Records of Coats Viyella plc, thread manufacturers, Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland

Scope and Content

  • Minute books 1880-1989;
  • Letterbooks and correspondence 1868-1987;
  • Registers 1890-1972;
  • Ledgers 1830-1932;
  • Bought ledgers 1891-1934;
  • General and department ledgers 1890-1933;
  • Private ledgers 1845-1970;
  • Miscellaneous ledgers 1842-1944;
  • General journals 1889-1970;
  • Private journals 1848-1961;
  • Miscellaneous journals 1885-1935;
  • Cash books 1857-1932;
  • General cash books 1890-1949;
  • Disbursement cash books 1891-1947;
  • Bank and cash letterbooks 1916-1932;
  • Miscellaneous cash books 1886-1967;
  • Property, expenditure, and claims 1767-1971;
  • Bills receivable 1888-1937;
  • Investments 1888-1986;
  • Salary books 1901-1940;
  • Pension funds 1941-1972;
  • Annual Returns, 1901;
  • Legal papers 1835-1978;
  • Personnel and training records 1892-1984;
  • Annual Reports, 1892-1984;
  • Memorandum and articles of association, 1884-1961;
  • Papers regarding schemes of arrangement and shareholder notices, 1919-1984;
  • Photographs, late 19th century-c2000s;
  • Certificates and awards, 1877-c1990s;
  • Publications, manuscripts, advertisements, and newspaper cuttings, 1864-2004;
  • Staff records 1889-1947;
  • Artefacts, c20th century;
  • Production records, 1874-1880;
  • Coats' copies of annual reports and accounts of subsidiary companies, 1976-1979;
  • Papers regarding patents and trade marks, 1944-1981;
  • Reports, 1967-1980;
  • Coats' family papers, c20th century;
  • Miscellaneous files, including newspaper cuttings, publications and leaflets 1907-2001

Administrative / Biographical History

In  1802,  James Coats, snr, (1774-1857 ), a weaver from Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, set up in business, laying the foundations of what was later to become J & P Coats Ltd, thread manufacturers, Paisley. James Coats senior was born in  1774 , into a family of Paisley weavers. After serving his apprenticeship as a weaver, he spent six years in the army with the Ayrshire Fencibles, a cavalry regiment. He returned to weaving in  1796  on leaving the army and in  1802 , shortly after his marriage, he went into business on his own. Seeing a market for Canton Crape, the majority of which was at that time imported from China, he set about trying to reproduce this material in his own factory. Canton Crape was made from silk, the manufacture of which had been introduced to Paisley in  1760  by Humphrey Fulton; hence both the raw material and the skilled labour were readily available. Another manufacturer, James Whyte, had also been trying to produce Canton Crape, with much the same degree of limited success as James Coats. He and Coats decided to combine their knowledge by entering into partnership, and were eventually successful in producing Canton Crape in such quantities as to virtually corner the market.

As his fortunes increased so James Coats began to look to the future. He built a house in Back Row, Ferguslie, Paisley, and became a sleeping partner in the Paisley firm of Ross & Duncan, a firm of thread twisters. At the same time he acquired knowledge of the business which would be useful to him in years to come since the production of Canton crepe requires yarn which has a particular twist. When his contract with Ross & Duncan expired in  1826,  James Coats built a small mill at Ferguslie, and began producing his own thread, using a 12 horsepower engine. The mill at Ferguslie was the forerunner to the larger works which J & P Coats developed on this site. On his retirement in  1830,  the management of the manufacturing department was passed to his partners and his son William, and the thread business was transferred to his sons James Coats, jnr, (1803-1845 ) and Peter Coats (1808-1890 ), the firm becoming known as  J & P Coats. Shortly after its inception another son, Thomas Coats (1809-1883 ), entered the firm as a partner.

Each of the three brothers had knowledge of a different area of expertise: James in manufacturing, Peter in merchandising, and Thomas in engineering. The company expanded rapidly during the  1830s , both at home and overseas, and by  1840  three-quarters of their trade was with the USA. For twenty years the selling department of the American branch of the business was managed by Andrew Coats (1814-1900 ), a younger brother of James, Peter and Thomas. The high quality of Coats' thread made it extremely popular, to the extent that several companies produced inferior imitations, resulting in a number of legal cases. In addition to the Paisley mills, J & P Coats built mills in the USA at Pawtucket, Rhode Island State, between 1870 and 1883. James Coats of Auchendrayne, Ayrshire, the son of Sir Peter Coats managed these mills. Production at Paisley continued apace, with new markets opening up at home and abroad. In some cases high customs duties were overcome by building mills abroad, so that in a short time J & P Coats had branches in Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Spain.

In  1883,  the firm became a private joint stock company of family shareholders and in  1890  the business was floated as a public company, with a capital of £5,750,000 and an average annual profit for the preceding seven years of £426,048. James Coats, jnr, remained unmarried, but a number of the sons of Peter and Thomas Coats entered the firm as partners, thus retaining the family interest in the company. One of the leading competitors of the Coats' firm was the firm of Clark & Co, another Paisley thread company, which had grown up through the same period as Coats. With the death of John Clark of Clark & Co in  1896 , the way was opened for take-over. J & P Coats amalgamated with Clark & Co, its American associates and also with Brook of Meltham and Chadwick of Eagley Mills, Bolton, England, to form the enlarged firm of  J & P Coats Ltd, with a market value of around £22 million, and approximately 25,000 shareholders. The company, with its headquarters in Glasgow, Scotland, had 17 production centres, 60 branch houses, 150 selling depots, and around 21,000 employees throughout the world, the UK workforce totalling around 11,000. One of the leading figures in the company at this time, was Otto Ernst Philippi, Foreign Sales Manager, whose selling policy has been regarded as one of the major keys to the firm's success.

The company continued trading as J & P Coats Ltd throughout the first half of the 20th century, expanding by acquiring controlling interests in several other textile companies. In  1960 , following the takeover of Patons & Baldwins Ltd, the company became known as  J & P Coats, Paton & Baldwin Ltd. In 1965, they acquired a controlling interest in the Pasolds group, which included Ladybird children's wear, Donbros knitwear, and Chilprufe garments. In 1967, they acquired both Dynacast Precision Engineering and Jaeger fashions. In June  1967 , the company became known as  Coats Patons Ltd. In  1967 , Coats Patons Ltd amalgamated with Vantona Viyella to form  Coats Viyella plc, a company registered in Uxbridge, Middlesex, England, which became  Coats Plc in  2001 .

Between 1934-1939 the company sponsored the Needlework development in Scotland scheme, a collaboration between art and design education and industry. The scheme encouraged needlework and therefore also the sale of J & P Coats thread. This developed into the nation-wide Needlework Development Scheme managed by the  The Central Agency Ltd of J & P Coats Ltd. Loan collections of historical and modern embroideries were developed with examples being purchased by, or donated to, the Scheme. These collections were then exhibited and loaned to schools in order to help teach and promote embroidery as an art form. In 1961, the company withdrew funding for the Scheme and it ceased to function. The collection of over 3000 textile items was broken up and disseminated between around 14 universities, colleges and museums in the UK.


This material is arranged by company and then arranged into series, which consist of numbers of items related by function and/or format.

Access Information

Data protection may apply in some instances, including files in UGD199/1/2.

Acquisition Information

Indefinite loan : J & P Coats : Glasgow : c1984

Indefinite loan : Coats Viyella plc : London: 1991 : ACCN 0146 (Additional Deposit)

Indefinite loan : via Business Archives Council in Scotland : 1993 : ACCN 0198 (Additional Deposit)

Indefinite loan : 1995 : ACCN 0240 (Additional Deposit)

Indefinite loan : 1996 : ACCN 0255 (Additional Deposit)

Indefinite loan : Coats Viyella plc : Swinton, Manchester: 2000 : ACCNs 1887, 1925, 1926, 1996

Indefinite loan : ACCN 0054

Indefinite loan : ACCN 2798

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom

Manual file level list available the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S)2576) and London (NRA20914)

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use & condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures

Custodial History

Received directly from creator


Accruals possible

Related Material

J & P Coats Ltd and Coats Patons Ltd operated a number of subsidiary companies whose records are located as below:

GB 248 UGD 199/2 Records of The Central Agency Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/3 Records of Textile Pension Trust Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/4 Records of United Thread Mills Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/5 Records of George A Clark & Bros - Clark Thread Co

GB 248 UGD 199/6 Records of Clark & Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/7 Records of James Clark

GB 248 UGD 199/8 Records of I P Clark & Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/9 Records of The International Thread Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/10 Records of La Plata Reel Cotton Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/11 Records of Sewing Cotton Agency

GB 248 UGD 199/12 Records of Ferenze Filling Factory Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/13 Records of Laigh Park Motors Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/14 Records of PLASCO Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/15 Records of The Bothwell Trust Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/16 Records of Machine Cottons Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/17 Records of Meltham Trust Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/18 Records of Jonas Brook & Bros Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/19 Records of Associated Thread Sales Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/20 Records of Kerr & Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/21 Records of Viscolax Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/22 Records of William Briggs & Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/23 Records of Needlewoman Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/24 Records of Walter evans & Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/25 Records of Joseph Warner & Sons Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/26 Records of James Chadwick & Bros Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/27 Records of Walter McGhee & Sons Ltd

GB 248 UGD 199/29 Records of Fleming Reid & Co

GB 248 UGD 199/30 Records of Anglo-Hungarian Thread Co

GB 248 UGD 199/31 Records of Romanofir SAR

See source list on Textiles available via Glagsow University Archive Services homepage at

GB 243 TD406 Drawings, photographs and papers 20th century (Glasgow City Archives)


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

This material is original

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives, ISAD(G) Second Edition, September 1999and National Council on Archives, Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names

Scotland is the location of all place names in the administrative/biographical history element, unless otherwise stated.

Revised by David Powell, Hub Project Archivist, 8 July 2002

Revised by Emma Yan, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing), 22 February 2008