Thursday, 5 January 2012

James Calder and the railway

Time for some obsessing about James Calder again. This time with a slight twist. A railway twist.

I'd best start with an explanation. The North British Railway (great name, that) was the major rail company in Scotland. With a network of lines in the industrial parts of central Scotland, it had a virtual monopoly in many areas. Hence the enthusiasm of Calder and others for the establishment of  a rival rail company. Presumably in the hope of seeing transportation costs fall. Beer is, after all, pretty bulky stuff.

Word of explanation number two. In order to build a railway line an Act of parliament was required. Even the merger of railway companies needed to be approved by parliament. Hence this parliamentary debate about

"THE FORTH AND CLYDE RAILWAY. FORTH & CLYDE JUNCTION & CALEDONIAN RAILWAY COMPANIES AMALGAMATION BILL. This bill came on for consideration before a Select Committee, of which the Hon. W. O. Stanley was chairman, on Wednesday. The bill was opposed by the North British Railway.

. . . .

James Calder, of Alloa, examined - am a partner in the firm of McNellan & Co., brewers. We have a very extensive business, and send by the North British Railway from 12,000 to 15,000 barrels per year. There are six or seven other breweries in Alloa, and they send together about 75,000 barrels a year, nearly the whole of which goes by the North British Company. There are also eight or ten woollen manufactories at Alloa, and large distilleries also, which are dependent for railway accommodation upon the North British Railway. The present bill would be of great advantage to the district by introducing a healthy competition in rates, accommodation, and convenience. The other towns in the district are in the same position as Alloa. All the traders in the district would be benefitted by the bill, except, perhaps, the coal-owners, who seem to be afraid of the competition of the Wishaw coal."
Stirling Observer - Thursday 28 March 1867, page 5.

Did you spot all the interesting bits?

First, James Calder was already a partner in McNellan & Co. in 1867. Judging by the fact that he went to parliament rather than McNellan, he took a leading role in the company. Calder was an energetic man, active in local politics in addition to his business activities.

Then there are those barrel numbers. 12,000 to 15,000 a year that Calder shipped by rail. It's worth remembering here that Alloa was a port and that Calder and McNellan's premises were called the Shore Brewery for a reason. I mention this because it's certain that some beer was shipped by sea. Even after the completion of the railway network.

In 1871, 9362 people lived in Alloa. Let's see how those 75,000 barrels of beer exported by rail would have amounted to per head of population of Alloa. I make it just over 2,307 pints per head of population. Or way more than the inhabitants of Alloa could ever possibly drink. And that's just the beer exported by rail. Clearly beer was an important export for the town.

Finally, 75,000 barrels were exported by rail from Alloa, of which McNellan's share was about a fifth. And, in total, there were 7 or 8 breweries in the town. What does that tell us? That Calder almost certainly wasn't the largest, the average amount of beer shipped being around 10,000 barrels per brewery.

It's all been very educational today, hasn't it?

1 comment:

Peter Brown said...

Timber is another point to consider when mentioning James Calder and the railway.

James Calder (1832-1917) was his father's elder son and must have shared some of his father's thinking.
Charles (1812-1865), had constant battles with the railway companies. There was little love between Charles Calder and Railway companies. They needed each other. I suspect The Calders felt robbed by monopoly fees imposed by the railways, who also probably had different ideas about where the rails should be placed, and who might pay.

Four generations of the Calder family were timber merchants. The Company 'Calders and Grandidge' continues today in Boston, but there is no longer any family connection of which I am aware. Supplying sleepers and poles to railways was part of the Calder timber business. The Calder's first clients were coal miners, who wanted pit props. The coal miners needed the railways to move the coal. Railways were more convenient (door - door) than floating timber down river and then loading onto ships.

I am persuaded that James involvement supplying timber to the mines around Alloa was what brought him to the place and thus one of the reasons he bought The Shore Brewery. His mother's ownership of the Green Tree Inn in Blairgowrie was probably another. As an entrepreneur, he saw the value of business in the port of Alloa (timber in and beer out). He had some small ships.