John Shanks

John Shanks

John Shanks (1826-1895), Plumber.

John Shanks the founder of the Shanks & Company Ltd was born in Paisley in 1826. He decided to enter the plumbing trade and joined the firm of Wallace and Connell, well known plumbing contractors of the period. After he completed his apprenticeship he continued in their employment as a skilled tradesman. In 1851, at the age of twenty five he decided to go into business for himself. He opened his first premises in High Street, Paisley and two years later in 1853 he opened a plumber’s shop in Lowndes Street, Barrhead. Shanks entered the sanitary engineering business at a time when the link between cholera and typhus as a water borne disease became known, making the provision of a clean water supply a priority. He also benefited from a large number of new tenements needing plumbing. He operated both establishments for two years until he decided that he was going to concentrate his efforts and activities in Barrhead.

In 1866 he opened a brass foundry, the Tubal Works operating in a lane called Foundry Brae leading from the Main Street. The name referred to Tubal Cain, called in Legends the first blacksmith. The firm originally made many items including the brass fittings and taps for toilets, baths and other sanitary ware and were soon selling their goods all over the world. For the first few years they bought in pottery they used for their baths, washbasins and lavatories, however in 1904 the firm moved from the centre of town to a much bigger site and began to manufacture their own kind of bathroom ware.  

Shanks works were the most important in Barrhead for decades, employing at times over a thousand people. In 1969 the company merged with another to become Armitage Shanks and in 1980 became a member of the Blue Circle Industries group. The company experienced difficulties during the 1980s and as a result jobs were lost. In 1989 the decision was taken to close the Tubal works, much to the dismay of workers and the people of Barrhead. Despite protests in the town the works finally closed in 1992. 

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