James & William Carswell, Wrights & Builders
James and his brother William Carswell (1764 - 1852) were the sons of Allen Carswell, Farmer of Spittlehill Farm, Symington, Ayrshire (marriage certificate states he was from the Parish of Mearns) who found an opportunity down the road from Kilmarnock sometime after his marriage. His eldest daughter was born in 1752. She married a Wright from Kilmarnock named Alexander Gulliland and as a result, Allen Carswell's two sons were apprenticed to him as teens when he was well on in years. In 1790 they came to Glasgow and set up in business as Joiners (site managers) eventually building for their own account.
They built a number of warehouses and tenements in the Merchant City, Glasgow’s first New Town, including Ingram Court, Queen Court, Royal Exchange Place, ranges of dwellings in George Street (from Montrose Street eastwards) and other buildings in Richmond Street, High Street and London Street, amongst others.
Carswell & Co. were the first builders in Glasgow to use cast iron for pillars in their buildings and for their facades, as well as being the first to introduce running water into their interiors; a hugely successful innovation which led to the firm being granted a free supply of water to its own premises by the water company, in gratitude for the “excellent sanitary and social example [the firm] had shown”.
As well as dwellings and warehouses, the firm constructed a number of district police offices and other municipal buildings throughout the city.
William Carswell was Deacon of Wrights in 1800, and other members of his family were also members of the Royal Incorporation of Wrights.
THE LATE JAMES CARSWELL, ESQ.
Our obituary notice of this day week contained the announce- ment of the demise of the venerable and respected James Carswell, Esq. - a gentleman who, during a lengthened industrial career, was most intimately and beneficially connected with the external rise and progress of Glasgow.
He was born in the neighbourhood of Kilmarnock in 1767, and when 23 years of age came to this city along with his brother, William, who predeceased him by exactly four years. Though arriving in the prime of manhood, he was thus a residenter among us for the long period of 65 years. Glasgow, at this period, contained a population of only about 60,00, and when William and James Carswell were about to commence business on their own account, as wrights and builders at the date indicated, they had actually to cut down the corn in that portion of what is now George Street, lying between High Street and Balmanno Street. Upon this "clearing" they erected their well-known workshops, which they occupied until they retired from business. At that period the field which now embraces George Street contained only a footpath. Arriving in Glasgow when the city was rapidly rising into importance as a mart of commerce and manufactures, and when turn of business and a growing population were pressing for extended accommodation, the Messrs Carswell made it the business of their lives to provide it.
The patricians of the city resided in their splendid self-contained dwelling houses in Virginia Street, Miller Street, Charlotte Street, and St. Andrew's Square ; and at that time brilliant fortunes were made in the "Golden Acre," in dark and dingy booths, in which a man of more than middle-sized altitude was in danger of rapping his head against the ceiling. The Messrs. Carswell set themselves to provide accommodation, both for industrious and dormant purposes, for that industrious and enterprising middle-class element to which Glasgow owes so much. They did not attempt the Virginian mansion style, but, on the other hand, they provided structures immeasurably superior to the class of houses which had formerly existed, and in which the great bulk of the business population were inadequately and uncomfortably located. Although matters in this respect have gone far beyond the original notions and plans of the Messrs. Carswell, still they are entitled to high credit as being amongst the first of our modern improvers so far as regards a better class of tenements for businesss men and private families. A future and more refined generation has only improved upon those plans which they were the first to lay down for the fitting extension of the city. It would he tedious to enumerate all the great building works which were originated and carried out by these energetic and industrious men. Almost the whole of Candleriggs, as it at present stands, owes its existence to them, including Commercial Court, with its surrounding warehouses. This was the model upon which so many courts have since been built, by which the business is conducted apart from the public street.
For some of the ground in the neighbourhood of the old Green Market they had the spirit to pay £32 per square yard - which would be considered extravagant even in the present days of lavish outlay. They were also the constructors of Albion Street. Albion Court, and George Street, on both sides from Montrose Street eastward. They purchased the old Merchants Hall in the Bridgegate, and removing it (with the exception of the steeple) and the ruinous and wretched buildings adjacent, replaced there, by Guildry Court and other creations which, though these were not much to boast of, they were at least fitting for the locality, and a vast deal better than those which formerly occupied the site. The Messrs. Carswell also built a part of Cochran Street, and a good deal of Miller Street ; and it may be stated that, though honourably characterised for their enterprise, they were so cautious in their operations in some localities as to plan, let and even sell the future building before the ground upon which they were to be erected was actually secured. They also built the whole of Richmond Street, which at the time was considered a perfect model of genteel snuggeries in the way of dwelling houses, and though there are now certainly many finer things elsewhere, it richly deserves the character yet. The style on which their stairs generally were constructed was proverbial for convenience and beauty at the time, and they will always have a peculiarly neat and cozy aspect. Ingram Court, Queen Court, and various buildings in the north-east of the city testify to their advancement in design with the requirements of the age.
Besides their large operations on their own account, they were in their day the most extensive contractors as wrights in the city, and many structures in and around the Royal Exchange, in London Street, High Street, etc., bear evidence of the substantial character of the work which they turned out of their hands. The Carswells were the first to introduce iron pillar, in buildings, as well as iron fronts and facings; but we mention it as vastly more to their credit that they were the first who introduced water into the interior of dwelling houses. So sensible was the Water Company of an early day of the liberal spirit which they had shown in this respect, that when the Messrs. Carswell tendered the water rent for their own dwelling houses and warehouses, it was declined — the company stating that not only they, but the whole city, were debtors for the excellent sanitary and social example which they had shown.
The Messrs. Carswell were practical men, who, in early life, had worked with their own hands. James who has so recently departed from amongst us, was beloved by his relatives, and respected by a large circle of friends, for his consistent christian course, and as an intelligent, amiable unassuming, and most obliging man. Descending to the grave full of years and honours it may be safely said that he has not left a single enemy behind him. He will long he held in veneration and fond remembrance by a numerous family of sons, daughters, grand children and great grand-children.