FED up with all this rain?

If only you could get yourself a Drooko, umbrella of choice for Royalty and the stars…

Master of publicity Joseph Wright, manufacturer and proprietor of the Glasgow Umbrella Manufactory, was ahead of his time when it came to marketing.

“I think he would have used social media very well, had it been around in his day,” agrees Rebecca Quinton, curator of Glasgow Museums’ European costume and textile collection.

“He seemed to be very good at sending umbrellas to the rich and famous.”

While Glasgow Museums remain closed because of coronavirus restrictions, Rebecca has been researching some of the fascinating items stored in the city collections, uncovering the intriguing stories of their makers and wearers.

Rebecca Quinton

Rebecca Quinton

In a new, occasional series for Times Past, we will be sharing some of those Tales From the Wardrobe, kicking off with the city’s once-famous umbrella man.

Joseph was born in 1849 in Airdrie, the son of James Wright, a hairdresser, and his wife, Margaret Shearer. By 1884, he had opened premises at 48 Argyll Arcade in Glasgow, and his first advertisement in the Glasgow Times’s sister newspaper, then called the Glasgow Herald, states that his umbrellas were made with ‘dagmar silk covers’ guaranteed ‘not to cut’.

The listing goes on to state that ‘all umbrellas re-covered bear our name and trade mark - the dog Wallace carrying the umbrellas…’

An advertisement in 1886 marks the first mention of the company’s name as the Glasgow Umbrella Manufactory and the Drooko umbrella.

“It was Joseph’s joke, really, a play on the Glasgow word ‘drookit’,” smiles Rebecca. “ This advert stated that ‘Her Majesty was presented a few days ago with a specially made Umbrella from Mr Joseph Wright’s noted manufactory.’

“The handle of the umbrella is a round globe of fine gold representing the world, studded over with precious stones to represent Her Majesty’s dominions.”

The Royal Drooko. Pic: Glasgow Museums

The Royal Drooko. Pic: Glasgow Museums

In 1888 the umbrellas were rebranded the ‘Royal Drooko’ with other noted owners including the Princess of Wales, the actresses Lillie Langtry and Ellen Terry, and prime ministers, William Gladstone and Arthur Balfour.

Impressively, he even had a poster designed by esteemed design sisters Margaret and Frances Macdonald around 1895-6 to promote his wares. (Margaret Macdonald would later marry fellow designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.)

The poster designed for Drooko by the Macdonald sisters.

The poster designed for Drooko by the Macdonald sisters.

Renowned poet, wit and scholar, Professor John Blackie, who was well known for his flamboyance and characteristic dress, once wrote a poem about the Drooko: “No tempest now can touch me more; I walk the world a rain-tight fell, though the skirt a deluge pour, beneath the shield of Wright’s Umbrella.”

READ MORE: The18th century Glaswegians who could teach us a thing or two about recycled fashion

Joseph’s firm became successful with shops opening on Argyle Street, Union Street, New City Road and Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow, as well as in Edinburgh, Greenock, Ayr and briefly London. The ‘Royal Drooko’ was also available to the public via mail order with advertisements as far afield as New Zealand.

Joseph died suddenly, aged just 66, in 1915, and by the mid-30s, his firm had been wound down.

Look out for more Tales from the Wardrobe in Times Past soon.