Name: James Arthur
Life dates: 1819-1885
Occupation: clothing retailer and manufacturer
James Arthur was born on 6 March 1819 in Arthurlie, near Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, one of the two sons of Matthew Arthur, a bleachworks proprietor near Neilson, Renfrewshire and Elizabeth, neé Fraser. In 1837, after serving a brief apprenticeship in a draper's shop in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, he acquired, with the financial backing of his father, the stock and business of a bankrupt draper and hosier with premises at 18 High Street, Paisley. He adopted a cash-only trading policy and his business prospered, enabling him to expand through the acquisition of neighbouring premises.
On 21 December 1847, Arthur married Jane Glen, the sister-in-law of Thomas Coats, of the thread manufacturers J & P Coats; they had four sons and a daughter. Jane Arthur later became a leading campaigner for women's right to vote and for the provision of facilities for women's education.
In 1849, Arthur went into partnership with Hugh Fraser, opening a drapery store in Buchanan Street, Glasgow. Arthur was the senior partner in the firm of Arthur & Fraser, and, in 1851, he took responsibility for commencing a wholesale business in adjoining premises in Argyle Street. In 1856, Arthur and Fraser placed the retail business in the care of a manager. The flourishing wholesale business was relocated to a larger warehouse in Miller Street, Glasgow where Arthur (as senior partner) and Fraser (as managing partner) began trading as Arthur & Co. Arthur built up a network of agents around the country and embarked on a series of acquisitions and trade increased rapidly.
In December 1865, the Arthur and Fraser partnership was dissolved by mutual consent and Fraser retired from Arthur & Co. Arthur & Co continued in control of the wholesale business. In 1878, a limited company, Arthur & Co Ltd, was formed to acquire the business. James Arthur remained the controlling shareholder and owner of the Glasgow premises. In 1880, the company began manufacturing ready-made clothing.
Arthur served as president of the Commercial Travellers' Society and as a director of the Glasgow chamber of commerce. He also held a directorship in Young's Paraffin Oil Co and had interests in the shipping companies, the Loch Line and the Clan Line.
Arthur died on 17 June 1885 at his Ayrshire home in Carlung, near West Kilbride. He left a considerable personal fortune and one of the largest cloth manufacturing and wholesaling businesses in the UK.
Moss, Michael and Turton, Alison, A Legend of Retailing: House of Fraser, London 1989
Russell, Iain, Arthur, James (1819-1885), Oxford 2004
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