Messrs J H & A Bell
Messrs J H and A Bell, brothers James and Alexander, were long based in Royal Exchange Place, operating as export and commission merchants. James was later Peruvian Consul and Vice-Consul for Uruguay, evidence of strong business links with South America.
Subscription value in 1863:
Relative to inflation up to 2023:
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Details and history
Name of company:
Messrs J H & A Bell
Number of employees:
James Henderson and Alexander Bell were brothers and partners in the company.
Date ceased trading:
1875 - date of stoppage of the firm
Subscriber 30 – Thomas Bell – brother of James Henderson and Alexander Bell
Subscriber 36 – William Bell – brother of James Henderson and Alexander Bell
Subscriber 109 – George Jameson – brother in law, married to sister, Grace Brown Bell
Subscriber 121 – John Kirkland – father in law of Abigail Francis Jarvis Bell, niece of James Henderson and Alexander Bell
Subscriber 166 – James Brydon Nicoll – brother in law of James Henderson and Alexander Bell
Subscriber 213 – John Sharp – father in law of Thomas Bell, nephew of James Henderson and Alexander Bell
Subscriber 241 – Rev Andrew Taylor – brother in law, married to sister, Mary Hope Bell
James Henderson Bell and his younger brother, Alexander Brown Bell were the sons of ex Provost, Thomas Bell (1759-1844), of Belmont House. Their father had been a merchant in Dundee. The Bell family was associated with the firm of ‘Bell & Balfour,’ claimed to have been the first firm in Dundee to have spun jute yarn by machine in 1832. They were later associated with the firm of ‘Thomas Bell & Sons,’ merchants and flax spinners of Belmont Works.
Both brothers were listed as merchants in the 1841 census, possibly at that point, in connection with ‘Thomas Bell & Son.‘
The established firm of ‘J H & A Bell‘ itself, was listed by 1850 in the local Directory, operating from 131 Murraygate, with both brothers living, at the time, with their widowed mother at the family home, Belmont House, Perth Road. Their operation seems to have been constant throughout the 1850s and 1860s.
Difficulties arose in 1875, with the stoppage of the business. It was stated that ‘in 1867, the firm had a capital of £30,380 but, after that time, it was gradually diminished by losses, and, altogether absorbed.’
In May of 1875 it was reported :
‘Today, the market was seriously influenced by the stoppage of Messrs J H & A Bell, merchants here, engaged in the export trade, with large liabilities, chiefly to manufacturers in this and the neighbouring towns and the previous depression was much intensified, indeed the transactions entered into were confined to the supply of pressing orders and very little business was done in any class of goods.‘
The effects of the stoppage were far reaching, including reports of panic in San Francisco.
The firm’s liabilities were stated to have amounted to £100,220, which included about £30,000 of reclamations on foreign consignment accounts and £1,050 of preferable debts. Assets amounted in all to £32,390. Creditors were, the following week, urged to accept 6s per pound, to which most agreed.
A word of warning was declared in the local press that – ‘This failure is expected to show manufacturers the folly of continuing the over-production which has recently been going on, and to cause the stoppage of considerable portions of machinery.’
It would appear that both James and Alexander set up separate business concerns after the demise of their joint concern.
James Henderson Bell, previously the senior partner in the firm of ‘J H & A Bell,’ engaged in the jute trade, died in Tellin, Belgium on 13 January 1890.
Alexander Brown Bell, younger brother of James, who also had been a partner in the firm of ‘Messrs J H & A Bell,’ Dundee, died at his residence, Langlands, Barnhill in 1886.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1861-62. p.115. National Library of Scotland website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1867-68. p.99. National Library of Scotland website.
- Dundee Courier. 14 May 1875. p.4. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Legal Records. Wills and Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court. (1844). SC45/ 31/ 6. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Watson, Mark. Jute and Flax Mills in Dundee. (1990). Tayport. Hutton Press Ltd. p.199.
- Census Returns. Dundee. (1841). 282/ 32/ 13. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1850. pp.75-76. National Library of Scotland website.
- Dundee Courier. 7 May 1875. p.6. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Courier. 11 May 1875. pp.3-4. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Bradford Advertiser. 6 May 1875. p.4. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1878-79. p.105. National Library of Scotland website.
- Dundee Courier. 14 January 1890. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Courier. 16 February 1886. British Newspaper Archive website.
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