"Letters from the past 'High' venison and burning mills
Henry Gordon to James Glassford,1820"


Eunice Shanahan


This letter is the second of four letters I have which were written to James Glassford, of Dougalston, Dunbartonshire. (I wrote about one of the previous letters in the August 2005 issue of Stamp News). James Glassford was a merchant and magistrate in Paisley, born 1771, married Isobel Murray in 1808 and died in 1845. I have found the contents very interesting and have been able to find out the background to one of the paragraphs from the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. The letter is addressed
"James Glassford of Dougalston, Strachan's Inn, Largs",
and written by Henry Gordon, who appears to be Glassford's Estate Manager, or Factor, but I have been unable to confirm that.
There are three postal markings, all on the front address panel (Fig.1)

1) partly struck Glasgow double ring mileage date stamp A 18 SEP 1820 405-G
2) Boxed addl ½ of type H & S Type 1a (i.e. the word Addl over the fraction ½ in a rectangular box) of which the dates in use in the H & S handbook are 30.5.1816 to 1.6.20. However, the example on this letter extends the date of use by 3 months.
3) Manuscript charge mark of '7'. Seven pence was the cost (1812-1839) for a single letter over a distance of 30-50 miles Largs is a town on the Ayrshire coast, facing Great Cumbrae Island, about 40 miles from Glasgow.

The first part of the letter is a response to a complaint about the unsatisfactory state of the venison. This is a window to the past, showing that deer were caught and killed for their meat, which was given away as presents.

"Gartshore 16th September 1820
My Dear Sir
I was yesterday favoured with your two letters of 13th instant & I am very sorry to observe what you state on the subject of the Venison.

At the time the first Buck was cut up I was very desirous that there might be no want of all due care & skill in that operation & I had obtained a person in Glasgow engaged for that purpose by Mr Menzies late of the George Inn, when I was relieved by Findlay, on his coming to town, undertaking the business as quite master of it, & from the manner in which he set about the work he certainly seemed to be a person who had been well accustomed to it — I have now seen him & spoken to him upon the subject & he says that there was nothing wrong in the cutting up of the venison — that he has cut up many Deer which were disposed in presents as yours, & that they were all cut the same way except that they were in smaller pieces, a cut being taken out betwixt the hind & fore quarter while yours were cut longer as ordered

He says that the carriage & the Venison being put up in cover in such hot weather had been the cause — I was myself I must say rather afraid of it keeping — William had not such convenience for cutting up the last Buck which was done in town & when it was part of the time a little exposed to the sun in an intense heat which I doubt 'hurt' it — I might suspect that the very uncommon heat & the extraordinary high state of the venison has been the cause of it not keeping — I think that I never saw fatter meat — From what William says I think it probable that the Venison for Killermont & Gavshore would be in very good state as it had different advantages — William avers that there was nothing wrong in his department with respect to any part of the venison."

So that disposes of the complaints about the venison, which sounds as though it was too 'high' to eat when it reached the beneficiaries. He then changes the subject to the local mill at Milngavie. This is pronounced "Mill-Guy" or "Mull-Guy", a corruption of the Gaelic name Muilleann Dhaibhidh — David's Mill.

"I concluded an agreement with William Dunn for Milngavie Mill upon Wednesday on the terms which had been arranged in my communications with you — It occurred to me after I last wrote to you about the agreement with William Dunn that it would be desirable to have included as an obligant (this is a person legally or morally bound to an agreement) with his father, his oldest brother also who is in partnership with Dunn Senr, as the company being in a very good line of business it was a considerable additional security to have them bound also — They were averse to enter into an obligation for a longer space than one year, but I would not agree to this & subsequently they assented to become bound in the obligations with William Dunn for three years, which in the very considerable security & advantage which is to be derived by the erections which they are to make I considered ample & also viewed that by that time William Dunn should at any rate be doing very well, and I agreed with them accordingly — I think that this arrangement will meet with your approbation.
I will be happy to have an opportunity of communicating in person with you upon your return from the coast on the situation of the leases of the undisposed of farms & other matters — to which I have been attending."

He then refers to the bit which interested me — about the mill :-

click here for larger image

"You would observe in the newspapers an account of a diabolical attempt which was made upon the night of Tuesday last to set fire to Milngavie Cotton Mill — The two persons who have been wounded have both been taken & I learn that they are Irishmen & deny their concern in the attempt but which I hope there is no doubt will be proved.
I have given to Findlay correspondence of the shooting concessions for his guidance
I remain My Dear Sir
Your's very sincerely
Henry Gordon"

There is a filing note on the outside, written presumably by James Glassford
"H. Gordon 16 Sept 1820 Agreement with W Dunn for the Mill at Milngavie & security of Wm Dunn Snr & Co for 3 years in addition"

The background to this is that there had been a cotton spinning mill at Milngavie since 1790 — the site was granted by Henry Glassford of Dougalston and many workers arrived from Perthshire after their mill had been destroyed by fire. However, falling prices for the products had meant reduced wages for the workers, and the employment of women at a cheaper rate. This so enraged the mill workers that there were riots and general unrest.
By the 1830s the growth of the textile industry was substantial and the record entered in the Second Statistical Account for Scotland at that time was :-
"By the introduction of calico printing the population of Milngavie increased six-fold and it became a town of considerable importance."
Also there is a record that cotton-printing and bleaching were carried on in Milngavie with over 620 hands.
I thought there should be a report of this attempt to set fire to the mill, and contacted the East Dunbartonshire Library. They supplied me with some historical information about the industrial past of Milngavie, but they did not have any record, of the attempted vandalism, and suggested that I try the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. Luckily, they were able to trace the report which appeared in the Glasgow Chronicle Thursday Sept 14th 1820, and I bought a copy of it, with a follow-up report. It makes fascinating reading, and shows how the security operated at that time. Both the watchmen were armed, and on challenging the perpetrators three times, shot them, one with a blunderbuss, the second with a shotgun. Both the men were badly wounded, but managed to escape. The watchman found one hat — pierced with slug shot and covered in blood, two pistols, and a roll of paper spread over with tallow, tar and gunpowder.

The follow up report was in the Glasgow Courier, on Saturday Sept 16th :-

"We are happy to say that the two men who attempted to set fire to Milngavie Mill are both secured. The one of them of the name of Brown, was apprehended on Wednesday at Strathblane, where he lies in custody, being severely wounded over his whole body with small shot; the other named O'Connor, was seized in Kilpatrick Parish and sent off to Stirling jail, under escort of the yeomanry. O'Connor is also severely wounded. The one is a Scotchman, and the other an Irishman."

However, in the end, it was not insurgents or fire-raisers who brought the end to the cotton mill in Milngavie, but the American Civil War, in the 1860s, with the resultant loss of supply of the cotton. Nowadays the town is perhaps best known as the start of the West Highland Way, a long distance footpath, which runs northwards for 95 miles to the town of Fort William. A granite obelisk in the town centre marks the official starting point of the footpath.

(Sources : Hodgson & Sedgewick The Scottish Additional Halfpenny Mail Tax;East Dunbartonshire library, The Mitchell Library Glasgow, Wikipedia online encyclopaedia.)

This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

Copyright By EARS Leisurewrite
Contact us

back to Old Letters

Return to our Home Page