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Messrs Alexander Watson & Son

Alexander Watson was born about 1806 in the parish of Brechin, Angus. A growing lifetime of experience in the flax trade resulted in his purchase of Blebo Works in Dura Den in 1857, from which he carved a successful business and reputation.

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Details and history

Name of company:

Messrs Alexander Watson & Son

Company address:

Blebo Works[1]
Dura Den

Number of employees:

53 men: 160 women and young people (1861 census):[2] according to Warden - 300 hands (1864):[3]

Nature of business:

Flax Spinning Works[1]


Not known

Date ceased trading:


Related Subscribers

Subscriber 232 – William Stiven – was a son in law and named trustee/executor of Alexander Watson


Alexander Watson was born circa 1805/06[4] to David Watson and Elizabeth Don[4] in the parish of Brechin.[2] His marriage to Elizabeth Cobb[5] produced 11 children.

As a young man, Alexander Watson, within his working life in the flax industry, was associated with Messrs Daniel Duff & Co., Dundee.[6] At some point during the 1830s, Alexander Watson became manager of the Leith Flax Mills. It was reported on his leaving that –

‘Mr Alexander Watson, formerly of Montrose and lately manager of the Leith Flax Mills, entertained that gentleman to dinner in the King’s Arms Tavern on the occasion of his leaving Leith to take the management of that extensive establishment, the Kirkland Works at Leven.’[7]

Thereafter, from 1840, Alexander Watson became manager to Messrs Neilson & Co., (subsequently H & T Peter) Kirkland Works, Wemyss, Fife.[8] While at Wemyss, it was claimed that he had been both a supporter and an instigator in the establishment of a reading room for his employees, for which they had expressed much appreciation.[9] Thomas Ellis, a flax dresser, submitted a letter of appreciation to The Northern Warder, claiming that Kirkland Works’ Reading Room and Library proudly claimed to have 79 members.[9]

While employed at Kirkland Works, Alexander Watson was described as having been ‘the active and intelligent manager,’ who was then presented by the workpeople and others connected with the establishment, with a costly and elegant gold watch and appendages, which the subscribers stated to be ‘A tribute of respect for his upright conduct as manager and his merits as a friend.’[10]

An advertisement appeared in the Dundee Courier on 5 September 1856 for the sale of ‘Blebo Works.’[1]

By 1857, Alexander Watson had purchased Blebo Mills/Works in Dura Den, previously owned by David Yool. He was joined in this venture by his son, John Cobb Watson, who was made a partner, shortly thereafter.[11]

Alexander J Warden, within his writings of Scotch Linen (1864) described Kemback and Blebo Works as follows:

KEMBACK – Ceres Burn, although a small stream, drives a large quantity of Flax-spinning machinery. After leaving the parish of Ceres it enters Kemback, in which are Blebo Works, belonging to Alex. Watson & Son. These works consist of three Flax-spinning mills, with all the necessary adjuncts for carrying on the trade. The oldest of the three mills was erected early in the century and the largest one in 1839. In Winter, the water power, which is equal to 100 horses, drives the whole machinery, one of the wheels being 39 feet in diameter, and 10 feet wide; but there is also a steam-power of from 70 to 80 horses, which is employed in Summer when the water is low. The mills contain 4500 spindles, and employ 300 hands. The situation of the works in the famed Dura Den, is one of the most beautiful in Fife; and the village attached to them, which consists of 80 houses and contains 500 inhabitants, is pretty and picturesque. Twenty years ago only about 200 hands were employed, which shows that considerable extensions have taken place since then.[3]

Dura Den, renowned for being a source of fossils was the location for an outing in 1867, during which ‘Alexander Watson Snr and Jnr conducted a party from the British Association through the most interesting places connected with their factories in Dura Den. They were then led across the decorated wooden bridge, where they uncovered a large slab with no fewer than 17 specimens of Holoptychius Anderson and 1 of an entirely new species.’[12]

It would appear that Alexander Watson’s interest were many and various. As well as operating his business, he also turned his attentions to farming, later tenanting Dairsie Mains in the 1860s.[13][8] This farm continued to be operated after his death, by his son, David Don Watson.

It was reported that Alexander Watson commenced business at Blebo Mills on his own account, which he conducted with great ability and was singularly fortunate during the recent prosperous times (1860s).[8]

Alexander Watson’s demise was sudden and dramatic, falling into the arms of his son, John Cobb Watson, on the railway platform at Ferryport on Craig (Tayport).[8] He died on 26 February 1868[4] and was buried in Kemback kirkyard, standing above Dura Den. Watson was declared to have been a character of ‘sterling worth, business energy and intellectual capacity. A man of kindly disposition, never-failing good humour and racy conversation made his company always agreeable.’[14]

To cap it all, Alexander Watson ‘ever appeared the genuine God-fearing man.’[14]


After the death of their father in 1868, John Cobb Watson continued to run their business, with his brother, Alexander Don Watson, becoming his partner.[15] The brothers continued in that vein between the years 1868-1877.[16] Alexander then left the business, being declared that, at that point, it was scarcely able to support two of them.[15]

Fully thirty years after the establishment of ‘Alexander Watson & Son,’ the firm, as then existed, ceased to trade. In 1898, the business of ‘Alexander Watson & Son,’ of Blebo Works, was declared bankrupt.[15]


  1. Dundee Courier. 5 September 1856. p.2. Sale of Blebo Works, Dura Den, Fife. British Newspaper Archive website.
  2. Census Records. Kemback. (1861). 433/ 1/ 18. ScotlandsPeople website.
  3. Warden, Alexander J. The Linen Trade, Ancient and Modern. (1864). London. Longman. p.507.
  4. Statutory Registers. Ferry Port on Craig, Fife. Deaths. 26 February 1868. 429/00/12. ScotlandsPeople website.
  5. Old Parish Registers. Montrose. Proclamation of Marriages. (1822). 312/00/00. ScotlandsPeople website.
  6. Dundee Courier. 27 February 1868. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
  7. Caledonian Mercury. 4 April 1840. p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
  8. Brechin Advertiser. 3 March 1868. p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
  9. The Northern Warder. 17 December 1846.p.7. British Newspaper Archive website.
  10. Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin Review. 17. October 1851. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
  11. Dundee Advertiser. 21 July 1898. British Newspaper Archive website.
  12. Dundee Advertiser. 15 January 1885. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
  13. Legal Records. Wills and Testaments. Cupar Sheriff Court. (1869). SC20/ 50/ 41. ScotlandsPeople website.
  14. Fife Herald. 5 March 1868. p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
  15. Dundee Advertiser. 21 July 1898. British Newspaper Archive website.
  16. Dundee Advertiser. 15 January 1885. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.

The information above about has been collated from a range of digital and hard copy sources. To the best of our knowledge it is correct but if you are relying on any information from our website for the purpose of your own research we would advise you to follow up the sources to your own satisfaction. If you are aware of an inaccuracy in our text please do not hesitate to notify us through our Contact page.