James Prain Esquire
Mr James Prain Esq was a successful mill owner and director of James Prain & Sons, spinners and manufacturers of linen and jute. His sons and grandsons carried on the business after his death.
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
Barbara (nee Sutherland)
Age at death:
Place of death:
5 Dudhope Terrace, Dundee
Date of death:
Constitution Road Cemetery
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Clubs / societies
Subscriber no.185 – James Prain junior – his son.
Career and worklife
Place of work
Merchant's office and spinning mill and manufactory
Career to date:
James Prain was born at Inchture, Perthshire in 1802. His parents were called William and Catharine (nee Fender) Prain. It is thought that James Prain went on to be a farmer of flax at the Rawes in the Carse of Gowrie. They put out flax to be spun and woven at the local cottages. This must surely have been a successful endeavour because after some time it was possible to move into Dundee as a manufacturer of linen. By 1864 the Prains had taken over the Larch Street Factory, Dundee, which had one engine of 8 hp, 40 power looms and employed 100 hands. This building is thought to have been completed in 1818. There is also mention of the early existence of these works in the early 1800s in a book about the linen trade by A J Warden. About 1866 Prain created the Larchfield Works, Walton Street, Dundee. This new mill was three storeys high and gave work to a large number of operatives. The firm became James Prain & Sons, spinners and manufacturers, with James Prain junior and his older brother, John Easton Prain, joining their father as his partners.
According to Mark Watson Prain’s Mill at Larchfield Works was built circa 1866. It might be that the original buildings from an earlier time were expanded. Referring to “Larchfield Works, The Mill (building), Watson mentions that “tiles in the attic floor served to minimise the fire risk and withstand the vibrations of the winding frames”. There is evidence that Larchfield Works expanded in 1880 when James Prain & Sons bought a one storey mill that had been used as a preparing block as part of the Coffin Mill. It was situated between Walton Street and Brook Street. The information in Watson’s book is supported by an announcement in the Dundee Courier 1867. The article says “A new powerloom factory, recently built in Walton Street and belonging to Messers Prain and Sons was started on Saturday last. The new work is three storeys high and gives employment to a large number of operatives”.
There is a record of James Prain’s marriage to Barbara Sutherland (born in England, daughter of John Sutherland) on 2 June 1831 in Dundee. The family lived at 25 Hawkhill. James and Barbara Prain had 8 children: Elizabeth Easton Prain , born 1834, d.19 March 1876; Barbara Prain, born 1834, d. 21 October 1848, age 13 (“water in the head”); Agnes Prain, born 1838, d. 21 August 1909; John Easton Prain, born 1839; James Prain, born 1840; Euphemia Prain, born 1844, d. 20 January 1865; William Prain, born 1846, d. 1847, age 8 months “water in head”; Jean Prain was born in 1847 (also died that year age 1 month “debility”).
Barbara Prain, wife of James Prain sadly died 14 December 1854 at 31 Park Wynd, age 48, the cause of death was “disease of heart”. Barbara Prain (nee Sutherland), wife of James Prain, Barbara Prain, William Prain and Jean Prain, children of James Prain were interred at New Howff Cemetery also known as Constitution Road Cemetery. By 1853 James Prain was living at 31 Park Wynd, Dundee. At this time James Prain’s occupation is stated as Manufacturer of Linens. Previously the 1851 census tells us that there was an Elizabeth Elder or Sutherland also living there at that time named as “grandmother” . It is possible she was there help to take care of the children if their mother’s health was failing and after the death of Barbara Prain.
There is also record of James Prain being associated with numbers 29 and 33 Park Wynd during the time period (1853- 1864). This is further explained by an entry in the classifieds column of the Dundee Courier in 1864 where James Prain is selling two tenements with garden ground behind in Park Wynd. One is described as a dwelling house and the other as warehouses suitable for conversion into dwelling houses at little cost which “could command good tenants.”
In the 1881 Census James Prain (age 78) was residing at 5 Dudhope Terrace. At this time he was described as a Flax and Jute Merchant employing 50 men, 320 women, 55 boys and 10 girls. He had in his employ two servants Mary Salmond age 24 – servant and cook and Mary Jarron 19 – housemaid. Also living at this house in 1881 were his daughter Agnes Prain (age 43) and son James Prain (age 40). In the same 1881 census his son John Easton Prain was living in Albany Terrace, one of the streets behind Dudhope Terrace.
James Prain died on 6 April 1890 at 5 Dudhope Terrace. In his obituary the Rev Dr Short of Ward Chapel noted that James had been a member of the congregation for at least 55 years and that “.. though he had lived a long life and had had his trials yet on the whole he had enjoyed a happy life. His cheery courageous heart kept up to the last”. He left an estate valued at £19,718 15s.
James Prain and his family were buried in the Constitution Road Burial Ground (aka the New Howff) which was also closely associated with the Ward Chapel, James Prain’s church of 55 years. The burying-ground, on the west side of Constitution Road, was opened in 1836, the Ward Chapel itself having opened in 1833.. The cemetery was destroyed for the construction of the inner ring road and a multi-storey car park in 1962.
Transcription of headstone in Constitution Road Cemetery:
In memory of James Prain, Manufacturer died 9 April 1890, his wife Barbara Sutherland d 14, December 1854. Their son William d. 4 March 1847 aged 8 months. Their daughters Jeannie who died in infancy. Barbara who died 21 October 1848 aged 13 years. Euphemia who died 20 January 1865 aged 21 years, Elizabeth Easton d. 19 March 1876 aged 42 years, Agnes d.21 August 1909 aged 72 years, Elisabeth Elder or Sutherland d. 17 April 1857 aged 60 years. Agnes Prain, widow of William Sturrock who d. 14 July 1881 or 1861? aged 63 years.
- Old Parish Records. Inchture, Perthshire. Birth. 4 October 1802. 359/20 231. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Old Parish Records. Dundee. Marriage. 2 June 1831. 282/220 46. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Old Parish Record. Dundee. Baptism. 8 May 1833. 282/170 149. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Old Parish Record. Dundee. Baptism. 20 November 1834. 282/170 240. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Note by Sidney Cramer on Constitution Road Cemetery. No. 159. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Old Parish Records. Dundee. Baptism. 11 January 1839. 282/180 229. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Old Parish Record. Dundee. Baptism. 28 December 1840. 282/180 360. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Old Parish Record. Dundee. Baptism. 20 June 1843. 282/190 398. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Index to Howff graveyard of Dundee. Friends of Dundee City Archives website.
- Old Parish Record. Dundee. Baptism. 6 April 1851. 282/200 49. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Directories, 1844-1847. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directory, 1850. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directory, 1853-54. Dundee City Archives.
- Dundee Directories, 1858-1862. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- 1851 Census Scotland. Dundee. 282. ED23 p.41. Ancestry website.
- Dundee Advertiser, 23 December 1863. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Directories, 1864-1870. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- 1881 Census Scotland. St. Mary, Dundee. 282/2 ED9A p.33. Ancestry website.
- Dundee Directories, 1871-1890. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Statutory Registers. St. Mary, Dundee. Death. 9 April 1890. 282/2 250. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Courier, Monday, 14 April 1890. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Directory, 1856-1862. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directories, 1885-1890. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directories, 1844-1886. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directories, 1867-1886. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directories, 1874-1886. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directories, 1850-1862. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Lythe, C., Lythe, C., & Gauldie, E.(1969). Dundee and its textile industry, 1850-1914. Dundee: Abertay Historical Society, p.115.
- Dundee Directories, 1864-1890. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directories, 1869-1890. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- This information about his early life comes from discussions between Enid Gauldie, co author of (1969). Dundee and its textile industry, 1850-1914. Dundee: Abertay Historical Society, and a Prain descendant.
- Warden, A. J. (1867). The Linen Trade: Ancient and Modern (2nd ed.). London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, p.657.
- Watson, Mark. (1990) Jute and Flax Mills in Dundee. Tayport: Hutton Press.
- Dundee Courier, Saturday, 12 October 1867. Entitled "Starting a new Factory". British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Directory, 1864-65. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directories, 1844-1847. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Courier, 26 February 1864. Classifieds. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Calendar of Confirmation, 1890. Local & Family History, A.K. Bell Library, Perth.
- There are Prain family plots at Longforgan Parish Church graveyard. However on searching the records from the Friends of Dundee city Archives - Howff Graveyard Dundee, one finds the listing for James Prain, manufacturer refers to the entry for his wife Barbara Sutherland so it seems likely that he was laid to rest beside her and his children.
- Information on Ward Chapel, Dundee. ScottishPlaces website.
- McKean, Charles and Whatley, Patricia with Baxter, Kenneth. (2008) Lost Dundee. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd.
The information above about James Prain 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.