Don & Low (Holdings) Ltd

Scope and Content

Company records, correspondence and financial files of Don Brothers, Buist & Company Ltd, 1805-1992; miscellaneous records of the Dundee Calendering Company Ltd., 1898-1960; minute book and financial records of Moffat & Son Ltd., 1926-1957; ledgers of James Scott, Junior, 1804-1832; letter book and private ledgers of Alexander Henderson & Son Ltd., 1795-1955; financial records and correspondence of J & J Smart, 1874-1980; Plans and diagrams, 1884-c 1965

Administrative / Biographical History

The forerunner of this company was founded in Forfar in 1792, under the name of William Don & Co. In 1845 the firm of William and John Don & Co was established. The cloth business of the Dons originated in buying and selling webs of linen woven in Forfar cottages. The firm also possessed warping and winding departments, and a small loom shed containing handlooms. The greater part of the weaving, however, was done by weavers in their own homes.

With the advent of the power loom it was decided to extend weaving operations and to acquire a mill capable of spinning suitable yarns. This decision led to their joining up with A J Buist, who ran Ward Mills in Dundee. In 1865 the company of Don Brothers, Buist was formed. In the following year the modern development of the company began with the erection of St James Works, Forfar, which contained 700 looms. In 1867 the New Mill was built at Lindsay Street, Dundee. This enlarged the spinning capacity of the firm to 10,000 spindles, upon which 50 tons of fibre were spun into 180,000 miles of yarn per week. In 1880 a further extension to the weaving plan took place with the acquisition of Station Works, Forfar, which contained 300 looms. In 1882 an old foundry adjacent to these works was purchased and converted into a cloth-bleaching works and yarn warehouse.

In 1904 the company was incorporated, and in 1906 South Street Works, which had been previously run under lease, was acquired. The company continued to increase its business connections throughout Europe and North America and branch offices were opened in Belfast and New York to help develop transatlantic trade. In the 1920s high US tariff duties led to a slump in linen production, and the company concentrated its weaving business on jute. Ward Mills suffered losses through its inability to spin common yarns, and some of the Forfar premises were converted to spinning mills to produce yarn for Forfar looms. This process began in 1929, in the same year that Strang Street Works was built.

During the 1930s cheap labour rates in Calcutta forced the company into a decision to modernise its plant for greater efficiency. Ward Mills was closed during World War II under the Concentration Scheme and, although it opened again in a small way following the peace, it was mainly sold off in the next few years as production settled on Forfar. After the war the company expanded and diversified its manufacturing base, often by buying up smaller local firms. In 1948 Moffatt & Son Ltd, Forfar, was purchased. Also in 1948 jute was rationed owing to an acute shortage in Pakistan. The company went on to develop an operation for darning woollen fabrics prior to finishing, woollen looms were purchased, and Strathmore Woollen Company Ltd was acquired in 1952 to manufacture tartans. It was closed down as a manufacturing unit in 1982, although sales of 100 % wool tartan fabrics are being maintained by having weaving and finishing carried out on a commission basis.In 1960 Don Brothers, Buist & Co Ltd amalgamated with Low Brothers & Co (Dundee) Ltd, a merchant house, thereby integrating the production and sales sides of their business. Low Brothers' subsidiaries, Alexander Henderson & Sons Ltd, and Dundee Calender Company Ltd, were included in the merger, J & J Smart (Brechin) Ltd, also joined the company in the 1960s, further strengthening the industrial textiles manufacturing capabilities of the group.

During the 1960s polypropylene was introduced into the manufacturing process and in 1966 Daniel Buchanan & Sons Ltd, Prestonpans, joined the group. Later known as Don Coatings (Scotland) Ltd, the company were PVC coaters. They were closed down in 1982, one of their factories being leased to a group of former employees. The group continued purchasing from the new company, taking part in merchanting PVC and polyurethane coated fabrics, mainly for the protective clothing and tarpaulin industries. Buchanans' subsidiary, Thomas Gaunt (Rainwear) Ltd, was later transformed into Don & Low (Packaging) Ltd, in Arbroath. The firm manufacture rigid presentation boxes for a variety of purposes.

Don Fibres Ltd, was purchased in 1977. Originally part of Thiokol USA, their modern factory, purpose built for the extrusion of polypropylene tapes and yarns, is situated in Newfordpark, Forfar. In 1982, Don Brothers, Buist & Co, became a plc and in 1983-1984 purchased Don & Low (Packaging) Ltd, and Don & Low plc (formerly J & J Smart). In 1983 the group bought Tay Textiles Ltd, who owned factories in Perth and Dundee. By the 1980s the group had become the largest polypropylene textile extrusion and weaving unit in the United Kingdom and possibly the second largest in Europe.

In June 1986 the group was bought by Shell UK Ltd, a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company. In March 1987 Don Brothers, Buist plc reverted to a private company and became known as Don & Low (Holdings) Ltd, two major subsidiaries now exist: Don & Low Ltd, manufacturing and selling industrial textiles; and Tay Textiles Ltd, manufacturing flexible intermediate bulk containers.


Records are arranged into sub-fonds. A large part of the collection is awaiting arrangement and listing.

Access Information

Open for consultation subject to preservation requirements. Access must also conform to the restrictions of the Data Protection Act and any other appropriate legislation.

Acquisition Information

The records were deposited by the company 1988 - 2001 (AccM/244, AccM/278, AccM/284, AccM/327, AccM/447) and by Professor Chris Whatley, Dundee University Department of History, in 1991 (AccM/272).

Other Finding Aids

Descriptive list and handlists. Subject source lists and databases are also available. Some unlisted material.

Alternative Form Available

No known copies.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction is available subject to preservation requirements. Charges are made for this service, and copyright and other restrictions may apply.


None expected.

Location of Originals

The material is original. Some additional records have been retained by the company.