Shanks & Co. Ltd., 1851-1969

John Shanks 1826-1895

John Shanks (1826 - 1895) was the founder of Shanks & Co. Ltd., a business which would become integral to the town of Barrhead and go on to enjoy worldwide success.

John (pictured right) had worked as an apprentice plumber for Wallace & Connell, Paisley. However, from the outset, he was a man of great ambition and in 1851, at the age of 25, decided to set up his own business in the High Street, Paisley.

By 1853, John had opened a second shop in Lowndes Street, Barrhead. Before the year was over, he moved to a much more central location on Main Street opposite the free-church and ran both his Paisley and Barrhead businesses until 1855. It was at this time that he made the decision to focus all his efforts on the town of Barrhead and invited his brother Andrew Ferrier Shanks to join him in his venture.

During the 1850s and 60s, there were steady advances in sanitation. Cholera and typhoid were now recognised as the result of poor sanitation and efforts were being made to prevent outbreaks of these diseases which had in the past caused so much misery in the town. The opening of the Gorbals Gravitational Waterworks allowed a piped water supply to be introduced to Barrhead and was followed by the installation of sewage pipes.

John was extremely inventive and realised that these developments had created a gap in the market. He began to experiment with the manufacture of water closets and in c.1860 established a brass foundry and finishing shop on the second floor of his workshop. By 1866 he was so committed to this venture that he built a foundry which became known as the Tubal Foundry. This would grow to become the Tubal Works, an expansive factory complex which sprawled across its Main Street site, part of which The Foundry now sits on.

View of the Tubal Works, 1880

Indeed, John became so passionate about this part of the business that he handed over the plumbing side to Andrew and began to focus solely on his sanitary ware business.

The business hit difficulties in 1875 when John was forced take out sequestration. Andrew sold the plumbing business and took over until John had paid his creditors. In 1878, the partnership of Shanks & Co. was established with John and Andrew having equal shares and Andrew's son William holding 10 percent.

From this time, Shanks & Co. went from strength to strength. The company began to employ agents and open shops in other UK cities: there was a Shanks store in Lambeth Hill, London which later ended up in New Bond Street; a Glasgow office in West Nile Street and later on offices in Manchester and Newcastle.