James Clark of Crossbasket

41 James Clark of CrossbasketMore from my book, “The History of Crossbasket Castle”. This time one of the most important owners to have lived at Crossbasket, a man responsible for large additions to the house. Mr James Clark.

James Clark of Crossbasket, was the son of Robert Clark, of Inverchapel near Kilmun, and Margaret Currie.

Throughout his life, he was a well known and respected Glasgow merchant, director of The Colonial Life Assurance Company and in my opinion one of the most prominent and important owners of Crossbasket.

He was born at Blairmore on 14th August, 1813. After a sound early education he went to college, first in Glasgow and then in Edinburgh, studied medicine, and in 1835 took his degree as M.D. But he never practised; he could not bear the constant dealing with physical pain; and when twenty-six he took the bold step of throwing up his profession, and seeking an opening in trade.

Working Life

He was fortunate in the opening he found. Through his uncle, Archibald Clark of Achafoor, he knew Kirkman Finlay of Castle Toward, then head of the famous old firm of James Finlay & Co. Kirkman had been taken with the young James, and now asked him to come and see him with a view to an employment engagement. Clark somewhat reluctantly agreed to go, and after a brief interview was then and there engaged. He used to say he owed his engagement (like many an applicant) to good handwriting. But he owed it also to a taste of his quality that he gave during the ordeal. Kirkman Finlay, after a question or two, set him to write an imaginary business letter, and handed him a sharp-pointed steel pen, such as he himself used. Now, a big man was bigger in those days than in ours, and Kirkman Finlay was a very big man, towering above his fellows like some tall giant; and most applicants would have quaked before him. But Clark did not like sharp-pointed steel pens; he asked for a quill and leisurely mended this before sitting down to write. Kirkman was taken with the young man’s self-possession, and after glancing at his letter, with a curt “You’ll do,” employed him.

It was well he did. Kirkman Finlay was verging on old age, and James Finlay & Co., like many another old firm, was languishing for want of young blood. They had been great merchants and great manufacturers, but the merchandizing had almost died out, and the famous works of Deanston and Catrine, if working as briskly as ever, were working to little profit. Clark was able to put both departments right. He had industry and energy, not very rare qualities in Scotland, but he had a much rarer gift in the mercantile faculty, a drive to make his own mark upon the world.

He was sent to the works, Catrine first, and then Deanston. He found them both full of old machinery, grinding vigorously away at goods for India which had long ceased to pay. He was not long in seeing what changes were needed, and in getting leave from the firm to make them. He was not himself a practical mechanic, but he found at Catrine a skilled engineer, Robert Barclay (afterwards his partner and brother-in-law), and with his help he gradually filled the old works with the best new machinery. This was turned entirely into goods for the home market.

Mr. Clark next took the mercantile branch in hand. He had become on 1st January, 1847, a partner in James Finlay & Co., of which the then partners were James Buchanan of Woodlands, John Finlay of Deanston, and Archibald Buchanan then of Curriehill. With their consent he became a partner on 1st January, 1849, in the firm of Wilson, Kay & Co., of which the then partners were John Wilson of Aucheneck, and Alexander Kay of Cornhill. Wilson, Kay & Co. (originally Wilson, James, & Kay) had begun as yarn and goods agents, and their office had been in Glassford Street, in the heart of the cotton trade when the cotton trade was Britain’s leading industry. To a large business in their original line they had added the agency for Gladstone, Wyllie & Co., of Calcutta, and Frith, Sands & Co., of Bombay, and other foreign connections, and in 1844 they had migrated to Royal Exchange Court. Under Mr. Clark’s arrangements they then moved to James Finlay & Co.’s office in Dundas Street, Glasgow.

They were to be agents for the sale of the Finlays’ goods and the two firms were to work into each other’s hands. The relations naturally grew closer, and on 1st January, 1858, the two firms were amalgamated as James Finlay & Co., the name of Wilson, Kay & Co. disappearing. Under the new regime the old firm regained its old vigour, houses were opened in London and Liverpool, and as Finlay, Clark & Co. in Bombay: other foreign connections were formed or renewed: and James Finlay & Co. grew to be greater merchants than they had ever been; greater, and what is more to the purpose, more prosperous. In such matters the public are generally left to guess; even bankers, it is whispered, are sometimes at sea; but in this case the figures came out. A partnership dispute ended in a lawsuit, and it was there given in evidence that in the space of twenty years James Finlay & Co. had netted £1,000,000. Of course this was not all Mr. Clark’s doing; other able men did their part; he was not even a partner for much of this time; but he had done more than his share, more than enough to justify old Kirkman’s “You’ll do.” He was also an avid member of the United Presbyterian Church.

1836 – James married Margaret Kerr (daughter of John Kerr, merchant in Greenock)

1837 – A year later, Margaret his wife died in child birth, leaving their son, John Kerr Clark to be raised by James as a single parent.

1846 – he married Agnes Barclay (daughter of John Barclay, of Catrine)

1855 – 13th January . Earliest mention of James Clark owning Crossbasket, noted in an article in the Paisely Herald. At the age of 42, he inherited the property from his deceased father, Robert.

1857 – On 11th April 1857 during an election campaign, it is noted in the Paisley Herald that amongst those on the platform was James Clark, Esq of Crossbasket.

On 9th July, he was elected to represent the Highland and Agricultural Society.

1858 – James also sat on Committee for National Security Savings Bank, regularly attending meetings throughout this year.

On 5th July, his son Walter was born at Crossbasket.

1859 – James is mentioned as attending a local Election in the Paisely Herald on 16th April.

On Friday 25th November, James was amongst 70 people present for a meeting of the Hamilton Volunteer movement. £145 was raised in total and rules and regulations drawn up for the members.

From “The History of Crossbasket Castle” by Paul Veverka (c) 2015. All sources credited within the book.

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