The Jacobean Corsetry: 1760-1816

‘The Jacobean Corsetry’ ©MerchantCityGlasgow

John Dunlop, merchant in Glasgow, was a younger son of Provost Colin Dunlop of Carmyle, and was himself Provost in 1794. In 1789 his town residence was on the east side of Queen Street, and he afterwards, in 1793, bought a house and garden in Virginia Street which had been long occupied by George Oswald of Scotstoun, and before him by Alexander Spiers of Elderslie.

LXXXV. Rosebank – The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry 2nd ed: Glasgow James Maclehose & Sons (1878)

Owners 1760 – 1816

  • 1760 – 1770: Alexander Spiers of Elderslie
  • 1770 – 1793: George Oswald of Scotstoun
  • 1793 – 1816: John Dunlop of Rosebank

Alexander Spiers of Elderslie (1714-1782)

Sir Daniel Macnee copy of William Cochrane portrait of Alexander Spiers
Photographer unknown . OLD

As I proposed in my earlier post The Jacobean Corsetry sits on the original plot of Alexander Spiers of Elderslie. The ‘mercantile god’ of Glasgow. Much has been written about him already. If interested I’d urge you to read more at the excellent[1] After purchasing his plot in 1760 it seems he made the most of building a substantial house. When he sold to George Oswald of Scotstoun in 1770 for £1,600 [2] it was at a price that would not be matched in the vicinity for 10 years as far as I can deduce from other sale history; excluding the more prestigious Virginia Mansion into which he was moving. When he passed, his wife Mary Buchanan was left a life rent of £12,000 per annum. [3] Consider the original house that Cunningham built (now known as the GoMA on Royal Exchange Square) cost £10,000 you could say she was not left short.


[2]: Senex, Aliquis, J.B. etc. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.II Glasgow: David Robertson & Co. p401

[3]: Source TBC

Elderslie (1782); Thomas Annan (Scottish,1829 – 1887); 1878; Albumen silver print; 11.6 * 16.2 cm (4 9/16 * 6 3/8 in.); 84.XB.1360.40; No Copyright – United States L.A. The J Paul Getty Museum. Original plans were designed by Robert Adam in 1776, but it was Robert Robinson who was engaged to construct Elderslie in 1777.
Portrait of Mary Buchanan (painter unknown. possibly copy by McNee vI p14). Photographer unknown.

Mary Buchanan was the daughter of Archibald Buchanan of Silverbanks and Auchentorlie and granddaughter of both George Buchanan of Mount Vernon and Provost Peter Murdoch of Rosehill. After Mary’s death her estate was mainly left to her unmarried daughters Helen, Mary & Joanna. She bequeathed the following to The Merchants’ House:

vI p13 ‘Extract from the Minute of the Directors of the Merchants’ House of Glasgow, convened of 25 April 1850: having expressed a desire that a sum of £1,ooo of her means should be laid aside for accumulation, till it amounted to £2,0oo, and thereupon invested for behoof of certain decayed Members of the Merchants’ House, or their widows or orphans.

Mount Vernon; Thomas Annan (Scottish,1829 – 1887); 1878; Albumen silver print; 11.6 * 15.9 cm (4 9/16 * 6 1/4 in.); 84.XB.1360.76; No Copyright – United States L.A. The J Paul Getty Museum. The ancient name was “Windy-edge,” which it retained till about 1756, in which year the lands were acquired by George Buchanan, merchant in Glasgow, who built the oldest portion of the existing mansion, and gave it, and the estate, the present appellation. In 1827 wings were added, and the interior altered and modernised.

We are told that Alexander Spiers spent £3,800 in 1778 refurbishing his town house in Glasgow. This may explain the difference in the appearance of the two prints below purported to be of The Virginia Mansion which he moved into in 1770. Whilst it retains hipped roof, the balustraded pediment, central pair of chimneys & sculpted pediment the main changes appear to be the increase in size from 5 to 7 bays, the entrance staircase being enlarged to make a bold statement of arrival fitting of his status and the removal of the sunken basement windows gave the effect of ‘elevating’ the house.

I don’t believe either of these two engravings relate to Colen Campbell’s The Shawfield Mansion which The Virginia Mansion is suspected of being modelled on. Nor Cunninghame’s now known as GoMA. The Shawfield Mansion was a larger 7 bay from the outset. It’s chimneys were located at either gable and the roof balustrade was located at the roofs pinnacle on a central square platform; possibly a ‘belvedere’. A completely different profile from those seen below in the balustraded pediment. Whilst Cunningham’s was 7 bay it also had a half story on the third floor. Ruling it out completely. Also ruled out are both Crawford’s mansion on Queen St & Dreghorn’s mansion on great Clyde Street. Both of these captured in engravings.

He also spent over £12,000 on improvements to his Renfrewshire property at Elderslie including a massive flood prevention scheme.

The Virginia Mansion as first built circa1752. Engraver unknown. No copyright.
Engraving of The Virginia Mansion made prior to demolition in 1842. Source:

George Oswald of Scotstoun (1735-1819)

Gainsborough Portrait at Bath (19th century photograph) of George Oswald of Scotstoun. Photographer Thomas Annan

George Oswald & Margaret Smythe m.1764 had between 9-13 children depending on you read. He the son of Rev George Oswald D.D., Presbyterian minister of Dunnet the most northerly parish in Scotland. Nephew of the Rev James Oswald, Episcopalian minister of Watten & also the nephew of Richard Oswald of Auchincruive of The Paris Treaty and Bunce Island infamy.

Initially George worked in the Glasgow firm run by his father’s cousins the brothers Richard Oswald (1687–1763) of Scotstoun and Alexander Oswald (1694–1766). They left him the Scotstoun and Balshagray estates, both having died by 1766. Oswald became head of the tobacco firm of Oswald, Dennistoun, & Co. of Glasgow. He was also a partner in The South Sugar House and being well read became Rector of the University in 1797.

Gainsborough Portrait of Margaret Smythe of Methven (1747-1791).

Margaret the daughter of David Smith of Melven. Together with Oswald they had between 10-13 children. One ‘Elizabeth’ lived to the grand old age of 97.  It is said that Elizabeth kept very good health and by the age of ninety she had never had cause to see a doctor; by the age of ninety-five, Elizabeth retained all her powers of mind and body. One thing is for sure with between 9-13 children you would have needed a big house. George Oswald must have been happy staying at Virginia Street after all he resided there for close on 25 years. Only leaving in 1793 not long after his wife passed in 1791.

The following is taken from The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry in relation to Scotstoun and it’s owners:

GEORGE OSWALD of Scotstoun, and afterwards of Auchincruive, born 1735, died 6th October 1819, one of our old “Virginia Dons.” His firm of Oswald, Dennistoun & Co. stands sixth in the list of tobacco importers of 1774. He was also a partner (though not one of the original six) in the famous old Ship Bank. He inherited, as did his brother, their father’s love of books, and he was not unfitly chosen Rector of the University in 1797. He succeeded in 1784 to Auchincruive, but this he gave over by arrangement to his son, and lived on in his house in Virginia Street, (9) and at Scotstoun : he died at Scotstoun. By his wife, Margaret Smyth of Methven, daughter of his father’s old patron, he had thirteen children.

The Ship Bank, the first private bank in Glasgow, began in 1750 with six partners – William Macdowall of Castle Sempill, Andrew Buchanan of Drumpellier, Allan Dreghorn of Ruchill, Robert Dunlop of Househill, Colin Dunlop of Carmyle (John Dunlop’s father), and Alexander Houston of Jordanhill. The original contract was for 25 years. At its expiry in 1775, only three of the six founders remained, Castle Sempill, Carmyle, and Jordanhill. George Oswald and James Dennistoun of Colgrain had been in the meantime assumed. The five old partners then retired, and Robin Carrick was rewarded for his long labours by heading the new copartnery.

Methven Castle circa 1664 built for Patrick Smythe of Braco by John Mylne.
Photographer: unknown
Methven Castle was the home of Margaret Tudor (1489-1541), queen of James IV, King of Scots, and daughter of Henry VII of England, after her third marriage to Henry Stewart, 1st Lord Methven, in 1528. 
Scotstoun; Thomas Annan (Scottish,1829 – 1887); 1878; Albumen silver print; 11.1 * 16.2 cm (4 3/8 * 6 3/8 in.); 84.XB.1360.87; No Copyright – United States L.A. The J Paul Getty Museum The mansion was built in the early 18th century by William Walkinshaw of Barrowfield and it was acquired by Richard and Alexander Oswald in 1748. It was extended in 1825 to designs prepared by the architect David Hamilton for Elizabeth Oswald (1767-1864).
Auchincruive (1767), Oswald Hall Photographer: Dan. © Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0 In 1758 the estate passed to James Murray of Broughton, who sold it in 1764 to the merchant and slave-trader Richard Oswald, who built the present Auchincruive House. Robert Adam provided a design for a house to James Murray in 1764, although Oswald built the house, in modified form, in 1767. Adam’s scheme for the interiors was carried out as planned

John Dunlop of Rosebank (1755 – 1820)

Portrait by Raeburn, Henry; John Dunlop (1774-1820), Provost of Glasgow (1794-96); Glasgow Museums;

Dunlop was the son of Colin Dunlop of Carmyle (1706-1777), a tobacco merchant, co-founder of The Old Ship Bank and Lord Provost of Glasgow, 1770-72. Colin Dunlop’s house was directly east of John Murdoch’s on the south side of Argyle Street and was at one point the oldest house remaining there. John followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming Lord Provost, 1794-96.

Circa1780 John married Jessie Miller of Glenlee, daughter of Thomas Miller, Lord Glenlee and granddaughter of John Murdoch of Rosebank (1709-1776). Afterwards, in 1796, he became Collector of Customs at Bo’ness and Greenock.

John Murdoch of Rosebank served as Lord Provost of Glasgow three times:1746 to 1748, 1750 to 1752 and 1758 to 1760, in a pattern interspersed with his brother-in-law Andrew Cochrane. Murdoch Avenue in Cambuslang is named after him. In 1750 he built the first house on Argyle Street (standing on the corner of Dunlop Street) and long-known as the Buck’s Head Inn. It’s the reason Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson’s building is now known as The Bucks Head.

John Dunlop’s grandfather was James Dunlop II who was bred to the law. He married Lilias, daughter of Robert Campbell of North Woodside. She died in 1709 in childbirth at the age of 34yrs, after having had sixteen children in nineteen years!

Dunlop was reputedly a ‘man of taste’. An active-minded man, he is described as “a merchant, a sportsman, a mayor, a collector, squire, captain and poet, politician and factor”. His humour and social qualities made him sought after. A wit and a poet, he wrote several pieces, among which are the songs “Here’s to the year that’s awa,” and “O dinna ask me gin I lo’e ye.” He was a leading member of the famous Hodge Podge Club.

Taking advantage of the fine situation and beautiful wood Rosebank his country estate in Cambuslang was renowned as one of the very finest places on the Clyde.

His son, John Colin Dunlop, Advocate, was many years Sheriff of Renfrewshire, and was well known as the author of the “History of Fiction” and other works. He died unmarried on 26th January 1842, an only child, and his father’s direct line terminated with him.

Rosebank was sold in 1801 to David Dale the industrialist & merchant. John Dunlop died at Greenock 4th September 1820.

© Cicerone: MerchantCityGlasgow.  All Rights Reserved. 2021 

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