Alex Martin

Furniture maker

Alexander Martin (1863–1930) was a wholesale cabinetmaker and upholsterer, who ran his own company at 14 Dobbie's Loan and 17 North Wallace Street (a corner site), Glasgow, from 1897 until c.1909. 1 He was born in Leith, eldest child of William Martin (c. 1836–1904), a joiner from Neilston, Renfrewshire, who became a house factor and property-agent in Edinburgh. 2 Martin's mother was a carter's daughter from Beith, Ayrshire, a traditional centre of the furniture-making trade. 3

In the 1881 census, Alexander Martin, aged 17, was an 'architect, app[rentice]', living with his parents in Tennant Street, Leith. 4 As a house-letting agent and landlord, his father dealt with builders and architects, and Martin may have found an apprenticeship through such family connections. Martin Senior principally rented out premises in Leith itself, so the unidentified architectural practice training Alexander Martin was possibly also local. 5

Martin's father had been involved in sales of debtors' household furniture to recover unpaid rents, and this may also have contributed to Martin's interest in the furnishing trade. 6 In 1890, already working as a 'designer' living in central Glasgow, Martin married Agnes Gibson Patrick, a village ironmonger's daughter whose family, like his, originated in Neilston, Renfrewshire. 7 . By 1891 Martin was a 'furniture designer' for Cumming & Smith, of the City Cabinet Works, at North Wallace Street and Great Eastern Road. 8 Cumming & Smith were 'wholesale upholstery furnishers, cabinet, chair, sofa frame, bedding manufacturers, complete house furnishers, etc'. who officially opened a lavishly-carved red sandstone warehouse (architects: Hugh & David Barclay) in Sauchiehall Street in 1894. 9 Besides designing products, Martin was also a manager within Cumming & Smith, which employed over 200 people. 10

In 1897, cabinetmakers Ferguson, Allan & Co. (established c. 1879–80) was sold due to its proprietor's death, and Martin took the opportunity to acquire his own business at 14 Dobbie's Loan/ North Wallace Street (the area had a high concentration of joinery and woodworking firms). 11 The sale advert promised that 'The stock-in-trade is fresh, the machinery and plant well fitted'. 12 On 4 May 1897, Martin paid £710 15s. 1d. for 'stock in works', £152 2s. 6d. for machinery, £250 for the building, £2020 12s. 2d. for the warehouse contents, the overall total being £3489 13s. 6d. 13 Martin's new firm was owed over £1,000 in unpaid bills from dozens of small customers, along with almost £300 in debts whose recovery was 'doubtful'. 14

The Martins moved with their two children from Dennistoun to a flat in Holyrood Quadrant, off Great Western Road, around 1896, and in 1898 Martin advertised his own company, 'Alexander Martin', as a 'wholesale cabinetmaker and upholsterer'. 15 Martin's wife died of congenital heart disease in 1899, so that his children were in the care of a servant during the 1901 census, where he was described as a 'commercial traveller', away from home. 16 Given his company's complex financial position at takeover, Martin was very aware of debt recovery, and in 1901 joined a trades protection body, the Glasgow Guardian Society, 'to protect the members against fraudulent dealings'. Other members included timber merchant Robert Mackie, oil merchants and a pharmacist. 17 Martin was methodical in pursuing defaulting tradesmen, who included Alexander Meiklejon, cabinetmakers of Lanark, in 1903, and William Michie, house furnisher in Inverness, in 1904. 18

Martin remarried in 1907, to Mary M. S. Turnbull, daughter of a master cork-cutter, who also came from Leith. They had one daughter, born c. 1909. 19 The family moved to 'Holyrood', Rhannan Road, Cathcart, and they reused their previous street name for both their future houses. 20 Also around 1909, Martin closed his business at 14 Dobbie's Loan, and that address was taken over by MacMillan & Co., another firm of 'wholesale cabinetmakers'. The entrance from North Wallace Street was occupied by Ralston, steel roof fabricators, and Fraser & Sinclair, pattern-book and metal box makers. 21

Alexander Martin was living on 'private means' in 1911, but his only son, 19 year-old William, was a 'salesman, house furnishing'. His elder daughter Dorathea ('Dorothy') was a student teacher. Martin had begun calling himself an 'architect' by 1914, when he was listed as a director of the National Allicance House Purchase and Investment Company Ltd, along with the Provost of Clydebank, and a Wishaw town councillor. 22 The Investment Company was an unsuccessful venture, and was wound up by court order in 1915. Despite Martin being designated 'architect' in property valuation rolls for 1915, any buildings he designed remain untraced, and it may have been a self-conferred title, as he was not professionally registered. 23

During the First World War and in the 1920s, Martin was 'an elder in Cathcart South [now Trinity] Church ... a member of the School Board and took a keen interest in the temperance cause. He was well-known for his work ... with open air evangelistic meetings'. 24 He moved to his third, and last, 'Holyrood' (formerly 'Dunmore') at 155 [Old] Castle Road, Cathcart around 1918–19. When his son (now a book-seller) married in 1921, Martin was simply a 'wholesale cabinetmaker (retired)'. 25 Martin was sufficiently well-off to afford a car, as he was caught speeding near Dundee (where his wife used to live), in 1926. He died at home, aged 68, in 1930, survived by his widow, two unmarried daughters and son, the latter now resident in Liverpool. 26


1: Census Data, Statutory Births, Deaths,, [accessed 9 October 2014]; Glasgow Post Office Directories 1885–1930.

2: Census Data,, [accessed 9 October 2014]; Edinburgh Post Office Directories 1860–1910.

3: Census Data,, [accessed 9 October 2014]; Statutory Marriages,, [accessed 9 October 2014]; 'Commercial Beith', Glasgow and its Environs, London: Stratten & Stratten, 1891, pp. 233–7.

4: Census Data,, [accessed 9 October 2014].

5: Scotsman, 3 February 1871, p. 1; 7 February 1878, p. 1; 14 January 1882, p. 3; 2 April 1883, p. 1; Edinburgh Evening News, 28 February 1881, p. 1.

6: The Scotsman, 15 January 1884, p. 4.

7: Statutory Marriages,, [accessed 9 October 2014].

8: Statutory Marriages,; Census Data,, [both accessed 9 October 2014]; Glasgow Post Office Directories 1885–1930.

9: Glasgow Post Office Directory 1892–3, p. 219; Glasgow Herald, 1 March 1894, p.4.

10: Glasgow Herald, 21 October 1897, p. 8; Edinburgh Gazette, 7 May 1897, p. 441.

11: Glasgow Herald, 1 March 1897, p. 13; Edinburgh Gazette, 7 May 1897, 441.

12: Glasgow Herald, 1 March 1897, p. 13.

13: Thomas Ferguson, Inventory 1898, Glasgow Sheriff Court, SC36/48/161, p. 504, at, [accessed 9 October 2014].

14: Thomas Ferguson, Inventory 1898, Glasgow Sheriff Court, SC36/48/161, pp. 507–8, at, [accessed 9 October 2014].

15: Glasgow Post Office Directory 1896–7, p. 389; 1898–9, p. 411.

16: Census Data,, [accessed 9 October 2014].

17: Scotsman, 30 March 1901, p. 6.

18: Edinburgh Gazette, 5 May 1903, p. 476; 20 May 1904, p. 558.

19: Statutory Marriages, Census Data,; Census Data,, [both accessed 9 October 2014].

20: Glasgow Post Office Directory 1909–10, p. 1530; Census Data,, [both accessed 9 October 2014].

21: Glasgow Post Office Directory 1909–10, pp. 259, 556, 451, 815, 942.

22: Census Data,, [accessed 9 October 2014]; Scotsman, 25 April 1914, p 13.

23: Edinburgh Gazette, 3 December 1915, p. 1842; Valuation Roll Glasgow 1915, VR102/1100/47, No. 51, at, [accessed 9 October 2014].

24: Glasgow Herald, 31 October 1930, p. 9.

25: Statutory Marriages,, [accessed 10 October 2014]; Glasgow Post Office Directory 1917–18, p. 744; 1918–19, p. 742.

26: Statutory Marriages,, [accessed 10 October 2014]; Evening Telegraph, 14 September 1926, p. 1.