Stewart and Macdonald

STEWART AND MACDONALD, Manufacturers and Wholesale Warehousemen, Buchanan Street, Argyle Street, and Mitchell Street, Glasgow ; and at London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Leeds, Newcastle, Preston, Toronto, Montreal, Melbourne, Sydney, Port Elizabeth, &c.

    There is a popular idea among those who have not devoted close attention to the conditions of Glasgow’s greatness that the principal source of her wealth and commercial pre-eminence lies in the mammoth yards which fringe the Clyde — yards therein are unceasingly heard the noisy vibrations of the shipwright’s hammer as he labours in the creation of the great sea leviathans, whose very existence is due to the energy, intellect, and muscle of Clydeside men. The popular idea, however, is not absolutely a correct for there are vast channels of mercantile splendour in the great “Second City of Empire” literally teem with the noiseless spoils of trade and industry, and you have little association with the affairs of “those who go down to the sea in ships and have business in the great waters”. A review of some of the great mercantile houses of Glasgow corrects the misconception of which we have spoken, and demonstrates the fact that the greatness of the City depends not upon isolated industry, but upon a congeries of magnificent commercial enterprises, each carried out on a scale of magnitude quite unparalleled in the annals of modern industry.

    In this connection a pre-eminent work must be assigned to the world-renowned establishment conducted under the style of Messrs. Stewart and Macdonald. Rather more than sixty years have passed since this vast house founded : sixty years incessant advance and development in every field of enterprise in which the operations of the house have been directed. “There will not be found a single instance in the whole comprehensive range of British trading history of a house of purely mercantile characteristics attaining a higher degree of magnitude, influence, importance, and commercial celebrity”. So says an eminent authority, and we are convinced, after careful consideration of the facts, that the estimate is in no respect an exaggerated one.

    The nucleus of the business was laid in 1826 at its present address, the originators of the house being Robertson Buchanan Stewart, Esq., and John Macdonald, Esq. In 1859 Mr. N. B. Stewart joined the firm, and a few years later Mr. A. B. Stewart also became a partner, Mr. Macdonald’s decease occurring about the year 1862. At the death of the senior founder, his son, Mr. N. B. Stewart, became senior partner, and this gentleman being gifted with exceptional administrative ability, the concern greatly flourished, and the subsequent pre-eminence of the firm in its special department of enterprise is unquestionably due, for the most part, to the eminent services rendered by this gentleman. Eventually, on the retirement of Mr. N. B. Stewart, the control of the house fell to the lot of Mr. A. B. Stewart, who assumed Mr. Crombie into the partnership, the latter gentleman having for many years previously fulfilled the functions of cashier to the firm. Mr. A. B. Stewart died in 1880, and at his death Mr. J. R. H Stewart, nephew of the founder, was assumed into the partnership. This gentleman died in 1889, Mr. Crombie having pre-deceased him in 1882.

    It was immediately after the death of Mr. Crombie that an important epoch opened in the history of the house. Mr. Robert Kedie, who, since February 6th, 1864, had been connected with the house, and had had the control of several of the leading departments, and the last two years of which time he had been the general manager, became a partner. This enterprising chief was joined in 1886 by Mr. Ninian B. Stewart, a gentleman who had, for some years, enjoyed the privileges of careful mercantile training under Mr. Kedie’s personal supervision. Mr. N. B. Stewart is, unquestionably, a gentleman of great business aptitude who gives promise of maintaining by energy and enterprise the honourable annals of the house which his forefathers so creditably initiated. Under these two gentlemen’s direction, industrial achievements may be counted upon which far transcend anything hitherto accomplished by the firm.

    The managing partner, Mr. R. Kedie, possesses long and varied experience gathered in most of the important departments of the house, and his thorough acquaintance with the trade is of incalculable advantage in the conduct of the vast concern. Under the management of this gentleman no fewer than five departments have been added to the business of the house, and, what is of far greater significance, manufacturing has been entered upon, under his judicious guidance, with a thoroughness and zeal which promise to elevate the firm into a rank as pre-eminent in business as it is foremost among dry goods concerns. To facilitate the great scheme which Mr. Kedie set himself to accomplish, immense factories were set up in various parts of the United Kingdom, each one of which has proved enormously successful. At Strabane, in Ireland, a splendid factory has been fitted for the manufacture of white shirts, ladies’ and children’s under-clothing, regattas, Oxford shirts, collars, cuffs, and goods of a similar character. At Rutherglen Road, Glasgow, an extensive manufacture of ladies’ mantles, children’s dresses, men’s shirts and slops, hats and caps, and ready-made clothing, is carried on, while the magnificent factory erected at Leeds, some two years ago, for the manufacture of men’s and youths’ ready-made clothing has proved, altogether inadequate to the ever-increasing demands of the house, and will, ere long, require to be supplemented by greatly augmented space and mechanical equipment.


    The warehouse embraces no fewer than thirty-four distinct departments of general wholesale drapery and fabrics, comprising the following features :— cloths, silks, cottons, flannels, linens, ribbons, merinoes, prints, muslins, laces, handkerchiefs, haberdashery, yams, winceys, carpets, tweeds, skirtings, wool shawls, fancy dresses, straw hats, millinery, flowers, white cottons, gloves, shirts, ready-made clothing, Bradford stuffs, stationery, and under-clothing. Each department is under the most capable supervision, and so great are the firm’s facilities and resources that the largest orders can be executed on the shortest notice, and in a manner reflecting the highest credit upon those responsible for the carrying-out of the executive functions. The vast warehouses in Buchanan Street, Argyle Street, and Mitchell Street contain an aggregate value of fully half-a-million, every item having been selected with the greatest care and judgment. Dress materials form a conspicuous feature in the turnover of the house. In this connection there are four distinct departments. English, French, German, and Scotch dress goods are held in endless variety, and Messrs. Stewart and Macdonald export these fabrics to all parts of the globe. Some idea of the vast magnitude of Messrs. Stewart and Macdonald’s transactions may be formed from the fact that fully three thousand hands are regularly employed, and as manufacturing is likely to be still more extensively engaged in by the firm in the future, a greatly augmented staff of employees will probably ere long be employed.

    It would manifestly be impossible within the limits of a mere sketch to enter into a minute description of the firm’s emporium ; suffice it to say that nothing is omitted that has any place in the fashion world of the period. No fewer than seventy travellers represent the interests of the firm ; eight are employed in Australia, three in Canada, four in South Africa, two in Norway and Sweden, while branch establishments are also conducted at London, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Rochdale, Birmingham, Belfast, Dublin, Newcastle, Leeds, Preston, Hull, Montreal, Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney, Dunedin, and Port Elizabeth, while at a number of these branches large stocks are held. The control of this mighty ambassadorial staff engaged in the peaceful arts of commerce devolves upon Mr. Kedie, and his successful administration in this department of activity speaks more for his unsurpassed capability than folios of panegyric.

    The great “City by the Clyde” has undoubtedly much to be proud of in her citizens’ nervous, active life and in the grandeur of her varied industrial, social, and philanthrophic institutions ; but in nothing, to our minds, has she greater reason for self-congratulation than in the possession within her midst of such a mercantile house as that of Messrs. Stewart and Macdonald — a house unique in the stupendous character of its industrial operations and unsurpassed in the honourable and energetic methods by which those gigantic operations are effected.

Back to Index of Firms (1891)