Whytock & Reid
Decorators and Furnishers,
Cabinetmakers and Upholsters
Sunbury House, Belford Mews
Whytock & Reid's premises at Sunbury House, Belford Mews, near the
water of Leith close to Dean Village, were only about half a mile
from the West End of Princes Street. Yet, within their
grounds, the atmosphere seemed very rural.
When I first visited Whytock & Reid in
1991, they had:
a) Large workshops on three floors.
This was the building on the left in the picture above.
(The building, straight ahead adjoining it had not yet been built.)
b) Showroom. A newer lower
building, close to the workshop above, but off the picture to the
c) Two large sheds, as in the picture
below (and hidden behind the trees in the picture above)..
These were listed buildings, each containing large quantities and
many varieties of wood, some of it 200 years old. This enabled
the company was able to find a good match for the wood on furniture
that they restored.
When I returned to Whytock & Reid in 1995,
some of their land had been sold
a) The former workshop above had been
converted to a showroom and small workshop. (A new workshop
had been constructed. That is the newer building in the centre
of the top photo above.)
b) The former showroom above and much
of the land had been sold to create a private house with
conservatory with garden.
c) The first of the two large sheds
had been dismantled. It was proposed to dismantle the other
shed and reassemble it at Summerlee Industrial Heritage Museum in
Coatbridge, Central Scotland.
Bill Paterson was Works
Manager at Whytock & Reid when I visited the firm in 1991.
Twenty-two years after I
took this photo of him, Bill (on the left, above) sent me an
email, telling me more about the firm during the 28 years that he
"You may be aware that I retired in
1999. The death of old man, Campbell Reid, in 1999 and my
retirement were unfortunately the death knell for such an
In 1971, when I joined the firm, we had:
- 4 wood machinists
- 1 apprentice
- 20 cabinetmakers
- 10 high class joiners
... but the strikes and 3-day-weeks of
1972 and 1973 meant that we had to downsize.
Power was only available from midnight
'till 4am, three nights per week, and daylight working was
only from 9am till 3pm, if that. That virtually finished
the firm, but it struggled on for another 30 years.
the firm had:
10 cabinetmakers (carpenters).
- 2 apprentices.
- 1 wood machinist.
The firm also had:
- French polishers.
- sewing women.
Bill Paterson, Kingsknowe, Edinburgh: August 29, 2013
History of Whytock & Reid
firm was founded
around 1804, and remained in the same premises for about 200 years.
It is one of only two companies in the world that held a Royal
Charter continuously for over 150 years.
The Whytock family sold out
of the business around 1900 and left Scotland, selling their
invention for carpet weaving for about £7m.
When I visited the company
in 1991, it was still being run by the Reid family. 'Old Man'
Reid was then aged about 78.
In earlier years, the
company had made some fine furniture. I was told that they
preferred their wood to be air dried rather than kiln dried, so they
had to order their wood 20 years ahead of using it!
I met Works Manager,
Bill Paterson, whilst taking photos at Whittock & Reid in 1991,
Bill later wrote:
By 1991, when I first visited the company, much of its business
was selling antiques, but some some restoration work, including
reupholstering and French polishing. At the time of my
visit, it was working on:
- a large oak plaque for the outside of Dundee Custom
- restoring monkeys for the Edinburgh Lyceum Theatre
- a set of new chairs for Glasgow University
- a set of pews for the military chapel at Fort George
- one of emblem (a bee for Viscount Whitelaw) for
St Giles church.
There was also still some specially commissioned church
The company closed in 2004.
With acknowledgement to Mr Paterson for telling me
many of the
details above when I visited Whytock & Reid in August 1991.
Bill Paterson (on the
right in the photo below, taken in 1991) was Works Manager at Whytock and
Reid. He worked for the firm from 1971 until his retirement in 1999.
Bill has been
researching the 197-year history of Whytock &
Reid, and has written several pages of comprehensive notes about the
Here, below, are
some extracts and comments, taken from Bill's notes, in which I've attempted to
capture the main events in the history of the company, and show the scope
and scale of some of the company's work.
From Haberdashers Shop to Royal Warrant
The Business expands to include carpets
"Richard Barnet Whytock was born
Dalkeith in 1784. He and his brother, William, opened a
at 67 South Bridge, Edinburgh, around 1806-07."
"In 1810, Richard took on a
partner, Robert Grieve.
Together, they established
WHYTOCK & GRIEVE
at 77 South Bridge selling
However, ten years later, he was
trading alone as
WHYTOCK & Co.
now based at 25 New Buildings, North Bridge,
"Around 1825, Richard was still trading
as RICHARD WHYTOCK &
Co., but now from Queensberry
House, Canongate. At this time, he then took on a new
partner, Henry Henderson."
"The Whytock & Reid business was
expanding. By 1828, it included
gilding, painting, wall hangings
and complete house decoration.
moved to 37 George Street, then to 7 George Street."
"Richard invented and patented 'The
Tapestry Carpet Loom' in 1832."
"In 1838, he
granted the Royal
'Richard Whytock, patent carpet manufacturer to the
"By 1840, Whytock & Reid were
producing 10,000 yards of carpet per day. Six years
later, Richard sold the
patent and carpet works to his partner, Henry Henderson, for
Deaths of Richard then James.
Alexander Whytock takes control
"Richard bought Alex Campbell's
warehouse at 9+11 George Street."
Showroom and Office
"Nos. 9+11 George Street were
demolished and a new purpose-built showroom and office
building was erected for
RICHARD WHYTOCK &
Co. This survived until
1960, when it was bought by Royal Insurance Co."
"The firm also had workshops for
at Rose Court."
Richard Whytock RIP
died, leaving the business to be run by:
- brothers, Alexander and
James (who died, 1868), and
- cousin William Alexander."
"Around 1868, Alexander and William
created a new company,
RICHARD WHYTOCK &
Co., ROAD & RAIL WAGONS.
This company pioneered
of transport, 100 years before its time.
took new workshops at Tynecastle and Greenside and built
wooden containers and flat bed horse-drawn waggons there, to
the same dimensions as the Railway companies' flat bed cars,
and used his own packers to load and unload the containers.
the business was very costly to
operate and was scrapped."
Death of James Whytock
the sudden death of James Whytock in December 1868:
- Alexander Whytock, who
lived in a large mansion, 'The Grange', at Duddingston, took
control of the whole firm.
- William Whytock, who lived
in a flat at 7 George Street, remained a partner but only in
the furnishing and decorating parts of the firm."
Merger and Consolidation
Then a Fire
Creation of Whytock & Reid
1876, Alexander Whytock and Robert Reid agreed to merge their
RICHARD WHYTOCK & Co.
DAVIDSON & REID
REID & Co."
the merger with
RICHARD WHYTOCK & Co.
Robert Reid had
in his father's furniture making firm,
JOHN REID & SON
- THEN, a partner
Davidson in DAVIDSON
& REID, a company based in,
Frederick Street, Edinburgh, until it bought Sunbury
Distillery at Bells Mills from the Haig Whisky family and
converted it into:
beating, cleaning and mending workshops.
carpet drying green."
this merger to create
RICHARD WHYTOCK & Co,
there was a
consolidation of the Edinburgh businesses and premises:
- All manufacturing was
transferred to Bell's Mills Works
- The Reid
127 George Street was closed down and transferred to 7-11
and curtain making
workshops at Rose Court were retained.
WHYTOCK, REID & Co.,
now had businesses in the west
of Scotland (Ayr) and East of Scotland (Edinburgh).
These traded under different names, the East of Scotland using
the name: WHYTOCK
& REID of EDINBURGH."
Alexander Whytock RIP
Whytock died in 1882."
Sale of the Business
cousin, William Alexander, sold out the
WHYTOCK, REID & Co.
business to the
Reid Brothers, Robert and Hugh in 1886.
Robert and Hugh were the eldest
sons of John Reid.
They were Partners in the
JOHN REID & SON, AYR
in 1886, a
catastrophic fire had broken out at Bells Mills workshops.
Only the carpet works and woodsheds were left standing.
Following the fire, all the woodworking and cabinetmaking
activities were transferred to the John Reid & Son's Ayr
It may have been this fire that
prompted William Alexander to sell his shares in the business
brand new, purpose-built workshop was opened in 1888, named
'The Belford Cabinet Works'. It was lit by natural light
and town gas.
a new steam engine to power all the saws, planers, moulding
and carving machines through overhead axles, pulleys and
individual leather belts. Cranes, huge rip-saws and
timber sheds were installed in the wood yard."
John Reid RIP
Reid died, leaving his sons as joint partners in
WHYTOCK, REID & Co."
The Golden Age
of House Furnishing
Creation of Whytock & Reid
last of the original partners in
WHYTOCK, REID & Co
retired in 1909. He
was David Reid, the youngest son of John Reid.
This was also the year that the
firm's Ayr works closed down."
was the golden age of house furnishing and decoration, and
Whytock & Reid's name was now well known in Scotland and
Ship builders, ship-owners,
merchants and industrialists were all buying up old family
estates and modernising them. These included:
- The Coats of Paisley
- Andrew Carnegie at Skibo
- The Armstrongs of
- the owners of Mount
Stuart, Isle of Bute
- residents of Edinburgh New
all wanting the latest in
decoration and furnishings.
Complete houses including
Balmoral, Holyrood and Manderston, and Culzean,
Mellerstain, Monzie Dawyk and other large estates were
all looking for remodelling and decoration. Even the
latest steam yachts and Pullman-type railway carriages were
fitted out by Whytock & Reid."
Move to Charlotte Square
Murray Reid sold the premises at 9-11 George Street and moved
the Whytock & Reid showroom and offices to 7 Charlotte Square."
Restoration and Repairs
returning from their military service, Campbell and Murray
Reid began to rebuild the business. With restrictions on
wood and fabrics, they concentrated on restoration and
repairs, rather than manufacturing.
Many large houses in Scotland had
been commandeered by the War Office during the war, so now
needed to be put into good order."
From Mid-20th Century
Manufacturing in Full Swing after World War
Then retrenchment as the company winds down.
the 1950s, the firm's manufacturing was back in full swing and
the company again had about 100 workers, including:
- 30 to 40 cabinetmakrers
- 10 wood carvers
- 10 French polishers
- 10 to 15 upholsterers
- 10 seamstresses
- 4 wood
- 2 yard
- 1 setter out
- 5 or 6
1966, many old family firms were closing down. One of
these was Scott-Morton, a coompany that specialised in
After the auction of their assets,
J Campbell Reid was approached and offered the name and good
will of the firm at a reasonable cost, and so Whitock & Reid's
Edinburgh business became:
WHYTOCK & REID, EDINBURGH
This gained Whitock & Reid many
Joining the Firm
I joined Whytock & Reid in 1971, I found it to be very similar
to how it was over 80 years earlier when the Bedford Cabinet
Works were built in 1888.
The main difference was that the
gas steam engine had been replaced in the 1920s by individual
electric motors, each 5HP, to power the saws, planers, etc.
Belting and pulleys were still
being used to drive the machines, but from the basement under
the machines, rather than from overhead shafts and belts which
would have been very dangerous in operation."
the winter of 1973-74 , the country had all sorts of
strikes. These led to power shortages and the '3-day
week'. A few contracts were terminated as they could not
be fulfilled, but we struggled through.
The staff levels in the works then
were much reduced, with only:
- 16 cabinetmakrers and
- 5 wood
- 4 French
- 2 painters
- 1 wood carver
- 8 upholsterers
- 8 sewers
- 5 foremen
- 1 driver
- 1 delivery
- 1 porter
1974, the lease on the company's showrooms at 7 Charlotte
Square could not be renewed. (The building became the
National Trust's 'Georgian House'.)
It was decided that the vast acres
at Belford Road could be better used, so the old carpet
sheds were demolished, the drying green tarred over, and new
showrooms and offices built above the Water of Leith,
overlooking the weir and Dean village, a perfect idyll site.
The showrooms were now
concentrating on buying and selling antique furniture"
continued steadily. We concentrated on the manufacture
of our own designed chairs and sofas, and church and
We installed new oak panelling to
match the old on the walls of the Throne Room at Holyrood
The National Trust for Scotland
became one of our best customers. Most of their
properties had furnishings, curtains, carpets and interiors
supplied by Whytock & Reid."
Sale and Scrapping
"Campbell Reid eventually retired
from being a Partner in 1989, aged 77.
By the late 1980s:
- the entire Whytock &
Reid site at Belford Works had been sold to and was being
rented back from a builder.
- all the massive Victorian and
Edwardian wood-working machines, some of which had been
installed in 1888 and were capable of converting huge baulks
of timber into furniture pieces, had been scrapped.
- the large veneer press,
the morticer and the tenoner had all been sold for scrap.
Modern machines had been installed in the new machine shop,
which was a fraction of the size of the old one.
- the Baltic pine wood shed,
which stood since 1875, had been taken down and re-erected at
Summerlee Heritage Museum at Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire."
"During this period of
retrenchment, the staff numbers were greatly reduced to fit
the physical limitations of the available space. They
were reduced to:
cabinetmakrers and joiners
- 4 sewers
- 1 French
- 1 wood
"In 1996, a new company was
& REID LTD,
but it was to be only another 8 years before the whole
business would cease trading."
The Royal Yacht, 'Britannia'
"Whytock & Reid's final major job
before my retirement in 1998 was for the 'Royal Yacht
Britannia', then docked at Leith, empty of all moveable
fittings and furniture.
We were contracted to replace and
restore everything necessary to bring the fittings and
furnishings back to the state they were in when the
yacht was first fitted out in 1954.
This included the vast dining
table for the State Room. It had to be made in sections,
each about 8 feet by 4 feet, able to be joined together in
different permutations, to create a 'T' shape, 'E' shape, 'H'
shape or as a large dining table with other sections being
used for side tables.I also found that the deck was not flat
and that the centre was 6 in higher than the edges, so the
table had to be made with adjustable feet so that no matter
where they were placed, they could be roughly levelled."
"Whytock & Reid ceased trading in
2004, just 3 years short of the firm's bi-centenary.
David C Reid, the last Partner, died in 2010."
Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh: 26 October 2013
based on more extensive notes provided by
Bill Paterson, Kingsknowe, Edinburgh: October 25, 2013
Thank you to Ricki Martin,, formerly an Apprentice at Whytock &
Reid, who wrote:
"I love the write-up bt Bill Patterson
(above) but was disappointed to read about the closing of Whytock &
"I worked for Whytock & Reid from 1969
until 1976, starting before Billy Patterson started there.
Willie Selkirk (Manager)
Alex Brown, my foreman (great man)
George Curry (friend and mentor)
Jimmie Greeves (polisher )
- James White
Richard (Ricky) Martin, Hobart Tasmania: March