possil Pottery taking over the whole trade of the Federated Potteries, leaving only Govancroft, with which Possil had a good relationship, and Caledonian, which was controlled by Hartley’s of Liverpool at this date. (27)

Photo: Parazone bottle.

The report of 11 January 1923 shows a profit for the year of £1,095 but is fairly pessimistic about trade in general. (28) Tennent was stocking up on beer bottles but the only other glint of light appeared to be the footwarmer trade which was flourishing, 10,000 having been sold in the last quarter. To the list of products already mentioned are to be added baking bowls, pudding bowls and pie dishes. Three extra throwing wheels had been obtained and were in the new space created by roofing the courtyard. One wheel was not being used because no thrower could be obtained in Scotland but they intended to take on an apprentice. Wages were reported to have been on a sliding scale arrangement between masters and men, depending on the cost of living and had not been reduced for some time. The cost of clay had come down materially, however.

The matter of employing a traveller was again taken up on 29 March 1923 and this time the man who had applied for the job was named. (29) He was William Marshall a 60-year-old who was employed by Black and Brownlow of Gorton in Manchester but was dismissed they say because the firm could not keep up with the volume of orders he obtained! (30) The fact that his leaving seemed to coincide with Hartley’s of Liverpool buying the firm may also have had something to do with it. He was willing to work for £200 a year and £150 expenses (which is a comedown from the £600 he had wanted earlier) and a commission on sales. The suggested commission was 2 per cent for ginger beer bottles and cream jars. 5 per cent on footwarmers and up to 10 per cent on lines bought in small quantities. On 9 April it was decided to employ him and at the same Board meeting it was announced that the word ‘POSSIL’ had been registered for stoneware.

Photo: mark.

It is in this year that Glasgow Trading & Transport Ltd. first appears in the Glasgow Post Office Directory. There are two entries in the General section, one for the Pottery and one for the Head Office and another entry appears under ‘Pottery Manufacturers” for the Pottery with both addresses. Neither at this nor at any other time does the name of the Pottery appear in the street section under Denmark Street.

The report on the Pottery working of 5 February 1924 gave the profit for the previous year as £1,303. (31) The demand for Brewery bottles had increased and they had given up jam jars since Govancroft had again lowered the price below cost. In the last 3 months, on the other hand, they had sold 19,000 footwarmers at a small profit. Acid and spirit jars were being made not so much because money was made from them but because ‘they help considerably in getting good and equal firing in the kilns.’ The new traveller had worked very hard but to very little immediate effect. At this time, too, the value of the kilns was being written down.

Photo: warning.

The report of 8 September 1924 (32) tells us that the greater part of the work at the Pottery was in making beer bottles for Tennent and that jam jars had again been taken up, since Federated Potteries had raised the price. An upper floor at the Pottery had had to be strengthened with a steel beam, replacing a wooden one at a cost of £120. Since the upper floors were not being used, this gives an impression of some degree of dilapidation in the building.

A memorandum of 6 February 1925 (33) shows that profit for the year up to 31 December 1934 was £3,892 and for the first time we are given the quantities and values of stoneware sold (App. III). The Pottery had a turnover of £70,000; this in spite of the fact that the kilns had been written off completely and the plant, machinery and utensils written down. For he first time a dividend was paid – 10 per cent. There is a recommendation by the managing director that the buildings be written down at £2,000 though they are in good repair and even ‘ for a Pottery . . . wonderfully tidy’! Glass was ousting stoneware as the material for jam jars but the price had improved, The Pottery seems to have had the best part of the footwarmer trade in Western Scotland.

All this had changed according to a memorandum of 9 November 1925 which claimed that the demand for brewery bottles had gone down with a small demand for beer from Cuba. (34) The connection between prosperity for the Possil Pottery and for Cuba was direct at this time. On the other hand the footwarmer trade had increased to compensate somewhat for the loss of trade in beer bottles.

1926 was the year of the General Strike and, immediately on its starting in May, the Pottery was closed down; it did not reopen until the beginning of December.(35) In anticipation of this the Brewery had, however, build up a store of stone bottles which just lasted out the period of the Strike. All the footwarmers and other ware in stock were sold off in this period, so profits were not too much affected and a dividend of 5 per cent was paid. The price of bottles to Tennent had been reduced to something more in line with current prices charged by the Federated Potteries. We can see how dependent the Pottery was on the Brewery when we find that it produced 11,040 gross of bottles in 1924 and 8,625 in 1925.

In 1926 the figure was down to 2,534 gross and over the year the Pottery lost £404, according to the pottery working report. (36) Luckily for Glasgow Trading and Transport Ltd. its investment interest changed this into a profit of £1590. The General Strike and the Coal Strike which followed had undoubtedly hit trade hard but an increased demand from the Cuban market gave cause for optimism. In spite of everything a dividend of 5 per cent was paid.

Photo: octagonal bowl.

For 1927 again a dividend of 5 per cent was paid, the profit being £1,189. The expected increase in demand for bottles and other ware had not really transpired. (37) In tandem with this it must be realised that the Company was to a certain extent piling up reserves. This was being carried on to such an extent that there was some talk of Glasgow Trading & Transport Ltd, buying a controlling interest in the parent Company in order to keep out certain other shareholders. In the event, of course, this was not necessary. (38)

During 1928 sales improved not at all and the report for the year complained that everyone was doing badly with the possible exception of Govancroft. (39) In fact the Caledonian Pottery in Rutherglen had closed within these twelve months. Possil Pottery was able to save money on Income Tax payments by manipulating the charge to Tennent for its bottles which had now been put up fron 32s per gross to 36s,. as they were until the end of 1924. Profits for the year were £1,375 and the usual 5 per cent dividend was paid.

During 1929 Henry Kennedy & Sons. Ltd. of the Barrowfield Pottery in Glasgow’s East End disappeared, further cutting down on competition. (40) According to the annual report to the Board only three stoneware potteries were left in Scotland: Govancroft, Buchan’s of Portobello and Possil, though they subsequently mention the Port Dundas Pottery Co, Ltd, but claim ‘they do not figure very much as competitors, possibly because they have in recent times been taken over by Borax Consolidated Ltd. and are presumably making other classes of ware.” Trade was as sluggish as ever, profits being£1,299 with a dividend of 5 per cent as usual. The Pottery buildings were written down by £500.

The profits for the Company for 1930 were £2,335 and the usual 5 per cent was paid as a dividend. (41) This profit was, however, somewhat artificial a since the Brewery had deliberately taken 1,000 gross of beer bottles, considerably more than they needed for the export trade, “to offset the accrued losses of previous years.” E.W.Kirk pointed out that this would most probably mean a bad year in 1931. During 1930 the Port Dundas Pottery Co. Ltd. closed down and some of its plant was bought and £100 paid “for particulars regarding their trade and customers”. This included the supply of insulators to Callander’s Cable and Construction Co. Ltd. As well as this their Secretary was taken on as an assistant. This left three stoneware potteries in Scotland where, according to the report, there was only room for two. The Company had secured the friendly interest of Imperial Chemical Industries “ as a result of our relationship with the Portland Glass Company” and they looked forward to a good share in “ a certain but erratic demand for containers for the overseas trade.” In the course of the year 111 kilns of ware were fired. The ginger beer bottles we find, were mostly destined for the Canadian market, but the sanitary authorities there were getting more particular and the use of stone bottles was likely to be banned in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and had already been banned in Ontario. Glass bottles were considered more sanitary. The furniture polish bottles were supplied to the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society and bleach jars for ‘Parazone”. Acid jars for 2 gallons went to India, both from the three Glasgow makers of sulphuric acid and for orders from Indian merchants; they made the greatest loss of all. Bigger acid jars went to ICI.

From this year, too, there is preserved a profit and loss sheet for the Pottery. (42) This shows a profit of nearly £600 from the wares sold to Tennent, i.e. beer bottles and advertising ware, such as ash trays (or ash bowls as they are designated) and water jugs. There was a profit too on insulators. 1lb jam jars, footwarmers and one or two other lines. Most lines however, carried a loss and the overall loss for the year totalled £424 which suggests that the profit must have been largely made up of interest on investments, since by now the transport side of the business seems to have been taken back by Tennent.

Photo: water jugs.

It is not surprising then to find that in a memorandum of September 1931 the recommendation of the management is that the Pottery be sold, if a buyer could be found to take it as a going concern. (43) It was accepted that the Cuban market would never again be what it had been and, though the Pottery had saved the Brewery much money, and so could be considered a success, it not longer had any function so far as the Brewery was concerned. It was accepted that owning the Pottery had in the fourteen years saved the Company £22,000 but glass jam jars, aluminium and rubber footwarmers and keen competition from the two other potteries had made it very difficult to show a profit. This was accepted by the Board on 13 November and it was decided to sell the pottery if a suitable buyer could be found. No buyer could be found at this time.

In 1931 the number of kilns of ware fired was only 77. (44) The Brewery took very few bottles and the advertising ware had been produced in such quantities the ‘it has to be rather forced on people’ Other types of ware had not improved in sales. Nevertheless the usual 5 per cent dividend was paid. The management all had to take a cut in salary except the Managing Director.

continued on Articles - page 2