Kilmarnock & District History Group · Kilmarnock · Ayrshire · KA1 3HY

Archibald Finnie of Springhill and more about John Finnie St

Archibald Finnie of Springhill and History of John Finnie Street with order of Buildings.

1861 the Kilmarnock Town Trustees turned their attention to the last street they were permitted to install due to the Parliamentary Act of 1802 following the successful laying out of Duke Street (1859) and Union Street (1860).  In 1861 Duke Street was practically complete with all plots sold and Classical buildings in grey sandstone from Dean Quarry in place. Duke Street was funded like all previous Improvement streets up to then with any monies from Improvement Trust bank balance, Burgh Departments such as, Police Commissioners, Road Turnpike Trusts, and perhaps the large part from Public Subscribers and hopefully preferential loans from the bank. Even in Duke Street there was a delay in getting the final buildings built. In the minutes of the Improvement Trustees of 1874 at least two plots which had been sold between 1859,when the street was laid out to 1861 with the obligation to erect an approved building on the sites “within two years” and these last buildings were built according to Archibald’s McKay’s History of Kilmarnock fourth edition print 1880 page 335. “The recent Building by Messrs Thomas Stewart and Sons of an imposing range of buildings, comprising the new Royal Hotel, shops and Warehouses, has completed the street. The architectural beauty displayed in the design of these and the other buildings there erected, entitles it to be ranked as one of the finest streets in the town.”  In 1861 possibly the Burgh Departments just did not have money to spare and subscribers were short in supply and to top all that, the preferential loans were not available from the Banks. So it was going to take a very long time to raise the money for the new street. 

The Provost of Kilmarnock was Archibald Finnie of Springhill House, confusingly a son of another Archibald Finnie and ex provost of Braeside and a grandfather who had been Treasurer of the Burgh with the same name. He was approaching the end of his term as Provost of Kilmarnock and Chairman of the Town Improvement Trust so he perhaps wished to leave his mark by inspiring the Trust to embrace the idea of installing the very last Street allowed under the 1802 Act. He was an astute businessman taking the Coal Mining business which his father had created about 1836  increasingly to international sales levels and driving it to greater heights opening new mines and becoming the Duke of Portland’s Coal Manager on  5 August 1848 controlling all the Dukes exports from Troon Irvine and Ardrossan Harbours. His father had been a second son who had to make his own way in the world so with four other brothers William, James Robert and John who were also making their own way, in an entirely different market as  Merchants for Finnie Bros  in Lisbon and after Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal in 1807  the Portuguese Royal family fled with the entire apparatus of Government and Court Life with some encouragement from Britain after all Portugal was practically Britain’ s only ally in Europe after Napoleon’s success in strangling trade with Britain by conquering most European nations. Famously declaring that England was “A nation of shopkeepers”. With British help and encouragement, the Portuguese set sail with forty ships to establish their Royal Family, the Government and courtiers in their colony capital Rio de Janeiro Brazil. So, for a time Brazil became headquarters of the Portuguese Empire with its capital being Rio de Janerio. Britain were very interested in not losing the Portuguese as a trading partner and therefore heading the Portuguese fleet was another smaller fleet of British warships to stave off any attacks which Napoleon may have planned and ensure safe passage of their precious people and  wealth of a nation in their holds.

 Britain got a good deal in trade for their assistance and all friendly Countries were encouraged to transfer their trade with the Portuguese in 1810 to Brazil. About this time was when John Finnie set sail from London to join Robert, his brother who with other family help would have established the Finnie Bros branch in Rio de Jamarion. Then after Waterloo and Napoleon’s final defeat the Portuguese soon (some sources claim they also had branches of Finnie Bros in Australia and Canada.) returned to Portugal and Finnie Bros also returned to Portugal but also maintained Finnie Bros in Rio Janeiro in Brazil.

 Meantime back in Kilmarnock and District it was sometime after Waterloo 1815 that Archibald Finnie of Braeside the Provost of Kilmarnock from 1837 to 1840  who sat as far as I know the only Finnie Portrait by  Kilmarnock Artist James Tannock of international fame, took his branch of the family into Coal. About 1836 he acquired his first tack (lease) at Fergushill Mine in Kilwinning ( Chris Hawksworth in ,his extremely useful writing in the Spring 2021  Ayrshire Notes Number 41 entitled” Archibald Finnie and Son”Coalmasters available as a Free download on the internet with many more Ayrshire Notes ) At home, Archibald Finnie of Braeside changed the industry the Finnies  were traditionally involved in Kilmarnock taking his branch of the family into coal whereas three generations of Finnies  before him in Kilmarnock were involved in shaping Iron, selling Iron products and also moulding Iron and his predecessors were mainly Hammermen, Blacksmiths, Ironmongers with eventually shares in Kilmarnock Iron Foundry,( when the grandfather died in 1826 in his will he described himself as a Senior Ironmonger although he had started off as a Hammerman graduating to a Blacksmith and then a partner with two others in Kilmarnock’s first Foundry, some say he started the  Engineering Industry in Kilmarnock).


 Archibald Finnie of Springhill House had been noticed by the Society of Kilmarnock Farmers who had asked him to find them a site in 1861 for their proposed Corn Exchange. He persuaded them to form a Joint stock Company and the shares sold like hot cakes and the site he found for them was on the Low Green in front of Kilmarnock Academy which was built there 54 years previously in 1807. The site was particularly suitable as it was a grand sight, when built, for pedestrians and people in carriages travelling South up the new Duke street towards London road. The Corn Exchange would provide a grand focal point for people travelling towards London Road. Over the years several Local Authority Departments had been sited on the Low Green in front of the Academy as well as other housing which by this time looked unsightly. With his links with the Public and Private Sector he was able to get the Dean of Guild (The planning Authority then) and the Council with the understanding that most of the Council activities already on the site would find a home in the new grand classical building in red Ballochmyle sandstone. The Council of course making a contribution.

 The site was cleared for the building of the Corn Exchange and he proved to be its major shareholder and at a Shareholder meeting he was elected as the first Chairman of the Kilmarnock Corn Exchange Trust to much acclaim. (a post he was to hold for at least 10 years prior to his death in 1876)

 The strange timing of the decision to go for the last New Street  which became John Finnie Street  was much to do with the Trust’s running out of time but also due to the recent successful opening of Duke Street and the team used for Duke Street was used again for the new street the Architect being William Railton and Civil Engineer Robert Blackwood. So, although they had the plans ready for the new street, clearly, they did not have funds to pay for it.

 However Archibald Finnie of Springhill House who was Chair of The Kilmarnock Town Improvement Trustees, and in the last year of his provostship(1861) was full of drive and determination and luckily he had an Uncle who was wealthy and had made his money overseas as a Merchant in a variety of goods trusted by others with state of the Market and Politics and a developed knowledge in banking activities in Brazil and especially Rio de Janeiro, for some 30-35 years reaching the heights of his achievement becoming an agent for Rothschilds in South America as shown in Rothschilds Archives.   He returned to Britain buying Bowden Lodge Cheshire about eight miles from Manchester where he probably continued to work as a Merchant specialising in cloth in the heart of the textile manufacturing part of Britain were, he could look after Finnie interests. He was called, John Finnie, and was his father’s youngest son, a native of Kilmarnock who left for London in 1807 ( just about the time Napoleon invaded Portugal and the Portuguese Royal family fled to Brazil) for training in all aspects of becoming a Merchant in an Accounting House in London probably initially as a mercantile clerk  and then three years later  set sail about 1810 for Rio de Janeiro to a journey by sail (which could be hazardous then) to  join his brother ( 7 years older) Robert who was Senior Partner of Finnie Bros while John would be the Junior partner. John was never to return to his native town except on visits. Once he became successful, he was also known to be generous with his money freely giving to good causes. The total cost for John Finnie Street was £8000 (excluding buildings) and elsewhere he had given £23,000 to endow a church in South Kensington London which he never visited and also gifts  to his church’s pension fund and a church college and at this time he donated to many Kilmarnock subscription including The Fever hospital on Mount Pleasance which looks down on Portland Street/Wellington street. In his will he left £1000 to Ayrshire Lifeboats at Troon where two of his brothers had seaside houses.

 I am sure he alleviated the Town’s plight when he sent a letter to his nephew, Archibald Finnie of Springhill house, no longer the Provost, to be presented to the next meeting of the Trustees in June 1863. Archibald was still an active member of the Town Trustees for the Improvement of Kilmarnock and by 1863 he was  Chairman and major Shareholder of Kilmarnock’s Corn Exchange which commanded a grand site at the top of the recently completed Duke Street ( At the time considered to be  “One of The finest Street in Kilmarnock”).   Archibald Finnie of Springhill read out his uncle’s letter to the Trustees Meeting in June 1863  which amazingly  offered to underwrite the total costs of putting  in the full unnamed street and he guaranteed  the  Trustees against pecuniary loss  and in addition John Finnie had solved a problem the Trustees had in getting the laying out of the Street started, near the beginning of the proposed street there was a house, Langlands House, which for some reason the Trustees could not acquire. John arranged to buy this property, or his agents completed the deal and got his nephew Archibald Finnie to present the title deeds to the Trustees, urging them to proceed quickly with the new street, and not to waste any more time. So elated were the Trustees in receiving John’s offer they immediately appointed him as a fellow Trustee and sent him a heartfelt letter to thank him for his kind offer.

 No decision was made as yet to name the street. It was to take well over a year to get a name for the new street right up to the opening day on 26 October 1864 when an Opening Ceremony was booked in what was  the premier hotel in Kilmarnock,  The George, Portland Street ,and many invitations sent to dignitaries the “Good and the Great”. A meeting was held on the morning of the opening of the new street by the Trustees and after much deliberations they decided to call the Street “John Finnie Street”

  Now because the Trustees did not have to borrow any money for John Finnie Street there was no pressure to sell the plots so they could “balance the books” as they had to do for Duke Street and all other Improvements, since the 1802 Act had been in force. The policy of what stone to use for  buildings in John Finnie Street from the opening day 26 October 1864 seemed to be the policy for Duke Street—Dean Quarry grey sandstone. It would take until about 1873 before a policy of only using Ballochmyle red sandstone for buildings in John Finnie Street which may well would happen when the Burgh got a new Act of Parliament in 1871. Therefore although the new street was open for business in October 1864 there was little sign of buildings going up. Valuations Records come out every 10 years and usually cover two years beginning from 1855 to 1940 and 1865 was the first year relevant for John Finnie Street with two Entries for John Finnie Street. This entry was for House and Office with Proprietor Hugh Stevens Toy Merchant Kilmarnock and he was the Occupier. His old toy Warehouse had been in the line of the projected John Finnie Street so he had accepted compensation and here he is with new premises in John Finnie Street. At this stage because of the few buildings in the street it had not been numbered. I have no way of judging where it was in John Finnie Street. The other Proprietor was Town of Kilmarnock Town of Improvement Trustees  which probably was eager to sell many plots on the street but initially was prepared to rent with ground on three plots of land on offer and two Tenant Occupiers (1) A M Samson Timber Merchant, (2) John Peden &co Coachbuilders – in 1880 this Tenant became a Proprietor as he would build a red sandstone building known locally as” Peden’s Building” The next document to give information on early John Finnie Street is the Kilmarnock Post Office Directory 1868. (but like all post office Directories it does not indicate who is a proprietor and who is a tenant) In it we have an increase of buildings as follows  (1)  A and L C Clark Export Boot and Shoe Manufactures who did not settle in John Finnie Street and combined with another Manufacturer to form the mighty Saxone providing many jobs in Kilmarnock and District and throughout the world especially Brazil at their purpose built site in Titchfield Street Kilmarnock where the Galleon Leisure Centre is now located. Next we have a Pharmacist who was also one of the Town’s first Dentists,(2) J Dunlop Dentists ( you did no need qualifications to practice dentistry in those days) His address is shown as  1 Portland Road which happens to be the corner of John Finnie Street and  it also has an entrance in John Finnie Street. There is still  a Dental Practice called Corner Dental Practice and you will be pleased to know that all the Dentists are now qualified. Another interesting feature of this building is that is still grey sandstone probably from Dean Quarry. If you look at the Ordinance Map of 1857 you will see that the Old Sherriff Court House  and the Dentists which are on opposite corners at the foot of John Finnie Street’ in 1857 were seemed to be then  in Bank Street  and that street probably never had a planning policy that all buildings should be in red sandstone from Ballochmyle. That may be the reason that the grey sandstone is still prevalent in certain buildings now at the foot of John Finnie Street.  Indeed a locksmith in that vicinity in recent times asked for permission to build a new building and he was told by the Planning Authority the stone would have to be grey sandstone. We revisit the prevalence of grey sandstone in a building which is now at 25-27 John Finnie Street when we look at Post Office Directory for Kilmarnock 1872. The next entry in the 1868 Directory is (3) Bruce Findlay Howie Photographers probably one of the earliest photographers using the old glass plates with long exposure times. This was followed by (3) Alexander Morton and Son Cutlers Engineers Machine Makers Opticians and Telescope makers. This was the son of the clever inventor Thomas Morton who built an early carpet machine which revolutionised carpet production in Kilmarnock and enabled him to corner the market for his machines including maintenance and repair and he was also an inventor of telescopes and built his own  Observatory in Morton Place mainly stocked with his own telescopes. The shop would be a great asset to Kilmarnock so his son probably was an Engineer just like his father. I have an advert advertising “Alexander Morton and Son “for the entry but strangely still it has no number on John Finnie Street. The shop/workshop was not long in the Street and but it was still there by the by next Valuation Roll 1875/76 and this time again as a Tenant and for the first time as a Proprietor there.  Still in 1868 the next entry is (4) Misses Patrick Ladies Seminary, there many private schools right up until the Parliamentary Act in Scotland 1972 which made school attendance compulsory. Finally, we have (5) Samsons Timber Yard.

Onwards we look at the next Post Office Directory 1872 and (1) Hugh Stevens appears again in John Finnie Street (which means he has been a proprietor there for at least from 1865 to 1872). Next is the Timber Yard run by (2) A C W Samson which has also been there 7 years. Then we have again (3) Alexander Morton and Son Cutlers, Engineers, Machine Makers, Opticians, Telescope Makers, and Nautical instrument makers, (4) James Wyllie, Coachbuilder, (5) JR and J Wilson Potato Dealers,  (6) John Neil Smith,  (7) George Foster Tailor ,(8)  Mrs John Paterson, George Younger Classical piano Teacher at Mrs Paterson’s and we meet again(9) Mr James Bruce the photographer who seems to be on his own. So about 10 people against 6 in 1868. This is 8 years since John Finnie Street was laid out and although it was a much longer street than Duke Street. The last-named street was all but completed with large Classical buildings within 2years and only two gaps at the end of the street which were filled within 15 years.

I was at that time looking at the Kilmarnock Town Improvement Trust with an Archivist at Burn’s Monument Centre Kay Park Kilmarnock. I had noted down an item for more research. It involved John Finnie who was in Kilmarnock (he normally lived in Bowden Lodge Cheshire about 8 miles from Manchester, so he would be an infrequent visitor to Kilmarnock although there would be easier travel as the age of steam trains was upon us). John Finnie would be still a Trustee being age 79 and living temporarily in the area with his nephew Archibald Finnie of Springhill. He also had contact with a Tailor who had a shop in King Street who wanted to build premises in John Finnie Street and move from 93 Kings Street now occupied by Vodaphone. John got him a plot, Planning permission through the Dean of Guild Court. It was built on the choice of stone then Dean Quarry grey sandstone. The tailor had two up and two ground level, those above were houses or work rooms and two on the ground were shops. All four sections are still there today on the West side of John Finnie Street and wedged between Laigh Kirk Mission Hall and Evangelical Central Church and both these are built of what became the traditional stone at that time, red sandstone, so the George Foster premises would eventually “stick out like a sore thumb” and it still does, I can only think this building got protection of the Council at the time as someone knew its connection to John Finnie.

In the Census of 1871, you can see George 33, with his wife Elizabeth,32. His occupation a Draper and Clothier employing Five men, 1 woman and three boys. They have seven children and a servant. Sadly George Foster was to die of consumption on 7 March 1874 age 36.  He had been suffering of Consumption for Two Years. His wife would continue working as a dressmaker and her daughter Catherine who is only 10 in 1871 eventually worked in her own workshop as a dressmaker in the same building.

In the Valuations we now look at 1875/76 where the number of buildings are growing in John Finnie Street and the decision to build any new building in Ballochmyle red sandstone has been made by the Council probably after they had received the new Act of Parliament in 1871 which was a Municipal Extension Act with 10 extra Councillors and many new powers and ability to raise funds to acknowledge the population had grown from 8079 since 1802 and the “Old” Act to 24,071 in 1971 an additional 16,992 people requiring a more modern Council .  Within the Act there would be powers to continue to improve the town with the old Trustees being swept away with a new Committee called” Streets Committee for the Improvement of Kilmarnock” ( The Police Commissioners who had much to do with applying for the new Act did not realise that they also would   be swept aside by the new Act but the Trustees had to remind them  that they also would be  swept away along with other Departments).  So, on the last working day of 1870 the Trustees for the Kilmarnock Town Improvement handed   their files and papers and money to the new Streets Committee according to the Minutes of Kilmarnock Town improvement Trust. ( see Ayrshire Archives at Burn’s Monument Centre Kay Park Kilmarnock)  So, although, it was the Trustees who laid out John Finnie Street and installed some buildings in the traditional grey sandstone it fell to the “Streets Committee” to sell the majority of vacant plots in the Street and pioneer the red  sandstone format from Ballochmyle. There is growing evidence that the Trustees passed some ground and plots which were not required for the laying out of John Finnie  Street to John Finnie who duly passed these plots onto his nephew, Archibald Finnie of Springhill House who was the first to build and open a Ballochmyle red sandstone Building as his Offices, Accounting House and Stables at 50-51 John Finnie Street in 1874 and maybe he had a free plot and possibly money from  John Finnie which would assist and possibly pay for his new building which he transferred from Braefoot. The Brae in question being “ Tankard hall” Brae ,  behind the town Hall beside the river in an area at one time known as “Finnie’s Land”. In the next year John Finnie was to die on 26 July 1875 age 85 and in his will he left at least £84,000 to his relations and friends including £11,000 to his nephew Archibald Finnie and family at Springhill House Kilmarnock. (£5000 to his nephew Archibald Finnie £2000 to his great nephew also Archibald and £1000 to each of his four great nieces Mary Ann, Helena, Jean and Margaret)