William Sloan, shipping company owner, and Alexander and Charles Tennant Sloan, chartered accountants

William Sloan was a member of a family which was instrumental in establishing the new profession of chartered accountant and played a major part in the founding the Arlington Baths.

William Sloan was a member of the first Management Committee, and two of his younger brothers, Alexander and Charles, served almost sixty years between them as Club Secretaries. But who were the Sloans, and where did they fit in to the Glasgow business community of the time?

The family origins – chemicals, railways and shipping

The three brother’s paternal grandfather, William Sloan, (born 1780), was an Ayrshire farmer who married Sarah Tennant of Glennconner in 1803.

Sarah’s brother Charles, (1768-1838), established an important chemical business at St Rollox in Glasgow which during the 1830s -1840s was the largest chemical works in the world.

Plaque on site of former St Rollox Chemical Works - geograph.org.uk - 852369
Plaque on site of former St Rollox Chemical Works. Photo by Stephen Sweeney

Trained as a weaver, Charles Tennant saw the need for improved bleaching methods in the textile industry – traditionally cloth was soaked in stale urine, then had to be spread out in the sunlight for months in bleachfields.  He formed a partnership with four friends, (one being the chemist Charles Macintosh, whose name would later become synonymous with his famous waterproofing treatment), and developed a bleaching powder made from chlorine and slaked lime.  The powder was patented in 1799, and the St Rollox works opened the following year to produce the bleach powder commercially.

A supporter of political reform and clearly forward-thinking and entrepreneurial, Charles pushed for the expansion of the railways, not least because he recognised that rail transport could solve the problem of delivering the high volume of coal required for the St Rollox works.  In the same way, his interest in shipping was inspired by the need to move his chemical products to nearby markets.

In 1825, Charles set up the St Rollox Shipping Co. and soon involved members of his sister Sarah’s family in the business. In 1831, William Sloan bought shares in his first ship, the ‘Glasgow Packet’, and by the early 1840s the company owned and operated 15 vessels, now trading under the name of William Sloan and Co.

House flag of William Sloan & Co (c. 1950), National Maritime Museum Collection, Greenwich 

In 1858 the company started a regular passenger and cargo service from Glasgow via Belfast to Bristol and Swansea.

The company ships, with black funnels and a distinctive white band, could still be seen in Glasgow well into the 1950s.

William and Sarah had five sons and three daughters. Their third son, David (1810-1874) married Agnes Dennistoun Bankier, daughter of a master spinner, in 1841.  David and Agnes also produced a large family – seven sons and three daughters.

William Sloan

William Sloan, David Murray Family Photograph Album, University of Glasgow

William, their eldest son (1842-1910) joined the family Shipping Company. It’s not entirely clear how the ownership of the various vessels was transferred through the generations, but when David died in 1874, his estate included a 25% share in five commercial steamships – S.S. Severn, Princess Alexandria, Ailsa, Antona and Clutha.

It seems likely that as the eldest son and heir to the family company, William inherited the lions share. Certainly, by the date of the 1881 census he was obviously a wealthy man – owner of ‘Dunara’, a substantial house on Colquhoun Street in Helensburgh, a Justice of the Peace and at that point, a father to three – Mary, Margaret and David. On the day of the 1881 census, in addition to William (described as a steamship owner), his wife Mary and their children, they had two nieces staying with them, plus four domestic staff. William had married Mary Churchill Perston in Kensington, London (her home) in 1873.

By the date of the 1901 census, William and Mary had a fourth child – another son, yet another William. It’s interesting to note that both boys, David Tennant Churchill Sloan (1878 – 1969) and William Henry Perston Sloan (born 1882) record their occupations as shipping clerks – presumably working for their father.

Although William is listed as a member of the Arlington Management Committee in 1870-1871, he does not seem to play a role in the Baths after that. Perhaps once he moved to Helensburgh, he had less time for sporting pursuits in Glasgow? Or maybe once his brother became Club Secretary, he felt he ought to stand down from the committee? Either way, the Arlington story now moves forward with his younger brothers.

The early days of accountancy

Alexander Sloan

David and Agnes’s second son, Alexander was born on 4 June, 1843. The custom in prosperous, business owning families at the time was for the eldest son to succeed the father, with second and subsequent sons encouraged to take up apprenticeships with fellow merchants or to go into the professions.  Law or the Church were traditional choices, but following the formation of the Glasgow Institute of Accountants and Actuaries –  offering a regulated career path – and the granting of a Royal Charter for the profession in 1854, accountancy became another acceptable option. Apparently, the Royal Charter gave the public recognition and social cachet necessary to attract new apprentices. Though possibly the Joint Stock Companies Act of 1865 and the Companies Act of 1867 which followed – described as “the accountant’s friend” as it ensured a steady demand for accountancy services – may have had even more impact on recruitment!

Alexander was apprenticed to Mitchell & Watson Accountants from 1859-1863 and studied part-time at Glasgow University taking a course in Logic and attending Law classes in the Procurator’s Hall. He then became a clerk to James Wylie Guild CA, finally submitting his application for admission to the Glasgow Institute in 1866.

In 1870, Alexander married Agnes Scott Paterson, (born 1847), daughter of Thomas L Paterson who was described in the 1861 census as a Landed proprietor and a Merchant of the East India Company. The couple set up home at 5 Ashton Terrace in Hillhead, but in 1875 moved to a larger, six-bedroom property at 25 Ashton Terrace, purchased for £2000. The increased space was necessary for their growing family – over twenty years, they had six sons and seven daughters. Finally, in 1890, they moved to 2 Crown Circus in Dowanhill, which remained Alexander’s home until his death in 1927.

Alexander’s eldest son David Norman (known as D. Norman, (1871–1953) succeeded him in the firm, becoming a CA in 1898. D. Norman also followed his father as Secretary, then President, of the Glasgow Institute. Of the other children: Tom and William died young; Alexander studied medicine at Glasgow University and became a GP, practicing on Southpark Avenue;  Wilfred was killed in WW1; and Tennant joined the Indian Civil Service. All of boys attended the Glasgow Academy. The four eldest girls attended a small private school and the younger three went to the ‘new’ girl’s school, Laurel Bank. Agnes Sloan was one of the first female Doctors of Medicine to study at Glasgow University.

In addition to establishing a very successful firm, (Alexander Sloan & Co still practices from 180 St Vincent Street, Glasgow) Alexander became Secretary of the Glasgow Institute of Accountants and Actuaries and an important figure in the early years of the accountancy profession in Scotland.

Outside of work, he was much involved in the Church. A cyclist and a keen walker, who regularly went on long walking expeditions at the weekends, he also walked from his home in Dowanhill to his business premises in central Glasgow every work day, a good 45 minute commute.

For many years he was secretary of the Glasgow Skating Club (formed in 1830) and one of his grand-daughters, Mora Dickson, could recount stories of the whole Sloan family skating on Binghams Pond, just off Great Western Road.

Most importantly, Alexander was Secretary of the Arlington Baths Club for 49 years, stepping in to take over from his disgraced younger brother Charles in 1878 and serving the club until his death in 1927.

Names of the chairmen and secretaries of the Arlington Baths Club on a board in the Baths pool office

Charles Tennant Sloan

Charles Tennant (born 1849) was Agnes and David’s fourth son. He followed his elder brother Alexander’s path and became an accountant.

The other brothers were John, who became a minister at Shawlands Church, George who joined his elder brother William in the shipping company, and Walter, who worked for Alexander briefly before becoming a missionary.

He was secretary of the Arlington Baths Club from 1870 to 1878.

In 1874 Charles became a partner in Alexander’s firm – he also joined the Glasgow Stock Exchange. In the same year, he married Isabella Drew (born 1849), daughter of Alexander Drew, an accountant. The 1875 Post Office Directory lists CT Sloan’s home address as 7 Park Street East, which is the same address of ‘Mrs Sloan’, a member of the Ladies Management Committee of the Arlington Baths Club for Ladies. Obviously, Isabella had also been drawn into the Arlington fold!

The couple’s first child, Ethel Caroline Tennant Sloan was born in 1878. This was clearly a momentous year for the family.  In October 1878, the City of Glasgow Bank went into liquidation which had a massive impact on business in the city. In the same month, Charles asked H S MacPherson & Co., Commission Merchants and Yarn Agents of 62 Queen Street, for a loan of £5000, claiming the request was necessary because banks at that time were not providing loan facilities. He offered railway shares as security and agreed 7% interest on a loan to 27 December. In a later court case, MacPherson stated that he had asked Charles if he was borrowing the money for clients (i.e. for the firm) and he had said yes – in fact, he was borrowing money to cover his personal, ruinously unsuccessful, speculations on the Stock Exchange. By the end of October, Charles apparently confessed his fraud to Alexander and to elder brother William.

Charles’ name subsequently disappears from the name of his brother’s firm and there are no remaining  records at the Glasgow Institute. The episode must have been both a personal embarrassment and a major professional blow for Alexander, and it says a lot for his standing in the business community and the respect he commanded amongst fellow accountants that he was able to continue as Secretary of the Glasgow Institute.

Census records show that Charles then left Glasgow. In 1881 he was living in Didsbury, an affluent Manchester suburb, in a property called The Grove, with one servant. He was described as an accountant, but an employee, so presumably not practising in his own name. Isabella and daughter Ethel were visiting Isabella’s father at his home, Creggandarroch, Kilmun, Cowal. Ten years later, in the 1891 census Charles is still in Didsbury, now in a house called The Laurels with two servants – still ‘employed’ as an accountant.  Isabella is again visiting her parents in Kilmun, with Ethel and Alastair Sloan, born ca. 1883. (This appears to be is the only record of Alastair, so it could be an error. He maybe a grandson of Alexander Drew, but Isabella’s nephew, as there are several other family members listed as visiting Creggandarroch at the time.)

The following year, 1892, Charles and Isabella’s son Charles Tennant Sloan (1892-1964) was baptised, the family address recorded as the Laurels, Didsbury, where they were all still living on the date of the 1901 census. By 1911, Charles and Isabella had moved to 21 East Cliff, Preston and Charles, now aged 62, was working as a calico printers salesman.

Their son Douglas had an interesting career. In 1911 he was boarding in a house at Horwich in Lancashire where he was apprentice Mechanical Engineer. The Records of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers show that he was a pupil of Mr George Hughes, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, working at the Horwich Locomotive Works.

During the First World War he was commissioned to the Royal Garrison Artillery seeing two years active service, then made a Staff Captain in the Royal Engineers, on “technical duties” at G.H.Q., France.

After the war, he worked as an engineering assistant at the Ministry of Transport, then from 1923-1928, for Cadbury Bros. Ltd. inaugurating distribution depots throughout the country. He then moved to Yates and Thom of Blackburn as General Assistant to the Managing Director and from 1930 became Director and General Works Manager at the same company, responsible for 1200 men and three factories. He died in Wokingham, Berkshire, in 1964, leaving a wife Elizabeth Grace and daughter Maureen Isabel Tennant.

Researcher: Kay Bryant


  • Arlington records
  • Ancestory.com
  • Shaping the Accountancy Profession: The Story of three Scottish Pioneers  ed. Thomas A Lee, Routledge, 2013.

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