Alexander McWalter Esquire
Originally from Paisley, Alexander McWalter spent almost 50 years in supplying Dundee's wealthier citizens with superior fabrics and garments from his establishment on Reform Street.
Subscription value in 1863:
Relative to inflation up to 2023:
Relative to income compared to 2023:
Personal details and history
Date of birth
Place of birth
Name of spouse
Jane Guthrie (1853): un-named son (1855-1855): Alexander (1861): Mary Ann (1862-1863): Elizabeth Jane (1863): David Innes (1865): John Stuart (1868): Robert William (1870): Clementina Mary (1875):
Age at death:
Place of death:
12 Dudhope Terrace, Dundee
Date of death:
Western Cemetery, Perth Road, Dundee - Compartment V11
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Clubs / societies
Dundee Industrial Schools - a Director
Subscriber 74 – Reverend James Ewing – Alexander McWalter was an elder of Rev Ewing’s Church
Career and worklife
Place of work
Alexander McWalter - Silk and Shawl Warehouse
Career to date:
As a young man not yet 20 years old, Alexander McWalter was reported to have arrived in Dundee from Paisley, by the early 1830s. He and his father, also Alexander, opened a small shop in the Overgate for the sale of shawls and other articles of haberdashery. The shop, then located at 206 Overgate, was successful, so much so that the McWalters found it necessary to secure more appropriate premises. The selected premises were located at 12 Reform Street, a particularly central spot. By 1841, the census listed father and son at Reform Street. Both were described as 'Shawl Manufacturer.' It would appear that Alexander Snr returned to Causeyside in Paisley where, by 1851, he continued his trade as 'manufacturer - employing 5 men and 3 women.' Meanwhile, Alexander McWalter Jnr, not only established but built on early success. At the time of giving his donation of £20 towards the building of the Albert Institute, he had occupied the site on Reform Street for more than 20 years and supplied the best of fabrics, garments and accessories for the wealthier of Dundee's citizens.
Alexander McWalter was born in Paisley to Alexander McWalter and his wife, Elizabeth Anderson.
According to census returns, his father had been born in the parish of Fowlis. Thereafter, Alexander McWalter Snr made his way to Paisley in the early 1800s. Curiously, an Alexander McWalter, belonging to Paisley and fitting his profile, was reported to have, on 31 December 1806:
‘walked from Perth to Paisley, a distance of 71 3/4 miles in 17 1/2 hours. He left Perth at seven o’ clock in the morning and arrived at Paisley at half past twelve. He came by way of Crieff and walked in his boots the whole way.’
Alexander McWalter Snr married Elizabeth Anderson in Paisley in 1807 and earned a living as a shawl manufacturer. Shawls became the product for which Paisley was most famed between 1805-1870s. The colourful, swirling teardrop, known as ‘Paisley Pattern,’ based on Kashmiri designs, was introduced to the town in 1805. For many years, the McWalter family was based on Causeyside Street (more commonly referred to merely as Causeyside) in Paisley, from where they would appear to have operated a modest manufacturing and trading business.
Between the years 1829-42, it seems that Alexander McWalter’s mother remained in Paisley where she was listed in the commercial directories as having been a ‘milliner and corset maker.’ From 1838 (perhaps before this date) her listing added ‘milliner, corset maker, shawl border and fringe shop,’ from 45 Causeyside. During the same period, Alexander and his father were operating a commercial outlet for their goods in Dundee. In 1841, the census returns give confirmation of that arrangement, with Mrs McWalter (stay (corset) maker)and her sons, Thomas (manufacturer), David (clerk) and Robert at Causeyside, while Alexander Jnr and his father (both shawl manufacturers) were living at Reform Street, Dundee.
Once the commercial concern of the McWalters was established in Dundee, McWalter Snr returned to Paisley by 1845, from which time his listing indicated him to be a ‘shawl manufacturer’ at 45 Causeyside. By 1851, Alexander Snr and his sons were all involved in the business – son Thomas as a manager, David as a traveller in shawls and Robert as an assistant. Meanwhile, back in Dundee, Alexander Jnr was doing a roaring trade, supplying the wealthy with the styles of the day. Doubtless, he capitalised on the fact that Queen Victoria was reported to have purchased 17 Paisley shawls in 1842, thereby increasing the demand for the elegant drapery.
At the time of pledging his donation, Alexander McWalter was obviously enjoying a particularly lucrative episode in his trade, mirroring the state of affairs in the town. This was borne out by a report of the time:
‘IMPROVEMENTS IN REFORM STREET – We observe that alterations are going on in Reform Street. Mr McWalter, the enterprising shawl and silk merchant, is at present converting the shop formerly occupied by him and the neighbouring one into one shop. This shop will have two immensely large front windows, with a very large door between – we believe the largest windows and door in Dundee. He is also extending the premises behind. To effect these alterations, it has been necessary to take out the whole of the ground floor and to supply its place with iron columns and beams of unusual size and strength. The operations are, we believe, the largest of the kind yet attempted in Dundee, and when finished, will leave the tenement, which is one of the largest in Reform Street, stronger than it was originally. The Contractors who are carrying out the work are Messrs Sturrock and Sheriff, masons.’
McWalter’s business continued to thrive while the extensions to his premises were being undertaken. He took the step of moving his operations to the adjacent property of 16 Reform Street. The establishment’s improvements were completed by October 1863, when an advertisement indicated the scope and variety of the available merchandise, also providing a fascinating insight into the garments ‘on trend,‘ from shawls, furs and paletots to a bespoke ‘Mourning Department.’
At the beginning of the 1860s, Alexander McWalter, together with his 2nd wife (wife 1 died in 1855) and growing family, took up residence at 12 Dudhope Terrace, the home where he was to remain for the rest of his life.
Throughout the 1860s and 70s Alexander McWalter continued to trade from his superior establishment on Reform Street. Towards the close of the 1870s, he announced his intended retiral. His business was transferred to and carried on by Charles Dawson and William Hunter under the style of ‘Dawson & Hunter,’ still trading from 12 & 14 Reform Street, from March of 1880.
Alexander McWalter, the last surviving son of Alexander and Elizabeth McWalter of Causeyside, Paisley, died at his residence on Dudhope Terrace on 1 April 1882. He had immersed himself in a commercial life in Dundee, making it his home for more than 40 years. For a long period, he was said to have been one of the leading drapers in the town. He left an estate valued at almost £25,000.
- Old Parish Registers. Paisley. Births. (1814). 573/1 10 522. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Marriages. (1852). 282/ 230 436. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Marriages. (1859). 282/1 353. Scotlandspeople website.
- South London Chronicle. 24 December 1859. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Census Returns. Dundee. (1851). 282/ 55 14. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Directory, 1861-62. p.175. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths. (1882). 282/2 163. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Burial Lair Index. Western Cemetery, Dundee.
- Dundee Courier. 3 April 1882. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Courier. 24 January 1867. British newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Advertiser, 23 December 1863. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Directory, 1834. p.32. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Directory, 1837-38. p.52. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Directory, 1842-43. p.53. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Advertiser. 3 April 1882. p.5. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Census Returns. Dundee. (1841). 282/ 103 15. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Census Returns. Paisley. (1861). 573/ 27/ 9. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Caledonian Mercury. 12 January 1807. p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Old Parish Registers. Paisley Middle. Marriages. (1807). 573/2 20 103. ScotlandsPeople website.
- www.paisley.org.uk website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Fowler's Commercial Directories, 1829-42. National Library of Scotland website.
- Census Returns. Paisley Low. (1841). 573/ 47/ 1. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Fowler's Commercial Directory, 1845-46. p.68. National Library of Scotland website.
- Census Returns. Paisley. (1851). 573/ 7 10. ScotlandsPeople website.
- www.electricscotland.com website.
- Dundee Courier. 30 July 1863. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Advertiser. 1 September 1863. p.1. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser. 9 October, 1863. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee People's Journal. 29 November 1879. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Courier. 28 February 1880. p.4. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Legal Records. Wills and Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court. (1882). SC45/ 31/ 31. ScotlandsPeople website.
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