Sir (created Baronet in 1913) James Key Caird
Sir James Key Caird was a major jute manufacturer and public benefactor in Dundee. His interests in science and public welfare resulted in benefactions totalling almost £500,000, covering hospitals, public parks, the city hall and scientific expeditions.
Subscription value in 1863:
Relative to inflation up to 2023:
Relative to income compared to 2023:
Personal details and history
James Key Caird
Date of birth
Place of birth
Dundee (son of Edward Caird and Mary Key)
Name of spouse
Sophia Margaret Gray (known as Sophy) died 15 March 1882 aged 38
Age at death:
79 years - Died of complications from influenza, acute bronchitis and pulmonary congestion
Place of death:
Belmont Castle, Meigle, Perthshire
Date of death:
Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
United Free Church - funeral service conducted by Rev James U. Macgregor, St. Leonard's United Free Church, Perth
Probably Liberal (supported free trade against tariff protection in 1905).
Clubs / societies
Career and worklife
Flax and jute manufacturer
Career to date:
In the 1860s, James Caird was a young man working in his father's business and travelling on his behalf. He was still unmarried and lived at home with his parents Edward and Mary (nee Key). In 1870, on his father's retirement to Finnart, Loch Long, James took over the business, modernising and expanding the manufacture of jute in the Ashton and Craigie Works and latterly employing 2,000 workers. His £100 subscription was an early indication of his future role as public benefactor.
Sir James Caird was a highly successful businessman with a lifelong interest in the advancement of science, technology and public health. His private life was marked by tragedy – the poor health and early death in 1882 of his wife Sophia, who had known fame with her sister Effie (married first to the critic Ruskin and later the artist Millais) among the Pre-Raphaelite artists in London and, only six years later, the death of their only child, Beatrix in Berlin. A later painting of Sophia by Millais clearly shows the extent of her sad illness.
Many of Caird’s benefactions were in the field of medicine. The Sick Poor Nursing Society had the Caird Home for Nurses at 1 Park Place, before moving to 41 Magdalen Yard Road shortly before the First World War. He financed the building of the Caird Maternity Hospital in the grounds of Dundee Royal Infirmary and funded a building for the treatment of cancer patients:
Mr James K. Caird, a gentleman who has so often shown his practical interest in the Royal Infirmary, has again marked his approval of the good work done by that institution by giving the sum of £18,500 to be devoted to the erection of a section for the treatment of cancer. This gift has been further enhanced by the donor presenting £1000 per annum for the first five years for its maintenance.
The development of his business was not overlooked and the Craigie Works, Robertson Street were acquired and Ashton Works were greatly expanded:
The development of some of our industrial fabrics has not been overlooked. By far the most notable are those which belong to Mr J. K. Caird, Ashton Works, whose gigantic premises extend, almost in the form of a square, from Hawkhill to Blackness Road.
He also had a great interest in science and discovery and was prepared to give money for its encouragement:
The visit of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in September last year caused quite a burst of activity in every corner of the city. The central thoroughfares were decorated with growing flowers, twenty-four places of historic interest had bronze tablets affixed, a sumptuous handbook giving valuable information about the city was published, the hospitality offered was on a lavish scale, and the gift of £10,000 by Sir James Key Caird, Baronet, for research, filled the heart of the scientific world with gladness. Great advances have been made in all departments of science since the previous meeting in Dundee in 1867. It is generally agreed that the 1912 meeting was one of the most successful in the annals of the British Association.
Further benefactions by Caird included acquiring Spring-Grove and gifting it to the Dundee Town Council who turned it into the Caird Rest, a home for elderly gentlemen, at 172 Nethergate. He then made the gifts which keep his name before Dundonians to the present day, Caird Park and the Caird Hall:
The gift of a new pleasure park, including the Den of Mains and the old castle, was hailed with delight by the citizens at the New Year, and the King honoured the donor by conferring on him a Baronetcy. From time immemorial the Den of Mains has been a popular resort, and there was great jubilation when it was announced that £15,000 had been handed over for its purchase. A fortnight later a second great gift by the same gentleman was announced, an additional 112 acres adjoining being acquired at a cost of £10,000. This will make a magnificent pleasure ground of 270¾ acres in extent. The second gift was to commemorate the coming into operation of the National Health Insurance Act on 15th January 1913. The park is bounded on the east by the Forfar Road, on the north by the Dighty and the Mains Church glebe, on the west by Old Glamis Road, and on the south by Balgray Road, and its area exceeds by 29 acres the combined areas of all the other ten parks in the city. Sir James Key Caird, Baronet, has bestowed princely gifts on the community in the past, but these later gifts eclipse them all.
Sir James K. Caird has again earned the gratitude of the citizens by the princely gift of £100,000 to build a new City Hall and Council Chambers within the great square formed by High Street, Castle Street, Shore Terrace, and Crichton Street. Plans have been prepared by the City Engineer under the donor’s direction, and they show an open square behind the present Town House, which is to be retained. The new Hall, capable of accommodating 3500, will stand at the south side of the square, while business premises will occupy the east and west sides. The scheme, according to the terms of the gift, has to be carried out within three years. The cost of the site will be balanced by the rents of the business premises included in the design. The foundation-stone is to be laid by the King on the occasion of the Royal visit. This splendid send-off to the Central Improvement Scheme will work a wonderful transformation in the locality affected, and will, it is expected, cause a boom in the building trade.
George V and Queen Mary performed the foundation stone ceremony by remote control from Caird’s works but within weeks, the First World War had broken out, leading to major delays in construction. Caird did not live to see his gift of a hall come to fruition but it was named in his honour. His sister, Mrs Marryat, also came up with further funds to provide a smaller attached hall, which bears her name and the colonnade which sits in front of the Caird Hall. An unfortunate consequence of the Caird Hall and City Square development was the loss of William Adam’s 18th century Town House, which was demolished in 1932, despite attempts to have it saved, or moved elsewhere.
Mrs Marryat also gifted Belmont Castle and estate to Dundee Town Council. Her brother had acquired it after the death of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the Prime Minister.
Important gifts have been made to the City in the present year. The beautiful estate, of nearly 1000 acres in extent, and the Castle of Belmont were gifted to Dundee by Mrs Marryat, sister of the late Sir James K. Caird, Bart., who in his lifetime made many munificent gifts to Dundee.
Caird made other generous donations over the years, including money to send Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic, acquired Egyptian relics for the Albert Institute, built an insect house at London Zoo and provided ambulances for the Balkan Wars. He also left money for the town council to purchase Camperdown Park.
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- Statutory Registers. Perth. Marriage. 16 July 1873. 387/121. ScotlandsPeople website.
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- Stautory Registers. St. Peter, Dundee. Birth. 1874. 282/1 410. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Directory 1864-65. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Directory 1871-72. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- Statutory Registers. Death. Meigle. 9 March 1916. 379/2. Scotland's People website.
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- Dundee Directory 1861-62. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
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- Dundee Directories 1906-1916. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- 1861 Census Scotland. Dundee Second District. 282/2 ED13 p.6. Scotland's People website.
- Leng, John, & Co. (1917) Dundee Year Book, 1916. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Directories 1893-1911. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Directory 1912-13. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Directory, 1899-00. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Directory 1902-03. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Directory 1906-07. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Directory 1907-08. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Directory 1913-14. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Directory 1914-15. Local Studies, Dundee Central Library.
- McKean, Charles, Whatley, Patricia with Baxter, Kenneth. (2008) Lost Dundee - Dundee's Lost Architectural Heritage. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd.
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- Watson, Norman. (2006) Dundee: A Short History. Edinburgh: Black & White Publishing Ltd.
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