Stewart Brothers

Wool Brokers

135 Constitution Street, Leith, Edinburgh




Laurie Thompson

Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, England

Thank you to Laurie Thompson who wrote:


"Does anyone know what happened to Stewart Brothers, Wool Brokers, in Leith? 


"After leaving school in the summer of 1964, I went to work for them in their Constitution Street warehouse as a temporary labourer until taking up a job with the Civil Service in London at the end of January 1965."

The Wages

"If I remember rightly, my pay was about 7-odd a week - useful money for Saturday night outings to The Place club in Victoria Street!"

The Fleeces Arrive

"The work was not particularly hard, but it was dirty.  The fleeces as delivered to Stewarts were completely raw and untreated, fresh off the sheep, and not all sheep droppings actually make it to the ground!

I worked with one of the company's permanent employees - a quietly spoken, good-natured young chap by the name of (if my memory is correct) Jimmy Troop - on an electric-hydraulic baling machine."

Grading the Fleeces

"The fleeces came into Stewarts in large quantities on lorries from other parts of Scotland, mainly the Borders, I think. They were then sorted and graded into their various wool types by men who were skilled graders, each type of fleece having its own storage bay.

I think one of these graders that we worked closely with was called Tommy Coyle, and the speed with which he could pick up a fleece, examine it, categorize it and fling it into its appropriate bay was marvelous to watch.

There was a range of strange-sounding names for the different types of fleeces, but the only one that sticks in my mind is Black Faced Ruby Ewe.  Why that's lodged in my memory for half a century, I've no idea!."

Baling the Fleeces

"When there were enough loose fleeces of a particular type, it was time to bale them and store the bales ready for future shipment to the mills.  As I recollect it, at that time most of the collecting lorries came up from Yorkshire, mainly the Bradford area, for the mills down that way.  Remember when Britain had a viable textile industry of its own? **

Again if I remember correctly, the baling machine was in two main sections, the fixed power/hydraulic ram section, and an oblong movable balebox section which was probably about five feet long by a couple of feet square. The balebox could be rotated through 90 degrees, from the vertical to the horizontal and vice versa, and could be opened to remove the filled bale.

The vertical empty box would firstly be lined with a heavy-duty jute sack, then tilted horizontally to receive the baling ram and the loading would begin. When the bale seemed full, the ram was withdrawn completely, the balebox tilted back to the vertical, and before the bale was released from the box, a square jute sacking lid was sewn on its top using string and a large sail-makers needle


"The box catches would then be released, and, all being well, there would be a perfectly-filled bale, as tight as a drum, ready for shipment. Sometimes though, either because the bale had been a bit over-filled, or the lid stitching wasn't quite right, there would begin a slow ripping sound, getting progressively faster, as the lid parted company with the bale, and fleeces would erupt from the top of the now-useless bale.

Back to the start!"

Loading the Lorries

"Loading of the Bradford lorries was done using heavy-duty two-wheeled porters' trolleys, baling hooks, and grappling chain hoists. As I remember it. the trucks' loads even extended over small load platforms above the cab roofs. They must have been awkward to drive, with a high and heavy centre of gravity.

Other Memories

"A few other random memories;

pies and vanilla slices at meal break, dirty, but soft, hands from the lanolin and field dirt from the fleeces

cycling home at teatime in the dark and rain (or sleet!) up Lochend Road past the Hawkhill Bakery

finally, soaking in a nice hot bath, listening to Radio Luxemburg or Radio Caroline North on my tranny - 'Baby Love' by the Supremes is a particularly vivid memory - before a very welcome evening meal

More Questions

"I see from Google Maps Street View that the old Constitution Street warehouse has gone

-  Did Stewarts eventually fold because of the collapse of the British woollen industry, or were they maybe taken over and possibly relocated?

-  What happened to the people? I'd be interested to hear."

Laurie Thompson, Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, England:  June 12, 2014

**  Hi Laurie:

Yes, I remember the woollen industry in Bradford, from the days when the city had a large manufacturing industry.  I was born in Bradford in 1945 and lived there until I left school at the age of 18 and moved to Edinburgh.

I remember looking down on all the mill chimneys near the centre of the city from the surrounding hills.  As you say, all has changed now.

-  The mill  in Moorside Road that I used to pass 4 times every day on my way to and from Primary School closed many years ago.  It is now an Industrial Museum.

-  Lister' Mills at Manningham, near the Grammar School that I attended were the largest silk mills in the world.  They also closed some time ago.  The mills have now been converted to apartments.

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  June 17, 2014






Colin Hunter

Bolton, Lancashire, England

Thank you to Colin Hunter who replied to Laurie Thompson's question above, telling me that Stewart  Brothers was founded by his great grandfather.

Colin also sent me an article from 'Wool Record, 23 February 1950', This included a photo of his grandfather, John Stewart, seated at his desk.

That photo will still be copyright so I'm not able to add it to this page.  However, I've included some extracts below from the article.

Colin wrote:

Company History

"Stewart Brothers was started in 1878 by my great grandfather, William Stewart, who came from the Shetlands.

My grandfather, John Stewart ***, ran the company until his death in 1951.  Thereafter it was run by three uncles of mine." 

Holiday Jobs

"Laurie Thompson said he worked there as a holiday job in about 1964. I did so also, in about 1969, and my recollections are similar to his. 

I remember:

 the dirty fleeces. (The back ends were separated where possible and called brock as I recall.)

the skill of the graders.  (Yes, Ruby Ewe is the one that I best recall.)

-  Tam Coyle.  (I also worked with him.  He was quite a character.)

I know that the business carried on for some years after that but I have to confess I don't know when or precisely why it closed."

Colin Hunter, Bolton, Lancashire, England:  12 December 2016

John Stewart

*** The article from 'Wool Record, 23 February 1950' mentions that:

-  John Stewart entered the trade in 1891, so was (when the article was written)  in his 59th year of continuous business.

-  John's chief hobby since his school days was the study of Scottish Rugby Football.  He saw his first Rugby International match in 1884 and has only missed two matches since then.

-  John showed considerable promise as a singer, winning school singing competitions and going on to become a well known vocalist who sang at many concerts in different parts of the country.

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  29 December 2016




Colin Hunter

Bolton, Lancashire, England

Thank you to Colin Hunter for writing again.

Colin wrote:

Around the Warehouse

"I remember the view at the back of the warehouse.  We used to play football on the Links in our rush hour." 

Colin Hunter, Bolton, Lancashire, England:  30 December 2016


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