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Messrs John Henderson & Sons

John Henderson & Sons, a firm of flax spinners and manufacturers, was founded in the early 1850s by John Henderson, later in partnership with his two sons, William and Richard. Their business at Lindsay Street Works was continued by a grandson.

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Details and history

Name of company:

Messrs John Henderson & Sons

Company address:

Lindsay Street Works (from 1853 approx)[1]
Lindsay Street

Number of employees:

524 workers (1861):[2] 480 hands (1864):[3] 600 (1881):[4]

Nature of business:

Flax spinners[1] & manufacturers[5]



Date ceased trading:



The Firm

John Henderson, the senior partner of the firm of ‘John Henderson & Sons,’ was a native of Ceres in Fife.[8] Having left the small village community as a teenager, he arrived in Dundee aged approximately 18 years of age.[8] Originally a carpenter, he was then employed as a mechanic, before rising to become a mill manager.[9][8]

Having gained much experience within the trade, John Henderson set up on his own account circa 1836.[8] His first enterprise in manufacturing was when he became tenant of the water-power spinning mill at Milton in Monifieth. After some years, this location proved too small for his ambitions. He then acquired a mill in Lindsay Street in Dundee around the early 1850s. By 1853,[1] John Henderson, flaxspinner, was established in business at Lindsay Street Mill, with an office at 16 St Andrew’s Street.[1]

John Henderson’s sons, William and Richard, were assumed into the firm by 1858.[10]

The mill at Lindsay Street was said to have been in existence from 1845, under operation by J Taylor.[11] Additions were made to the buildings c1856[11] – possibly around the time that William and Richard joined their father in the firm. Little changed between the years 1856-71.[11] However, in the early 1870s, the mill was completely gutted by fire and required to be rebuilt.[11] The original mill was supplemented and ‘progressively replaced’ by a range of buildings, designed, somewhat unusually for the time, by architects rather than engineers.[11] The architects, MacLaren & Aitken, were the ones assigned.[11]

John Henderson & Sons, was claimed to have been one of the first firms of manufacturers to engage in the spinning of jute in the city.[4] The firm gained a reputation for ‘straightforward, honest dealing.’[8]

John Henderson, the senior partner of the family firm, died in 1881,[12] the value of his interests in the business at the time, amounting to over £21,000.[12] His sons, William and Richard, died in 1889 and 1909 respectively.

The firm of ‘John Henderson & Sons (Dundee) Ltd,’ the final incarnation of the business, ceased trading in 1931,[6] having been in operation in Lindsay Street since the early 1850s.[1] Its then Director, John Gilchrist Henderson, grandson of the firm’s founder, John Henderson, died a few years later, in 1934.


The Men

John Henderson and both of his sons played an instrumental part in the development, life and work of the Baptist Church in Dundee. It would seem that John Henderson became associated with the Baptist movement in Dundee shortly after his arrival there. At the time (c 1828), the Baptist church was located in Meadowside and, according to press reports, John Henderson ‘was the owner of the old Baptist Church in Albert Square.’[13]

In the 1870s, a new church building was proposed. The new church was erected in Rattray Street and, at its opening in 1878, it was reported that ‘the cost of the structure which, with the site, exceeds £5,000, has been defrayed by Messrs John Henderson & Sons, spinners and manufacturers,’[14] the firm having undertaken the whole cost and risk of the venture. Thereafter, both John and his son William continued to be highly respected pastors of the Rattray Street Baptist Church, until their deaths in 1881 and 1889.[4] Richard too became a Deacon.[13]

In recognition of his service to the church, a memorial tablet, 8′ in height – 4′ in width, was erected in his memory as a sign of the respect held for him by its members – ‘Erected by the members of this congregation in affectionate memory of John Henderson who died on Sunday 10 April 1881 aged 71 years. He was for 53 years a member of the Church, 15 years a Deacon and 25 years a Chief Pastor.’[15]

A funeral procession of 40 carriages processed from John Henderson’s home on the Nethergate to the Western Cemetery, the way lined with employees acknowledging his passing.

The Church and the Works, located a stone’s throw from each other, would appear to have been inextricably linked within the lives of ‘Messrs John Henderson & Sons.’ the firm gaining a reputation for being ‘honourable and upright in its dealing.’[13]


  1. Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1853-54. p.168. National Library of Scotland website.
  2. Census Returns. Dundee. (1861). 282/2 4/ 24. ScotlandsPeople website.
  3. Warden, Alexander J. The Linen Trade, Ancient and Modern. (1864). London. Longman. p.656.
  4. Dundee Obituaries. Book 1. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
  5. Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1861-62. p.152. National Library of Scotland website.
  6. Dundee Courier. 10 March 1931. p.1. British Newspaper Archive website.
  7. Dundee Courier. 17 March. 1931 p.1. British Newspaper Archive website.
  8. Dundee Courier. 12 April 1881. p.3. British newspaper Archive website.
  9. Census Returns. Dundee. (1841). 282/ 58 6. ScotlandsPeople website.
  10. Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1858-59. p.139. National Library of Scotland website.
  11. Watson, Mark. Jute and Flax Mills in Dundee. (1990). Tayport. Hutton Press Ltd. pp68 and 215.
  12. Legal Records. Wills & Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court. (1882). SC45/ 31/ 31. ScotlandsPeople website.
  13. Dundee Courier. 25 January 1909. p.4. British Newspaper Archive website.
  14. Dundee Evening Telegraph. 23 September 1878. p.4. British Newspaper Archive website.
  15. Dundee Advertiser. 27 December 1881. p.5. British Newspaper Archive website.

The information above about 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.