Mr John Caird
John Caird became a master builder and contractor, operating from Blinshall Street in Dundee. By 1864, he was joined in business by his sons George and William. He claimed responsibility for having built a number of Dundee's flax and jute mills.
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
Tillyhight, Parish of Carmyllie, Forfarshire, (Angus)
Helen (circa1833): Margaret (1836): William (1838): George (1838): David (1843): Jean (1845):
Age at death:
Place of death:
Viewbank Cottage, Blackness Road
Date of death:
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Liberal - John Caird, together with his sons George, William and David, were listed on the 'Committee for the return of George Armitstead' as MP for Dundee in 1868
Clubs / societies
Career and worklife
Career to date:
John Caird was listed in the 1841 census as a 'mason,' living at that time in Dudhope Crescent, Dundee. The 1851 census gave a similar indication - as a 'jobbing' mason. His name did not appear in the Dundee Directory until that of 1856-57, when he was listed as a 'builder,' operating from Miln Street. By 1858-59, he had further developed the scope of his business and was then described as 'builder and contractor' in Douglas Street (same locale). By the mid 1860s he had been joined in business by his sons George and William and the business had moved to Blinshall Street.
John Caird was born to Francis Caird, a weaver, and his wife Helen Scott, at Tillyhight (sometimes Tillyheight) in the parish of Carmyllie.
Having been raised in Carmyllie parish, it can come as little surprise that working stone would become John Caird’s trade. Carmyllie was described thus in the opening sentence of the Gazeteer – ‘Carmyllie, a village, a railway, quarries and a parish of South East Forfarshire.’ It was declared that ‘Carmyllie quarries have been wrought for many years and they are well known throughout the county, and far outwith it, pavement and other stones lifted from them being sent to various distant towns in Scotland and England.’
Carmyllie contained the largest and oldest stone quarries in the country and John Caird lived a mere stone’s throw from them.
By the late 1830s, John Caird, a man in his thirties, was working as a mason in Dundee (evidenced from his son’s birth record) at a time when the town was fast expanding. It can be assumed, that at that time, he was an employee, as the first listing in the Directory on his own account did not appear until much later, in 1856-57.
By the 1860s, John Caird had accrued more than 20 years of experience in the role of a mason – doubtless with a working knowledge of all aspects of the trade (hewing, cutting, planing, dressing etc). He had been joined in business by his sons William And George, under the style of ‘John Caird & Sons.’
This proved to be a decade of expansion, development and activity.
A contentious issue arose for John Caird on the back of the ‘Nine Hours Movement’ (a demand on the part of the operatives for a reduction of the hours of labour undertaken) when he attempted, unsuccessfully, to sue John Gellatly, mason and ‘Chairman of the Lock Outs’ for libel. Gellatly had publicly accused Caird of using labourers undertaking 10 hours of employment, a claim Caird denied.(see image)
In 1862, John Caird was present at a demonstration, in Arbroath, of a new and innovative ‘stonecutting and planing machine’ – ‘this new machine came off at the foundry of the Messrs Munro of Arbroath.’ It was the invention of Mr George Hunter (son of James Hunter of Leysmill, who had previously invented a planing machine which became used extensively in pavement and other quarries in Forfashire). The demonstration was attended by a number of gentlemen connected with the building trade. The machine used was an improved version which apparently had ironed out the issues which were evident with George Hunter’s prototype, of which was said – ‘it tried to do too much and the consequence was it did nothing properly.’ 
John must surely have been held in some regard among his contemporaries in the trade, as he was subsequently called upon to address them, at a social event held afterwards, regarding the new fangled invention.
In his response, John Caird was at great pains to declare ‘that the machine he had that day witnessed, had exceeded his sanguine expectations. It did the work allotted to it in a better manner than it could be done by hand. It was portable. All that was wanted was just a small, serviceable steam engine to go along with the machine – an engine that might also be employed in driving a ‘hoist’ to lift a ton or so. He (Mr Caird) had been in the building trade for more than 20 years and during all that time there had been little improvement in it. Perhaps the only difference was, that formerly, the masons carried the stones themselves and now they had labourers to do that work. He thought that one of the machines would speedily be got in Dundee.’
It was believed that a number of the stones which had been cut by this machine were then being used in the erection of Messrs Don Brothers, Buist & Co’s new building in Lindsay Street and of Messrs Smith & Sons new buildings in Panmure Street.
This was also a decade which indicated that ‘John Caird & Sons’ was a flourishing business. Valuation Rolls of 1865 afforded an indication that John Caird had become the proprietor of a number of shops and dwelling houses in Hawkhill and Balfour Street. He also tenanted and operated the quarry at Rosemill on the Northern outskirts of the town.
His ventures also took him to Fife where he became tenant of the ‘Seggie Brick and Tile Works’ at Guardbridge. This concern was described as a ‘large manufactory for the making of bricks and tiles at the SW end of Guardbridge (occupied at that time, 1853-55, by Mr Bissett and property of the Bank of Scotland). It derives its name from the circumstance of it being built on a part of Seggie farm.’ An advert was placed in 1865 for the works to ‘be let’ and John Caird’s name became associated with the already established concern. A bonus of the location of the works was that vessels (of 80 tons burden) were able to sail within 20 yards of the works – by which means coal could be brought up to the works and the bricks and tiles exported therefrom. (see image)
Apart from the construction of conventional buildings eg – John Caird himself declared that he had been responsible for building both Gilroy’s mill and Grimond’s mill – a more unusual contract for his firm was for the construction of an amphitheatre for (Messrs) ‘Sangers’ Circus.’ This undertaking took place in the latter part of 1865. According to newspaper reports, it was to be the ‘largest building in town and would hold the very large number of 2500 persons. By comparison, the Kinnaird Hall is only seated for 1300 persons. The erection has been carried on with great energy by the contractors, Messrs John Caird & Sons, whose well known reputation is a guarantee that the work is done in the most workmanlike manner.’ A notable feature of the amphitheatre was that it was constructed, not in stone, but in wood. Its location to the South of the Craigie Yard flax warehouses (East Dock Street), roused the trepidation and concern of a number of prominent merchants. They feared that that the proximity of the circus could result in a destructive conflagration of their wares – perhaps due to the miscreants and malcontents who might have been attracted to the locality of the exotic entertainment. Their concerns were rebuffed by the Police Commission, who claimed that ‘most warehouse fires started from within – not without.’ So it was that ‘Sangers’ Grand Hippodramatic Circus’ also took account of the townsmen’s fears by advertising that ‘smoking was strictly prohibited and that police would constantly be in attention.’Let that be a warning.
By the close of the decade, ‘Messrs John Caird & Sons’ was dissolved – his son William became quarry master and builder, operating from Yeaman Shore and Rosemill; son David became a partner of ‘Smith & Caird’ and son George departed Dundee for England.
Having retired from an active working life, John Caird continued his life at Viewbank Cottage (the name applied to two, neat, one storey cottages, situated on the South side of the Blackness Road – to the West of Blackness House).
John Caird survived only a few more years, having made his indelible mark, in stone (and wood), on the streets of Dundee.
- Old Parish Register. Carmyllie. Births. (1805). 276/10 396. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths. (1873). 282/1 498. ScotlandsPeople website.
- 1871 Census Scotland. Dundee. ED: 20; Page: 23; Line: 18; Roll: CSSCT1871_49. Ancestry website.
- Dundee Postal Directory, 1861-62. p.122. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Postal Directory, 1864-65. p.103. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Census Records. Dundee. (1861). 282/ 2 37/ 3. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Postal Directory, 1869-70. p.107. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- National Library Scotland Maps.
- Statutory Registers. Caputh. Marriages. (1864). 337. 1. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Marriages. (1864). 282/ 2 353. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Alloa Advertiser. 2 July 1864. p.4. Findmypast website.
- Dundee Courier, 9 June 1868. p.4. Findmypast website.
- Valuation Roll. Dundee Burgh. (1855). p.97. VR009800001-/97. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Legal Records. Wills and Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court. (1874). SC45/ 31/ 24. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Postal Directory, 1858-59. p.112. Dundee Central Library, Local studies.
- Groome, Francis H. (circa 1895 - new edition). Ordnance Gazeteer of Scotland. Volume 1. London. William McKenzie.
- Warden, Alexander J. (1882). Angus or Forfarshire - The Land and People. Volume III. Dundee. Charles Alexander & Co.
- Matthew, David. (2008). Stone Getters of Angus - History of the Quarries. Pamphlet.
- Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 2 May 1862. p.7. Findmypast website.
- Dundee Advertiser, 14 May 1862. p.4. Findmypast website.
- Dundee Advertiser, 4 July 1866. p.3. Findmypast website.
- Valuation Roll. Dundee Burgh. (1865). VR0098000015-/140. p.140. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Ordnance Survey Name Books. (Fife & Kinross). OS1/13/46/18. ScotlandsPlaces website.
- Fife Herald, 31 August 1865. via www.scottishbrickhistory.co.uk.
- Dundee Advertiser, 5 October 1866. p.4. Findmypast website.
- Dundee People's Journal, 2 December 1865. p.3. Findmypast website.
- Dundee Advertiser, 15 September 1865. p.5. Findmypast website.
- Dundee Courier, 19 December 1865. p.1. Findmypast website.
- Northern Warder & General Advertiser, 12 March 1869. p.1. Findmypast website.
- Ordnance Survey Name Books. Forfarshire (Angus). 1857-1861. Volume 32. OS1/14/32/2. ScotlandsPlaces website.
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