Scottish shale Scottish shale

James Russel and Son

James Russel & Son were a Falkirk-based coal and ironmasters who controlled much of the trade in Boghead coal mined to the south and west of Bathgate. They were contracted to supply Boghead coal to the Bathgate oil works of James Young and partners.

The firm was a partnership of :

  • James Russel senior (? - 1858)
  • James Russel junior

Mineral rights were held for the lands of

  • References

      We have already stated the circumstances connected with the death of James Russel, Esq. of Blackbraes, senior partner of the firm of Russel and Aitken writers, and of the firm of James Russel and Son, coal and iron-masters. On Thursday last he attended his business as usual; met a large number of gentlemen belonging to the town and neighbourhood, on professional and business matters generally. He spoke to his son, James Russel, Esq., banker, a few minutes before four o'clock, with as firm a tone of voice as on former occasions, and immediately afterwards he wrote a letter with his own hand, the penmanship of which was distinguished by that boldness which was so characteristic of the caligraphy of Mr. Russel. He left the office, as we have already stated, about a quarter past four o'clock, walked home, and had seated himself on a sofa to rest for a few minutes before going to dinner, and immediately after was struck down dead. The deceased gentleman had sustained one or more attacks ofthe fatal malady under which lie laboured, viz., heart disease, previous to that which terminated so suddenly in his death, so that, although the shock was sudden, and certainly not anticipated at the time by his family, it did not take them altogether by surprise.

      Mr. James Russel, who succeeds his father to Arnotdale, Blackbraes, and the extensive coal and iron works owned by the firm, resides in Edinburgh, and had left for that city upon Thursday afternoon before his father's death. Mr. John Russel, however, his youngest son, was in almost immediate attendance, and medical assistance was promptly secured. All was done, in short, which the case demanded, or which affection could dictate, but all was of no avail, the vital spark had fled even before Mr. John had reached his father's house; and on the same evening Mr. James Russel was summoned by special express to Arnotdale, to find that his father, whom he had seen a few hours previously apparently in good health, stretched in the "cold obstruction " of death.

      The life of Mr. Russel, if fairly written, would be found to contain most important lessons. He was one of those men who, by a combination of natural shrewdness and sagacity, acute intelligence, indomitable perseverence, industry, and integrity, have not merely gained an honourable social and professional position for themselves, but have contributed principally to the greatness of the land of their birth.

      Mr. Russel was born on the 4th May, 1787, and was the eldest son of James Russel, Esq. of Blackbraes, a property in the pastoral parish of Muiravonside, which had been in the family for three generations. The family of which the subject of this notice was the eldest, consisted of four sons, viz., James, John, Alexander, and Henry, and three daughters, Elizabeth, Helen and Mary. Mr. Russel's mother, Margaret Russel, was the daughter of a proprietor whose land lay in the neighbourhood of Blackbraes.

      In 1795, the family removed from Blackbraes to Falkirk, where they resided on a small property near the eastern extremity of Kerse Lane, which had been purchased by the father of Mr. Russel, and on which he built a house. The family were accordingly brought up and educated in Falkirk; James attending school with the other boys of the town, and signalizing himself in the sports and pastimes incident to school-boy-hood, as well as in the more serious duties of class hours. After having received a good education he was placed as an apprentice in the office of James Aitken, Esq., one of the most respectable writers of his day, and the father of Henry Aitken, Esq., the partner of the late Mr. Russel.

      On the expiry of his apprenticeship Mr. Russel was sent to Edinburgh in order that he might have the advantage of studying his profession under the auspices of metropolitan instructors. At this period he spent several years in the office of David Thomson, Esq., W.S., a gentleman who combined with the duties of his regular profession those of a keen electioneering agent of the Tory party. Under the training of this gentleman Mr. Russel not only acquired an intimate acquaintanceship with the law of Scotland, but, in all likelihood, received his first bias in favour of the political tenets of the party with which he was subsequently connected, and in whose behalf in his future career he fought such vigorous battles.

      At this time he was distinguished for his general intelligence, energy, and professional acumen, and did our limits permit, several circumstancs might be quoted in proof of what we have just stated. One fact, showing as it does the energy of the man and furnishing as it does the present Inxurious age a striking rebuke, we must mention, The young writer had received an invitation to a ball in his native town while in Edinburgh, and as a young man not insensible to the charms of such gay reunions determined to be present. Railwavs were, of course, unknown in those days, and as he could not leave until the labour of the day was over, and had to return to his office in time to resume the duties of the succeeding day, the ordinary mode of conveyance probably did not suit those hours. Be that as it may, Mr. Russel left his office in Edinburgh at four o'clock in the afternoon, walked to Falkirk, took a full share, no doubt, in the dancing, walked back to the city in the morning, and was at his desk at the usual hour of commencing busiuess. We question whether there be a young man in Falkirk at the present moment who could accomplish the same feat.

      About the year 1809 Mr. Russel returned to Falkirk, and immediately commenced business as a writer on his own account. His office, we believe, was in the Robert's Wynd, a small place, presenting a striking contrast to the suite of rooms in which the business which sprang from the germ planted in 1809 is at present carried forward. We are not aware what the extent of his business was when he first started; but a short time subsequent to this an event occurred which threw a amount of business into his hands, and which gave him ample opportunities for the exercise of his great talents and sagacity.

      We allude to the suspension of the Union Bank of Falkirk. Mr. Russel was appointed trustee, and discharged the complicated and disagreeable duties devolving upon him with general approbation. His professional reputation, and, as a consequence, his professional duties and influence, were immensly increased by the manner in which he had acquitted himself as trustee in connection with this banking concern, and in 1813, four years after he commenced business in Falkirk, and when he was twenty-six years of age, he married Catherine Crawford, daughter of the then late Mr. John Crawford, a prosperous and generally esteemed merchant in Falkirk. By this marriage Mr. Russel had two sons, James and John, and six daughters, two of whom preceded their father to the Spirit Land. The rest of his family he had the happiness of seeing settled in life, and all in affluent circumstances.

      In the year 1818, five years after his marriage, Mr. Russel took Mr. Henry Aitken, the son of his former master, into partnership, and the firm of Russel & Aitken, thus formed, has gained, during the 40 years which it had existed at the death of Mr. Russel, not merely a reputation which has not been equalled by that of any legal firm in Stirlingshire, but we question whether any legal firm - out of the metropolis - in Scotland has acquired such a wide, and we may remark, just celebrity. Gentlemen in the profession to which Mr. Russel belonged can scarcely fail to have enemies. The loser in litigation naturally overlooks the weak points of his case, and attributes his failure to the ingenuity of the lawyer who has been the means of securing that failure, but, from all we have learned of the professional character of Mr. Russel, during the brief space that we have had an opportunity of knowing him personally, and from enquiries we have made with the view of preparing this brief, and necessarily imperfect, notice of his career, we think we are warranted in asserting that there have been few gentlemen in the profession, activeiy engaged in it for so long a period, and having been employed in such a variety of cases, with clients of all tempers and dispositions, who have left fewer enemies than the late James Russel, Esq. of Blackbraes. We cannot, however, enter into details respecting the professional character of Mr. Russel. That it was high there cannot be any doubt if his success on the one hand and the character of many of those who entrusted the firm, of which he was the senior partner, with the management of business of the most delicate and complicated character, on the other hand can be accepted as evidence upon this point.

      The Falkirk Bank commenced business in 1787, the year in which Mr. Russel was born. In 1826, in consequence of a proposition made by the Government of the time to abolish the circulation ot £I notes, the bank was given up. Mr. Russel acted as law agent, and in consequence of his judicious and energetic management, the partners in the concern realised £1650 for every £100 pound share, a fact worth noting at the present time. Not only was Mr. Russel celebrated as an intelligent, acute, and eminently successful law-agent. At an early period of his life he had devoted considerable attention to mineralogy, and in 1845 he turned his knowledge in this department of practical science to account by commencing to work the minerals on his own property of Blackbraes.

      Under his management the mineral resources of that district were rapidly developed, and a large colony of busy workmen speedily sprung up in what had been one of the most thinly-peopled districts of the county. Ever active and enterprising, from bis love of activity and enterprize, in 1849 he leased, or more properly the firm of James Russel and Son leased extensive and rich mineral fields in the vicinity of Bathgate. The now celebrated Boghead gas-coal formed an important feature in the mineral wealth of the Bathgate property. Manufacturers of gas at first entertained strong prejudices against the new mineral, but Mr. Russel, from carefull and frequent analysis, had convinced himself of its superiority over any other gas-coal in use, and persevered in the working, ultimately triumphing over all prejudice, and reaping an appropriate reward.

      In 1850, the firm leased the Torbanehill mineral field, now so famous, and since that period the works in that district have been prosecuted with great vigour to the material improvement of Bathgate. The admirable qualities of this coal are now completely established, and consequently an extensive market, principally through the knowledge and exertions of Mr. Russel, has been found for it, not only on the Continent of Europe, but in more distant parts of the world, it having been ascertained that in consequence of its lightness, and the great proportion of inflamable gas which it contains, it is better adapted for distant carriage than any other coal.

      In addition to the extensive coal fields owned by the firm, it is in possesssion of large fields of ironstone, and to render these fully available, a site was selected in a most suitable locality, on which the Almond smelting furnaces were erected. Two of these were at work in 1854, and a third is nearly finished. In connection with the coal and iron works, the firm keep about 1500 men in constant employment, and we are happy to learn that these works will be carried on as formerly, go that there will be no diminution of labour in consequence of the death of Mr. Russel.

      At Blackbraes and Bathgate Mr. Russel, who took a deep interest in education, had established efficient schools for the training of the children of his workmen, and, as an employer, he at all times evinced a hearty interest in the welfare and comfort of his men. We need not inform our Falkirk readers of the vast amount of good the deceased gentleman has done in connection with the Charity School. His contributions to it in money, and in clothing and shoes for the scholars, have at all times been most liberal; he has been the means of securing handsome donations to it from other gentlemen, and at his death he was making arrangements for erecting a new and more suitable school-house than the present. In all usefull charities he took the most lively interest, freely contributing to them in money, was always ready with advice, and there are many deserving people in the town, to whom old age had come attended by want, who will be among his most sincere mourners. For many years Mr. Rusel has been clerk to the Feuars, and has conducted the business of that body in the most praiseworthy manner.

      He took a warm interest in everything relating to the improvement of the 'guid auld toon;' and we may mention that a few day's previous to his death, he intimated to two or three gentlemen connected with the town his intention of aiding in the movement for securing a special Police Bill for the burgh. Mr. Russel, we believe, held the honorary office of Interim Sheriff-Subftitute for Stirlingshire, and was in the Commission of the Peace for the counties of Stirling and Linlithgow.

      In proof of the estimation in which he was held by his fellow townsman, it is proper to state that in 1851 he was presented with a handsome silver Epergne at a public dinner in the Red Lion Hotel, the chief magistrate at tha time - Robert Adam, Esq., Springbank - being in the chair. The following is the inscription on the testimonial: - Presented to JAMES RUSSEL, Esq. or Arnotdale by his fellow Townsmen and Friends, As a testimonial of Personal respect and Esteem. 22d July, 1851, Falkirk.

      His residence was the beautiful villa of Arnotdale the grounds and gardens of which are laid out with great taste, and in which Mr. Russel took great pleasure and pride. Last season he threw them open for the annual Flower Show of the Falkirk Horticultural Society, an institution of which he was president, and which he liberally patronised.

      Of late years Mr. Russel was deprived by deafness from the full enjoyment of society; but his abundant and Hearty hospitality was well known in the district, and although his death Will be mourned by all his townsmen, those who had the happiness of ranking amongst his intimate friends can alone knew the full extent of the loss to the community involved in that event.

      The tribute of respect paid to Mr. Russel yesterday in the Sheriff-Court by Mr. Sheriff Robertson, before the business of the day commenced, was at once graceful and well deserved, and we are sure that the venerable Mr. Liston expressed the sentiments of the procurators, when he said that they would all have regretted had they not had an opportunity of testifying their respect for the memory of the dead, and their sympathy with his family in the great bereavement they had sustained. Yesterday all that was mortal of Mr. Russel was consigned to the grave, in the family burying place in Muiravonside church-yard. The funeral cortege was the most imposing that ever has been witnessed in Falkirk.

      The mournful procession started from Arnotdale, at a few minutes past one o'clock, and some idea may be formed of its magnitude, when we state that in addition to a great concourse of gentlemen belonging to the town, who accompanied the procession beyond the precincts of the burgh on foot, there were, including the hearse, and the mourning coaches containing the members of the family, forty carriages present besides a number of gentlemen on horseback At one o'clock the bells began to toll, and continued so doing for the space of an hour. Along the high street, the route of the procession every shop was shut, and crowds of people lined both sides of the street, looking in solemn silence on the imposing cortege as it passed slowly along bearing to its last resting-place the body of one whose living form was recently so familiar to them. "After life's fitful fever he sleeps well;'' and when we look back upon the untiring energy with which he fought the battle of life, the practical sagacity with which he encountered every question which arose for his decision, the vast amount of good he has accomplished by the judicious application of capital to labour, and his extensive and unostentatious benevolence, may not the noble line of Horace be inscribed upon his monument as an appropriate epitaph. EXEGI MONUMETUM AERE PERENNIUS.

      The Falkirk Herald, 11th February 1858