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Messrs Don Brothers & Co

John Don (1823-1886) was the merchant in the partnership whilst his brother, William Gilbert (1816-1886), managed the manufacturing operations. In 1865 John lived at The Lodge, Queen Street, Broughty Ferry and his brother William at St Margaret`s, Old Monifieth Road, Broughty Ferry.

Subscription value in 1865:

£200

Relative to inflation up to 2019:

£20000

Relative to income compared to 2019:

£160000

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Details and history

Name of company:

Messrs Don Brothers & Co

Company address:

12 Bain Square, Dundee.[1]
10 Bain Square, Dundee.[2]

Number of employees:

Approximately 12

Nature of business:

Merchants and manufacturers[3]

Turnover:

Not known

Date ceased trading:

Still in operation as Don & Low Holdings

Comments

William Gilbert and John Don were both born in Forfar and developed the small linen business established there in 1792 by their grandfather, William. The firm mainly bought linen webs from self employed weavers before selling them on to merchants in Dundee and elsewhere. [4] William Gilbert had originally headed for a career in banking, working at the Dundee New Bank’s office in Forfar, but joined his father’s firm in 1840.[5] By 1841 Robert Don and his son, William, living in the family home at Kirkriggs, Forfar, are both described as linen manufacturers in the census. [6] John Don, after spending time at school in England, was sent to serve an apprenticeship at an East India house in London before also joining his father’s firm in 1842.[7]

In 1845 the brothers formed William & John Don & Co., gradually taking the business over from their father, Robert.[4] By 1850 John had moved to Broughty Ferry to a house simply described as “Beach” and is in the Dundee directory as a linen merchant of the firm of Don Brothers & Co. In the census the following year he is living at this address with one female servant and her child. [8] Meanwhile his elder brother, William Gilbert, is still at the family home at Kerkriggs, Forfar, with his parents, his sister Elizabeth, and his seven-year-old nephew, Frederick W. Bentley, who was born in Bombay. He is described as a linen manufacturer and his father as a JP and retired manufacturer. [9]

John moved house to 9 Douglas Terrace, Broughty Ferry[10] before settling permanently at the Lodge, Queen Street, Broughty Ferry.[11] William Gilbert moved to Westby House, Forfar [12] before joining his brother in Broughty Ferry at Black Rock [13] and then St. Margaret’s.[14] The brothers both married in 1852 and their wives were both Margarets. [15]

The brothers made a success of business, although they were still not directly employing many people.This changed in 1865 when they joined with Alexander Jefferson Buist to establish Don Brothers, Buist & Co., flax and jute spinners.  Buist was also a subscriber to the Albert Institute.[16] The firm had capital of £102,500 with William Gilbert Don contributing £37,000, John Don £40,000 and Alexander J. Buist £25,500. [17] William and John Don, power loom manufacturers of Forfar also had their offices at 14 Panmure Street, Dundee along with Don Brothers, Buist & Co.[18] The brothers were said to have been among the first to adopt the use of power looms.[19] Although the two companies kept separate names they operated in conjunction with one another. The St James Works in Forfar were constructed to replace the old works and warehouse there [20] and the Ward Mills were erected in Dundee. Buist had been spinning on his own account at the Old Ward Mill, but after joining with the Don brothers this building was speedily demolished and erected in its stead was “the handsome and extensive spinning mill now facing Lindsay Street and Willison Street with the fine range of offices in Barrack Street.”[21] They “early obtained a hold of the Spanish yarn trade, which for a considerable period they may be said virtually to have controlled, and it was long a leading feature in the firm’s operations.”[22] A second mill in Forfar, formerly occupied by John Lowden, was purchased as the firm expanded.[23]

William was president of the Dundee Chamber of Commerce in 1864 and his brother John followed suit in 1867.[24] William Gilbert Don took an interest in Dundee Royal Infirmary[25] and also became an ordinary director of the Dundee Eye Institution about 1871, remaining so until his death.[26] John was a Justice of the Peace for the Dundee district.[27]

The brothers were both members of the Episcopal Church of Scotland and were benefactors of its St. John’s Church, Forfar.[28] John was a leading member of Mr Mackness’s church in Broughty Ferry.[29] Both men were also described as moderate Liberals, although neither of them was particularly active in politics.[30] Unlike his partners A. J. Buist was a Free Kirk member and a Unionist.[31]

The firm also had offices at 10 Panmure Street[32] and in 1874 extended its Dundee mill premises. The author of the local directory was highly impressed:

Ward Mills, the property of Messrs. Don Brothers, Buist & Co., are presently the most novel in construction. A wing attached to this establishment is being erected in Barrack Street and given a finish to the street which it long lacked. When completed, this gives promise of being one of the most handsome mills in the United Kingdom. The gigantic proportions of the building, which occupies the most central position of any mill in town, form a conspicuous feature when viewed from the Post Office or Albert Institute.[33]

About the same time as the mills were being extended William Gilbert Don moved back to the Forfar area to Invereighty House, Kinnettles.[34] He concerned himself in county matters and was active in the movement for the abolition of road tolls.[35]

The Don brothers, like other successful Dundee manufacturers and merchants, had shares in a number of ships belonging to Dundee, made investments in American railway and land companies and also held Spanish government bonds.[36]

About three years before his death William Gilbert retired from the business due to failing health and from that time “Mr. John Don has been the moving spirit in the business, guiding its mercantile operations, Mr. Buist having directed his attention more particularly to the management of the mills.”[37] William Gilbert took up residence in Edinburgh’s Drumsheugh Gardens at 2 Rothesay Place[38] and then 1 Rothesay Terrace.[39] Meanwhile, his brother had purchased Dunnichen House as his country residence.[40]

John’s sudden death on 4 June 1886 while visiting friends in Horsington, Somerset[41] was followed swiftly by that of William Gilbert on 15 July 1886, he having taken up residence at Dunnichen for the summer.[42] 

Of John it was stated that “his business relations were so enlarged that his name was familiar in all the leading markets of the world as that of an upright and influential merchant and manufacturer.”[43] During his working life William Gilbert “was seldom missed from his place in the market, where his presence was not only well known but always welcome.”[44]

John was survived by his wife, four sons and four daughters and William Gilbert by his wife, one son and six daughters.[45] An indication of the success the brothers enjoyed is the net value of  their estates with John leaving £135,535[46] and William Gilbert £94,434.[47]

After the death of the brothers the business was carried on by their sons & families, gradually bringing in other shareholders until 1960 when they merged with Low Brothers, Dundee to form Don & Low. In 1986 they were bought by Shell and converted into Don & Low Holdings. In 1999 they were purchased by the Thrace Group and are based in Newfordpark House, Forfar.[48]

Sources

  1. Dundee Directories, 1850-1854. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  2. Dundee Directories, 1856-1865. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  3. Dundee Directories, 1850-1865. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  4. Whatley, Christopher A. (1992) Onwards from Osnaburgs: The Rise & Progress of a Scottish Textile Company: Don & Low of Forfar 1792-1992.Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing. Chapter 5.
  5. Whatley, Christopher A. (1992) Onwards from Osnaburgs: The Rise & Progress of a Scottish Textile Company: Don & Low of Forfar 1792-1992. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing. p.82.
  6. 1841 Census Scotland. Forfar. 288 ED4 p.6. Ancestry website.
  7. Whatley, Christopher A. (1992) Onwards from Osnaburgs: The Rise & Progress of a Scottish Textile Company: Don & Low of Forfar 1792-1992. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing. p.82.
  8. Dundee Directory, 1850. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee and 1851 Census Scotland. Monifieth. 310 ED4 p.26. Ancestry website.
  9. 1851 Census Scotland. Forfar. 288 ED6 p.2. Ancestry website.
  10. Dundee Directories, 1853-1857. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  11. Dundee Directories, 1858-1886. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  12. Dundee Directory, 1856-57. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  13. Dundee Directory, 1858-59. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  14. Dundee Directories, 1864-1872. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  15. Old Parish Records. Marriage. Forfar. 20 June 1852. 288/70 408 and St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh. 24 June 1852. 685/2 470 498 (William Gilbert Don and Margaret Birrell). Marriage. Dundee. July 1852. 282/230 416 and Eddleston. July 1852. 760/30 169 (John Don and Margaret Bogle/Robertson). ScotlandsPeople website.
  16. Dundee Advertiser, Wednesday, 23 December 1863. British Newspaper Archive website.
  17. Business Records. Private Ledger no. 1, Don Brothers, Buist & Co., 1865-1897. MS100/1/6/3. University of Dundee Archive Services.
  18. Dundee Directory, 1867-68. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  19. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. pp.60 & 62.
  20. Business Records. Private Ledger no. 1, Don Brothers, Buist & Co., 1865-1897. MS100/1/6/3. University of Dundee Archive Services.
  21. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p.60.
  22. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p.60.
  23. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p.60.
  24. Dundee Chamber of Commerce Centenary Souvenir 1836-1936. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  25. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p. 62.
  26. Dundee Directories, 1871-1886. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  27. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p.60.
  28. Whatley, Christopher A. (1992) Onwards from Osnaburgs: The Rise & Progress of a Scottish Textile Company: Don & Low of Forfar 1792-1992. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing. p.102.
  29. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p.60.
  30. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. pp.60 & 62.
  31. Whatley, Christopher A. (1992) Onwards from Osnaburgs: The Rise & Progress of a Scottish Textile Company: Don & Low of Forfar 1792-1992. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing. p.102.
  32. Dundee Directories, 1869-1872. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  33. Dundee Directory, 1874-75. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  34. Dundee Directories, 1874-1881. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee and 1881 Census Scotland. Kinnettles. 297 ED1 p.9. Ancestry website.
  35. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p. 62.
  36. Whatley, Christopher A. (1992) Onwards from Osnaburgs: The Rise & Progress of a Scottish Textile Company: Don & Low of Forfar 1792-1992.Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing. p.102.
  37. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p.60.
  38. Dundee Directory, 1884-85. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  39. Dundee Directory, 1885-86. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  40. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p. 62.
  41. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p.60.
  42. Statutory Registers. Dunnichen, Forfarshire. Death. 283/8. ScotlandsPeople website.
  43. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p.60.
  44. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. p. 62.
  45. Leng, John, & Co. (1887) Dundee Year Book, 1886. Dundee: John Leng & Co. pp.60 & 62.
  46. Testamentary Records. Dundee Sheriff Court. 1886. SC45/31/37. ScotlandsPeople website and Whatley, Christopher A. (1992) Onwards from Osnaburgs: The Rise & Progress of a Scottish Textile Company: Don & Low of Forfar 1792-1992. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing. p.101.
  47. Testamentary Records. Inventory. Edinburgh Sheriff Court. 1886. SC70/1/253 and Will. Edinburgh Sheriff Court. 1886. SC70/4/220. ScotlandsPeople website and Whatley, Christopher A. (1992) Onwards from Osnaburgs: The Rise & Progress of a Scottish Textile Company: Don & Low of Forfar 1792-1992. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing. p.101.
  48. Whatley, Christopher A. (1992) Onwards from Osnaburgs: The Rise & Progress of a Scottish Textile Company: Don & Low of Forfar 1792-1992.Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing. Chapter 5.

Credits

Thanks to staff at Local History,Central Library,Dundee and especially to Lily,my co lead.

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.