Smiths of Jordanhill - Times Past

Posted on 3 January 2024

In partnership with the Glasgow Times​, our archivists are exploring Glasgow's fascinating history. This week, Barbara McLean writes about the Smiths of Jordanhill.

Think about Jordanhill and what springs to mind? Perhaps the current school or, going further back, the former Teaching Training College? You might be surprised to learn that before it became part of Glasgow, the area was once home to a private family and their estate.

That family was the Smiths of Jordanhill and their papers were the very first private collection Glasgow City Archives acquired. We were originally established to collect the archives of Glasgow Corporation and its predecessors but also had (and still do have) an important remit to collect private archives.

The Smiths’ estate, family, legal and household papers cover four centuries of their business concerns and private lives. The family’s connection to Jordanhill began when Archibald Smith, a West India merchant, bought Jordanhill House in 1800 and subsequently enlarged the estate. At that time, Jordanhill was part of Renfrewshire and was yet to fall within Glasgow’s boundaries.   

The papers of the Smiths shine a light on generations of their family including some notable personalities. One of the family patriarchs was James Smith (d. 1867), whose many interests and passions included archaeology, architecture, geology and yachting. He owned several yachts including The Raven, The Amethyst and The Wave for which we hold accounts as well as a journal recounting a voyage onboard The Amethyst in 1830.

Exploring was a particular passion for Smith. He honoured his friends, the Arctic explorers General Sabine and Captain Douglas Clavering, by naming his daughter Sabina Douglas Clavering Smith. She herself was a childhood friend of William Thomson, the Belfast-born mathematician and engineer, who is better known as Lord Kelvin. When they were adults, he proposed marriage to her several times. After his second unsuccessful attempt, he wrote to Sabina’s sister, Christina, in April 1851: “I have experienced bitter bitter grief far more than I felt prepared for when I went away last night… It seems so very good for both of us that I cannot help thinking that it may come in time that we shall be united.” However, it was not to be.

Sabina’s nephew, James Parker Smith, was MP for Partick for many years, beginning in 1890. During his political career, he was also the Parliamentary Secretary to Joseph Chamberlain in the fledgling years of the twentieth century. We hold Smith’s photographs and correspondence as part of the collection.

The collection is also remarkable for its examples of photography, especially early photography. As well as family albums and glass negatives, there are ambrotypes and daguerreotypes (images made directly on to glass) dating from the 1850s.

In the early twentieth century, Glasgow Corporation purchased the estate for teacher training purposes. The mansion house (pictured) was demolished in 1961 and, in its place rose a building for Jordanhill College of Education. The archive collection was gifted to Glasgow City Archives in May 1966.