Bell, Hornsby & Co.

Mason and brick work contractors

Bell, Hornsby & Co. were a building and contracting firm, and one of many brick manufacturers in the Glasgow area. From the 1860s to the 1890s, local brick was widely used for factories, and for the internal and rear walls of stone-faced commercial and domestic buildings. 1 ). Of the original partners, Alexander Hamilton seems to have been the longest-established, manufacturing bricks at Lilybank off Eglinton Street, on the south side of the city, from about 1852. 2 He expanded into tile making, operating from a second brick works at Strathbungo in 1858, before becoming a 'silent partner' in Bell, Hornsby. Another partner, Robert Bell, possibly ran a bricklaying firm in South Wellington Street c. 1857 (he is not to be confused with the wealthy Wishaw and Broxburn industrialist of the same name, who was also a brickmaker). Other partners were John Thomson Hornsby and Alexander Whitelaw, a Greenock-based builder.

The firm of Bell, Hornsby first appears in the Glasgow Post Office Directory for 1864 as 'brickmakers, builders and contractors', based at Hamilton's premises. 3 Bell, Hornsby and Hamilton at first all lived beside their works, before moving elsewhere. They shed a partner in 1868, when Whitelaw chose to continue on his own. 4

By 1875, the partners had taken over Polmadie Brickworks, Rutherglen Road, with its clay pits nearby at Mallsmire Burn. Brickmaking was a seasonal activity; since clay digging was impossible in winter when the ground froze, and good weather was important for initial drying. Rather than pay for the upkeep of draft horses over winter, the brickmakers, including Bell, Hornsby, sold them off. 5 As a supplementary activity during the closed season Bell, Hornsby erected one or two blocks of tenements at a time (probably using their own bricks) in the fast-growing working-class area of Polmadie. Of the 46 tenements built there, 'Robert Bell, housefactor, and John Bell, mason' were proprietors, and therefore the likely builders, of five. 6

In 1883, Bell, Hornsby were prosecuted for a breach of the Factory Act: 'Inspectors were very particular in enforcing the law with respect to the employment of young girls [under 16 years] in brickfields'. 7 By the time Robert Bell retired in 1886, the firm was running an additional brickworks at Blairardie, which was beside its own clay pits at Garscadden, and another at Govan. The business was continued into the 20th century by John Hornsby Junior, after his father's retirement in 1896. 8 Since the late 1860s, it had been based at 197 Pollokshaws Road, and it continued to operate from here until at least the 1920s. 9


1: John R. Hume, Industrial Archaeology of Glasgow, Glasgow and London: Blackie, 1974, p. 53.

2: Glasgow Post Office Directories, 1850–60.

3: Glasgow Post Office Directories, 1863–7.

4: Edinburgh Gazette 11 December 1868, p. 1550.

5: Glasgow Herald, 25 September 1874, p. 7.

6: John Butt, 'Housing', in R. A. Cage, ed.,The Working Class in Glasgow 1750-–1914, Beckenham: Croom Helm, pp. 29–55, 38.

7: Scotsman, 30 August 1883, p. 4.

8: Edinburgh Gazette, 21 February 1896, p. 174.

9: 'Bell, Hornsby & Co.', online database Mapping the Practice ... of Sculpture, [accessed 16 April 2012].