Shanks of Barrhead was a name known throughout the world. Much of what
we take for granted in the bathroom was pioneered by John Shanks. However
Shanks influence was wider and encompassed such things as ship's fittings,
mortuary equipment, specialized hospital equipment, laboratory fittings.
There is scarcely an individual who would not recognize the name Shanks
and there are probably several million people use one of the products
each and every day.
The announcement that the factory in Barrhead was to close and that
the business would be transferred to England came as a severe blow to
the people of Barrhead. Although the works were a shadow of their former
self and employed over 300 people it was a major employer in the Barrhead
There probably are very few of the local population who did not have
some member of their family employed or connected with shanks in the past.
What follows is an attempt to provide a very brief history of the company
noting a few more notable events in its life span. Although the company
continues in name elsewhere, for the people of Barrhead it is the end
of an era.
SHANKS OF BARRHEAD
John Shanks was a young plumber from Paisley and had a workshop which
stood at 32 high street in the town. John Shanks saw that there was a
need for a plumbers business in the rising industrial town of Barrhead
so he opened a workshop in the Main street.
About 1860 cholera and typhoid were water born diseases caused by bad
sanitation and defective water supply. As the epidemics escalated, the
local authorities decided to take action. Around 1860 - 1865 a piped water
supply was introduced to every house tenements and workplace. At a later
time there was a sewage system installed thus combating the cholera and
This was a splendid opportunity for John Shanks, houses were installed
with ' jawboxes' (an iron sink) with the facility of running water laid
on. Also on every landing there was a communal water closet for the use
of the tenants on that landing.
John Shanks foresaw this great demon, not only for domestic sanitary ware,
but for similar appliances on board ships.
In 1865 John Shanks took out his first patent which was for an underwater line
closet for use in ships and boats. His design was excellent and the appliance
was fitted into many ships. This invention was the foundation of the trade
in shipboard goods which Shanks & Company presently supply.
|As time went on further inventions and improvements followed and the firm
prospered. In 1868 John Shanks opened a small brass foundry for the purpose
of making the fittings for his inventions, this was the making of the
Tubal works in Main street, Barrhead. Afterwards he developed the manufacture
of bath and lavatory fittings.
About 1875, his brother Andrew also a plumber, joined him in the business
and in 1878, William shanks, son of Andrew Shanks, became a partner at
the age of 21. in 1882 the founders son, John Shanks Jnr, also joined
the company when he too attained the age of 21. The business continued
as a private concern until the senior partner died. The company became
a limited liability company with William Shanks and John Shanks Jnr, as
joint managing directors.
Shanks produced bathroom fittings
for the Titanic liner
till 1898, the company had purchased it's requirements in pottery from
outside firms, this restricted expansion. In 1900 it was decided to open
a Pottery, the Victorian Pottery, at Black Byers, thus foreseeing the
removal of the entire works to that site at a later date.
Unfortunately in 1914 John Shanks lost his eldest son, Jack, in France
while serving as an officer in the local Territorials. His father, John
Shanks Snr, died after a short illness largely brought about by the death
of his son in action.
The company had not prospered during the war, although the demand for
the products from various government departments was high. In fact the
domestic trade had shrunk to a fraction of its pre-war dimensions. After
the war the company was not in a strong position to invest in the manufacturing
process however, it did purchase an earthenware company in Kilmarnock
called J & M Craig.
In the ensuing years the company recovered and expanded opening various
regional offices both in Scotland and North of England.
The Tubal Works in main street and Glen street were dated and very congested
so a new site was purchased near the Victorian Pottery and quite near
the railway marshalling yards. In 1924, the removal began, but it was
not until 1929 that the removal was completed. Today the company has an
up-to-date works in Barrhead, with other factories in England, the Irish
republic, South Africa and Malaysia. Shanks and company L.T.D. is not
only Barrhead's most important industrial concern, it carries the trade
name, SHANKS, probably the most widespread name on earth.
In 1929 the wall street crash brought in its wake a world wide trade recession which
Shanks also suffered. However, by 1933 the situation had improved and
the trade boomed again. In 1938 Shanks had an exhibit at the Empire Exhibition
at Bellahouston park, Glasgow. An entirely new luxury bathroom suite specially
designed for the occasion and called the Strathmore was the talking point
for the many thousands of people who probably never seen a bathroom.
The outbreak of the second world war was likely to impose a severe contraction
in domestic business. However the company quickly started on munitions
work and a continuous flow continued during the war years. Also due to
the danger of the Rolls Royce factory being bombed some machinery was
installed from that company that produced aircraft air components.
After the war due to a deliberate policy the company emerged with a strong
cash reserve which enabled much needed investment. By 1947 Shanks was
reckoned to be one of the most modern manufacturers of Sanitary ware in
The early fifties saw the beginnings of wide and rapid change as the country
recovered from the post war years. During the fifties various new designs
of Sanitary Ware were manufactured including the close-coupled closet
There now began a change from earthenware manufacture to the manufacture
of vitreous china which is what the modern bathroom is manufactured from.
In the early sixties there were many changes in the management which appear
to have been a turning point in the history of Shanks. Fibreglass panels
for baths were first introduced around this time and a new form of plating
process was evolved.
During the sixties due to new policies in manufacture and marketing, showrooms
and warehouses began to be shut throughout the country. Various mergers
also took place with other companies in the industry. It should be said
however, that new factories were opened in South Africa and Malaysia.
The company suffered great losses due to a rapid increase in the manufacture
of Sanitary Ware in plastics and fibreglass by others. Its long standing
departments manufacture fireclay and iron ware were running at a massive
loss. Company profits were very poor and eventually in the late sixties
negotiations with Armitage Ware L.T.D. resulted in a takeover. Shanks
ceased to exist in august 1969 and a new company Armitage Shanks L.T.D.
came into being.
During the 70's Armitage Shanks became the only company left in Scotland
manufacturing sanity ware. In 1980 another takeover resulted in the company
becoming part of the Blue Circle Industries Group. Subsequent to this
takeover and despite promises and assurances from the parent company jobs
In 1989 Barrhead and the surrounding community were shocked by the announcement
that the Tubal Works were to close. A strong and vigorous campaign was
launched to save jobs, but to no avail.
Early in 1992 the final bombshell was dropped with the announcement that
the Ceramic Works would close. The successor to the pottery finally closed
shortly afterwards. The total number of people made jobless was 326, compared
against the workforce in better times which numbered well over a 1000.
Armitage Shanks continues in England and throughout the whole of the world
but the near legendary association of Barrhead and Shanks is now Finished.
There was some interest shown by around 100 ex-employees in setting up
a business on their own. The parent company has however refused to sell
the site to anyone who may manufacture in competition with them. The site
has now been taken south. Apparently much of the archive material belonging
to the company was destroyed whether by accident or design we will never
Three months after the doors finally closed at Armitage Shanks last Scottish
factory there does not appear to be any great change in Barrhead. However
the loss of over 300 jobs coming close behind the closure of a local carpet
factory and on top of the 1989 closure of the Tubal Works has resulted
in the community sliding into depression. For several years Barrhead has
had a higher than average rate unemployment. With so many local people
employed by the now closed works Barrhead has become an unemployment
With the loss of so many jobs there has been the resulted loss of spending
power within the local community. Already the local Co-Op supermarket
has closed and another supermarket at the town centre does not appear
to get a lot of custom. Supermarkets which appear to thrive in depressed
areas have appeared. These shops include Food Giant and Shoprite. Shoprite
also has a branch at Linwood which is also an unemployment black spot after
the closure of the massive car factory Talbot. A few smaller shops have
also closed which sold luxury goods including a small electrical retailer,
a flower shop, a butcher's shop, a clothes shop and also an ironmonger's.
Other shops which appear to be thriving have now appeared and include three
charity shops selling second hand goods.
Crime appears to have increased in the area and there is a noticeable
increase in the drugs culture which has resulted in several murders,
assaults and robberies. Whether this can be directly attributable to unemployment
is debatable but my own personal feeling is that there has been a considerable
increase in the area recently.
There has been a marked increase in issues of material at Barrhead Library
which is highly likely to be due to the extra numbers of people with more
In general Barrhead has an air of depression about it. Walking around
the area you are struck with the rather sad condition of streets and buildings.
People who were born and raised in the area and who have returned to visit
have remarked on the changes they see in the town. At the moment there
does not appear to be anything to look forward to. Although the 100 or
so ex-Shanks employees are attempting to start up on their own it is highly
unlikely that many jobs will be created.
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