Thomson, Shepherd & Co Ltd, Jute spinners and manufacturers, Dundee

Scope and Content

Registers of directors 1901-1943; minute books 1896-1965; shareholding records 1896-1963; balance sheets 1904-1967; ledgers 1897-1966; journal 1938-1957; bank pass books 1947-1951; jute purchase books 1945-1965; stock books 1883-1948; records relating to wages, salaries and pensions 1932-1961; production records 1876-1906, 1932-1961; miscellaneous legal and general company records 1896-1964; patents 1852, 1888; factory school registers 1868-1870; miscellaneous papers 1855-1986; photographs 1852-1951; plan 1869; company files 1896-1986.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomson, Shepherd & Co Ltd was founded in 1848 when David Thomson, a shipmaster's son who had served an apprenticeship with James Neish, a jute pioneer, set up in business on his own in a small hand-spinning and hand-loom weaving shed. The firm was soon operating successfully and in 1852 David Thomson was granted a patent from Queen Victoria in respect of jute carpeting - the earliest patent granted in Dundee for any jute product. Three years later he won a diploma for jute carpets at the Paris Exhibition.

In 1858 David Thomson died aged 32, and the firm was taken over by his younger brother John. Demand for jute increased greatly during the period of the Crimean War but the boom years were followed by a slump which saw several large Dundee firms in serious difficulties until trade once more revived during the period of the American Civil War. Seafield Works, the main part of which was completed between 1859 and 1861, was forced to close for a short time at the beginning of the decade but re-opened in 1862, by which time John Thomson had been joined in partnership by Walter Shepherd. For a number of years in the 1860s the partnership also included Henry C Briggs, who was a colliery proprietor in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Output of jute products soared in the early 1860s and by 1864 the Seafield Works contained 6,000 spindles, 120 power looms and upwards of 450 hand looms, and was employing 2,000 people. Between c.1861 and c.1875 the Company also had factory premises in Douglas. The partnership of John Thomson and Walter Shepherd was formed into a limited company in 1896, and during the first half of the 20th century emphasis changed from weaving to spinning. Extensive re-equipment of the jute spinning mill also took place in the 1930s and by 1939 the Company was well equipped with up-to-date jute spinning machinery, enabling it to continue to operate during World War II when many other Dundee mills were closed in the wartime concentration of industry scheme. Also, in 1936, Thomson, Shepherd & Co Ltd set up a subsidiary company, Mayfair Fabrics Ltd, in order to market a higher quality printed jute fabric for use in furnishings and hangings. Mayfair Fabrics Ltd was renamed Thomson, Shepherd (Yarns) Ltd in 1964.

In the early post-war period Thomson, Shepherd & Co Ltd was extremely busy, the demand for jute carpeting being unprecedented. New machinery was installed in the 1940s and 1950s for both spinning and carpet-making. There were ventures into rayon spinning and weaving, paper spinning and precision engineering and, as the market for jute carpeting contracted, it was decided in 1958 to weave quality Wilton carpets made from wool. In 1961 quality Axminster were added when Darville Carpets Ltd Monifieth, was acquired. Jute carpeting ceased in 1966 but the 1960s were good years for jute yarn spinning as outside sales were built up.

By 1973 the Group consisted of the parent holding company and two operating companies - Thomson, Shepherd (Yarns) Ltd spinning quality jute yarn for the carpet trade, and Thomson Shepherd (Carpets) Ltd. The Group Chairman was Mr Colin Macfarlane, a great-grand-nephew of David Thomson, the founder. In January 1976 Thomson, Shepherd & Co Ltd totally withdrew from jute spinning as falling profit margins and a decline in the market for jute yarns during the previous two years had made this side of their operations uneconomic. In February of the same year it was announced that the Company had been taken over by Arthur Sanderson & Sons Ltd a subsidiary of Reed International Ltd. At the time of the take-over Thomson, Shepherd & Co Ltd had a workforce, including sales personnel, of 350.

Thomson, Shepherd & Co Ltd were the last remaining volume producers of carpets in Dundee and, despite the U.K. carpet industry being under increasing pressure they continued to expand sales during 1985. Nevertheless, it was announced in February 1986 that Thomson, Shepherd & Co Ltd were to close down their Dundee operations because of 'insurmountable' problems associated with adapting the Seafield Works to modern broadloom carpet manufacture, together with the problem of high transportation costs. Operations ceased in Dundee on 1 September 1986 and business was transferred to Sanderson Carpets Ltd premises in Bolton, Lancashire.


Records are arranged chronologically within series.

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 A Sanderson in 1986 (AccM/233).


Fonds level description compiled by Sarah Chubb, Archives Hub Project Archivist, January 2002.

Other Finding Aids

Descriptive list. Subject source lists and databases are also available.

Alternative Form Available

The company files are available on microfiche from Companies Registration Office, Edinburgh.

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.

Additional Information

The material is original.

Geographical Names