Lodge Ellangowan, No 716

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Copyright 2016
Lodge Ellangowan

No 716
All Rights Reserved

John Birrell 1888-1891

Installation Pictures


COLONEL John Birrell

COLONEL John Birrell was a rich man on paper. He was one of Scotland's most successful paper manufacturers.

He owned the Ellangowan Paper Company, providing jobs for a great many men and women in Milngavie, and was regarded within the industry as one of its leading players

The Colonel also served on Milngavie Town Council for 28 years spending six of them - from 1886-92 - as provost of the burgh. His title of Colonel came through his service as a citizen soldier in the Volunteer and Territorial movements.

On his death at the age of 63 in 1920 the Herald said: ''...he did much to popularise military training for national defence in Milngavie and the surrounding district, and made for himself throughout Dunbartonshire and Stirlingshire a high reputation as a devoted and capable officer.''

Born into a wealthy family in Penicuik, the young John Birrell entered the paper industry at the most humble level, as an apprentice in 1882, together with an Edinburgh businessman, Birrell bought the struggling Allander Paper Mill in Milngavie, changing its name to the Ellangowan.The business prospered and Birrell became sole partner on the death of his colleague in 1894.He invested heavily in new machinery, introducing electric power and lighting to make the mill one of the most modern in the country.

It worked round the clock churning out high quality writing and printing paper for books.
Shipments were dispatched every week to the home and export markets. His knowledge of the industry and the market earned him the chairmanship of the Scottish Paper Makers' Association. He played a big part in its amalgamation with the Paper Makers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland, an arrangement which was said to have greatly benefited the industry. After his death the business was carried on by the paper tycoon's brother and a board of directors.

Married with a son and four daughters, Col Birrell was best known to the Herald through his municipal service as a Tory councillor. ''He had only been a year in his own business when he offered himself for municipal honours in the town of his adoption, and for over a quarter of a century he gave unstinted services to the community - notwithstanding the ever-enlarging calls on his professional talents and experience. ''He had no need to enter the council for the purpose of advertising his name or his calling. He entered it at the call of civic patriotism, to place at the service of his fellow-citizens all the knowledge and experience he had acquired in the prosecution of his professional career.''

The Herald said the council had benefited from Col Birrell's technical knowledge. He was known and liked as a man of ''quiet courtesy''. Provost D.H.Ferguson referred to the burgh's opposition some years earlier to a Glasgow Gas Consolidation Order.
  ''Colonel Birrell was on that occasion one of the witnesses in support of the town council's case, and his evidence materially contributed to the success which attended the council's action,'' he said. Col Birrell became seriously ill in 1919 but seemed to make a full recovery in time for his daughter's wedding in June the following year. But he suffered a relapse and died peacefully at his Allander House home.

At his funeral at Maryhill Crematorium Birrell's six oldest employees acted as pallbearers. His ashes were later interred at Crail where the colonel had a holiday home. As the cortege of 15 cars set out behind the hearse for the crematorium, the Ellangowan Paper Mill has a rare stoppage to let the colonel's employees form a guard of honour as he began his final journey.