William Warden Renny Esquire
William Warden Renny was described as one of the oldest and most honourable of Dundee's merchants. He lived a life steeped in the knowledge, workings and trading of flax, both here in Scotland and also in Russia.
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Personal details and history
William Warden Renny
Place of birth
Age at death:
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Free Church of Scotland: Elder of the West Free Church, Broughty Ferry:
Moderate Liberal - Chairman of Committee promoting Sir John Ogilvy
Clubs / societies
Director of the Albert Institute: Seaman's Friend Society - Member of Committee of Management: Dundee Trade Report Association - Committee Member: The Queen Insurance Company - Member of the Dundee Board of Directors: The Edinburgh Angus Club: Northern Marine Insurance Company - A Director: Local Marine Board - A Director: Dundee Shipping and Freight Association - Commissioner Life Association of Scotland - Local Director
Subscriber 57 – William Collier – William Warden Renny’s daughter-in-law Robina Collier was William Collier’s niece
Career and worklife
Career to date:
Born into a well known Arbroath family, William Warden Renny began his working life training as a 'practical spinner.' The Renny family were the pioneers of flax spinning by machinery in Arbroath (firstly as Fitchet & Son, then as Renny, Sons & Co). As a young man, he went to Archangel to represent a house in the flax trade. He gained a wide reputation in Russia as being an authority on the workings and trading of flax. At the time of his marriage in 1837, he was described as being a merchant in Archangel. It was not until 1850 that William Warden Renny first appeared in the Dundee Directory, living and working in the town and representing 'Hill & Renny,' flax merchants (from 1850 in King Street, from 1853 in Panmure Street and from 1856 in Meadowside).
William Warden Renny’s background supported an awareness of the flax industry in Angus from the outset.
Three years before his birth in 1809, his father and his uncle, as partners of William Fitchet & Sons, built the Bell Mill (later to be known as the Brothock Mill. Pioneers of flax spinning by machinery, the mill’s Boulton & Watt engine was later accompanied by another one built by Carmichael of Dundee. William W Renny was destined to be trained, in his youth, as a practical spinner.
William Warden Renny became an authority on flax, having also, as a young man, spent a period at Archangel, where he was engaged in the trade. Such was his thorough knowledge of the flax trade there, that he was credited with content to Chapter V111 on ‘Russian Linen’ within ‘The Linen Trade, Ancient and Modern’ by A J Warden. He was not the only member of his family to have connections with Archangel. His younger brother Charles represented the firm of Hill & Todd in Archangel and was also the British Consul there. William’s sister, Agnes Johnston Renny, married Dr John Mackenzie (surgeon in Archangel) in Archangel. However, their fate was sealed in 1860, with the disappearance of the steamship ‘Edinburgh,’ on voyage from Leith to St Petersburg. Their lives and those of their two young daughters were lost.
William Warden Renny was said to have been a friend and valued correspondent of John Todd of London, flax merchant. Todd was reputed to have been one of the largest flax merchants in the world and, for many years, did business with Dundee, being represented by ‘Hill & Renny.’ His son, Charles Edward Todd became William W Renny’s partner within ‘Hill & Renny’ in Dundee. After William’s death in 1882, Charles Edward Todd continued in partnership with William’s nephew, Henry Renny (son of his brother Charles).
As well as operating the business of Hill & Renny, William was also the co-owner of the brig Nadejda. This substantially built brig was launched from the shipbuilding yard of Mr John Brown in 1858. She was to be commanded by Captain Inglis, the other co-owner. The voyages of the Nadejda appear frequently in the arrivals from the Baltic, with its cargoes of flax, tow and codilla. One eclectic cargo from Archangel in 1858 included – 6 pairs women’s slippers, 30 wooden bowls, 3 wooden kits, 11 wooden tubs, 5 wooden baking dishes, 1 bone box, 24 kits manna croup (husked grains of manna grass used in Russia as a kind of semolina) and 63 dozen tongues – Hill & Renny.
William Warden Renny enjoyed a long and successful career as a flax merchant. Known as a peace-maker, he was frequently sought as an arbiter in disputes where his opinions and decisions carried weight. His name was as familiar in the flax trade throughout Russia as it was at home on the streets of Dundee.
- Old Parish Registers. Arbroath. Births. 26 March 1809. 272/ 40 301. ScotlandsPeople website
- Gravestone Inscription. Barnhill Cemetery
- Old Parish Registers. Edinburgh. Marriages. 1837. 685/1 650 224. ScotlandsPeople website
- Dundee Directory, 1863-64. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies
- Dundee Directory, 1867-1868. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies
- Statutory Death Records. Dundee. 1882. 282/ 4 8. ScotlandsPeople website
- Dundee Obituary Book No 1. (1869 to 1894). Dundee Central Library, Local Studies
- Dundee Advertiser, 02 January 1882. Obituary. Findmypast website
- Dundee Directory, 1868-69. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies
- Dundee Advertiser, 10 September 1862. Findmypast website
- Notes on Past Presidents of the Dundee Chamber of Commerce - ninetradesofdundee.co.uk
- Dundee Evening Telegraph, 02 January.1882. Findmypast. website
- McBain, James M. (1887). Arbroath: Past and Present. Arbroath. Brodie & Salmond
- Turner, W H K. (1954). The Textile Industry of Arbroath since the Early 18th Century. Dundee. Abertay Historical Society. Publication: No 2
- Warden, Alex. J. (1864). The Linen Trade - Ancient and Modern. p.339. London. Longman & Co.
- Memorial Inscriptions. Volume 2. Angus Seacoast. p.9. item 12
- Montrose, Arbroath & Brechin Review. 02 November 1860. Findmypast website
- Dundee Courier. 14 September 1898. Findmypast website
- Montrose, Arbroath & Brechin Review. 16 April 1858. Findmypast website
- Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 14 October 185. Findmypast website
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