J & J Cleland & Co.

28 Virginia Street (After 1826 became 71 Virginia St. Demolished c1975)

The listing in the Glasgow Directory (1791) of John Cleland, wright in Grahamston, is the first reference to these cabinet makers. It was from Grahamston, about a mile from the commercial centre of the city, that John Cleland and Son, Cabinet Makers and Joiners, advertised a range of household furniture and looking glasses in the Glasgow Advertiser of 20 August 1792. By 1799, the firm had moved to 28 Virginia Street.

In 1800 James Cleland assumed control of the business from his father and took on William Jack as partner. Between 1803 and 1811 Cleland and Jack advertised extensively in the Glasgow press and continued to develop their commercial interests, which included building and property leasing. They employed a range of specialist craftsmen including carvers, gilders, bronze-workers, turners, japanners and upholsterers in addition to straightforward cabinet makers. David Jones notes it was James Cleland who signed the preface of The Glasgow Book of Prices for Manufacturing Cabinet Work, launched on 14 August 1806, on behalf of the masters. Edinburgh had issued its own a year earlier.

Interesting that during this period we have in Virginia Street James Cleland in charge of the wrights and a little later Edward Khull from 65 Virginia Street in charge of the city’s printers. It would appear Virginia Street had not just been a ‘des res’ for the city’s merchants and Lord Provosts, it’s financial banking centre but would also house the leaders of artisan trades such as Carpentry(wrights) and Printing as the street transitioned from mainly residential (with strict deed burdens) to mixed use in the early 1800s.

Another significant local firm, who were no doubt major competitors of Cleland & Jack, was John Reid & Co. who moved from Argyll Street to newly-built premises on Virginia Street in 1801. Their warehouse stock amounted to 1,200 individually-specified items of domestic furniture. It is in this warehouse that a tragic fire would break out at the foot of Virginia Street in July 1812 leading to the loss of life as artisans tried in vain to save furniture as the fire took hold.

It is this centralisation of craftsmen that no doubt influenced the Black Bull Inn site being chosen as a suitable location for the Mann Byars department store c1847. This would later lead to the ‘clustering’ of similar enterprises. Marks & Spencer opened its first small Glasgow store nearby in 1919. Later expanding into the site of the earlier Reid & Co operation. The warehouse was situated on the west side of Virginia Street on the site now occupied by the 1930s white art deco building built for M&S prior to their move next door. In the 1960s M&S required more space and moved east yet again into the Mann Byars & Co. location on Argyle Street that Glaswegian’s would recognise today. M&S’s earliest example of a local marketing ’promotion’ at any of its stores nationwide comes from the Glasgow, Argyle Street store in 1925. 

– “we’re offering a special promotion on a popular brand of toffees, ‘Blue Boy’ toffees” 

Glasgow sideboard table with ‘boxes framed up with the table ends’, creating a three sided stage.
Bonhams, Edinburgh*

The interior view of 81 Trongate in R Chapmans print below shows a similar sideboard with boxed frame creating a three sided stage. Blair & Jones highlight that this characteristic is particular to Glasgow and Ulster. Another distinction made is that Glasgow sideboards were of more generous proportions than their Edinburgh counterparts, at 7 feet measuring a foot longer. This could imply Glasgow interiors in comparison were more spacious during this period. Another difference worth noting between the two cities was that in their respective Book of Prices when it came to ‘gaming’ (card) table designs Edinburgh offered two. Glasgow had eight!

Pollock House by William Adam b1752. Photographer unknown

By 1815, when Cleland & Jack was supplying a large quantity of furniture and upholstery for the Maxwells of Pollock, on the south side of the city, the description ‘joiners’ was omitted from their trade card.

Cleland & Jack, Glasgow: writing table*

A consistent feature of the known activities of Cleland, Jack, Paterson & Co. was their ability to keep abreast of current fashion. Almost as soon as James Cleland joined his father in business, as was noted in a Memoir of 1825, between 1788/90 he was away on an adventure to London. On his return, armed with the latest designs and ideas, he claimed that the cabinet-making firm flourished to become one of the most successful businesses in Glasgow.

An advertisement of 10 May 1811 announced the firm’s imminent move to 81 Trongate, premises which had been occupied by the draper’ firm Whitelaw & Boyd and which were described in their letting advertisement as ‘without exception the largest and most commodious of any in the city’. The opening of the new warehouse on 24 February 1812 coincided with the appointment of a new partner, Robert Paterson, and the adoption of the name Messrs Cleland, Jack, Paterson & Co.
James Cleland left the business in 1814 when appointed Superintendent of Public Works for Glasgow.

James Cleland’s successors continued to cultivate a modem image, as their press advertisements testify’:

CABINET & UPHOLSTERY WAREHOUSE 81 TRONGATE CLELAND, JACK, PATERSON & CO. respectfully announce to their numerous Friends and the Public that one of their Partners is at present in London, selecting the Newest and most Fasionable Patterns of every Article in their line. Among the different Goods, they are in daily expectation of receiving a Superb Collection of French Paper Hangings and Decorations.

Glasgow Herald, 27 January 1815

This status is supported by the discovery of invoices which identify furniture at the William Stark designed Hunterian Museum (b1807), Scotland’s first public museum, located just off the High Street in what was then Museum Square.

Portrait by Allan Ramsay; William Hunter (1718-1783); Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/william-hunter-17181783-138870
George Washington Wilson (Scottish, 1823 – 1893) 
Glasgow – The Hunterian Museum., about 1865
Albumen silver print 
84.XD.1157.1546 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. No copyright.

Blair & Jones note that a pair of invoices in Glasgow University Archives collection reveal that the interior of the museum was furnished by the firm Cleland & Jack of Virginia Street between May 1808 and September 1809. The first invoice from Cleland & Jack, addressed to ‘The Managers of the Hunterian Museum’ itemises a quantity of furniture including twenty-four ‘Bamboo’ chairs, writing tables, pembroke tables, ‘bason stands’ and a carpet, supplied between May 1808 and February 1809. None of the items from this bill appear to have survived. Items surviving from the second, more extensive invoice include eight ‘Roman’ chairs, one large circular library table and two writing tables with rising tops. The ‘eight Roman chairs covered with fine Crimson Moreen brass ornaments and strong brass castors’ were supplied in September 1809 at a cost of £5 each.

Interior of the Hunterian Museum, showing Cleland & Jack’s ‘Roman’ chairs in situ. Print from Dr William Hunter’s bookplate, n.d.*
Pair of ‘Roman’ chairs supplied by Cleland Jack, September 1809*

Blair & Jones state in their article that prior to the identification of the Hunterian pieces the only illustration of the type of furniture produced by Cleland & Jack had been an engraving in R. Chapman’s The Stranger’s Guide or A Picture of Glasgow, 1812, showing one floor of the firm’s retail warehouse at 81 Trongate (see below).

Apparently Glasgow wrights were not as particular as their Edinburgh counterparts to label and document their furniture that would assist in establishing their provenance at a later date. As in most things Glasgow was workman like. It’s possible that the scale of these commercial enterprises meant that the artisan’s hand was removed from the branding.

Interior view, display floors of Messrs. Cleland, Jack, Paterson & Co. 81 Trongate, Glasgow. From R Chapman, The Picture of Glasgow a Stranger’s Guide, 1812

*NOTE: The history on the Hunterian furniture and associated pictures are sourced from ‘Furnishing The Hunterian Museum, Glasgow Style, 1809. By Celine Blair and David Jones.

© Cicerone: MerchantCityGlasgow.  All Rights Reserved. 2021 

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