SINGER SEWING MACHINES, Clydebank
ACCESS : It is easy to visit the site. But there is nothing left to see.
Clydebank exists because of two major industries – shipbuilding and sewing machine manufacturing. We can still make out remnants of the former. Although the latter was very extensive and just west of Kilbowie Road, there is nothing left to indicate it ever existed. Almost.
The extensive site is now the Clydebank Business Park entered from Kilbowie Road. The iconic clock tower was between what is now Symington Drive and Whitworth Drive.
Go almost anywhere in the world and you will be able to find a Singer Sewing Machine. This is particularly true in those countries where home crafts are an important part of the economy. These need hard wearing, dependable and easy to use and repair machines. The older models remain the machines of choice simply for those reasons.
Isaac Merritt Singer was known as strolling player, a theatre manager, an inventor, and a millionaire. A very versatile and extraordinary man. In 1851 he presented to the world what was then the best sewing machine available and his industry was to set off on an extraordinary trajectory.
Singer's improvements on the design met the demand of the tailoring and leather industries and subsequent for a heavier and more powerful machine .consolidated patents enable him to extend to mass production. By 1860 the Singer Sewing Machine company was the largest of its type in the world..
By 1867 it was felt that the demand in the UK was sufficiently high to open a local factory. Glasgow was an obvious choice of location because of its iron industry and cheap labour. The choice may also have been influenced by the general manager of the US company, George McKenzie, who had Scottish roots.
At first the company leased land in Glasgow close to Queen Street Station. This utilised parts shipped across from the US. Demand increased dramatically and in 1873 a new larger factory was opened near Bridgeton Cross. Even with a workforce of over 2000, this Scottish factory could not meet demand.
In 1881 the Singer Manufacturing Company purchased 46 acres of the Kilbowie lands. The following year ground was broken in the presence of a large gathering with George McKenzie officiating at the ceremony. By 1885 the immense works were in full operation.
Even then it was the largest of the Singer Sewing Machine factories and over time grew substantially even larger. It was so large that it had its own railway station and several miles of railway track. It was ahead of its time being one of the first such factories to be designed to be fire proof and to have a sprinkler system. Rising out of the centre was the iconic clock tower with its large clock faces and “SINGER” visible for miles around.
Unlike the neighbouring industries, particularly shipbuilding, it survived the Blitz almost unscathed, but post-war economic conditions meant that its sales slumped and it was closed in 1980.
This is an extract from a 1857 OS map (see details below). It has been overmarked to help get your bearings. The Canal is in blue. The Singer Station is in red at the top (north). This still exists in altered form. The Kilbowie Station south of the Canal is also in red. This no longer exists. The nearby ironworks is marked with a star. The iconic Singer clock tower is marked with a red arrow. NLS ©
This aerial view clarifies what we see in the map. Kilbowie Road to the right / east. Railway in the foreground / south. Kilpatrick Hills to the north. The clock tower can be made out slightly left of centre. This image comes from the web, but its origins are unknown. It is however thought to be from about 1935.
The museum at the Clydebank Town Hall has a display of Singer Sewing Machines.
Singer sewing machines came in an extraordinary range of forms and designs. These were aimed at a wide range of budgets and skills world wide. You will be familiar with some, even if you don't have an old one. Iron treadle frames devoid of the machines that once graced the tops sometimes survive in gardens supporting pot plants. The basic ones were exported widely and in a great many cases became the support apparatus for home or small business. At the other end of the spectrum came highly decorated machines in elegant cabinets.
This machine with a sphinx theme is privately owned. The attention to detail is astonishing.
The machine rises up from a teak cabinet.
The teak cabinet. On the left are small drawers. These are mimicked by a solid panel that opens to expose the release mecahnism etc. In the centre are hinged panels that give access to the foot treadle that powers it.
BRUCE, JOHN, History of the Parish of West or Old Kilpatrick and of the Church and certain lands in the Parish of East or New Kilpatrick. 1893. Republished by the Clydebank District Libaries and Museums Department, 1995. ISBN096938112. (Reference above p 286).
GLASGOW LIVE website : https://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/history/singer-sewing-clydebank-factory-16249748
HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT SCOTLAND blog : https://blog.historicenvironment.scot/2020/06/sew-on-and-sew-forth/
NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND (NLS) : Map used with permission. Archive title : NS47SE - A (includes: Erskine; Inchinnan; Old Kilpatrick) Surveyed / Revised: Pre-1930 to 1957, Published: 1958. https://maps.nls.uk/view/188143836
SINGER SEWING MACHINE COMPANY own websites :
WIKIPEDIA : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singer_Corporation