Charles McIntosh – Part 1


charles mcintoshCharles Macintosh was born in Glasgow in 1766. He was the son of a successful dyer, and developed an early fascination with science, especially chemistry. His father had a factory in Dennistoun, manufacturing a material called “cudbear”, used in making a violet-red dying powder.

From a young age, he was first employed as a clerk. He devoted all his spare time to science, particularly chemistry, and before he was twenty resigned his clerkship to take up the manufacture of chemicals. In this he was highly successful, inventing various new processes. His experiments with one of the by-products of tar, naphtha, led to his invention of waterproof fabrics, the essence of his patent being the cementing of two thicknesses of cloth together with natural India rubber, the rubber being made soluble by the action of the naphtha. This was to give him the accolade later of being the inventor of waterproof cloth, leading to the invent of the waterproof Macintosh raincoat!

If Charles Macintosh were to have had a family motto, it could have been: “Thank heaven it never just rains, but it pours.” The inventor was responsible for introducing the world not just to the mackintosh raincoat (better known as a “mac”) but also to wellington boots after discovering and refining a process to waterproof cloth using India Rubber. He is also credited with introducing India Rubber’s properties to a wide audience in Britain which later went on to be developed for use in endless items.

When Macintosh was 20-years-old he worked in his father’s chemical factory and, 11 years later, went on to open the first alum works in Hurlet, Renfrewshire which used waste shale from oil shale mines. He also went into partnership with Charles Tennant, who had invented a vastly improved process of bleaching using liquid, as well as a solid bleaching powder, at a chemical works at St Rollox, near Glasgow, paving the way for his rubber experiments.

1790 – Aged 24, Charles married Mary Fisher, daughter of Alexander Fisher, a merchant of Glasgow.

Macintosh was not the first person to try to waterproof material using rubber. James Syme and Thomas Hancock had, independently of each other, both tried to develop a commercial use from their researches but had not managed to do so. Syme, another Scot, had discovered that applying India-Rubber dissolved in coal-tar onto fabric would make it waterproof.  However, he didn’t patent the process, leaving the way open for Macintosh to leap in. At the time, Macintosh was trying to find uses for waste products generated by the gasworks, established in Glasgow in 1817, and he invested in developing a number of other chemical processes. Many of these used the ammonia and tar by-products of the gasworks as raw materials. Much of his success would come later in life.

1818 – At the age of 52, on 21st August 1818, Charles Macintosh bought Crossbasket Castle and Estate from General Peter. Oh, to have been a fly in the wall on those discussions and meetings.

It is likely Macintosh built the dye mill, also known as Crossbasket or Bridge Mill at the back of the house on the River Calder. Formerly a lint or corn mill, Macintosh was the probable constructor of the brick walls, deep shafts and workings, on top of old foundations. This no doubt suited him well as a private place to conduct his experiments, having a plentiful source of water nearby, to power machinery and equipment. The remains of the mill still exist today and it would appear the history of this mill is quite chequered, with protracted periods of not being in use. Pictured below by photographer Jim Brown in 2008, are the remains of one of the storage tanks at the Bridge Mill.


Remains of Crossbasket Storage Tank. 2008 Photo by Jim Brown

1819 – On 13th November 1819, a meeting in Hamilton of Noblemen, Justice of Peace, Commissioners and Freeholders took place, recorded by the Caledonian Mercury newspaper. Amongst them, confirmed were Charles McIntosh and his son, George McIntosh, both of Crossbasket.

1820 – On Monday 24th July 1820, Charles McIntosh is recorded as being on “jury duty” in a Hamilton Court, his residence given as Crossbasket.

That same year, it is recorded that James Maxwell was leasing Crossbasket Farm and winning cattle prizes, although not to be confused as having ownership of Crossbasket Estate. It is likely he paid rent to Charles McIntosh or McIntosh had a share of crops.

1822 – On 11th October 1822, The Glasgow Herald records Charles McIntosh has having obtained “Game Certificates” for that year at a cost of £3 and 3 shillings, indicating a love of sport.

1823 – On 16th July 1823, The Hereford Journal records that Charles McIntosh filed for a new patent whilst at Crossbasket, on June 3rd that year for a process and manufacture, whereby the texture of hemp, flax, wool, cotton and silk, and also paper and other substances may be rendered impervious to water and air (i.e an early pioneering waterproofing system) Proof indeed, that waterproofing patent was filed whilst he was at Crossbasket.

 For his various chemical discoveries he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. The next few years were destined to be busy and with incredible success and rewards.

1824 – Charles formed a partnership with the Manchester industrialist, Hugh Hornby Birley, who was a director of the Manchester Gas Works and a cotton spinner and weaver. The waterproof material produced in the factory was marketed under the brand name “Mackintosh”, with the extra letter “k”, perhaps to protect Macintosh’s name should the product ever fail. This work took Charles away from his experiments at Crossbasket and indeed away from his home for lengthy periods of time.

Within just one year, business was booming. Macintosh had not only set up a new factory in Manchester but had also gone on to secure a huge contract to supply the British military with rainproof cloth.

1825 – Ever the inventor, on 13th July 1825, the Taunton Courier newspaper recorded that a patent had been given to Charles at Crossbasket for “a new process of making steel.” Indicating he was dabbling in other experiments of a different kind.

A good neighbour, in October, Charles Macintosh, Crossbasket, sent his Grace, The Duke of Hamilton, a present of a capercailzie cock as a mate for the hen he already possessed. The Hamilton lands still lay at the north west of Crossbasket.

This was an extremely successful couple of years and that continued to grow unabated as more and more uses were found for his waterproof cloth.

Words taken from the book, “The History of Crossbasket Castle” by Paul D Veverka 2015 (c)

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