The Ballindalloch Note Issues of 1830

Peter Symes

First published in the

International Bank Note Society Journal

Volume 36, No.4, 1997

The history of note issues in Scotland is a complex and interesting story. The right to issue notes was for many years a common law right and many organizations and individuals were prepared to issue their own notes, hoping that they would circulate - some issued their notes successfully, others less so. Whilst most issues are well-documented, one of the more obscure Scottish issues is not - this being the note issues of the Ballindalloch Cotton Works. However, before discussing the note issue, it is important to look at the economic background of Scotland at the time of the issue, and at the same time it is pertinent to look at the Works and its owner - since it was they who were responsible for the notes.

            The Ballindalloch Cotton Works were built in 1790 by Mr. Robert Dunmore on the banks of the Endrick River by Balfron in Stirlingshire. The mill was engaged simply in spinning cotton, unlike many other mills of the time that undertook spinning and weaving. The Works were described in 1844 in the following terms:

“Ballindalloch Cotton Works, situate in the Parish of Balfron, and the county of Stirling, 19 miles distant from Glasgow, containing 10752 mule spindles, of which 1248 are self-acting (Smith & Orr's patent), with the necessary preparation, driven by a water wheel 28 feet diameter, calculated to be equal to 35 horse-power, with a steam engine to assist in dry seasons of 16 horse-power, the supply of water being obtained from the river Endrick and from a reservoir covering 30 imperial acres ... The total extent of land, including site of works, dwelling houses, &c., is about 77 imperial acres ...” (Finlay, page 61)

The 77 acres were divided into two areas, 35 for the works, etc., and 42 acres further down stream which were used for many years as a printfield. Finally there was one other acre belonging to the works which had a large school house with a dwelling above it.

            When Mr. Dunmore established the mills at Ballindalloch, he also built many houses for the weavers who were introduced to the parish by him to weave, on hand-looms, the cotton produced by the mills. Thus the community which built up in Balfron was more or less wholly dependent on the mills, either for direct employment or for processing its output. The school mentioned above was built and staffed by the works, and the children who worked in the factory were educated at the expense of the company, albeit for only one and a half hours after they had completed a days work.

            The Napoleonic Wars brought political and economic crises to Scotland and in this period of uncertainty many businesses and many men failed - one of these being Mr. Dunmore. In 1798 the Ballindalloch Works were bought by James Finlay & Company - “Manufacturers and East India Merchants” - the principal being at that time Kirkman Finlay.

            The Ballindalloch Works was the first foray of James Finlay & Company into cotton manufacture, but Kirkman Finlay obviously felt the need to have an increased interest in the burgeoning industry, and followed his purchase of the Ballindalloch Works with the Catrine Mills in 1801 and the Deanston Mills in 1806. (Interestingly, he purchased the Catrine Mills from David Dale who established the famous mills of New Lanark and was the first Glasgow agent for The Royal Bank of Scotland.)

            From the perspective of the numismatist the cotton mills of James Finlay & Company first come to prominence around 1811. It was at this time that a severe shortage of specie affected Scotland - not for the first time. This shortage was partially alleviated by many business houses issuing counter stamped coins, and the three cotton works belonging to James Finlay and Company were prolific in their output. The Ballindalloch Cotton Works issued three known counter stamped coins - on a Spanish dollar they counter stamped “BALLINDALLOCH * COTTON * WORKS *” in two circular lines and a value of five shillings; on a French half ecu they stamped “BALLINDALLOCH COTTON WORK” around a woolsack (with no value stamped); and they also produced a countermark on a copper George III halfpenny. The Catrine Works produced five varieties of coins and the Deanston Works (also known as the Adelphi Cotton Works) issued seven varieties.

            Obviously inspired by the release of counter stamped coins by the Ballindalloch Works, at least two other entities in Balfron undertook similar issues. The Balfron “Victualling Society” (apparently some form of co-operative) issued a counter stamped George III halfpenny with “BALFRON : VICT : SOCIETY” in a circle, and I. Zuill (possibly a merchant) issued a coin counter stamped “I.ZUILL BALFRON”.

            The shortage of specie that lead to these issues of counter stamped coins continued for many years. In 1826 Kirkman Finlay gave the following evidence before the House of Commons Committee into Promissory notes in Scotland and Ireland:

“I am quite at a loss to know the reason why the silver, which is not so portable as bank notes, should be taken away from country places in the neighbourhood of such a place as Glasgow, and constantly conveyed to some greater distance, because we find the absolute necessity of bringing silver from London constantly.”

The shortage of specie in Balfron may have been exacerbated by the lack of a bank in the village - there being no bank until the British Linen Company (Bank) established a branch in 1836. (Although the banks at this time were more interested in lending money than providing services such as supplying coin.)

            The issue of counter stamped coins has long been known and documented, but what is not recorded to any extent is the issue of “checks” or notes which were produced by the Ballindalloch Cotton Works around 1830. There appear to be several contributing factors to the issuing of these notes, with one of the factors being the lack of specie available in Scotland, as the notes were issued for values under one pound. Another impetus for their release may lie in the desperate times in which they were produced. After going through a boom period, the bottom began to fall out of the cotton market, and by the 1830's stagnation was a real threat. Many mills closed down but the three mills of Finlay & Company were kept open - despite their viability being questionable. In 1790 the Ballindalloch Works had employed 390 people, but by 1833 this number had fallen to 241 - the decrease being partly due to earlier modernization and partly due to the falling market. By 1840 the situation had become so bad that Finlay & Company was forced to borrow £50,000 from The Royal Bank of Scotland to assist in the payment of wages and costs incurred in holding stock. Perhaps in 1830 an option was taken to issue notes as wages in an effort to save on the cost of holding coin.

            The notes are known to have been issued for the values of five and seven shillings, and were designed to be presented to the Works for payment - with four of the five shilling notes being redeemed for a pound, and three of the seven shilling notes for one guinea. Although the reason for the issue of notes is not clear, there are enough notes extant to show that they actively circulated. The number of notes issued is not known, but it would appear that all the five shilling notes carried a three digit number under the letter “a”, and the seven shilling notes a similar number under the letter “b”. This would indicate that there were never more than one thousand of each note issued - but this is not certain. The notes appear to have been issued from the end of January 1830 until the end of March in the same year, with the following dates having been sighted - 30 January 1830 and 24 March 1830 (five shilling notes); 24 February 1830, 24 March 1830 and 30 March 1830 (seven shilling notes).

            The issuing of promissory notes in the manner of the Ballindalloch notes became reasonably common in some parts of Great Britain, and they are far from being unique. During the proceedings of the House of Lords Committee into promissory notes in Scotland and Ireland in 1826, evidence was given by a Mr. Henry Burgess concerning employers paying wages by issuing orders upon shops - due the lack of circulating coin. The orders were given to the workmen who redeemed goods to the value of the order at shops which were either run by the employer, or with whom the employer had an account.

            During the same proceedings a Mr. J. Dunsmure described notes that he had seen issued at Tobermory by a man named Sinclair (a fish-curer, merchant, and storekeeper). These notes supposedly carried the inscription - “for want of change I owe you 5 s.[5 shillings]; and for four of these tickets I will give a one-pound note”. Kerr (1926, page 185) reports that “in Mull and the remoter Hebrides paper tokens or notes for 5s. continued, until about 1835, to have a limited circulation.”

Deanston Cotton Mill 1st Dec 1803 N o___ Five Shillings

I promise to pay the Bearer on demand here One Twenty Shillings Bank Note for four of this description


Ent d P r ___________ N o___

            Of more immediate interest is an earlier five shilling note that was issued by the Deanston Cotton Mill around 1803. This issue appears to be associated with the many similar issues that began in 1797 and which were legally sanctioned until 1800 (but continued in practice for some years thereafter). Due to a nationwide drain of specie during the Napoleonic Wars, the government passed an act which allowed those banks which had been issuing notes before 1797 to issue notes for values below one pound (until this act the lowest permitted denomination of bank note), but many businesses also made unsanctioned issues because of the shortage of coin. While permission for banks to issue the low denominations existed until 1800, the small notes continued in circulation for a number of years after that date. It seems that the Deanston Cotton Mill was one of those businesses that took measures to issue their own low denomination notes, although this was done before James Finlay & Company acquired the mill. A remainder of the Deanston Mill issue has the text as shown at the right.

            The words Deanston Cotton Mill also appear in a vertical panel to the left. The note has two signatures, one of which is “James Cullen” while the second appears to be “Ro. Smart”, and while the note is not numbered, it has the date “1st Dec 1803” inserted by hand. The note is printed by the Scottish engraver “Haldane”.

            Of more interest, and importance, to the Ballindalloch issue are copies of two “Wages Tickets” for the Catrine Works which are held in the archives of James Finlay plc. These wages tickets may well have been precursors to the Ballindalloch issue of 1830, and indicate that the policy of paying their workers with promissory notes rather than coin may have been irregularly used by James Finlay & Company. The copies held by James Finlay plc are for the value of four shillings and two shillings & sixpence. The four shilling note has the words “Four Shillings” across the top of the note, below which are the words “Wages Ticket” which forms part of a patterned border enclosing is the following text:

No.______      CATRINE WORKS ___________

            Pay the Bearer FOUR SHILLINGS for

Wages due at these Works.


To Mr. John Black,

Payable in Bank Notes until


The fact that these unissued wages tickets exist, but are not known in issued form suggest that they were prepared but not used. However written in ink across the top of each of the notes (which are printed on the one sheet) is the handwritten comment “Were in use in 1815”. This comment suggests that they were in use and, if this is the case, it would appear that they were the direct forerunners of the Ballindalloch notes. It would also indicate that the Ballindalloch notes were not the first foray of James Finlay & Company into the use of promissory notes to pay wages.

            The Ballindalloch notes were issued along the same lines as the Tobermory, Deanston Mill and Catrine Works notes - except that they were specifically addressed to “The Merchants of Balfron”. It is not known what relationship James Finlay & Company had with the merchants of Balfron, but since the notes were not made to order on any particular shopkeeper, it seems likely they held no interest in the merchants' businesses.

            The Ballindalloch notes were produced for sums of five and seven shillings. For the seven shilling note the following text is written below the bold heading “Seven Shillings” and a vignette signifying “Industry & Commerce”:



Will be paid for an equal Amount of our Checks, if presented at the Works within Three Months from this date.

To the Merchants

        of Balfron.


The point which distinguishes these “checks” from a bank note is that they are required to be redeemed within a fixed period after issue (three months), whereas any self-respecting banker would want his note circulating as long as possible. It would seem from this condition placed on the note that the issuers were interested in keeping their liabilities to a limited amount, and within a given time frame. (A similar limit on time appears on the “Wages Tickets” of the Catrine Works where the phrase “Payable in Bank Notes until” is designed to be completed by a hand-written date.)

            This peculiarity makes them distinct from private notes issued by businesses in Scotland, such as the Carron Company (1797) and the Bannockburn Iron Works (1774) where notes were issued payable on demand and with no time restriction. However by 1830 there were several reasons why it would not have suited the Ballindalloch “checks” to be issued as “bank notes”: from 1800 it was illegal to issue notes under one pound and those notes that were issued required stamp duty to be paid. In addition, from 1808 issuers had to purchase a license to issue bank notes. This may well explain why the Ballindalloch issues were in the form of “checks” rather than “notes” - to circumvent points in law.

            Another distinction is that the Ballindalloch notes (as well as the Deanston, Catrine and Tobermory notes mentioned above) promised to redeem multiple “checks” for a “bank note”, whereas the Carron and Bannockburn notes simply offered to redeem the value of the notes in “sterling”. The reason for this is obvious - the “checks” were issued to alleviate the shortage of coin, so the issuing authorities could not promise to redeem them for coin which they did not possess.

            Although it is generally agreed that the counter stamped coins first started to appear in Scotland around 1811, it is not known how long they were kept in circulation. Certainly, silver coins (whether counter stamped or minted) were difficult to obtain well into the 1820's and this continued shortage could well have led to the necessity of the note issues by the Catrine Works in the first place and by the Ballindalloch Works at a later stage. However, the short period of issue for the Ballindalloch notes coupled with Kirkman Finlay's comment that he was “quite at a loss to know the reason why the silver ... should be taken away from country places”, may just give us the best clue as to the reason for the issue. Perhaps there was a particular shortage of coin which was anticipated in time to allow the issue of notes, and when the shortage was ended, payment by the checks ceased.

            Whatever the reason, the notes remain an intriguing part of Scotland's colourful history. The illustrated note is printed by “Curll & Bell, Printers, 55 Bell Street, Glasgow” on unwatermarked paper from a copperplate engraving; it is numbered b/130 and dated “24th Febry. 1830". It has the two principal security devices of the period - a vignette and several different styles of writing used in the text. The note is addressed “To the Merchants of Balfron” and countersigned by Matt. Finlayson and Peter Marshall.

            The position of Peter Marshall at the Works is not known, but he was probably the accountant (or similar). Matthew Finlayson was the manager of the Works and is known to have been employed at the Works for at least 39 years - of which he spent the last 31 as manager. His tenure as manager would have commenced around 1801 which is the same time that Archibald Buchanan (Kirkman Finlay's nephew) gave up managing Ballindalloch to become the manager at Catrine.

            In considering the issue of the Ballindalloch notes it is important to understand the background of its owner - Kirkman Finlay. In charge of the large company his father had left him and his brothers, Kirkman expanded and developed the business making himself one of the leading merchants in Glasgow. While being able to develop the family business he was also able to develop a very active public life - being at various times Magistrate (1804), Lord Provost of Glasgow (1812), Member of Parliament (1812-1820), Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, and in 1819 he was appointed rector of Glasgow University.

            The Dictionary of National Biography describes him as “a political economist of an advanced type”, and his knowledge of banking was considerable. He was an extraordinary director of The Royal Bank of Scotland from 1821 until his death in 1842, and made his presence felt in many matters of importance in Scotland at that time. He was part of the abortive scheme to raise a joint-stock bank in Glasgow around 1793, he agitated for the retention of the Scottish one pound note in 1826 (appearing before the House of Commons Committee on Promissory notes in Scotland and Ireland), and was also active in opposing the changes to factory conditions in 1833.

            One of the unresolved questions with the Ballindalloch issue is: Was Kirkman Finlay responsible for authorising the issue, or was he more likely to have ordered their withdrawal? During his evidence before the House of Commons Committee on Promissory notes in 1826 Finlay said:

“I have certainly heard of another species of circulation, very unsound indeed, giving orders on publicans and other persons to supply provisions, and afterwards paying them, but I have no knowledge of such a thing.”

            Did Finlay decide some four years later that the idea was not so “unsound” (perhaps the style of the Ballindalloch notes did not fall into the “unsound” category of “orders on publicans”), or was the issue made without his knowledge, and later ordered withdrawn at his behest? Without conclusive evidence, it is difficult to decide one way or the other. Certainly Finlay was old enough to remember the crisis of 1797 when the banks (and several businesses) had been allowed to issue notes for less than one pound, and this may have encouraged him in a temporary note issue when a particularly difficult shortage of coin occurred - even though he seems previously opposed to the idea. The question of Kirkman Finlay's involvement in the issue will probably never be satisfactorily answered; but no matter what degree his involvement, his enterprises have left us with some intriguing numismatic oddities.

            While covering the note issue, it is worth looking at the people who used them - as the notes were used as wages and were obviously very important to the employees. The seven and five shilling notes would have been reasonable denominations to issue, considering the wages paid in the cotton industry at that time. Baines (1835, page 440) says that in 1833 the average wage for cotton workers in Glasgow (which must have been similar for Ballindalloch workers) were 8s 1½d a week, as opposed to their fellow workers in Lancashire and Cheshire who received 10s. 6d. Baines attributes the discrepancy between Scotland and England to the greater number of women and children working in Glasgow, and he adds: “In Scotland, also, the habits of the working population are more frugal than in England, and their food of a cheaper kind; which accounts for their wages being somewhat lower”.

            However, within the stated average wage of just over eight shillings there was a great range of wages depending on the age, experience, and output of the employees. Men could earn between sixteen and twenty-one shillings a week, women between four and seven shillings a week, and children from one to two shillings. Of course it should be kept in mind that these wages came with some effort, “The hours of labour in Glasgow and the vicinity used to be 12½ [per day], but since the restrictive acts of parliament of 1818-19 the period has been reduced to 12 hours.” (Baines, 1835 page 442).

            Both Kirkman Finlay and his manager at Ballindalloch were prominent in opposing a further reduction in working hours. In 1833, at a government public enquiry into factory conditions, Matthew Finlayson stated that “the workers would be very sorry if the limitation to ten hours were to take place, since shorter hours would mean people would waste time given to them in dissipation”. In the same year Kirkman Finlay produced a pamphlet entitled “Letter to the Right Hon. Lord Ashley on the Cotton Factory System” in which he addressed the issue of the ten hour day, and he was quite determined that no good could come of the reduced hours.

            After the death of Kirkman Finlay the Ballindalloch works were sold (in 1845) to Robert Jeffrey & Sons. The mill was later converted to a shirt factory, and eventually demolished in 1898. The site is now the sewage works for Balfron, and the town of Balfron that was built to house the mill's workers and the weavers is now the only remaining link to the Ballindalloch Cotton Works and its note issue.

* * * * *

While this is the end of our story on the note issues of the Ballindalloch Works, there is another interesting numismatic sidelight to the story of Ballindalloch and the village of Balfron. In his book The Balfron Heritage, Jim Thomson relates the story of a “radical uprising” which occurred in 1820 and included residents of Balfron. It seems that many of the hand-loom weavers had lost their employment to advances in technology (i.e. the power-looms) and turned their idle time to talk of political dissent. They soon made contact with a “radical” movement that was promoting unrest and seeking to establish a provisional government.

            However, the movement was quickly suppressed and many participants were tried for high treason in Stirling. One man from Balfron who had been charged with treason but never arrested was Moses Gilfillan. Realising his life was in danger, he was one of many who chose to escape the authorities and he subsequently fled to the United States of America and settled in Massachusetts. Here he raised a family, with one son, James Gilfillan, becoming Treasurer of the United States of America (1877 - 1883) and placing his signature on many notes of that nation.


                 Baines, Edward (1835) History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain, London

                 Finlay & Co (1951) James Finlay & Company Limited - Manufacturers & East India Merchants 1750-1950, R. & R. Clark Limited: Edinburgh

                 Kerr, A. W. (1926) History of Banking in Scotland, A. & C. Black Ltd: London

                 McFarlan, David (1979) Ballindalloch Cotton Mill Spink's Numismatic Circular January, pages 9-10

                 Purvey, P. Frank (1972) Seaby Standard Catalogue of British Coins - Part 4 (Coins and Tokens of Scotland), B. A. Seaby Ltd.: London

                 Thomson, Jim (1991) The Balfron Heritage, Balfron Heritage Group: Balfron

This article was completed in January 1996
© Peter Symes