Sewing Machine Research
ISMACS International
International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society

More on Weir

Issue 26

SOMEWHAT over a year ago, in ISMACS News 16/17, we looked in detail at the machines marketed by James Weir.

At that time I was able to report that research had unearthed quite a lot about the company's products, but very little about the man himself.

Now, thanks to a half-remembered comment made to chairman Len Hemming, we have some information on James Galloway Weir, the man.

When Len Hemming bought one of his early Weirs he recalled the antique dealer telling him that he thought it had been made by a former member of parliament.

That set the ball rolling and we were able to research parliamentary records and, from them, finding the date of his death and obituaries in obscure Scottish newspapers.

James Galloway Weir was born in 1839, the son of James Ross Weir and Margaret McLaren of Perthshire. He was educated at the Dollar Academy and then in London where he settled down after marrying his first wife, Mary Ann, daughter of George Dash, in 1863.

Mary died 33 years later and in 1898 he married for the second time, to a Marian Jolly.

Because of the success of his sewing-machine business, Weir was able to retire from it at the early age of 41.

He immediately sought a second career, this time in politics, first trying for parliament in 1885 for the Falkirk seat. In a four-way fight he finished next to last, but in 1892 he fought the Ross and Cromarty seat as a Liberal and Home Ruler.

Such was the odd nature of Scottish politics at the time that he stood as a Liberal crofter against another Liberal, N MacLean. In the sparsely inhabited area he polled 3171 votes to MacLean's 2413, to come home with a comfortable majority of 758.

He stood again in 1895, this time simply as a Liberal and fighting R Jackson, a Liberal Unionist. In a similar turn-out he increased his majority to 863.

In 1900, against a Conservative, his majority soared to 1903, and to 3012 in 1905. By 1910 no-one thought it worth fighting Weir and he was returned unopposed.

From 1892 to 1895 he was also a member of the London County Council and a justice of the peace, living at that time in the London suburb of Hampstead.

On Weir's death his friend and neighbour Sir William Robertson Nicoll wrote an obituary in which he said that Weir was a singular mixture of "timidity and courage" ..... "In public he did not fear the face of man but in private life he feared the blows that fate might bring".

Weir was said to have made a fortune as a sewing-machine "manufacturer" and when he retired he was very careful of his investments. In travelling he carried papers with him showing where his money was invested or deposited so that no difficulties might arise in the case of an accident.

In early life Weir had had a bad hackney-carriage accident in London and ever afterwards had a horror of driving.

When leaving the House of Commons he was in the habit of boarding the first omnibus that passed along, quite careless of the route it was using.

He died of a stroke and it was said at the time that this was brought on by excessive work for his constituency. In parliament he was extremely active, prompting this effusion from Sir Wilfred Lawson:

"Weir daily with his questions queer,
The notice paper crams.
There surely never was a Weir
Produced so many dams."

The funeral was held at Marylebone cemetery where, no doubt, his grave still exists.

Interestingly, although Weir used his first name James exclusively in his sewing-machine business, for parliamentary purposes -- and remember he was a Scottish MP -- he always referred to himself as Galloway Weir.