Arthur & Company Limited

Messrs. Arthur & Company Limited, Queen Street, and Leeds and Londonderry

        The unwritten yet ever intelligible and interesting annals of the commerce of Great Britain, rich as they are in evidences of the ability and vigour which have been chief factors in establishing the nation’s mercantile greatness, present to our notice few such instances of uninterrupted trade progress and expansion as that incorporated in the history of the firm of Messrs. Arthur & Company, Limited, of Glasgow, Leeds, and Londonderry. For many years the records of Scottish commercial advancement have been a continuous chronicle of opportunities not alone grasped, but created and improved by the sturdy enterprise and quick perception of the country’s merchants ; and during a great portion of the last half century the eminent house here under notice has been a landmark of ever-augmenting prominence in the wide area of mercantile influence instituted and exercised by the business men of Glasgow conjointly with their trade associates in all parts of the British Isles. The house has worthily earned its world-wide fame.

    Its principles have been sound, its methods just, its policy one of spirit, yet prudent withal. In everything it has been a model among our national commercial institutions, and in its position at the present day, almost unapproached by any contemporary, it stands as a unique memorial to the undoubted genius of its founder, the late Mr. James Arthur. The whole business reflects in its salient characteristics the nature of the man to whom its existence is due, and a brief survey of his rise and progress as a merchant prince of Glasgow is the most fitting prelude to any remarks we may be able to make concerning this firm.

    Mr. James Arthur was born near Paisley in 1819, coming of a good and respected family, to whose intelligence he owed one of his earliest advantages — a sound and thorough education. The commercial faculty was strongly developed in him from the very first, and in 1837, when only eighteen years of age, he opened in business for himself as a retail draper, in High Street, Paisley. There he laid the nucleus of the vast system of trade operations of which he subsequently became the guiding spirit, and there prosperity attended his efforts until 1849, when he personally left Paisley (leaving a partner in control of the original business) and assisted in the foundation of the firm of Messrs. Arthur & Fraser, whose first warehouse was in Buchanan Street.

    This firm may be regarded as the groundwork of the present house, for it was at Buchanan Street that the great and essentially wholesale trade with which the name of Arthur is identified was originated, and then steadily developed in premises taken a little later on in Argyle Street. In 1856 the firm first became associated with the premises now occupied in Queen Street, and gradual and successive extensions of that establishment have resulted in the gigantic warehouse which is to-day the headquarters of the house. The principles governing the development of a great business were somewhat different in the middle of the present century from what they now are. Competition, even then, had not strained every commercial energy of the country to the severest tension, and steady, even slow, advancement was regarded as the best method of mercantile progression. Such was to a certain extent the teaching of the time, but Mr. James Arthur was a man in whom nature was stronger than education. His energy o’erleaped the conventional usages of the age, and as a consequence (natural, perhaps, though vindictive), he was for a time subjected to considerable obstructions and annoyances by his less rapidly progressing contemporaries, which amounted to little short of persecution. Lord Beaconsfield has written that, “No conjunction can possibly occur, however fearful, however tremendous, from which a man, by his own energy, may not extricate himself, as a mariner by the rattling of his cannon can dissipate the impending waterspout”. By one bold and decisive action, the only anxious period in the history of the house of Messrs. Arthur was cleared of every vestige of gloom. Mr. Arthur showed to the nation, and to the whole world of trade, that the

progress of his house was real, and that the foundation of his prosperity was substance, not shadow. He vindicated, in short, the “new school” of mercantile advancement—rapidity of action and vigorous purpose ; and from that day forward his firm had a recognised status, which has since altered only to become enhanced in eminence. Messrs. Arthur & Co., Limited, stand to-day at the head of the Scottish trade in textile manufactures and all their allied departments, and there is no house in the world whose commercial relations and connections are of stronger establishment or more widely extended influence.

    It is quite beyond the capacity of this necessarily concise sketch to afford even the vaguest description of Messrs. Arthur’s warehouse in Queen Street, Glasgow, beyond the fact that, structurally, it is one of the “lions” of the city, and commercially, an emporium of which the entire community is and should be proud. There is nothing to be said in these brief pages beyond what may readily be imagined by one who can conceive, beneath the one great expanse of roof, an aggregation of no less than fifty trade departments, each of which is in itself a business, the rearing of whose counterpart has In hundreds of instances been the work of a lifetime. Messrs. Arthur have two great factories in Great Britain, one in William Street, Glasgow, and the other at Leeds. They have a third factory, also, at Londonderry, and their commercial interests are represented in every trade centre throughout the world. Their trading operations extend over the British possessions, and there are few places where the name and principles of their house are not known and esteemed.

    Ten years ago the business was converted into a limited liability company of a private character, the subscribed capital being £1,200,000, of which £1,000,000 was paid up. The directorate of the Company is composed entirely of gentlemen whose business association has always been with the firm, and its personnel at present includes Messrs. M. Arthur, W. Ogilvie, J. R. Kay, T. G. Arthur, J. Arthur, and Arthur Kay.

    The founder and sometime chief of the house is missing now from his accustomed post at the head of the Directorate. Mr. James Arthur died in June, 1885, closing a life of constant and untiring activity at a period in which he had reached the zenith of his mercantile renown. Not alone as a successful and honourable merchant will his name live after him, but the man himself will survive in the memories of those who knew him as one who snatched many an tour from the passing years of a business career to devote alike to the public good and to the welfare of those who were proud to call him friend. He has left his great business in trusty and capable hands — the hands of ten qualified by every resource of experience and capacity to perpetuate the success and renown of the house. And for himself, to the one who is privileged to stand in the midst of the Arthur warehouse in Queen Street, there is need only to repeat the substance of the inscription in St. Paul’s to the memory of Wren : “If you seek his monument look around you”.

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