James Boyd & Sons

Wrights and joiners

B/W Advertisement for James Boyd & Sons, 'Glasgow Building Trades Exchange', 1896, p. 146

The firm of James Boyd & Sons originated with glazier James Boyd, who opened a shop in Paisley High Street around 1826. 1 The abolition of tax on glass in 1848 encouraged the building of conservatories and glass houses, 2 and being a joiner as well as a glazier, Boyd was able to take full advantage of this new market. By 1851 he was advertising as a 'hot-house builder'; and as a natural adjunct to installing easily-broken glass, he also became an insurance agent.

His sons John and Duncan S. Boyd joined him around 1867, and about two years later he moved to his final, permanent premises at MacDowall Street, Paisley. 3 Now began the firm's most prestigious period, erecting hot-houses for prominent clients. Projects included shipowner Ninian Bannatyne Stewart's rock-cut fernery at Ascog Hall, Bute (1870), and the rebuilding of Glasgow Botanic Gardens' spectacular, domed Kibble Palace on a new site, with additions (1872–3). 4 The firm suffered a serious fire in 1876, which destroyed most of their premises, with damage estimated at 15,000. 5

Work outside Scotland included a conservatory at Ballydrain Estate, Belfast (1880); the Pearson Conservatory ('lightweight iron frames with wrought iron brackets', 1882) for Port Elizabeth, South Africa; 6 and the Palm House at Glasnevin Botanical Gardens, Dublin (1884). The palm house was prefabricated in Paisley, and when reassembled on site, was 65 feet (19.81 m) high and 100 feet (30.48 m) long. 7

The firm also dealt in used, or secondhand hot-houses: the 900 glazed sashes and cast-iron columns of the old Dublin palm house were auctioned off, as were a more mundane Scottish domestic 'span roofed greenhouse ... and hot water pipes', and ranges of 'lean-to hot houses ... with stove and vinery'. 8 As a result of their horticultural heating expertise, they also installed pipes in St George's Church Halls, Paisley (James Donald, 1892–3).

At the 1908 Scottish International Exhibition at Saughton Hall Estate, Boyd's erected the Winter Gardens tearoom (with Walker & Ramsay, architects), which was afterwards retained in Saughton Park, Edinburgh. It was of teak on a pink stone base, 126 feet (38.4 m) long, with a hipped roof 55 feet (16.76 m) wide, and was entered through an octagonal lobby. Palms were accommodated by a lantern roof, supported on cast-iron columns, the whole being finished in white enamel. 9

In 1914, the firm split into two, the London branch being taken over by James Duncan Boyd, and the Paisley branch continuing under John, James, and John B. W. Boyd. 10 By the mid-1920s, the Boyds were a limited liability firm of boilermakers, ironfounders and structural engineers, and hot-house design did not figure in their description, reflecting the changed social and economic world after the First World War.

Colour photograph of James Boyd & Sons' invoice for conservatory at the Glasgow School of Art, 1909


1: Brian Roberts Historic Building Engineering Systems, London: English Heritage, 2008, p. 31; Fowler's New Commercial Directory ... of Renfrewshire, 1829–30.

2: Eric W. Curtis, Kibble's Palace, Argyll: Argyll Publishing, 1999, p. 83.

3: Watson's Directory for Paisley, 1862–70 inclusive.

4: Paul Matthews 'Restoring the Kibble Palace', The Caledonian Gardener (Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society), 2008, p. 6.

5: Glasgow Herald, 25 April, 1876, p. 4.

6: Scottish Ironwork website, www.scottishironwork.org [accessed 18 April 2012].

7: Botanic Gardens Conservation International website, www.bgci.org [accessed 19 April 2012].

8: Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, 28 October 1884; Glasgow Herald, 26 April 1886, p. 6; 13 December 1888, p. 2.

9: Scotsman, 27 April 1908, p. 9.

10: Edinburgh Gazette, 24 March 1914, p. 385.