Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Sewing Machine Collection & Singer Archive gains recognition

On July 25, 2013, the Sewing Machine Collection & Singer Archive cared for by West Dunbartonshire Council became Scotland’s 39th Recognised Collection of National Significance.

I only discovered the Recognised Collections at the start of this year, and the list was indeed only 38 then, when I wrote up a short summary: Scotland’s Recognised Collections

I found this helped, as these collections can become a little complicated – some collections are spread over a number of museums in different locations, while some museums hold a number of collections.

To achieve this status, a museum must show that its collection is of national importance, and with some 800+ examples of sewing machines in it collection, that was probably not too hard. Operating until its closure in 1980, the Singer factory became a significant factor in the economy of Clydebank, and once employed 16,000 workers. The collection has it roots in the closure of the Singer factory, when a request was made by former employees for old machines, in order to create a museum. From there, the collection grew, assisted by appeals and support from people who donated old machines to the collection.

The American corporation built its flagship European headquarters in Clydebank in 1885, after outgrowing its Glasgow premises. At its height it employed 15,000 staff on a 50-acre site, making more machines than its rivals put together.

Ray Macfarlane, Chair of Museums Galleries Scotland’s Recognition Committee, said: “The quality and importance of this collection is unequivocal and it is not only of national but of international significance. This is reflected in the collection being the largest in Europe of its kind and second only to the Smithsonian Institution globally.”

It has been described as the largest publicly accessible collection of its kind in Europe, and has machines from 130 different manufacturers from Europe, America, and Asia, and  documents the development of sewing machine technology over nearly 100 years.

Via Clydebank sewing machine museum given Recognised Collection status | Glasgow & West | News | STV

And Clydebank Museum collection sews up bid For National Recognition

You can get an idea of the scale of the Singer factory from this aerial view of the Singer Sewing Machine Factory, Kilbowie Street, Clydebank. Oblique aerial photograph taken facing west. | Britain from Above

After its closure in 1980, it was eventually demolished during the 1990s, and the site became a business park.

The most memorable feature of the factory was it clock tower, for which the company created the largest clock face in the world – the Singer’s Clock, a 26-foot wide timepiece mounted on top of a 226-foot tower, decorated with Roman numeral hours measuring 2 feet high and having hands around 6-feet long. It took four men a quarter of an hour to wind the giant clock mechanism twice a week.

The tower was demolished in the 1960s, shortly after the clock had stopped ticking, but in 2013, a smaller installation inspired by the original was installed in Clydebank’s Dalmuir Park.

The following news reports show the two version:

The Singer sculpture that turns back time | News | Clydebank Post

Clydebank Singer factory clock artwork unveiled – Heritage – The Scotsman

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July 25, 2013 - Posted by | Civilian, council | , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. I had an ancestor whose quaint occupation was “sewing machine needle polisher” and I had always assumed that he had to be a Singer employee, but it had always bothered me that I felt that they lived too far from Clydebank. After reading this, and doing some more research, it appears that Clydebank was actually their third location. Originally in John St., they then moved to James St. in Bridgeton. Anyone know whether the Bridgeton building still exists?

    Like

    Comment by ianmcconnell | August 25, 2013

  2. Thanks for the note.

    Sewing machines needles were polished to reduce friction and prevent scorching of the material – presumably something more likely to happen in the continuous operation of factory, rather than domestic use in the home.

    I have not been able to come up with specific locations for the other Singer factories, merely references to their general sites prior to the Clydebank works:

    In 1867 the Singer Company decided that the demand for their sewing machines in the UK was sufficiently high to open a local factory. Glasgow was selected for its iron making industries, cheap labour and possibly because at the time the General Manager of the US Singer Sewing Machine Company was George McKenzie, who was of Scottish decent. The company obtained a lease on land near Queen Street Station and machinery and machine parts were shipped over from the US. Demand for sewing machines outstripped production at the new plant and by 1873 a new larger factory was completed near Bridgeton Cross.

    I live not far from this, and while I have heard numerous tales about various industrial buildings and businesses over the years, have never heard anyone speak of a Singer factory. So, until your mention, never knew there was something to be hunted down.

    I’ll see if anyone else knows better – and update if anything turns up.

    Like

    Comment by Apollo | August 25, 2013

  3. I didn’t find an answer, but this pamphlet is a little gem!

    http://www.glasgow.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=7353&p=0

    Like

    Comment by ianmcconnell | August 25, 2013

  4. Got lucky…

    The factory stood at the south-west corner of Landressy St and James St.

    The Singer Factory was at 116 James Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow

    Previously, Singer’s first Scottish factory was at Love Loan in High John Street.

    By the time the Kilbowie factory was opened Alexander Anderson was Manager at James Street, John MacDonald and Hugh Wallace were Assistant Managers and John McKenzie (son of the Vice President) worked in the Needle Manufacturing Department.

    The James Street factory building was begun in August 1872, finished the following year and had an output of 600 machines a week, rising to 5,151 a week by the time the breaking of the ground of the Kilbowie factory.

    You can see the location on Google Maps, Street View.

    However, having wandered around there a few times, I can confirm that building occupied by singer was demolished long ago, and as can be seen in Street View, is now housing.

    A search of the web will find some pics of the area when the building was still extant.

    Like

    Comment by Apollo | August 25, 2013

  5. Thanks for that. My family history seems to revolve around Bridgeton, and before that, Calton. Another family employer (still thriving) was Muirhead’s leather works, so I have plenty to keep me busy! The pamphlet that I mentioned also solved another mystery of a marriage in Charles Street. Knowing that they were members of the Salvation Army, it’s now clear that they were married in the Salvation Army Hall in the now re-named Olympia Street.

    Like

    Comment by ianmcconnell | August 25, 2013

  6. At least I can keep somebody happy 🙂

    Half of my roots come from the same area (but not me). Grandparents lived in London Road, and grandfather had a newsagent shop just around the corner from the close, in Fielden Street.

    If any of your family tell of the Red Flag being flown from a window in London Road, it’s true, and the flag was made by my mother on her father’s insistence, as she was a seamstress. The rest of the family was mortified by this,but grandfather was the Head of the Household, so if he said the flag was to be flown from the window… it was flown! And I still have that flag.

    It’s no fun wandering down there though. All the tenements have been demolished, and the old family home (and shop!) are now the site of London Road Police Station, so by the time I could have nice things like cameras… everything was gone. Heck, they’ve even demolished housing I saw being built.

    Like

    Comment by Apollo | August 25, 2013

  7. During WW2, my Mother lived in Baltic St., and during the Luftwaffe’s attempts to bomb Dalmarnock Power Station, their tenement suffered serious “collateral” damage, which compromised the structural integrity of the building. The powers-that-be, presumably Glasgow Corporation, fitted a pane of glass within the close/stair, with an instruction to evacuate if the pane cracked!! Somehow I think that, if it was today, either H&S or the local neds would have rapidly scuppered that plan.

    Great story about the red flag, which I hadn’t heard, but a great souvenir to still have.

    Like

    Comment by ianmcconnell | August 25, 2013

  8. Well, I’d say the glass wasn’t that bad an idea for the day.

    Something similar still done today, where subsidence is suspected. A section of glass is bonded to a wall, and the glass will show a crack long before the wall if there is any movement. I’ve seen a few of these in odd places. I should take pics.

    Baltic Street, know it well, and it’s as bad as London Road. Tried a walk to take some interesting pics, but all that is/was left standing is Stoddart’s – and it’s been derelict for some years.

    I got some pics of the remains of th perimeter wall of Dalmarnock Power Station, where it had piers on the River Clyde for barges to bring coal in, but the station was long gone and the ground cleared years ago. That wall on the Clyde was all that survived.

    Even that has now gone, as the area has been taken over and flattened to make it look nice for visitors come their arrival for the great con of the Commonwealth Shames in 2014. The area north of Baltic Street is now the Athlete’s Village.

    There are some nearby area pics at the following, but I think all the places shown have now been demolished and swallowed up for Shames’ use:

    Games casualties – SeSco

    Like

    Comment by Apollo | August 25, 2013


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