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William McGeoch - The Founding Father

Published 7th January 2019 William McGeoch 1807 - 1896 To explain the circumstances in which the firm of William McGeoch & Company was founded, we can do no better than quote the following extract from the ‘Glasgow Citizen’ “Among those who heard the stories of the gold in Glasgow’s smoke and dust was William McGeoch, a Wigtownshire farmer’s son who had already broken away from the land to work in a lawyer’s office. Now he had left law too and joined the great drift to the city where he became apprenticed to a local ironmongery firm - John Stewart & Company. By 1832 his ‘time was out’ and he had saved enough money to start up in business for himself. It is an indication of the young man’s confidence that he opened his first warehouse for general and marine ironmongery, not in any obscure side street, but in Argyle Street (right), the busiest thoroughfare in the city.” It was evident in 1832 that the city of Glasgow was growing rapidly - its population was now over 200,000 compared to 77,000 at the turn of the century and this would obviously mean an increased demand for products of every sort. No doubt the first William figured that ironmongery would be a good trade to start with which had prompted him to learn his trade from John Stewart. William’s premises in Argyle Street were only a short walk from Broomielaw and the River Clyde (left) in which it might be said that the future of his business was chiefly to lie. He must have studied the trade that ship chandlers were doing with small coasters which were able to use Broomielaw where the depth of water at low tide was seven to eight feet, just deep enough to float a small ship. But the year before he started in 1831, an event had taken place not far away which had very great significance for him. The first iron ship ever to be launched anywhere in the world emerged from the Garscube Road Foundry of John Neilson providing Clydesiders interested in marine affairs with a huge new industry and opportunity. Browsing among chandlers’ stocks, William decided that he could take a share of that business with copper and brass lanterns, tarry twine, marlinspikes, coir mats, deck and cabin stocks of every kind His love of the sea and ships became one of the more deeply established family traits which would reveal themselves fully in future years. In 1835, William married a Miss Helen Jackson and they were destined to have a large family which included four sons – Andrew, William, Alexander and John. All of them except John would enter the business in due course.
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