Archibald Colville – cotton merchant

Archibald Colville worked all his life with one of the biggest cotton spinning companies in Glasgow.

He is also one of the founders of the Arlington Baths, being an original shareholder in the Glasgow Swimming Baths Company and a member of the first Committee of Management of the Arlington Swimming Club.

Family and early life

Archibald Colville’s origins are in Campbeltown in Kintyre. His baptism records show that he was born in Campbeltown on 12 September 1839 to parents John Colville and Jean Galbraith and baptised on 14 October 1839.

The 1841 census records the family living in Longrow, Campbeltown, and consisting of father John Colville Jnr (44), mother Jean (36) and six children:

  • Jean, 16
  • Mary, 12
  • Martha, 10
  • Elizabeth, 6
  • Margaret, 4
  • Archibald, 1 1/2  or 16 months

The family also had two servants.

The family gravestone in Kilkerran Old Cemetery also lists two children from the family who died in 1836 – John (3) and an earlier Archibald (9). Mary, who was 12 in 1841, died at the age of 20 in 1849. It seems that they also had sone more son – Andrew – who was born around 1847.

His father John Colville Jnr died in December 1851 at the age of 56 years, when Archibald would have been about 11 years old.

His mother Jean Galbraith died in June 1864, aged around 59 years. 

Life and work in Glasgow

By 1861 Archibald was 21 years old. we think he was now living and working in Glasgow.

On the night of the census he was recorded as staying at a house called Ardenmore in Dunbartonshire where he is described as a merchant and a nephew of the head of the household, a man called Gavin Gilchrist. It seems to have been a house party, as there are a lot of names listed in the census, including a 17-year old clerk called John Colville, who was also a nephew of Gavin (and perhaps brother of Archibald) and three members of a family called Galbraith – Archibald (53), Janet (34), and Mina (20).

Archibald Galbraith, who we presume was some relation of our Archibald’s mother Jean, was one half of a very successful company called A & A Galbraith.

A & A Galbraith was a company of cotton spinners run by two brothers Andrew & Archibald Galbraith. Andrew Galbraith was Lord Provost of Glasgow from 1857 to 1860.

We think that Archibald Colville worked with this company. In the Bath’s Articles of Incorporation signed in July 1870, Archibald’s address is given as 123 Hope Street in Glasgow. This building is known as Bothwell Chambers and functioned as business chambers for various firms including A & A Galbraith.

The company had two large factories in Garngad Road and Oakbank; there’s an impressive description of them in a book published in 1869.

“Among the most extensive cotton factories in Scotland are those of Messrs A. & A. Galbraith, situated at Oakbank and St Rollox, Glasgow. The factories comprise two immense ranges of somewhat irregular buildings….  The joint establishments cannot be pointed to as models, so far as the buildings are concerned; but they are filled with machinery of the finest and most recent construction, and their internal economy is equal to that of any other mills in the country. In the spinning department there are 95,000 mule and throstle spindles, the produce of which is made into cloth by 1532 power- looms. There are several large steam-engines, the aggregate indicated force of which is 1600 horse power. 1700 persons, of whom only 100 are males, are employed; and the quantity of cloth made is 350,000 yards a-week, or 17,000,000 yards a-year. All the cloth is of the plain kind for printing and dyeing….

“It would be impossible to conceive machines more perfectly adapted to their purpose than those which crowd the spacious floors of Messrs Galbraith’s factories. Each seems to work with a will and instinct of its own, and no one can witness their operations without admiring the ingenuity that devised their thousands of parts and brought them all into harmonious play. Fingers of iron and wood work more deftly, and with apparently more delicacy of touch, than fingers of flesh and blood could ever do; and the finest productions of the Indian hand-spinners are surpassed by the gossamer-like threads which the self-acting spinning-mule produces by hundreds at a time.”

The industries of Scotland; their rise, progress, and present condition by Bremner, David, 1869

By 1881 the brothers lived at Johnstone Castle in Renfrewshire, where Andrew Galbraith died in 1885. In the probate notice one of the executors of his estate is Archibald Colville, who is described as his nephew.

Andrew Galbraith’s death in National Probate 1886.

Archibald Galbraith died in 1887, and again Archibald Colville was named as an executor.

National Probate 1887

Later life

It seems that Archibald never married but he lived and worked in Glasgow until his death. His mother had died in 1864 and a younger brother – who, confusing, seems to have been called Andrew Galbraith – died April 1881 at the age of 34 years. His older sister Jean (also known as Jane) had married the  Rev. James Boyd and had one child, John Colville Boyd. We’re not sure what happened to the other sisters: Martha, Elizabeth and Margaret.

By 1886 Archibald was living at 2 Clifton Street with a business address at 1 North Exchange Court.

Post Office Directory entry 1883-84 for the Faculty of Procurators’ Sale Hall, and hallkeeper William Wood, 28 Lansdowne Crescent

In the 1891 census he was lodging at 28 Lansdowne Crescent with a family called Wood. The head of the family, William Wood, is the hall keeper for the Faculty of Procurators’ Sale Hall at 68 St. George’s Place. the Faculty of Procurators is a professional body of legal practitioners, with a beautiful law library and premises in what is now Nelson Mandela Place.

In the 1895 electoral roll, Archibald is still at 28 Lansdowne Crescent, described as a spinner and manufacturer, with a business address at 25 North Exchange Square.

In the last years of his life, from 1899-1905, he lived at 15 St James’ Terrace -now 13 Ruskin Terrace – in Hillhead. He died on 16 May 1905 of ulcerated endocarditis, anaemia and exhaustion at the age of 65.

His death was recorded on the family gravestone in Kilkerran Cemetery near Campbeltown, with his parents and some of his siblings, and nearby are his older sister Jean, her husband and their son.

Researchers: Will Jess and Lucy Janes



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