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George Armitstead Esquire

A successful businessman with textile, shipping and trading interests in Dundee and London, who married into one of the most important local families. He went on to serve as MP for Dundee and be one of its greatest benefactors.

Subscription value in 1865:

£500

Relative to inflation up to 2018:

£50000

Relative to income compared to 2018:

£400000

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Personal details and history

Full name

George Armitstead

Date of birth

28-02-1824

Place of birth

Riga, Latvia (then part of the Russian Empire) - British subject

Gender

Male

Marital status

Married[1] (later separated)

Name of spouse

Jane Elizabeth Baxter[1]

Children

None

Home address

Castlehill House
Dundee c.1843-1850[2]

3 1/2 Westfield Place
Dundee c.1850-1851[3]

Airlie Lodge
Dundee c.1852-1857[4]

Duncarse House
Dundee c.1858-1862[5]

Errol Park House
Errol
Perthshire c.1864-1872[6]

12 Petersham Terrace
London W 1869-1871[7]

12 Queen's Gate
Kensington
London W 1871-1872[8]

24 Ryder Street
St James
London SW 1880-1881[9]

Reform Club
London 1880-1881 and 1885-1886[10]

Kinloch Laggan
Kingussie1880-1889[11]

6 Panmure Street
Dundee 1880-1889[12]

4 Cleveland Square
St James
London SW 1884-1915[13]

Butterstone House
Dunkeld
Perthshire c.1897-1915[14]

4 Panmure Stree
Dundee 1890-1915[15]

Age at death:

91 years

Place of death:

London

Date of death:

07-12-1915[16]

Buried:

Western Cemetery, Dundee (cremated in London and remains buried in an oak coffin)[17]

Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers

Religious affiliation

Congregationalist. He was the grandson of a Yorkshire Church of England vicar and his mother came from a Jewish background.[18] His future wife and Baxter in-laws were Congregationalists and attended the Ward Chapel in Constitution Road, Dundee, from 1845, George joining the same church the year he married into the family in 1848.[19] He continued as a member there until 15 December 1862 when he is among the list of demissions from the membership with "retired" noted in the remarks column. His wife, father and mother-in-law continue as members of the Ward Chapel, until Mrs Armitstead is dismissed to Panmure Street (another Congregational Church) "Mr A having joined that Church" being the explanation.[20] George Armitstead and his wife both joined the Panmure Street Chapel in 1867, but is unclear where he worshipped between 1862 and 1867. It may be that as he was involved in setting up business in London he was unable to attend in Dundee. By 1867 his thoughts were turning to running for Parliament again, so it may have been important to belong to a local church. In 1872 George Armitstead is listed among the "Dismissions" from Panmure Street Chapel, although his wife remained a member.[21] This turn of events is likely to be connected to the breakdown of his marriage about this time.[22] It is interesting to note that after many years away from Dundee and long after his estrangement from his late wife, his own Dundee memorial service took place in the Ward Chapel.[23]

Political affiliation

Liberal

Clubs / societies

Ordinary Director/Vice President of Dundee Institution for the Deaf and Dumb/Dundee Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, 1850-1915;[24] Director/Extraordinary Director, Dundee Monthly Tract Society, 1850-1865;[25] Agent, Scottish Union Insurance, 1853-1865;[26] Burgess of Dundee in right of his wife, the daughter of a burgess, 1854;[27] Director, Dundee Chamber of Commerce, 1856-57;[28] Member, Weekly Committee, Dundee Royal Infirmary, 1856-57;[29] Member of Dundee Model Lodging House Association Committee, 1856-1865;[30] Member of the Society for the Relief and Encouragement of the Fishermen in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (Dundee Board), 1856-1865;[31] Director/Vice President, Dundee Industrial School Society, 1864-1915[32]

Public offices

Justice of the Peace, County of Forfar, connected with Dundee District 1858-1891[33] Member of Parliament for Dundee 1868-1873 and 1880-1885[34] Justice of the Peace for the County of the City of Dundee 1895-1905[35] Deputy Lieutenant of the County of the City of Dundee 1896-1915[36]

Related subscribers

Subscriber no. 18 – Edward Baxter Esq of Kincaldrum was George Armitstead’s father-in-law.

Subscriber no. 35 – William Edward Baxter Esq, MP, Ashcliffe was his brother-in-law.

Subscriber no. 23 – Miss Eleanor Baxter was his wife’s aunt.

Subscriber no. 24 – Miss Mary Ann Baxter was his wife’s aunt.

Subscriber no. 34 – John M. Baxter Esq worked for Messrs G. Armitstead and Co. and was also involved in ownership of ships with George Armitstead.

Subscriber no. 29 – Sir David Baxter of Kilmaron was his wife’s uncle.

Subscriber no.132 – Messrs John and W.C. Leng – Armitstead and John Leng knew to each other from the 1850s and Leng opposed his parliamentary candidacy in 1857.

Subscriber no.124 – Messrs C. Kerr and C.W. Kerr – Armitstead was familiar with the firm from the 1850s.

Subscriber no.156 – T. Weston Miln Esq – his firm was taken over by George Armitstead.

Subscriber no.186 – Messrs Pattullo & Thornton – Armitstead knew Thomas Thornton from his days as a clerk for Christopher Kerr. Thornton acted as his election agent in 1880.

Career and worklife

Occupation

Merchant and commission agent[37] and shipowner[38]

Employment

Senior partner/owner

Place of work

George Armitstead & Co.[37]

Work address

2 Panmure Street
Dundee c.1853-1858[39]

9 Panmure Street
Dundee c.1858-1869[40]

6 Panmure Street
Dundee c.1869-1885[41]

21 Old Broad Street
London EC c.1880-1890[42]

4 Panmure Street
Dundee c.1885-1890[43]

Career to date:

George Armitstead was born in Riga in 1824. His father, also George, was from Yorkshire and his mother was Jewish and may have originally been from Germany.[44] He attended Wiesbaden and Heidelberg Universities in Germany but came to Dundee when he was nineteen years old to take charge of the business of old "Riga" Brown, as he recollected over sixty years later when being made an honorary burgess at his home in London. He was initially reluctant to spend more than a fortnight in Dundee.[45] As a flax merchant it is almost certain that his father already had business connections with Dundee and there was a vessel called 'George Armitstead' trading between Riga and Dundee as early as 1834.[46] It is speculated that his early time in Dundee may have been spent at Castlehill House, which now belongs to the adjoining St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, because this is the title he took when accepting a peerage in 1906.[47] According to his obituary he entered business in Dundee as a flax merchant in 1848 in succession to T.W. Miln.[48] This was also the year that he married into the Baxter family, the pre-eminent linen manufacturers of Dundee. His wife was Jane Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Baxter of Kincaldrum.[1] In the Dundee directories the firm of George Armitstead & Co. is described as merchants and commission agents from 1853[37] and the shipping registers of Dundee outport show his involvement in ship ownership from the same period.[38] The 1850s also saw Armitstead involving himself in a number of philanthropic activities, something that would continue throughout his long life. His support of the deaf and dumb institution would last for a remarkable sixty-five years.[24] He began to take an interest in public affairs in Dundee while a member of the Chamber of Commerce and interested himself in a possible scheme for a public hall on the site that came to be occupied by the Albert Institute. This scheme was vetoed by Sir David Baxter, his wife's uncle, "who was then King in all these matters" as he recalled in 1904.[49] In 1857 he established a firm in London in connection with his business in Dundee and shortly afterwards was asked to oppose Sir John Ogilvy in the election of a member of parliament for Dundee. He returned to Dundee to contest the election, but was defeated. His wife was presented with a full-length portrait and an ornamental clock by 2650 grateful non-electors. The testimonial expressed "their high respect for his personal character, their warm attachment to the principles of political and religious liberty represented by him at the late contested election, and as a tribute of their admiration for the disinterested manner in which he responded to the appeal of a large body of his fellow citizens sacrificing private consideration for the public good".[50] The expansion of his business interests in London, which he believed to be "absolutely necessary in order to keep my position in the trade, competition being so strong", came about at the same time as a great banking crisis in Scotland that brought down many businesses.[51] Armitstead's business not only survived, but flourished in the succeeding years and his shipping interests would become world-wide. He owned sailing ships, but also invested in modern steamships, some built locally by Gourlays.[52] He was also involved in the development of railways in the Dundee area and served as chairman of the Dundee and Arbroath Railway. He claimed to have revived the concern, but in the end gave it up as being too much for him "I could not give time to it; in fact, as I was half manager as well as Chairman, and they could scarcely send out an engine without consulting me."[53] His financial position meant that he was able to support the scheme for a memorial to Prince Albert by subscribing £500 to the Albert Institute. Only the Baxter brothers, David and Edward, and banker John Symers gave more. O.G. Miller was the only one to equal George's contribution. It may have been diplomatic on his part to defer to his father-in-law and wife's uncle in being the leading lights in the movement even if he could have afforded more.[54]

More information

George Armitstead continued to accept positions on various Dundee philanthropic and charitable organisations after his enormous subscription to the Albert Institute:

Vice President, Dundee Royal Infirmary, 1869-1915;[55] patron, Mars Training Ship, 1871-1914;[56] Vice President, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Dundee, 1871-72;[57] Patron, Dundee Co-operative Rowing Club/Dundee Rowing Club, 1871-1875;[58] Patron, Tay Cricket Club, 1871-1872;[59] Trustee, Dundee Working Men’s Club and Institute, 1874-1881;[60] Honorary Vice President, Dundee Boys and Girls Religious Association, 1880-1915;[61] ex-officio Extraordinary Director, Royal Lunatic Asylum, Dundee, 1880-1885;[62] Trustee, Armitstead Trust, 1884-1915;[63] ex-officio Trustee/Life Governor, University College, Dundee, 1884-1915;[64] Honorary Director, Dundee Sabbath School Teachers’ Union, 1884-1914;[65] Patron/Honorary Director, Dundee Mission to the Outdoor Blind, 1884-1915;[66] Director, Curr Night Refuge, West Bell Street, Dundee, 1884-1886;[67] Patron, Dundee Horticultural Society, 1884-1892;[68] Honorary President, Dundee Bicycle Club/Dundee Cycling Club, 1884-1892;[69] Honorary President, Dundee Walton Club, 1884-1892;[70] Right Worshipful Master, Masonic Lodge Ancient no. 49, Dundee, 1884-1885;[71] Honorary Member, Ancient Order of Foresters’ Friendly Society, Court Dundee no. 5715, 1884-1892;[72] Patron, Dundee Harmonic Society, 1884-1887;[73] Committee Member/Vice President, Dundee Sailors’ Home, Dock Street, 1884-1915;[74] Honorary Vice President/Honorary President, Dundee Liberal Association, 1885-1915;[75] Vice President, St John Ambulance Association (Dundee Centre), 1885-1908;[76] Vice President, Charity Organization Society, 7 West Bell Street, Dundee, 1886-1895;[77] Vice President, Dundee Adult Free Breakfast Mission, 1887-1892;[78] Honorary President, Dundee Chess Club, 1887-1894;[79] Honorary President, Dundee Association of Open-Air Bathers and Humane Society, 1890-1895;[80] Trustee, Dundee Liberal Club, 1894-1898[81] and Honorary President, Dundee & District Free Trade Association, 1904-1914;[82] Honorary Burgess of Dundee, 1904;[45] created Baron Armitstead of Castlehill, Dundee, 1906.

The General election of 1868 followed an extension of the voting franchise and Dundee was also to have two members of parliament. George Armitstead topped the poll ahead of his old rival, Sir John Ogilvy, and these two men were duly returned to Westminster. Mr Gladstone and the Liberals formed a government. In 1870 Armitstead, who was by now a resident in Perthshire, was made a justice of the peace for the County of Perth.[83] In 1873 Armitstead resigned from Parliament due to the state of his health. He may also have been feeling the effects of the breakdown of his marriage. The local press picked up on some of the circumstances of his obsession with the daughter of a neighbouring landlord of the shooting lodge he rented in the Highlands and the unseemly scenes that led to his wife leaving the marital home for good.[22] Mrs Armitstead then made her home with her brother, William Edward Baxter, MP for Montrose, before a permanent move to Castle Huntly, Perthshire, as tenant of Charles Paterson.[84] She predeceased her husband in 1913.

Armitstead continued to support improvements in the lot of the working classes. The Working-men’s Club, Tay Street, Dundee which “was purchased and endowed by the liberality of Mr George Armitstead, late MP for the Burgh, contains well-furnished rooms for dining, billiards, smoking, card and chess playing, and a comfortable hall for the delivery of lectures”.[60] In the long-term the club did not prove a success and the remaining funds were applied to the foundation of an annual course of lectures which were open to the public at a nominal charge.[85]

Armitstead was returned as an MP for Dundee again in 1880, triumphantly topping the poll.[86] His election agent was “my old friend Mr  Thornton, whom I had known as a clerk in Christopher Kerr’s office and who had shown great energy and great perserverance there, applied the same energy and perserverance as my agent” He allowed him a free hand and “Mr Thornton did the work so thoroughly that he actually predicted within a few votes how many I should poll.”[87] Armitstead decided not to stand for re-election in 1885, once again citing deteriorating health: “the late hours were killing me. They so told upon my nerves that I felt quite unfit, and I had to withdraw again.”[88] It is probably during this period as an MP that Armitstead developed his great friendship with W E Gladstone, who in 1888 made gift of a bronze statue of himself to George and later in 1894 an inscribed silver gilt rosewater basin.[89] In his turn George devoted himself to Gladstone and his wife “taking them to various places on the Continent and various places in this country in search of health and strength, which Mr Gladstone much needed at his time of life, and in view of the onerous duties that were still devolving upon him”.[90]

Towards the end of his period as an MP he became ex-officio a trustee of University College, Dundee. He soon gave money for a scholarship and thereafter served as a life governor.[91] He continued to support many charitable organisations, made many donations to Dundee Royal Infirmary and provided an annual New Year festival for the inmates of the poorhouse. It was stated after his death that “to many institutions Mr Armitstead gave his wealth; indeed he was never solicited in vain to assist any cause having for its objects the weal of humanity.”[92]

By 1891 George seems to have retired from business with Wilson & Berg becoming successors to George Armitstead & Co at 4 Panmure Street, Dundee.[93] He divided his time between his London home and his Highland summer residence, both of which played host to the great and the good of the Liberal Party. He continued to use the 4 Panmure Street address, presumably so he still technically qualified as a citizen of Dundee.[15] He was still prepared to support local initiatives and when Dundee Town Council was left with a shortfall of funds to acquire the Barrack Park from the War Office he guaranteed the amount required, so that the ground remains an open space to this day as Dudhope Park.[94] In 1895 Armitstead became aware of a scheme to have his portrait commissioned by public subscription, but he pre-empted matters by paying Arthur S Cope to paint him and then presented the portrait to the city.[95] He continued to play host to Gladstone in his old age. Sir John Leng, MP for Dundee, recalled meeting Gladstone at Butterstone House, which Armitstead had just begun to lease, shortly before the Grand Old Man’s death in 1898.

In 1904 Dundee Town Council unanimously agreed to bestow upon Armitstead the freedom of the city. Due to his health he was unable to travel to Dundee to receive the honour, so in an unprecedented move a party travelled from Dundee to his home in London to carry out the ceremony at which his reminiscences of the Dundee of the previous sixty years were recorded for posterity. Sir John Leng MP was also present and added his appreciation of his parliamentary predecessor and fellow Liberal, recalling his memories of him in the early 1850s “as a young, enterprising, and successful Cowgate merchant who had already made his mark and secured a high position in a generation of merchants of which he is almost the last survivor”.[96] In 1906 Armitstead accepted a peerage, taking the name of a house in which he may have resided in his early days in Dundee as his title.[47] In 1912 he purchased the estate of Butterstone in Perthshire, after having rented the house and shootings for the previous fifteen years.[97]

Armitstead died on 7 December 1915 and the value of his estate confirmed in May 1916 amounted to £185,265 12s. 7d. It was reported in the press that legacies totalling about £70,000 were coming to Dundee including: Dundee Royal Infirmary £10,000; University College £5,000; Dundee Orphan Institution £5,000; Dundee Royal Infirmary for Sidlaw Sanatorium £1,000; Dundee Convalescent Home, Barnhill £1,000; Mars Training Ship Institute £1,000; Dundee Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb £1,000; Dundee Charity Organization Society £500; Aged Christian Friends Society of Scotland (Dundee Auxiliary) £500 and Sick Poor Nursing Society, Dundee £500.[98] His long commitment to some of these charities was also commented on, for example the fact that he had been a vice president of Dundee Royal Infirmary since 1869. This probably constituted a record and in acknowledging his various donations over the years its chairman, Charles C Barrie, described him as “a very true friend of the Infirmary”.[99]

Probably most of the last twenty-five years of George’s life were spent away from Dundee, although he maintained his interest through numerous honorary positions in charities, clubs, societies and political organisations in the city, as well as remaining a justice of the peace and latterly a deputy lieutenant. In fact it was reported at the time of his death that “seldom, indeed, had he been seen in the city of his adoption for many years.”[100] Lord Armitstead’s remains were cremated after a memorial service held at Westminster Chapel and then transported to Dundee in a plain oak coffin for a further memorial service in the Ward Chapel.[101] The interment at the Western Cemetery saw two of Gladstone’s sons among the pall-bearers and an impressive tomb was erected to commemorate this remarkable character.[102]

 

 

Sources

  1. Old Parish Record. Dundee. Marriage. 19 May 1848. 282/230 245. Scotlands People website.
  2. Flett, Iain (2004) 'Baron George Armitstead of Castlehill, Dundee - Merchant, Politician and Philanthropist'. Scottish Local History. Volume 61. [pp.39-47]
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  14. Evening Telegraph and Post, Wednesday, 8 December 1915; Leng, John. (1916) Dundee Year Book, 1915. Dundee: John Leng & Co., pp.71-75 and Valuation Rolls, County of Perth, 1898-1915. CC1/8/1/42-59. Perth & Kinross Archives, A K Bell Library, Perth.
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  50. Testimonial presented to George Armitstead by 2,650 non-electors of the Royal Burgh of Dundee, 10 June 1857. Lamb Collection 18(5). Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
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  83. Justices of the Peace for the County of Perth Records. Oath of Allegiance Register and Judicial Oath Register, 2 August 1870. JP20/1/2&3. Perth & Kinross Archives.
  84. Flett, Iain (2004) 'Baron George Armitstead of Castlehill, Dundee - Merchant, Politician and Philanthropist'. Scottish Local History. Volume 61. [p.41]. Lady Armitstead first appears as tenant of Paterson in the Perthshire valuation roll, 1908-09 (CC1/8/1/52), but other sources suggest she was living there as early as 1886 and she was certainly there by the 1891 census.
  85. Leng, John, & Co. (1916) Dundee Year Book, 1915. Dundee. John Leng & Co. Death of Lord Armitstead [p.71]. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  86. Flett, Iain (2004) 'Baron George Armitstead of Castlehill, Dundee - Merchant, Politician and Philanthropist'. Scottish Local History. Volume 61. [pp.42-43] and Leng, John, & Co. (1916) Dundee Year Book, 1915. Dundee. John Leng & Co. Death of Lord Armitstead [p.73]. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  87. Leng, John, & Co. (1905) Dundee Year Book, 1904. Dundee. John Leng & Co. Mr George Armitstead made a Burgess [p.122].
  88. Leng, John, & Co. (1905) Dundee Year Book, 1904. Dundee. John Leng & Co. Mr George Armitstead made a Burgess[p.122]. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  89. Flett, Iain (2004) 'Baron George Armitstead of Castlehill, Dundee - Merchant, Politician and Philanthropist'. Scottish Local History. Volume 61. [p.43]. The statue and the bowl are now held by the McManus. 
  90. Leng, John, & Co. (1905) Dundee Year Book, 1904. Dundee. John Leng & Co. Mr George Armitstead made a Burgess [p.122]. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  91. Dundee Courier, Wednesday, 8 December 1915. British Newspaper Archive online and Dundee Directories, 1884-1915. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  92. Dundee Courier, Wednesday, 8 December 1915. British Newspaper Archive online. 
  93. Dundee Directories, 1891-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  94. Flett, Iain (2004) 'Baron George Armitstead of Castlehill, Dundee - Merchant, Politician and Philanthropist'. Scottish Local History. Volume 61. [p.45] and Leng, John, & Co. (1916) Dundee Year Book, 1915. Dundee. John Leng & Co. Death of Lord Armitstead [p.74]. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  95. Leng, John, & Co. (1916) Dundee Year Book, 1915. Dundee. John Leng & Co. Death of Lord Armitstead [p.74]. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee. This portrait is held at the McManus.
  96. Flett, Iain (2004) 'Baron George Armitstead of Castlehill, Dundee - Merchant, Politician and Philanthropist'. Scottish Local History. Volume 61. [p.45] and Leng, John, & Co. (1905) Dundee Year Book, 1904. Dundee. John Leng & Co. Mr George Armitstead made a Burgess [pp.119-123].
  97. Valuation rolls, parish of Dunkeld & Dowally, county of Perth, 1898-1915. CC1/8/1/42-59. Perth & Kinross Archives, A K  Bell Library, Perth.
  98. Dundee Courier, Friday, 10 December 1915. British Newspaper Archive online.
  99. Dundee Courier, Saturday, 18 December 1915. British Newspaper Archive online.
  100. Dundee Courier, Wednesday, 8 December 1915. British Newspaper Archive online.
  101. Dundee Courier, Saturday, 11 December 1915 and Monday, 13 December 1915. British Newspaper Archive online.
  102. See photographs taken by Iain Flett in the attached image gallery.

Credits

I am extremely grateful to Iain Flett, retired Dundee City Archivist, for his permission to use information from his thoroughly-researched article on Armitstead and to benefit from his intimate knowledge of the history of Dundee. I am also grateful to him for photographing Lord Armitstead's tomb and the entries in the shipping registers. Thanks are also due to the ever-helpful staffs at Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee; Local & Family History, A K Bell Library, Perth; Dundee City Archives and Perth & Kinross Archives.

The information above about George Armitstead 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.