Richard Hubbard Arroll: housepainter and fitness fanatic

Richard Hubbard Arroll was a successful businessman running a painting and decorating business when the First World War started. He was also an advocate for physical fitness.

Richard, or ‘Dickie’, Hubbard Arroll was born on 18th February 1879 at 19 Gardner Street, Glasgow. His father was also Richard Hubbard Arroll and mother’s name was Annie. Richard junior was the third of their six children.

Richard senior (born 1858) was from Helensburgh and his wife, formerly Annie Walker McLay (born 1853) came from Glasgow. They married in Glasgow on 19th June 1874. Richard was a housepainter.

A couple of years after the birth of Richard junior the family – Richard (28), Anne (30), and four children, Mary, Walter, Richard and Ellen (or possibly Helen) were living in Partick in Glasgow, though on the night of the 1881 census Walter was staying with his grandparents in Helensburgh. At this time Richard’s business employed seven men, two boys and a girl.

Ten years later the Arroll family was at 14 Wilson Street in Glasgow. Mary, now 15 years old, was a milliner and, as well as Walter (14), Richard (12), Helena (10), there were two more children – Jeanie (8) and Annie (4). The family employed a general servant, 17-year-old Christina McDonald from South Uist. Richard senior is described as a painter and decorator.

Becoming a painter and starting a family

in 1891 Dickie was still at school but in 1893, at the age of 14, he became a student at the Glasgow School of Art. His occupation was ‘painter’.

The addresses for the family and Dickie are a little confusing. According to the West End Addresses website, Wilson Street became what is now known as Oakfield Avenue, while Markland Terrace became 12-18 Oakfield Avenue. In the 1901 census the Arroll family was registered as living at 18 Wilson Street (possibly a re-numbering of No. 14), Meanwhile Richard’s address in the Art School registers is 14 Markland Terrace in 1893 to 1895 and in 1896/97, and 18 Markland Terrace in 1895/96, and then from 1897 to 1901. The West End Addresses website suggests he was at number 18 until at least 1903.

Richard junior continued at the Art School every year until 1897/98. He then missed a year, came back in 1899/1900 when his occupation is ‘decorator’. He then missed another year and returned for a final year in 1901/02.  It’s not clear from the student registers but he may have been a part-time or evening student, taking classes to enhance his painting and decorating skills.

You can see a candlestick made by Richard on this Glasgow School of Art Archives Instagram page

In the 1901 census Mary was listed as a schoolteacher, Walter was a law student, and Richard  (22) was a decorator. Helena is described as a scholar, as is 14-year old Annie, while 18-year-old Jeanie has no occupation listed.

In 1906 he married Annie Bilsland White in the Windsor Hotel, Glasgow, on 12th June 1906. She was the daughter of daughter of James White, a commercial traveller, and Annie Bilsland, 11 Holyrood Crescent, Glasgow.

They went on to have three daughters, Annie M (born 1909), Maymie H (born 1910) and Jane (born 1913). By 1911 the family had moved to Beaumaris, a six-roomed house in Torr Road, Bridge of Weir. Richard was a master painter, and they employed a domestic servant Annie M Reid (19).

In the biography of Dickie Arroll in the book Supreme Sacrifice, it says:

“His father had originally been a  housepainter , but eventually became a landscape artist in oils and watercolours’ exhibiting at the Paris Salon. Dickie saw there was more money to be made in painting houses than in painting canvases. He became a master painter and established a successful business.”

Supreme Sacrifice, pg 148.

Interested in sport

Richard joined the Arlington Baths in 1905, giving his occupation as painter. His home address at that time was 3 North Bank Terrace, Kelvinside, and his business address was 214 Great Western Road. His membership number was 398.

Proposal form filled in with handwritten details of Richard Hubbard Arroll's application to join the Arlington Baths
Proposal form for Richard H Arroll in the Ordinary Members Proposal Book 19 1902-1905. (Glasgow City Archives TD965/16)

According to a biography in the Hillhead High School Roll of Honour, Richard was keen on physical fitness

“All through life he was a keen sportsman, and was well known in athletic circles. He was specially interested in physical culture, and did much to advance the study and practice of that art long before physical training had become something like a fashion in our midst. When the war began he offered his services repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, to the War Office as instructor in gymnastics. Throughout the winter and spring of 1914-15 he did splendid service by taking in hand the physical exercises of several units of the Citizens’ Training Force, and amongst them that of our Former Pupils’ Corps. No one who was privileged to attend Mr. Arroll’s class in the gymnasium of Church Street Public School is likely to forget the devotion, skill, and geniality of the instructor. He was himself one of the hardest of workers, and never asked the class to go through an exercise without sharing in it himself. Then, when the serious exercises were over, what a dance “Dickie” led the members round the gymnasium, doubling here and circling there in a giddy maze, till even the youngest and strongest were fain to cry out, ” Hold, enough.'”

Hillhead High School Roll of Honour, pg 121

First World War service

A black and white photograph of Richard Arroll iin uniform
Picture credit: Hillhead High School Roll of Honour

In the 1914 membership list for the Arlington Baths Club Richard’s address was 386 Byres Road but then this was scored out and Renshurst, Bridge  of  Weir, was written in. In the 1915  membership list it is noted that he is on Service.

Richard Arroll attested under the “Derby” voluntary registration scheme on 1st December 1915. The Military Service Act of 2nd March 1916 introduced conscription of single men between the ages of 18 and 41.An attraction of the Derby scheme to married men was that a promise was given that they would not be called up until the supply of single men had been exhausted. But conscription was extended to married men in May 1916 and Richard was mobilised on 21st June 1916 into the 3/5th Seaforth Highlanders, regimental number 5072.

He was 37 years old and his three girls were now seven, six and three years old.

He served as acting Lance Corporal during his training, but had reverted to Private when he was posted to the British Expeditionary Force between 23rd December 1916 and 28th May 1917. The 5th Battalion formed part of 152nd Brigade in the 51st (Highland) Division which fought in the Arras offensive, notably the First and Second Battles of the Scarpe in April 1917, and in the capture and defence of Roeux on 13/17th May 1917.

Richard was wounded in the perineum and right thigh on 15th May. He was repatriated to the Military Hospital in Hampstead where he remained for three months. He died of complications on 24th August 1917.

Richard’s death is recorded in the 1916 Arlington Baths Club membership  list  where his name is  scored out and ‘Died’ is handwritten  above it.

TYpewritten membership list with Richard A H Arroll's entry indicating he is on 'Service', entry scored out and 'Died' handwritten above it. The name Arroll is typed with one l but t the corect spelling (with 2 ls) has been handwritten above.
Entry for Richard H Arroll in the 1916 Arlington Baths Club membership list (Glasgow City Archives TD965/77) with his death noted.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission record shows that Richard is buried in Hampstead Cemetery and the inscription on his headstone reads UNTIL THE DAY BREAK AND THE SHADOWS FLEE AWAY. His widow and the children were now living in 16 Polwarth Gardens, in Glasgow.

His name is recorded on the Bridge of Weir war memorial  and the Hillhead High School Roll of Honour as well as on the Arlington Baths Club war memorial.

“Few old pupils had a wider range of friends than Dick Arroll, and the intimation of his death from wounds received in action aroused feelings of the deepest sorrow amongst them. He was beloved by all who knew him, and his breezy, genial presence will be long and gratefully remembered by the old boys of his time.”

Hillhead High School Roll of Honour, pg 121

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission had his father’s address as Drumikill, Bridge of Weir, but Richard’s parents later moved to Ayrshire and one of Richard senior’s paintings – of Ayr Harbour – is in Rozelle House Galleries in Ayr. His father died in 1939 and his mother died in 1942.

Researchers: Lindsay, Kay, Lucy.

Many thanks to the Bridge of Weir War Memorial group and Walter Reid, Gordon Masterton and Paul Birch, authors of Supreme Sacrifice, for much of this information.

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