Local Employers

The economy of East Renfrewshire has changed over many years from an agricultural one to one predominantly based on the textile industry; an industry that reached its peak in the middle of the 19th century. However, in addition to textiles, other industries and businesses developed in the area. One of the most notable was Shanks & Co of Barrhead.

Shanks & Co.

In 1860-65, a piped water supply and sewage system were introduced to Barrhead. John Shanks, a plumber from Paisley anticipated the resulting demand for sanitary ware and opened a workshop in Barrhead.

Shanks patented a non-return valve that allowed flushing toilets to be installed in ships and due to this and further inventions, his business flourished. He opened a brass foundry to produce the brass fittings and taps for his sanitary ware. This was followed in 1904 with a pottery in the centre of town, which allowed the company to produce their own ceramics.

The name Shanks became world famous and the company's claims to fame include, producing sanitary ware for the ill-fated Titanic liner and the fact that there is a Shanks toilet in the Dalai Lama's palace in Tibet.

In the 1960s it was taken over by Armitage Ware Ltd and a new company Armitage Shanks Ltd was created. In 1989 the Tubal works closed followed by the Ceramic works in 1992 and the remaining business moved to England. 

Gasworks and Water Company

Busby owed its growth as a village to the cotton mills and printworks but in addition, there were the Gasworks established in the 1830s and the Busby Water Company in 1875. The Water Company supplied water to many surrounding areas including Giffnock and as far as Bogton (Muirend). However, supplies were never satisfactory and people had to tie a cloth over their taps to catch the solid matter that would come out. In 1907 it was taken over by Renfrew County Council and Lanark County Council.

Barrhead Kid Company

As the mills and printworks started to close, the buildings were often taken over by other industries. For example, after World War II, the Barrhead Kid Company took over the old Broadlie Mill in Neilston and converted it to a Tannery called Clyde Leather. Although it has changed hands it has still retained the name of Clyde Leather and still functions as a tannery today.

James McIlwraith & Sons, the Fereneze Works and Thomson' Waterproofing Co. Ltd.

In 1870, the old Gateside Cotton Spinning Mill was taken over by James McIlwraith & Sons from Govan for the manufacture of Morocco Leathers. An employee Thomas Thomson rose through the ranks to become manager and eventually bought the works when James McIlwraith died. He changed the name of the work to the Fereneze Works, which was home to Thomson's Waterproofing Co. Ltd. The company prospered producing waterproof material, which was in high demand during the South African War and again in World War I and II as it was used for tenting and camouflage. Another product which helped the company grow, was a wall decoration material named Alhambrine. It was given this name as it was used to decorate the interior of the Alhambra Theatre in the 1900s. It was also used for train interiors including the royal train used at the Delhi Durbar in 1911. In more modern times, the company diversified into rubber technology and fibreglass production.

Busby Laundry

Other, smaller businesses also prospered. Busby Laundry was a major local employer from 1899 until it closed after a fire in 1965. It stood in what is now Riverside Terrace and was run by Isabella and Janet Alexander of Langside.

Anderson's Garage

In Mearns, Anderson's Garage opened in Newton Mearns on the Kilmarnock Road near the cross in 1904. They were agents for Humber Cars and also operated as a vehicle repair business.

William Anderson originally established the firm as coal merchants in 1832 in Spiersbridge before moving into the motor business.

Later the firm diversified into engineering. They bought in the chassis to which they then added a vehicle body.

Anderson's was a major employer in the area and at its peak had a work force of just over 100 and produced 1700 cars a year. Anderson's closed in 1980.

Maurice Anderson won the Monte Carlo Rally 6 times in Anderson cars packed full of new inventions.

The four-wheel drive vehicle was an Anderson invention.

Anderson's Garage at Mearns Cross, c.1920 Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window