Alexander Bryce 1788-1855 and his company


Portrait of Alexander Bryce (in the possession of a descendent)

Family historians tend to focus on individuals, but to know the ‘character’ of a family it can be useful to look at business histories.  The Bryce family were originally  lowland family who carried on their trade in the thriving Glasgow on the 19th century. By the mid-19th century Glasgow was  the second city of  Britain, in 1871 it had a population of half a million people and a substantial industrial economy. Its industries  included textiles, engineering and shipping, creating a well-off middle class and merchant community, although the city had areas of great poverty and was marred by outbreaks of disease.  During the 19th century it developed a transport infra-structure marked by the opening of Queen Street Station in 1849, improvements in water supply and a range of public buildings in the central area.  It was against this background that Alexander Bryce & Co, wholesale wine and spirit merchants, thrived.

Alexander Bryce was born in Galloway in the Scottish lowlands in around 1778, his death certificate in 1855 gives his  birthplace as Tongeland, a small village close to Dumfries.  Nothing is known of his parents, but he was clearly a literate, educated and ambitious man.

In 1802 he married Henrietta Kirkpatrick in Kirkcudbright.  Henrietta had been born in 1780 in New Abbey, a village close to Dumfries.  She was the daughter of John Kirkpatrick and Henrietta Tait,  one of at least three children.  Her brother, also John Kirkpatrick, was the father of Alexander Kirkpatrick who was to become the business partner and son-in-law of Alexander Bryce.  The Kirkpatricks were in some way related to the notable family of the same name ‘of Closeburn’ and it is likely that Alexander Bryce’s fortunes were improved by his marriage.

Alexander  Bryce had a successful career as  large wholesale wine and spirit merchant in Glasgow. He had started in the business as a traveller for the firm of McCulloch, Dewar & Co.  The firm was a substantial business, the senior partner  was the father of the notable Scottish artist, Horatio McCulloch.  The company  carried on an extensive trade in shipping ‘soft goods’ (probably textile products) out to Jamaica and in return importing native produce, mainly rum, on a large scale.  Scotland, especially the lowlands, had deep links to the West Indies with many merchants trading with the islands, notable slave estates owned by Scots and  Scots working on the estates in various capacities.  Vast quantities of rum and sugar were shipped through Glasgow and rum was the city’s major alcoholic drink of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.   The famous Pig Club, a drinking club for the elite of Glasgow’s merchants, founded in 1798, had consumed enormous amounts of rum, often rum punch, at its meetings.  The population of Glasgow around this period drank rum as a favoured drink – often  flavoured with pine-apple.

Around 1809 Alexander appears to have taken over the business although he dealt in wine and spirits rather than the exporting of goods.  It is worth noting that in 1807 the Abolition of Slave Trade Act was passed which, although it did not abolish slavery, certainly impacted on businesses using enslaved people and may well have altered the nature of the business in which Alexander was employed.  There can be no doubt that the sugar and rum passing through Glasgow at this time had roots in slavery in the West Indies.

In the years following their marriage Alexander and Henrietta had number of children, Henrietta was born in 1808, James in 1810, Elizabeth in 1818, Ann around 1820 and Ellen in 1823.  The business, based at 42 St Andrew’s Square in Central Glasgow clearly thrived.  Alexander was active in the merchant community that was such a feature of the city at the time.

He was an active member of the Glasgow Galloway Brotherly Society,  a charitable trust founded in 1791 with the purpose of assisting the families of men from Galloway who were working in Glasgow.  Alexander clearly had a sense of his lowland roots, the Society dealt with an area ‘comprehending the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and the Shire of Wigtown’ this was the territory from which he had come.  He was President of the Society three times 1835-36, 1836-37 and 1845-46; John Webster who was president 1867-8 was almost certainly his son-in-law and Baillie James McLennan President 1886-7 was closely related to him by marriage and had a deep relationship with his business.

In 1841  Census Alexander and Henrietta are living at their business address with three of their daughters, Ellen, Ann and Elizabeth.   Elizabeth is married and is there with her two sons – Alexander and James Belford although her husband, James Belford, who she had married in 1837 is not present.  In 1851 she is still with her parents and listed as Elizabeth B Bryce, her husband and children are not on the record.  The St Andrews Square household in 1851 includes two daughters and four workers along with Alexander and Henrietta.

In August 1854 Henrietta died at 35 Menteith Place, followed almost exactly a year later by Alexander.  His will, a fairly substantial and detailed document, effectively gave the goodwill of his company to his business partner and son-in-law, Alexander Kirkpatrick and underplays his only son, James.  A descendent recounts a family story that suggests James was a bookish man who had very poor eyesight, this may explain why he does not appear to play an active role in his father’s business after his death.   In 1853  Alexander Kirkpatrick had become part of the family marrying  Elizabeth Bryce, who was presumably widowed, and in 1854 their first daughter Elizabeth Bryce Kirkpatrick was born.  Another of Bryce’s business partners benefited, Peter Clark  the brother-in-law of  James Bryce.  Peter Clark had been born in Campbeltown in around 1820, his family were an established part of the farming and business community of the area.  His sister, Flora, had married James Bryce in 1835.  Peter Clark had worked in the spirit trade in Glasgow from the early 1840s and by 1851 was living in the St Andrews area of Glasgow with his wife and two children.

Alexander Kirkpatrick was  born in Balmaghie in 1817 and was already a wine and spirit merchant in 1841 when he is staying in a hotel in Liverpool.  In 1861 he is living in Hope Park House, a substantial Glasgow establishment with his wife, two daughters, one of his wife’s sisters and  her niece.  Hope Park House was associated with the Glasgow banker, Lewis Potter who was to serve a prison term for his part in the collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1873.  Ellen Bryce Kirkpatrick, Alexander’s younger daughter, married Potter’s son, James George Potter, in the early 1870s.  The Kirpatricks are clearly a  wealthy family living in a quality house with four servants.  However, Alexander was seeking something even  better for, in November 1870, the Dundee Courier Angus noted the ‘purchase of Allanshaw Estate by Alexander Kirkpatrick of Calderbank for 17k .’  Allanshaw House in Hamilton, near Glasgow, was built on the estate, with the foundation stone laid in June 1871.  The house was in the fashionable Scottish baronial style and by 1881 Alexander and his wife were living in it with a household that included a butler, a cook, a lady’s maid and four other female staff.  Also present in the 1881 census is Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Paterson, the child of Henrietta Alexandrina Kirkpatrick, their daughter who had  married a notable Free Church clergyman, Thomas Makdougall Brisbane Paterson.  Paterson was Minister of West Church, Hamilton, 1875-1920 – the church that Alexander Kirkpatrick attended and had provided much of the money for its building.  Allanshaw House was the source of a court case in 1880 when Alexander took legal action against a coal mining company, the Allanshaw Coal Company, who appear to have mined around his property.  Allanshaw remained in the family until in the early 1930s when it was demolished.  The last proprietor was Warren Skeffington Wynne, the Anglo-Irish husband of Alexander Kirkpatrick’s grand-daughter Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Paterson – the will of her grandfather was entailed until 1928 when his daughter Ellen died.

In 1875 Alexander retired from Alexander Bryce and Co, he died in 1887 leaving a very substantial  personal fortune of £174,000.  The business was assumed by Peter Clark and James McLennan, who had been a traveller for the company.  James McLennan  had married Henrietta Bryce, daughter of James Bryce and Flora Clark, in 1868.  He was born in 1838 in Coylton, near Ayr, the son of an Innkeeper; his mother, Isabella Brown was distantly related to the poet Burns. The Brown connection was clearly valued by James McLennan since ‘Brown’ features in the names of some of his children.   James was  an ambitious man and by 1881 was living with his wife and children in Leslie Street, central Glasgow.  He was to become a wealthy man, active in the merchant community and still remembered by the McLennan Arch, which had formed the centrepiece of the facade of the Adams designed Assembly Rooms in Ingram Street and in 1892 was moved at his expense to the entrance of Glasgow Green.

When Peter Clark died in 1882  McLennan became the sole owner of  the company.  He was very active in Glasgow commercial society, a member of the Town Council, a Magistrate,  a Deputy Convener of the Trades House and a JP.  He had eleven surviving children, including Isabella Brown McLennan who married into the  Russell ship building family and Flora Clark McLennan who married the police surgeon John Adams Boyd.

James McLennan’s older son, Andrew born in 1866 to his first wife Agnes Watt Logan, was to follow his father.  University educated and well-travelled he was abroad when his father died.  He returned to Glasgow and, with his half-brother, James Bryce McLennan bought the company from the trustees.  It focussed on distilling and blending, reflecting the growing popularity of whiskey in Scotland and beyond.  Andrew had other business interests including being a Director of Convalmore Distillery for a period.   Like his father he was a Deacon Convener of the Trades House and active in Glasgow’s commercial life.  He had wider business interests, in 1914 his is noted as a director of the Antelope Gold Mine (Rhodesia), the Gold Fields Rhodesian Development Company and the Selukwe Columbian Gold Field.

In June 1916 the Company was formally wound up.  James signed the documentation published in the Edinburgh Gazette on 9th June.

James Bryce McLennan celebrated the family link to Burns, presenting a statue of Burns  to the British Institute at the Sorbonne in Paris.  This statue was hidden  in a cellar during the Nazi occupation.   When Paris was liberated in 1944 the statue was removed from its hiding place and restored to its original position. In recognition of the care taken by the Institute in preventing the statue falling into German hands, the Burns Federation in 1946 presented a set of the Scottish National Dictionary to the Sorbonne.

James Bryce McLennan  died in Scotland in 1950.  His wife, Robina Birnie Lawrence had died in France, where they had property, in 1946.  Andrew died in 1941 in Kirkland House near Closeburn, he had never married.


 BRYCE (ALEXANDER)  AND CO.  Whisky Distillers, Blenders and Bottlers, and Wholesale Wine Merchants, 12 and 13, St. Andrew Square, and 140, High Street, Glasgow. Hours of Business: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Established in 1812 by Alexander Bryce, the groat-grandfather of the present principals. Premises: Very extensive. The firm possess many brands of Ports, Sherries, Champagnes, Clarets, Hock, Burgundies, Pale and Brown Brandies, Choice Old Whiskies, Gins, Rums, Liqueurs, &c. Connection: United Kingdom, Foreign, Colonial. Telephones: No. 43 Tron (Nat.); No. 124 Bell (Post Office). Telegraphic and Cable Address: ” Barleycorn, Glasgow.”  (Who’s Who In Business.  Whitakers. 1914)