F. W. Allan – founding member and champion of ladies’ swimming

F. W. Allan was one of founding members and a champion of ladies’ swimming. We discovered a little bit more about his life.

In 1870 F. W. Allan was involved with both of the organisations involved in the establishment of the Baths. He was one of the original subscribers to the Glasgow Swimming Bath Company and on the Committee of Management for the Arlington Swimming Club.

handwritten entry saying 028 Graham, Willima, 6 Royals Cresecent West and 029 Allan, Franis Walter, 125 Buchanan Street
Entry for F W Allan in the 1890 Arlington Life Members List, beneath that of William Graham, another founding member of the Baths (Glasgow City Archives TD965/64).

Throughout his membership of the Arlington he was a strong supporter of women becoming members and learning to swim

Family and early years

Francis Walter Allan was born in 1832, the son of John Allan and his wife Ellen.  His father was a writer (a lawyer).

The 1841 census return has John and Ellen with 7 children living at West Bay, Greenock, with the family of James McNair, his wife, 4 children and 8 other persons – a household of 23 persons in total.

By 1851 Ellen is widowed and living with her, by then, 9 children and 2 servants in Barony in Glasgow. Her second son, 19 year-old Francis, is listed as a Clerk to a Calico Printer.

He disappears from the records for a while which suggests that he may have been overseas, possibly in India. At some point he sets up his own company F. W. Allan and Co, Merchants and Shipping Agents.

In 1874 he married Catherine Hamilton Smith, daughter of the Right Revd Dr James Smith of Cathcart. At the time of his marriage he was 42 and his wife was 38.

Supporter of the Ladies Club

Shortly after the Baths opened, at the AGM on 1 May 1872, F. W. Allan moved that Ladies be allowed to use the Club between 11am and 2pm on Thursdays. This was the beginning of long association with the Arlington Baths for Ladies. He was appointed Honorary Secretary of the Ladies section on 30 May 1872, a post he held for almost 20 years despite an attempt to resign in 1875 when he was persuaded to reconsider. He was replaced by May Perry on 8 May 1890.

As Honorary Secretary of the Ladies Club he took an active interest. One of his sisters was a committee member for a short period from 1872 to 1875 and two of his sisters, Helen Jane and Christina were also listed as members.

He inaugurated the Annual Swimming Competition in 1875 by offering three prizes, to be awarded for the gracefulness of the performance. He was not allowed to watch the competition, as the audience was restricted to ladies only,  but he arrived punctually at one o’ clock to make a short speech.

At one o'clock Mr Allan, hon. secretary, came to award the prizes, and, in a neat speech, alluded to the satisfactory progress the club was making as regards membership, &c. There had been, he said, some difficultty at the outset to get the use of the pond for the ladies; but this had been managed through his perseverance. There were now 70 lady members, and there seemed to be a growing interest in the art. He hoped that he should be invited in at the next competition time to witness the performance. Mr WiIson states that he has pupils of all ages from seven years old up to threescore..."
Part of a report on the Ladies’ Gala in the Glasgow Daily Mail, 6 Nov 1875

The Glasgow Daily Mail on 4 Nov 1875 carried an account of the event and his “neat speech” where he alluded to the satisfactory progress of the ladies section as regards membership and the fact that he had to persevere to get the use of the pond for the ladies. His wife awarded the prizes.

His speeches at these annual events were regularly reported in the press.  In 1879 he commented that the average membership over the preceding seven years had been 69 and three-quarters of the members had been taught to swim. In 1882 he commented that women were more graceful than men.

Other interests and memberships

Apart from the Arlington Baths he had a very wide variety of interests.  The Index of Glasgow men of 1909 describes him thus

“A NATIVE of Glasgow, son of the late John Allan, writer, and first secretary and treasurer of the Royal Northern Yacht Club, Major Allan was educated in the Glasgow Collegiate Academy under the Rev. Mr. Hitchen. He is head of the firm of F. W. Allan & Co., merchants and shipping agents, and is much interested in many social and philanthropic enterprises in Glasgow. He is Vice-President of the Canal Boatmen’s Institute, Chairman of the Deaf and Dumb Institute, and Director of the Langside Institution, of Broomhill and Lanfine Incurable Homes, the City of Glasgow Native Benevolent Association, the Stirlingshire Society, and the Merchants House, and he is a past-president of the Renfrewshire Society. For twenty-three years he was a member and officer of the 1st Lanark Rifle Volunteers, and retired with the rank of major. He is an enthusiastic Freemason, and at present is Provincial Grand Master of Renfrewshire, East, having succeeded the late Lord Blythswood. He holds the 33rd, the highest degree in Scotland. He is also strongly interested in politics, and is Honorary President of the Glasgow Central Conservative Association. He is an elder in Park Church, and has been for many years a representative elder to the General Assembly.”

Later years

Sadly Catherine died in 1881 at the age of 45 at her family home, the Cathcart Manse, where her father still lived. F W Allan did not remarry.

In the 1891 and 1901 census he is listed as a lodger at 21 Derby Street in Glasgow. In 1891 he lived there with the Wilson family; John Wilson was the Minster of Sandyford United Presbyterian Church and was married with eight children. Allan’s occupation was given as East India Merchant.  In 1901 he was still at 21 Derby Street but the only other resident was a 79-year-old gentleman of independent means called James M. E. Stobie, and one female servant. His occupation in 1901 was given as ship and insurance broker.

This is his entry in the 1886-87 Glasgow Post Office Directory.

Printed text saying Allan, F.W. (of F.W. Allan & Co.), re. 21 Derby st. Allan, F. W. & Co. Merchants and Agents for the Union Steam Ship Co., Cape Mail Line; Cory Brothers and Co., Cardiff and London; M Bazin and Co., Suez Canal. 125 Buchanan Street.
Entry for F W Allan’ s residential and business addresses in the 1886-87 Post Office Directory. Glasgow City Archives.

F. W. Allan  died on 15 September 1918 at 2 Queen’s Terrace.

“ALLAN.- At 2 Queen’s Terrace, West Princes Street, on the 15th inst., Major F. W. Allan, son of the late John Allan, writer, Glasgow.- Funeral on Wednesday from Queen’s Terrace, at 1.30, to Cathcart Private Cemetery; carriages at St. George’s Church till 1.15; friends intending to be present please notify Messrs Wylie & Lochhead, Union Street; no flowers (by request).”

Death notice in The Glasgow Herald, Tuesday, September, 17th., 1918.

ALLAN, Francis Walter, 2 Queen's Terrace, Glasgow, dies 15 Spetember 1918, at Glasgow , testate. Confirmation granted at Glasgow, 30 January, to David Stevenson Ker, Mercahnt, 125 Buchanan Street, Glasgow, Francis Walter Ker, Merchant there, ad Arthur William Ramsey Dick-Cleland, Engineer, 49 Jamaica Street there. Executors nominatd in Wil or Deed, dated 27 MArch 1913, and recorded with other Writs in Court Books of Commissariot of Lanark, 7 January 1919. Value of Estate, £5980. 9s. 2d.
Extract from Scotland, National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936

The executors of his will, David Stevenson Ker and Francis Walter Ker were his nephews, sons of his sister Jessie Ker. Arthur William Ramsay Dick-Cleland was married to his niece Lydia Ker.

Some of the Ker family were also members of the Baths including, appropriately, the women and girls; here is Lydia’s entry in the Lady’s Membership list of 1890-91, when she would have been about 13 or 14 years old.

Handwritten entry saying 123, Ker, Lydia, 70 Cumberland Street W
Lydia Ker’s name in the 1890/91 list of Lady Members. Her address is 70 Cumberland Street West. (Glasgow City Archives TD965/64)

The death of F. W. Allan was recorded with “deep regret” in the report to the Annual General Meeting of the Baths in May 1919 and the Committee wished to express their “high appreciation of the long and valuable service” he had rendered to the Club.

“Mr Allan was connected with the Club from its formation in 1870 and, and as a Member of the Committee during all that long period he took a very deep interest in all that concerned its welfare.”

Annual Reports and Accounts of the Arlington Baths Club, 7 May 1919 (Glasgow City Archives, TD965/2)

Researcher: Eunice Crook, Lucy Janes


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