William Davidson was born on 6 February 1861 in Tradeston, Glasgow, the fourth child and third son of William, a provision merchant, and his wife, Agnes.
For the 1881 census Davidson described himself as a commercial traveller and organist – it is not known if or where he was engaged as a professional organist. By 1887, he and his eldest brother, Robert, ten years his senior, had established R. & W. Davidson, produce brokers and commission merchants, at a warehouse in Moodie's Close, Argyle Street. 1 From 1896 they had additional premises nearby at 9 Virginia Street. 2 The business became R. & W. Davidson Ltd on 29 April 1911. 3
From 1909 onwards, Davidson was a member and office bearer of professional and civic bodies. He appears to have served as treasurer and president of the Grocers' Company of Glasgow twice: treasurer in 1909 and 1931; and president in 1911 and 1933. In December 1910 he was admitted as a Burgess and Guild Brother of Glasgow and a Freeman Member of the Incorporation of Coopers, Glasgow. In 1927 he was president of the Scottish Provision Trade Association, and in 1928–9, Deacon of the Incorporation of Coopers. 4
Robert Davidson was president of the Grocers' Company of Glasgow in 1906. 5 In 1919–20, he was Deacon of the Glasgow Trades House and featured in the 'Men You Know' feature in the Glasgow journal theBailie. This stated that the Davidsons' business marketed 'colonial produce' and 'large quantities of the dairy products of Ireland, Denmark and Sweden' and that they had branches in London, Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff and Belfast. 6 An undated but probably early photograph of R. & W. Davidson's Virginia Street shop window, gives branches at Leith, Newcastle upon Tyne and London and advertises the import of the products of Armour & Co. of Chicago. 7
William Davidson married Jean Steel Reid (1866–1945) on 13 June 1889 at Ferniebank, Kilmacolm – the home of her parents – under the auspices of the United Presbyterian Church. They had three sons: William Cameron (1890–1975); Hamish Reid (1893–1972) and Henry Steel (1896–1915), who was killed in action in France. All three boys were educated at Fettes College, Edinburgh; Henry was at school at the time of the 1911 census and appears on the school's roll of honour. 8 The family lived in Pollokshields, Glasgow, before moving to Kilmacolm around 1896. 9 There, they occupied the lower apartment of the house built by William's father, named after Gladsmuir, his birthplace in East Lothian. Mr and Mrs Davidson Senior lived upstairs. 10
Davidson and Mackintosh
Around 1894–5 Davidson became acquainted with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who soon designed furniture and interior schemes for Gladsmuir. 11 Further work followed. In 1897 Mackintosh designed a menu card for Mr and Mrs Davidson Senior's golden wedding celebration. 12 In 1898 Jean Davidson's mother, Margaret Henry Reid, commissioned him to design a gravestone for her husband, James Reid.
By July 1900 Davidson himself had commissioned Mackintosh to design a new home for the family at Kilmacolm. 13 The family moved into the house, Windyhill, in July 1901. 14 Mackintosh became a lifelong friend of the Davidson family. He appears in several family photographs with the children and regularly presented books to the boys. 15 Due to the pressures of business, Davidson and his family moved back to Glasgow in 1911, to 18 Lilybank Gardens, and Windyhill was rented out. 16
In 1920, Davidson bought 78 Ann Street (previously 6 Florentine Terrace and later 78 Southpark Avenue), the Mackintoshes' house, and its contents, after they were unsuccessful in their attempts to sell. Since their departure from Glasgow in 1914 the house had been rented out, in the belief that their absence would not be permanent. 17 William and Jean Davidson spent the rest of their lives in this second Mackintosh house. William died on 30 June 1945; Jean had predeceased him by two months. He had been a successful businessman and had invested shrewdly in a variety of stocks and shares, leaving an estate worth over £47,000. 18
William Davidson was a loyal friend to Mackintosh, particularly during his difficult later years in London and France when he supported Mackintosh financially with small loans and by buying a number of watercolours. 19
After Mackintosh died in 1928 and Margaret in January1933, Davidson acted as a trustee of their joint estate. He was instrumental in the swift organisation of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh Memorial Exhibition at the McLellan Galleries, Glasgow, in May 1933. This was largely drawn from the estate, with a number of loans from family and friends. Many items were sold. Davidson assumed responsibility for the remainder which was stored in the basement of his business premises. Following his death in 1945, Davidson's sons, Cameron and Hamish, offered to sell 78 Southpark Avenue and to gift its contents to the University of Glasgow. The Mackintoshes' nephew and heir, Sylvan McNair, agreed to the transfer of the residue of the estate to the University. 20 Furniture from Windyhill was subsequently gifted to the Glasgow School of Art.
William Davidson was a musician and keen amateur photographer. For the 1881 census he described himself as an organist and a later family photograph shows him at the piano. The first set of plans for Windyhill included a darkroom on the first floor, but this was not built. Surviving photographs of the Davidson homes and family were probably taken by him.
Davidson owned a fine collection of contemporary Scottish paintings, which included work by 'The Four' (Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald, Frances Macdonald and J. Herbert McNair); Glasgow Boys George Henry, E. A. Walton, E. A. Hornel, David Gauld, and W. Y. McGregor; and the Scottish Colourists. In particular he was a loyal supporter of J. Q. Pringle, from whom he commissioned miniatures of his sons. 23 A portrait of William Davidson painted by Gourock artist William Somerville Shanks is in The Hunterian collection. 24
1: Glasgow Post Office Directory, 1887–8, p. 215.
2: Glasgow Post Office Directory, 1896–7, p. 158; 1911–12, p. 1025.
3: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: letter from Alastair J. Campbell, clerk of the Incorporation of Coopers to Stanley Kerr, 26 January 2004, enclosing the articles of association for R. & W. Davidson Ltd.
4: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: correspondence between Stanley Kerr and Pamela Robertson, 2003–5. 5 December 2003, enclosing: Michael Moss, 100 Years of Provisioning in Scotland, 1889–1989, Glasgow: Scottish Provision Trade Association, 1989. List of presidents, p. 51; 29 March 2004 enclosing letter from Alastair J. Campbell, clerk of the Incorporation of Coopers, to Stanley Kerr; 26 January 2004, giving details of William Davidson's admittance dates; 19 May 2005 enclosing list of presidents and treasurers of the Grocers' Company, Glasgow; GLAHA 53958 and 53959.
5: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: correspondence between Stanley Kerr and Pamela Robertson, 19 May 2005 enclosing list of presidents and treasurers of the Grocers' Company, Glasgow.
6: Bailie, 'Men You Know', no. 2451, 8 October 1919.
7: Private Collection, copy at The Hunterian, University of Glasgow.
8: www.edinburghs-war.ed.ac.uk/home_front/documents/PDF_fettes_college_ROH.pdf, p. 16 [accessed 6 September 2011]; The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 53960.
9: Gladsmuir first appears as William Davidson's home address in the Glasgow Post Office Directory of 1896–7, p. 159.
10: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: Hamish Reid Davidson, 'Recollections and impressions of Charles Rennie Mackintosh', typed manuscript, October 1967, GLAHA 52375, p. 1.
11: Davidson had also unknowingly purchased furniture which Mackintosh had designed for Glasgow company Guthrie & Wells.Roger Billcliffe, Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings and Interior Designs, Moffat, Dumfriesshire: Cameron & Hollis, 4th edn, 2009, pp. 29–30.
12: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 41527–30; GLAHA 53020–1.
13: July 1900 is the date of submission of planning drawings and documents for the house. It is unclear when exactly Davidson first approached Mackintosh about the house.
14: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: Hamish Reid Davidson, 'Recollections and impressions of Charles Rennie Mackintosh', typed manuscript, October 1967, GLAHA 52375, p. 2.
15: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: Hamish Reid Davidson, 'Recollections and impressions of Charles Rennie Mackintosh', typed manuscript, October 1967, GLAHA 52375, p. 4.
16: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: Hamish Reid Davidson, 'Recollections and impressions of Charles Rennie Mackintosh', typed manuscript, October 1967, GLAHA 52375, p. 3; Glasgow Post Office Directory, 1911–2, p. 203.
17: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: Hamish Reid Davidson, 'Recollections and impressions of Charles Rennie Mackintosh', typed manuscript, October 1967, GLAHA 52375, p. 3.
18: National Archive of Scotland, Edinburgh: Inventory of the Moveable or Personal Estate and Effects of William Davidson, 15 October 1945, SC36/48/646, pp. 339–44.
19: Letters from Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh to William Davidson, dated 1915, 1919 and 1920, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 52530–53544.
20: History of the Mackintosh Estate, www.huntsearch.gla.ac.uk/Mackintosh/history.html.
21: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 53971. Davidson's mother was born in Old Cumnock, Ayrshire.
22: Among the stocks and shares listed in the inventory accompanying his will was one share in the 'Junior Conservative Club'. National Archive of Scotland, Edinburgh: Inventory of the Moveable or Personal Estate and Effects of William Davidson, 15 October 1945, SC36/48/646, p. 341.
23: Information from Davidson family.
24: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 54819.