THERE is a street near Glasgow Green called Monteith Row, named after one of Glasgow’s most honoured men who was Lord Provost twice.

However, there were also darker elements to the story of Henry Monteith…

Born in 1765, Henry came from a well-established and well-to-do family.  A merchant and member of the Tontine Exchange and later the Royal Exchange, he was Lord Provost of Glasgow twice and was for a period a Member of Parliament.

Glasgow Times: Henry MonteithHenry Monteith (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

The Monteith family had come to Anderston from Aberfoyle in 1734, setting up handloom-weaving in Bishop Street. Henry Monteith was the son of James Monteith and his wife Rebecca Thomson.

The family prospered when it began to import fine French and Dutch yarns, and became a cambric manufacturer on a large scale, with a bleachfield near their house and manufacturing business. 

Glasgow Times: The Necropolis in Glasgow.The Necropolis in Glasgow. (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

Three of James’ sons joined him in the cotton trade. James, the second son, was initially a dealer in cotton twist at Cambuslang and in 1792 bought David Dale’s Blantyre cotton mill. John Monteith, the eldest son, formed his own company in 1801 and established the first Scottish power loom factory, at Pollokshaws.

Henry Monteith, the youngest son, studied at Glasgow University, graduating in 1776. He trained early in the art of weaving in his father’s factory and by 1785 he began the journey which would take the family business to new heights of success and prosperity.  When not quite of age, he was running a large cotton weaving mill, Henry Monteith and Company, at Anderston.

He did not win many friends, however, when he cut wages in response to competition. His employees rioted, damaging the factory and assaulting him in fury.

In 1802 he opened a second factory making bandana handkerchiefs in Barrowfield, and on the death of his brother John the same year, he took on the principal management of his power loom factory in Pollokshaws.

His factories encompassed bleaching, turkey red dyeing and calico printing, as well as cotton spinning and weaving. Two years later his workforce peaked at 6000 employees.

The ascendancy (and the great prosperity) of the tobacco lords was largely over, but the West India merchants were still influential. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the cotton manufacturers were taking over.  Henry Monteith played a major role in securing the supremacy of the cotton trade in the city’s economy. 

He was highly effective, making large amounts of money, leading to him working with some of Glasgow’s most notable entrepreneurs.  In 1809 he appeared as a partner with James Ewing and James Oswald, in founding a new Glasgow bank.

He also became a powerful figure in municipal politics. Unlike his two partners in the Glasgow Bank, and Kirkman family, all of whom were Whigs, Henry Monteith was a committed Tory. From 1819 he was reported as taking a ‘strong line’ on the reform movement.

He was elected to Glasgow Council as a Tory Lord Provost 1814-1815 and 1818-1819, a Tory Dean of Guild in 1818 and a Tory MP (Linlithgow) in 1820.

In his role as Lord Provost during 1920, he had to make provisions for the Radical War of the Scottish workforce, employing militia to counteract this insurrection. In the same capacity he oversaw the hanging of James Wilson on August 30, 1820 on the alleged charge of treason.

His most controversial parliamentary action was his involvement in the Jamaican slave trials of 1826.

He lived at Westbank House on Renfrew Road in Glasgow. In 1820 he came to an arrangement with the Fullerton family (whose daughter he later married) to acquire their estate in Carstairs, four miles from Lanark and commissioned William Burn to design a country seat for him, known as Carstairs House.

Glasgow Times: Monteith Row, GlasgowMonteith Row, Glasgow (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

Henry retired there in the middle 1830s, but he made one last public appearance in Glasgow.  In January 1837, the Tories threw a great banquet in honour of Sir Robert Peel. Henry was the obvious choice for Chairman, and if you look carefully at the picture of the dinner, you can see him seated next to Sir Robert Peel.

Glasgow Times: The Peel BanquetThe Peel Banquet (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

His son Robert inherited his estate, but Henry also had a son with a woman alleged to have been a member of his staff, and whom he never married.

Apart from Monteith Row, Henry has a very large mausoleum at the Necropolis in his memory. He is buried at Ramshorn kirkyard, and also has a memorial window in the Cathedral. Carstairs House was renamed Monteith House.