Alexander Low Esquire
Alexander Low was a prominent Dundee flax and linen manufacturer and senior partner in Messrs Alexander Low and Son, Hillbank Linen Works. He was an active councillor and bailie in his younger years, later devoting his time to charitable works.
Subscription value in 1863:
Relative to inflation up to 2020:
Relative to income compared to 2020:
Personal details and history
Date of birth
Place of birth
Name of spouse
Ann Beharie - (married 27-11-1832 in Dundee)
Age at death:
Place of death:
Taypark House, Dundee
Date of death:
Western Cemetery, Dundee
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Clubs / societies
Chamber of Commerce Member: Dundee Industrial Schools Society - a Director: Dundee Royal Infirmary - Committee Member: Royal Lunatic Asylum - Member of Committee of Management: Chairman of the Board: Model Lodging House Association - Committee Member: A member of the Town Council for 11 years (1843-1854), Alexander Low was twice elected Bailie. Justice of the Peace:
Subscriber 154 – Robert McGavin – Alexander Low’s brother-in-law, Alexander Greig (married to his sister, Helen Low), was a brother of Robert McGavin’s bother-in-law.
Career and worklife
Merchant / Flax and Jute Spinner
Owner (senior partner in Alex. Low & Son)
Place of work
Hillbank Linen Works
Career to date:
It was reported in his obituary that Alexander Low served his apprenticeship in Dundee, after which he left the town for London where he spent a year or two. There was no listing for Alexander Low in his own right in the local directory between the years 1824 (by which time he had reached his age of majority) and 1829. On returning to Dundee, he joined his father, Andrew Low, a manufacturer, who operated a small spinning mill on the Dighty Water. On expiry of the lease of his father's premises, the Lows built their first mill (Low's Mill) on what was then called the 'Upper Dens.' This would become known as the Hillbank Linen Works. The exact date of the construction of this mill is unclear, although it seems that it was in operation by 1833. By 1834, Andrew achieved a listing under 'Andrew Low & Son,' mill spinners and manufacturers. At that point, Alexander Low would have been 31 years of age. It would appear that Alexander and his father continued in business together during the 1830s and 40s. His father, Andrew Low, died in 1848, being described as a 'manufacturer in Hillton of Dundee.' By 1851, his father's premises in Hilltown and office in the Cowgate were advertised for sale. Alexander Low continued in business under the same title, being joined by his son, Andrew Beharie Low.
By the 1830s, Alexander and his father Andrew had established their joint operation on what was then called the ‘Upper Dens.’ It was reported that, at the time, (1833) ‘it was surrounded with pleasant fields which are now (1878) covered with factories and houses, while ‘Low’s Mill,’ as it was called, has grown into 2 mills, a large power loom factory and calendar and are known as Hillbank Linen Works.’
The location and description of the works were described as having been ‘On the east side of Hillbank Road. This mill is situated between the Dens and Hillbank Roads and consists of buildings for preparing and spinning flax tow and jute yarns which are woven into Hessians, Osnaburgs etc., by hand and power looms in the adjoining rooms. The machinery is driven by 2 steam engines of 30 and 16 hp respectively. There are about 270 persons employed and the proprietor is Mr Alexander Low. The buildings are 2-3 storeys in height, the lower part being used for preparing and the upper for spinning yarns.’
The Lows would appear to have belonged to the earlier pioneers working with jute. Although Thomas Neish had introduced the fibre in Dundee about the year 1822, early attempts at spinning this new tough fibre saw little success using existing machinery. In 1832, Mr Neish persuaded James Watt Jnr. to ‘make trial of ten bales.‘ Through Watt’s inventiveness, foresight and perseverance, he was able to present the town’s spinners with a fibre which had been torn down and teased or formed into tow, which proved to have better results in the spinning. A year later, on 31st August 1833, Messrs Andrew Low & Son, bought 140 bales at £16 10s a ton, of a consignment brought to Dundee by Mr Watt (as did a small number of other firms). It was to prove quite some time before jute finally found recognition with the spinners and manufacturers of the town.
Accidents within and around mills and factories were not uncommon occurrences. However, Hillbank Linen Works became the location for a rather grisly case of suspected infanticide. An overseer discovered a black object floating on top of one of the ponds. On being retrieved, the bundle was found to contain the body of a child. It was surmised that clearly, this had been no accidental death, as a stone or somesuch had been attached to the child’s neck in order to keep it under the water.
In 1866, Alexander Low, in his early 60s, was described as having been ‘diligent and successful in business,’ found himself to be in a position to purchase the handsome estate of Butterstone in Perthshire. It was there that he spent the summer and autumn months, enjoying his 700-800 acres near Dunkeld.
Having been active in business and public life in Dundee until the 1860s, Alexander Low devoted his later years to the management of charitable organisations and spent more of his time at his estate of Butterstone. His son and business partner, Andrew Beharie Low, succeeded to the Butterstone estate.
In 1894, Alexander Low’s daughter in law presented the Directors of Dundee Lunatic Asylum (one of his favoured institutions) with a photograph of her father in law, to be hung in the boardroom of the institution.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births. (1803). 282/ 90 460. Scotlandspeople website.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Marriages. (1832). 282/220 98. Scotlandspeople website.
- Burials. Howff. L04 15-07-1841. Friends of Dundee City Archives website
- Census Records. Dundee. (1841). 282/ 109 11. Scotlandspeople website.
- Census Records. Dundee. (1851). 282/ 54 40. Scotlandspeople website.
- Census Records. Dundee. (1861). 282/ 2 27/ 29. Scotlandspeople website.
- Dundee Postal Directory, 1861-62. p166. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Courier. 21 September 1866. p.2. Findmypast website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths. (1878). 282/1 189. Scotlandspeople website.
- Legal Records. Wills and Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court. (1878). SC45/31/28. Scotlandspeople website.
- Obituaries. Lamb Collection 118. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Northern Warder. 3 April 1845. p.5. Findmypast website.
- Dundee Postal Directory, 1864-65. Dundee Central Library
- Dundee Evening Telegraph. 23 April 1878. p.2. Findmypast website.
- Dundee Postal Directory, 1861-62. p.37. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Postal Directory, 1864-65. pp.32-34. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Northern Warder. 13 April 1869. Findmypast website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Marriages. (1865). 282/2 425. Scotlandspeople website.
- Dundee Courier. 23 April 1878. p.2. Findmypast website.
- Dundee Postal Directory, 1824-25. p.127. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Postal Directory, 1829-30. p.34. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Watson, Mark. Jute and Flax Mills in Dundee. (1990). Tayport. Hutton Press. p.210.
- Dundee Postal Directory, 1834. p.28. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Legal Records. Wills and Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court (1848). SC45/ 31/ 8. Scotlandspeople website.
- Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser. 29 August 1851. p.1. Findmypast website.
- Ordnance Survey Name Books. Forfarshire (Angus). (1857-61). ScotlandsPlaces website.
- Warden, Alexander J. The Linen Trade Ancient and Modern. (1864). London. Longman. pp.68-72.
- Southern Reporter. 9 September 1869. p.4. Findmypast website.
- Dundee Evening Telegraph. 26 January 1894. p.2. Findmypast website.
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