Papers of John McDowall, engineer and machine maker, Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland

Scope and Content

  • Documents relating to John McDowall's business dealings including his relationship with Hugh Reid 1840-1857
  • Account books 1847-57
  • Various correspondence concerning transactions; state of debt of John McDowall 1854
  • Agreement between McDowall & McDonald 1851
  • Agreement between John McDowall & Mrs J McDowall nee Young 1856

The majority of the papers are related to the trustees and executors of John McDowall's estate and McDowall & Sons and its administration. Records include:

  • Minutes 1857-1878
  • Inventories 1857-1884
  • Legal papers 1859-1880
  • Financial papers 1856-1877
  • Correspondence 1876-1879
  • Press cuttings 1876-1879

Administrative / Biographical History

John McDowall began his career as a mechanic in the cotton mills of Johnston, Renfrewshire, Scotland, and founded his own general engineering business in the town in 1823. By 1834 he had developed and patented a saw frame and a wood-planing machine which were the basis for specialisation in a wide range of woodworking machinery, much of which was exported. McDowall died in 1857 leaving two young children and the firm was continued by trustees and the managers. The annual output in 1876 was roughly two hundred machines, worth about £30,000. James Barr (1840-1908), who had joined the firm as an apprentice, became a partner in the business with John McDowall's two sons, Daniel and Harry, although neither son played a dominant role in the firm. The company prospered under Barr's leadership until his death in 1908. The company continued, but difficulties in the depression of 1929-1932 brought voluntary liquidation of the company, and incorporation of the business into the firm of Thomas White & Sons, engineers of Paisley, Renfrewshire.

Source: Michael Moss & John Hume,Workshop of the British Empire: Engineering and Shipbuilding in the West of Scotland(London, 1977)Anthony Slavin and Sydney Checkland, , Vol IDictionary of Business Biography 1860-1960(Aberdeen, 1986)


The material is arranged into series as shown in the scope and content. Within series, items are generally arranged chronologically.

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Custodial History

Acquired pre 1970 from Holmes, MacKillop & Co , Glasgow, Scotland


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