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

Archibald Finnie and Buildings of John Finnie St Part 2

Archibald Finnie of Springhill and the History of the buildings (red and grey sandstone) John Finnie Street 1864 - 1940                                                 Part 2


Kilmarnock now was becoming a Corporation and with a more modern approach to Local Government was brought into existence.   So it was probably a combination of factors which shaped the decision to start the building of red sandstone classical building in Ballochmyle sandstone in John Finnie Street.  Archibald Finnie of Springhill had a leaning towards the red sandstone used for  his house, the Corn Exchange, St Marnock’s Church and for each of these building the Architect used was James Ingram ,all buildings he or his wider Finnie family had an interest in and it was probably he who convinced the Council to make a real mark by adopting Ballochmyle red sandstone as the necessary stone for future building for John Finnie Street, to be enforced by the local Dean of Court. So he  opened the first Ballochmyle red sandstone building, transferring his Office from Braefoot behind the Town hall in King Street in an area formerly known as “Finnies Land” to create an Accounting House ,Office, Warehouse, and Stables all designed in Classical style by James Ingram in the new compulsory material Ballochmyle red sandstone, a fine start for others to follow. Arguably surpassed  in splendour on 27 March 1875 when The Kilmarnock Operetta House Company Ltd opened another grand building designed again by James Ingram and again in Ballochmyle red sandstone which was a fine example of an Operetta House which compared favourably with most any other Theatres in the West of Scotland. John Finnie, now living in Bowden Lodge, Cheshire, eight miles from Manchester with his wife Hannah and four servants but no children, no longer a Trustee (now aged 85 years of age.) When he arrived in Kilmarnock, he usually lived with his nephew who owned Springhill House then a bit of St Marnock’s Street which changed name to Portland Road about that time. John had not come back to live in Kilmarnock on returning from Rio de Janeiro where he worked as a General Merchant and Agent to Rothschild in a Company called Finnie Brothers where latterly he was the Senior Partner sometime between 1841-1851. It was no accident he decided to settle near Manchester and the port of Liverpool so he could continue the Finnie Bros business in the industrial heartland of England which by that time had increasing good links through the invention of the Railways to North and South Britain. He may well at that time specialised as a Cloth Merchant, so it was fitting for him to be living near the Textile Centre of Britain. The first sighting of John Finnie was the English Census of 1851 when he is seen at the age of 61 with his wife Hannah Finnie (nee’ Fowler) and four servants at Bowden Lodge Cheshire 8 miles from Manchester.

 So the buildings especially the Ballochmyle red sandstone buildings were not built in the order we see them today perhaps because buildings had already been built in certain plots. I have little evidence for this except numbers  25-27 which the Trustees and the man who paid for this New Street, the very same John Finnie has an entry in the Trusts Minute book of helping a George Foster a Tailor to move to 25-27 John Finnie Street from 93 King Street (where modern Vodaphone exists today) I have doubts that John Finnie was the driving force in introducing the red sandstone idea for all buildings in John Finnie Street when as late as 1869 here he was arranging for planning permission (probably Dean of Guild Court) for the subsequent building at what is now 25-27 John Finnie Street and it still exists today situated between two Red Sandstone buildings ( Laigh Kirk Mission Hall and Central Evangelist Church) clearly a fossil of the original preferred stone used from the date of the laying out of the new street, grey Sandstone. In Valuation Years 1875/76 as well as the first two red sandstone building there is also existing buildings of grey sandstone buildings with again(1) Hugh Stevens being the first proprietor and he is the tenant occupier (2) Town improvement Trustees Proprietors and Waugh and Broadfoot the factors with varied and some surprising Tenants such as Alexander Morton and Son, Engineers, Robert Yuille, Slater, James Wyllie Coachbuilder, John Smillie, Blacksmith, James Bruce, Photographer, James Drennan, Mason, JR & JW Wilson, Potato Merchants, William Thow, Flesher, Laughland, Spirit Dealer.(3) Proprietor, Cuthbert and Taylor ,Carpet Manufacturers ( This was another proprietor whom with their single Tenant  Samson’s Timber Yard. (4) Archibald Finnie and Son with two Tenants  themselves and in a Warehouse, Robert Reid Upholster, and in a separate unit an Office, Robert L Lindsay Commercial Unit (5) Next Proprietor are the Trustees of the Late George Foster Clothier Kilmarnock for William Ramsay Builder one of the Trustees. Ramsay is a Brother in law of George Foster who notified his death to the Registrar in 1874. As usual there were Tenants James Bruce, Photographer who was also a tenant in another building or was he part the year there and the rest here, Self ( William Ramsey), John Dunsmuir, Coach Builder, Jas Laughland Spirit Dealer, another duplicate Tenant.(6) Alexander Morton and Thomas Clarkston Maritime Machine maker possibly a Tenant becoming a Proprietor and a Tenant Occupier. Lastly the long awaited (7) Kilmarnock Operetta House Company Limited, Hugh Shaw Commercial Bank Factor (Agent) the Tenant being Glover and Francis Theatrical Managers, Glasgow and Charles Bashford Spirit Dealer. Being another tenant. It is useful to note that the highest Rate Payers were Charles Bashford and Archibald Finnie with £75 but “streets” ahead was the Kilmarnock Operetta House Company Ltd with £300. How times have changed we now subsidise such institutions against taxing them out of existence, which was probably one of the factors, with many more unfortunate happenings causing insolvency and eventual sale to Braehead Free Church at almost half price £3,700 against original price of £7000.


Another red sandstone building was to be built on John Finnie Street which has  engraved on it          “  Smith’s Building Erected A.D. 1876”  Its Proprietor as far as I can see was  James Smith of Righead Farm Irvine who appears later  in the Valuation Rolls as” James Smith   New Zealand” This building was “ Smith’s Building”  and its architect was again James Ingram. It is situated on the East side well down and today is numbered “100” It contained a variety of tenants in three shops(1) Andrew Brown Commission Agent (2) William Sawyers Cabinet Maker (3) Hugh Wight and James Sawers Partners of the firm Wight and Sawers Clothiers. The other Tenants probably would be in what we would call flats (4) Robert Ramsay Commission Agent (5) John Inglis Contractor (6) Miss Agnes Glendinning Milliner (7) William Jack Engineer

1877   The next building to be built was the Kilmarnock Railway Station (which some would argue is technically not John Finnie Street but I thought I would include it) which provides a fine view at the top of John Finnie Street. This was built on the top of Sheelling (or Shiling) hill to provide a fine vista for people travelling North up John Finnie Street and a grand sight for passengers arriving at Kilmarnock Railway Station. The old Station was not aligned with John Finnie Street but the new station was but the vista down John Finnie Street was a mixture of grey sandstone buildings and red sandstone with building sites for at least 20 years by which time about 9 out of 20  red sandstone and the view from the railway station would be for ever changing taking some time to become what we can see today. The railway was connected to Glasgow in 1843 over a longer journey which was shorten in 1873 when a new route was engineered via Braehead and by this time It was completed in Ballochmyle red sandstone while the old Railway Station was in grey sandstone and it became the offices of the Company which operated the Railway, The Glasgow and South Western Co Ltd   The “old” Railway Station stood for some time in what became the car park of the new Station . The old station was not in any way aligned with John Finnie Street and was not in keeping with the recently adopted decision possibly by the new Streets Committee created by the 1871 act of Parliament to insist that all new buildings were to be built in red sandstone. So the new Railway Station provided a grand vista while awaiting the building of the other red sandstone buildings in the Street. The original John Finnie Street had opened in 1864 being the last Street permitted under the 1802 Act of Parliament. Therefore, as the most popular stone up to then was Dean Quarry grey sandstone the initial buildings would probably be built in that material. Some of these buildings were already built in John Finnie Street although few and some would have to be removed to permit the building of the “new” red sandstone.

1879-80 Our next building continues the Ballochmyle red sandstone material and this is probably a requirement by now and sits on its own and continues the high standard set by James Ingram. The proprietor was a comparatively newcomer to the retail trade the Kilmarnock Equitable Co-operative Society Ltd.  A real champion for working people which had seen its business mushroom since starting in Kilmarnock on a part-time basis barely 20 years ago. It was making a real statement it had arrived and it was able to build a three storey elaborate Classical building on the East side being in the vanguard of magnificent architecture which was growing on John Finnie Street being 4 out of about 20 blocks one block down from the Operetta House. Its Architect Gabriel Andrew had trained in the business of William Railton (the Architect who had laid out Duke Street and John Finnie Street along with Civil Engineer Robert Blackwood ) and he was to become the Architect for Kilmarnock and Equitable Co-operative as well as The Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society . In 1881 he designs a substantial Classical grain store for the latter named company with decorative heads on it which was built just off John Finnie Street at the far end of Grange Place where it meets Grange Street. The only Tenant in John Finnie Street building is themselves.

1880 We are blessed by these giant architecturally designed buildings going up this year in John Finnie Street.  They are all on the East side where most buildings are three stories high with the ground floor usually for shops, second floor for offices and the top floor for flats. The first building we look at is next to the Kilmarnock Operetta House and it is of French Renaissance with a Mansard roof by J & RS Ingram and is Nos 14-28, the next building is Tudor/Gothic called Peden’s Building by the Architect/ Civil Engineer  William Railton who jointly designed John Finnie Street with Robert Blackwood Civil Engineer and  Rob Close the co-author of The Buildings of Scotland (Pevsner Architectural Guides) Ayrshire and Arran Edition comments that it is “firmly in the style of Alexander “Greek” Thomson”( William Railton a follower of Thomson) .This building is Nos 72-84. Proprietor of this building for many years was Matthew Muir (the original one being a Town Baillie) who also owned a Builders and Monumental Sculptors on the East side of the street next in sequence to the magnificent building just mentioned. It is a bit of a puzzle why in the middle of the East side of an amazing street in a gap site but in full view of the public and visitors you had this site so in contrast to the red sandstone buildings being built to celebrate that Kilmarnock had arrived as a proud and successful Town showing off its wealth for locals and visitors with the sight of a Builders and Monumental Sculptors spoiling the view and creating almost a “Beauty and Beast “ contrast. So, although it seems strange looking back that one of the finest streets in Kilmarnock had a Monumental Sculptor in the middle of one side of it. Maybe he was a Baillie with influence. It was on that site in 1975 The Royal Bank of Scotland (the “Glass” Bank) was built perhaps because of its former use it had been a builders yard / Monumental sculptors , was probably not  zoned for a red sandstone building.