James Guthrie Esquire
James Guthrie was the son of an Angus farmer, who became a successful linen merchant and co-partner of a flax and jute spinning mill in Dundee. His wealth enabled him to move to the suburbs of West Ferry.
Subscription value in 1865:
Relative to inflation up to 2019:
Relative to income compared to 2019:
Personal details and history
Date of birth
Name of spouse
Elizabeth Maria Barbara Drimmie
James (b.1855): Elizabeth Drimmie (b.1858): Jessie Isabella (b.1857): Mary Jane ( b.1860): Bella (b.1862): Alexander (b.1864): Emma Catherine (b.1866): Robert Lyall (b.1867): David William (b.1871): Gertrude Irvine (b.1879):
Western Cemetery, Dundee. Owned more than one lair.
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Possibly Liberal - because of his association with the Corn Law Reforms.
Clubs / societies
Agent for the Liverpool and London Fire and Life Insurance Company:
Subscriber 82 – Messrs Gibson, Farquharson & Co., flaxspinners – James Guthrie’s daughter, Bella, married William Gibson Jnr., son of William Gibson
Subscriber 100 – John Henderson – John Henderson’s son (also John) was a clerk to James Guthrie and subsequently became a partner with James Guthrie in the firm named ‘Guthrie & Henderson.’ John Henderson was also executor nominate for James Guthrie’s brother, Alexander
Subscriber 148 – Messrs Malcolm, Ogilvie & Co – James Guthrie’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Thomas Cuthbert Malcolm, son of Robert Malcolm
Subscriber 166 – James Brydon Nicoll – James Nicoll was a witness at the marriage of James Guthrie. James Guthrie’s son, Alexander, married Isabella Nicoll, daughter of James Brydon Nicoll
Career and worklife
Yarn and Cloth Agent / Flax and Yarn and Jute Spinner
Self-employed / Partner
Place of work
Seabraes Spinning Mill
Career to date:
James Guthrie's working life in Dundee saw him as an agent and merchant, operating from the Cowgate, in St Andrew's Street. Exact dates are uncertain although, it would appear that he began working in the flax trade by the 1830s. James appeared in the 1841 census, listed as a flax merchant, while his younger brother, Alexander was listed as a 'flax spinning manager.' It was recorded that the Guthries acquired Seabraes Mill c.1844 and converted into a spinning mill, a building which had previously been used as a foundry, by 'Brown & Allan, engineers. By 1851, the Seabraes Mill employed 155 operatives, with James and his brother Alexander, listed as 'flax merchant and flax spinner.' By the time of pledging his subscription towards the building of the Albert Institute, James Guthrie had already accrued over thirty years of experience in Dundee's flax and jute industry.
James Guthrie was the son of Charles Guthrie, farmer at East Coull in the parish of Tannadice and his wife, Isobel or Isobella Lyell. Rather unusually, his parents were not together in the census reports of 1841 or 1851, which would seem to set a pattern for the family.
Isobella Guthrie was living at Mains of Fintry with her sons James, a merchant, Robert, a clerk, Alexander, a flax spinning manager and two daughters in 1841. She seems to have been keeping house for her sons, then in their twenties. James had arrived in Dundee in 1827 and served his apprenticeship with the Brown Brothers, flax spinners, of West Ward Mills, in what is now North Lindsay Street. He then set up in business, on his own, as a yarn and cloth agent.
However, by 1851, the tables had turned and James was head of the house, living with his mother, brother Alexander and three sisters at Waterloo Cottage, on the corner of Annfield Road and Blackness Road. James later became the business partner of his brother Alexander, who operated Seabraes Spinning Mill.
James married Elizabeth Maria Barbara Drimmie, daughter of Daniel Drimmie, managing partner of Panmurefield Bleachworks, in 1855. Elizabeth was twenty, James was forty three and they were to have ten children between 1855 and 1879.
James’ father died in 1857, alone, in bed, at the Tannadice farm and his mother, Isobel, died shortly afterwards. James became a partner in his brother’s firm and it became known as ‘J and A Guthrie’ and, together, they bought Seabraes Mill, just off the Perth Road in Dundee described as “A large mill in which is carried on the spinning of tow & flax. A small steam engine 35 horse power, turns the machinery.” By 1861, they employed 220 men.
In 1861, shortly before James bought a subscription to the Albert Institute, the family was living at 41 Magdalen Yard Road in Dundee. Except, Elizabeth Guthrie was not at home. She was at 5 Castle Street in Brechin, at the home of her married sister, Jane, with her two oldest children, James and Elizabeth. James was at home, alone, apart from his 10 month old daughter Mary and three servants.
The street where James lived is described in the Ordnance Survey Name Books around the time the family were resident there –
“In the southern portion of Dundee extending from Perth Road
A narrow road, well, paved, and supplied with gas lamps, extending from Perth Road to Magdalen Green. Along its south side is a range of handsome houses, three storeys high constructed of sandstone, with railed in areas in front, and gardens behind.”
In 1871, James still lived in Magdalen Yard Road and was, this time, alone with his children, James, Elizabeth, Mary, Bella, Alexander, Emma and Robert and three servants. The children’s mother was in Edinburgh, staying with her stepmother, Isabella, who was only seven years older than Elizabeth.
By the census of 1881, the family was living at the mansion, Hope Park, in Broughty Ferry, having moved there by 1874. Surprisingly, Elizabeth was at home too. James was 69, his wife was 46 and they had a 2 year old child.
One might imagine her travels from home had been a Victorian form of contraception but in fact, she continued her visits after the death of her husband in 1889.
Two of James’ sons, appropriately named James and Alexander, eventually took over the running of the business. Their uncle Alexander, who died in 1880, had not married or had children, so they inherited the firm.
- Old Parish Registers. Tannadice. Births. (1811). 321/ 20 254. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Aberdeen Free Press. Wednesday 17 July 1889. p.6. British Library Board via BNA website.
- Statutory Records. Monifieth. Marriages. (1855). 310/ 3. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Census Records. Mains and Strathmartine. (1841). 307/ 2/ 27. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Census Records. Dundee. Liff & Benvie. (1851). 282/ 92/ 38. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Census Records. Dundee. Liff & Benvie. (1861). 282/ 2 25/ 15. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Census Records. Dundee. (1871). ED: 3; Page: 12; Line: 9; Roll: CSSCT1871_49. Ancestry website.
- Census Records. Dundee. (1881). ED: 41; Page: 29; Line: 4; Roll: cssct1881_88. Ancestry website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths. (1889). 282/ 4 585. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Courier. Tuesday 16 July 1889. p.3. British Library Board via BNA website.
- Burial Records. Dundee. Western Cemetery. Friends of Dundee City Archive website.
- Dundee Advertiser. 19 July 1890. p.6. Findmypast website.
- The Post Office Dundee Directory, 1864-65. p.11, Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Courier. Tuesday 16 July 1889. p.3. British Library Board via BNA website.
- Dundee People's Journal. 20 July 1889. p.9. Findmypast website.
- The Post Office Dundee Directory, 1864-65. p.130. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee, North Lindsay Street, Ward Mills, via Canmore, https://canmore.org.uk/site/184713/dundee-north-lindsay-street-ward-mills
- The Post Office Dundee Directory, 1829-30. p.16. National Library of Scotland website. http://www.archive.org/stream/dundeedirectory182930dund#page/14/mode/2up/search/brown
- Daniel Drimmie, BIRTH 1 Jun 1806, Montrose, Angus, Scotland, DEATH 2 Jul 1867 (aged 61), Monifieth, Angus, Scotland, BURIAL , St Rules Cemetery, Monifieth, Angus, Scotland, MEMORIAL ID 115262145, via findagrave website.
- Broughty Ferry, Panmurefield, Bleachworks, via canmore, https://canmore.org.uk/site/202490/broughty-ferry-panmurefield-bleachworks
- Statutory Registers. Deaths. GUTHRIE, CHARLES, 76, SUTTIE, Tannadice. (1857). 321/ 17. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Ordnance Survey Name Books. Forfarshire. (Angus). OS Name Books, 1857-1861. Forfar. (Angus). volume 34. OS1/14/34/43. Scotlandsplaces website. https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/digital-volumes/ordnance-survey-name-books/forfarshire-angus-os-name-books-1857-1861/forfar-angus-volume-34/43
- Census Records. Dundee. (1861). ED: 13; Page: 6; Line: 1; Roll: CSSCT1861_40. Ancestry website.
- Census Records. Brechin Burgh. (1861). ED: 4; Page: 21; Line: 15; Roll: CSSCT1861_37. Ancestry website.
- Ordnance Survey Name Books. Forfarshire. (Angus). OS Name Books. 1857-1861. Forfar. (Angus). volume 34. OS1/14/34/42. ScotlandsPlaces website. https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/digital-volumes/ordnance-survey-name-books/forfarshire-angus-os-name-books-1857-1861/forfar-angus-volume-34/42
- Census Records. Edinburgh. St Cuthberts. (1871). ED: 97; Page: 19; Line: 17; Roll: CSSCT1871_166. Ancestry website.
The information above about James Guthrie 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.