William Graham – chartered accountant and city father

William Graham, son of grain merchant, member of a successful family of accountants and committed community member.

He was a member of the first Committee of Management of the Arlington Swimming Club.

William was born on 30 April 1838 to Patrick Graham, a grain merchant from Garnethill, Glasgow, and Mary Wright Lang. They had  married on 28 August 1827 and his siblings included John (born 1828), Andrew Lang (born 1830), Patrick (born 1834), and Elizabeth (born 1840).

William’s father, Patrick, disappears from the historical record and no death certificate could be found. But it appears the family come together at 11 Fitzroy Place where William’s uncle, William Lang, lived. He was an accountant and agent for the Yorkshire Fire and Life Insurance Company with offices at 20 Sauchiehall Street.

The company was started in York in 1824 to protect householders and businesses against fire. According to the Aviva Group Archives “By 1903 there were 70 staff in York and branches in Birmingham, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester. The acquisition in 1902 of the Anglo-French fire company, The Lion, gave The Yorkshire entry into foreign and colonial fields, although by this date they already had agencies in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Christiania.”  In 1967 it merged with a bigger company and eventually became part of Norwich Union and the Aviva Group.

6 Royal Crescent

In 1851, William, aged 12, lived in 11 Fitzroy Place with his mother Mary (40), brothers John (22), who was an accountant, Andrew Lang (20) who was a writers apprentice (a legal role), Patrick (16) who was a merchants clerk, his grandmother Margaret Lang, William Lang (39), accountant, and his cousin Margaret (6). Also in the household were cook Jane Marshall and housemaid Isabella. Sometime after the census the Graham/Lang family moved into 6 Royal Crescent which then becomes the family home.

According to Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909, William was educated at the High School of Glasgow and the University of Glasgow where he completed an arts degree and was intent on studying divinity. During his first year he developed an illness which lasted two years, one of which he spent in France. After convalescing in the south of France he returned to Glasgow and joined his brother John in the family accountancy firm,  J & W Graham C.A. of 71 West Nile Street.

By 1864 John was the Secretary of the Scottish Life Association and the brothers’ accountancy business continued to grow.

In 1870, as he joined the first Committee of Management of the Arlington Swimming Club, William continued to live in 6 Royal Crescent. His Mother Mary is head of the household that included his uncle William Lang (55), his sister Elisabeth 34 and three servants.

He became a partner, with his elder brother John, of J. & W. Graham Ltd, chartered accountants. John was also the president of the Institute of Accountants & Actuaries in Glasgow from 1881-84.

William held various responsible appointments, such as Treasurer to the Burgh of Hillhead, Secretary to the Partick, Hillhead, and Maryhill Gas Company, and Secretary to the Girvan and Portpatrick (Junction) Railway Company.

In 1884 he retired and purchased an estate at Erins, Loch Fyne. The estate consisted of a House, two lodges, and the farms of North & South Erins

William also became involved in the wider community of Mid-Argyll. He was a member of the County Council of Argyll and the School Board of Tarbert, was the last Chairman of the Old Parochial Board of South Knapdale, and a J.P. for Argyllshire.

Around 1899 his health began to fail again and he sold the Erins estate and returns to Glasgow.

Once back in the city he served on the Glasgow School Board until his death and was Convenor of the Property Sub-Committee during the building of  Scotland Street Public School, designed by  Charles Rennie Mackintosh. He was involved in a large number of charitable and philanthropic organisations fostering the health, welfare and education of children including:

  • Chairman of the Marshall Trust
  • Glasgow Educational Endowments’ Board
  • Logan and Johnston School of Domestic Economy.
  • Council of the Athenaeum Commercial College
  • Provincial Committee for the Training of Teachers
  • Committee on Secondary Education for the Burgh of Glasgow
  • Juvenile Delinquency Board
  • Buchanan Institution
  • Business Committee of the General Council of the University of Glasgow.

He died on 23 November 1908 at the age of 70 at 6 Royal Crescent after one month of angina pectoris as certified by Dr Robert Perry.

William’s will appointed John, Patrick, Charles Hutcheson Graham and Alexander J Ferguson trustees and executors. After settling his debts, he bequested the household contents and an allowance of £300 pounds pa to his sister Elizabeth for the remainder of her life. Legacies of £200 pounds to his nieces Margaret, Katherine and Mary. Continuing his charitable work he bequested £200 to the Glasgow Eye Infirmary, £100 to the Graham Charitable Society. £100 pounds to the Scottish National Institute for Imbeciles, Larbert and payments to the family servants.

The company continued to operate in Glasgow 

Researcher: Will Jess


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