Brother George and the “Secret Works”

It is almost seven years since I visited the grave of Macintosh’s nephew, Charles, in the grounds of Glasgow Cathedral. Interred alongside him are the remains of Macintosh’s younger (and generally better-known) brother, George.

What I had not appreciated at the time of my visit was how close the gravesite was to the sizeable estate, Dunchattan—just off Duke Street in the east end of the city—that George occupied in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. A mere 500 metres from his final resting place, and neighbouring Tennent’s brewery, the estate of Dunchattan is where George established the cudbear dye works that would cement his commercial success.

Detail from Peter Fleming’s 1807 Map of the City of Glasgow and Suburbs. National Library of Scotland EMS.s.690

The map above, published in the year of George’s death, shows Dunchattan House in the top right with its formal gardens laid out to the south. The western portion of the estate was occupied by the dye works. These were colloquially known as the “Secret Works” as a consequence of George’s decision—apparently in an effort to prevent industrial espionage—to employ only Gaelic-speaking Highlanders in the factory, and the fact that the whole was enclosed in a ten-foot-high wall.

A larger portion of the same map, showing Dunchattan House (right) and George’s gravesite (left).

In recent years there has been a renewed interest in George’s dye works—both as a site of Gaelic cultural significance and as part of a merchant trade financed by the proceeds of transatlantic trade in sugar and tobacco. Nothing of the Dunchattan estate now remains, but its legacy is preserved in the names of streets in the area, including McIntosh Street and Dunchattan Street.

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