Thursday, 10 November 2011


I usually take the train to work. The final destination for the train is at the base of Loch Lomond. On its way, it passes through a place, with a name familiar to any crafter - Singer. Isaac Merritt Singer neither invented the sewing machine or came from Glasgow. So why is Singer here?
Before industrialisation women were responsible for sewing the families' clothes, linens and reusing materials. The invention of the sewing machine speeded up this work. Household sewing machines also meant that this could be a source of extra income for the family, and gave women some independence. The first patent for a sewing machine was given to the British inventor, Thomas Saint in 1791, however a working model was never built.
Isaac Merritt Singer was an American engineer, he founded his business in New York in 1851. Singer wanted to expand his business into the UK and chose Glasgow. A branch office opened in 1856 close Queen Street station, with parts imported from America. The popularity of Singer sewing machines led to the first Singer factory opening outside of the USA, on James Street in Bridgeton. Incidentally James street is about 5 minutes walk from where I start my train journey.
Despite the Bridgeton factory, there were long waiting lists for owning a sewing machine. So Singer decided to open a larger factory, where all parts could be made on the one site. On 46 acres of old farm land at Kilbowie, just outside Clydebank, the largest sewing machine factory in the world opened in 1883. It was a very modern building, with sprinkler systems fitted, a 200ft clock tower towering over the plant, and recreation grounds for staff. An extra 2.5miles of railway track was added to link each department with the Glasgow to Helensburgh train line. At opening the factory employed 5000 people, with the workforce peaking in 1960 at 16,000. Singer at one point is reported to have made 80% of the worlds sewing machines. And during both World Wars the factory turned its production from sewing machines to munitions. It is even rumoured that the statue of liberty is modelled on Isaac’s beautiful wife Isabella Eugenie Boyer Singer.
The Singer factory in Clydebank factory closed in June 1980. Singer permanently leaves its mark in Glasgow with the name of the train station remaining. Singer station is beyond the stop I get off, maybe one day I shall skip work and head off there on an adventure.

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