Caulking is the traditional technique used on wooden vessels built with butted or clinker-built planks to fill the gaps between these planks while still allowing the wood to flex and move. This involved driving the irons, hammered in with the mallet, deep into the seams to open them up. After this, spun yarn, oakum (hemp) or cotton was driven deep into the gaps. The hemp or cotton was soaked in creosote or pine tar to make the joins watertight. Caulking also played a structural role in tightening up the hull or deck by reducing the longitudinal movement of the neighbouring planks.
The subject item was made by Alexander Mathieson & Sons but the company was established in 1792 when John Manners had set up a workshop making woodworking planes at 14 Saracens Lane Glasgow. He also employed an apprentice Alexander Mathieson (1773-1851). But in the following year at Saracen's Lane, the 1841 census describes Alexander Mathieson as a master plane-maker now at 38 Saracen Lane with his son Thomas Adam working with him as a journeyman plane-maker. Presumably, Alexander must have taken over the premises and business of John Manners. Now that the business had Thomas Adam Mathieson working with his father it gradually grew and became more diversified, and it is recorded at the time by the Post-Office Glasgow Annual Directory that by 1847-1848 Alexander Mathieson was a “plane, brace, bit, auger & edge tool maker”.
In 1849 the firm of James & William Stewart at 65 Nicolson Street, Edinburgh was taken over by Mathieson and Thomas was put in charge of the business, trading under the name Thomas A. Mathieson & Co. as plane and edge-tool makers. Thomas's company went on to acquire the Edinburgh edge-tool makers “Charles & Hugh McPherson” and took over their premises in Gilmore Street. In the Edinburgh directory of 1856/7, the business is recorded as being Alexander Mathieson & Son, plane and edge-tool makers at 48 Nicolson Street and Paul's Work, Gilmore Street Edinburgh.
In the 1851 census, Alexander is recorded as working as a tool and plane-maker employing eight men. Later that year Alexander died and his son Thomas took over the business. Under the heading of an edge-tool maker in the 1852/3 Post-Office Glasgow Annual Directory the firm is now listed as Alexander Mathieson & Son, with further entries as "turning-lathe and vice manufacturers". By the early 1850s, the business had moved to 24 Saracen Lane. The directory for 1857/8 records that the firm had moved again only a few years later to East Campbell Street, off the Gallowgate area, and that through further diversification was also manufacturing coopers' and tinmen's tools.
The ten-yearly censuses report the firm's growth in 1861 stating that Thomas was a tool manufacturer employing 95 men and 30 boys; in 1871 he had 200 men working for him and in 1881 300 men. By 1899 the firm had been incorporated as Alexander Mathieson & Sons Ltd, even though only Alexander's son Thomas appears ever to have joined the firm so the company was still in his father's name.
In September 1868 Thomas Mathieson put a notice in the newspapers of the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent and the Sheffield Daily Telegraph stating that his firm had used the trade-mark of a crescent and star "for some time" and that "using or imitating the Mark would be proceeded against for infringement". The firm had acquired its interest in the crescent-and-star mark from the heirs of Charles Pickslay, the Sheffield cutler who had registered it with the Cutlers' Company in 1833 and had died in 1852. The year 1868 seems also to be the one in which the name Saracen Tool Works was first adopted; not only does it figure at the foot of the notice in the Sheffield press, but it also makes its first appearance in the firm's entry in the Post-Office Glasgow Annual Directory in the 1868/9 edition.
As Thomas Mathieson's business grew, so too did his involvement in local public life and philanthropy. One of the representatives of the third ward on the town council of Glasgow, he became a river bailie in 1868, a magistrate in 1870 and a preceptor of Hutcheson's Hospital in 1878. He had a passion for books and was an "ardent Ruskinian". He served on the committee handling the bequest for the setting up of the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. When he died at Coulter Maynes near Biggar in 1899, he left an estate worth £142,764.
In the Company's later years both Thomas's sons, James Harper and Thomas Ogilvie were involved in the continuing life of the firm. James followed in his father's footsteps in becoming a local public figure. He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of the County of the City of Glasgow and was made a deacon of the Incorporation of the Hammermen of Glasgow in 1919. His brother Thomas Ogilvie was recorded as a tool manufacturer and employer in the 1911 census. Thomas Ogilvie's son Thomas Alastair Sutherland Ogilvie Mathieson was born in 1908 and took a rather different approach to engineer, however, by becoming a racing driver. In 1947 he wed the French film actress Mila Parély.
The firm had won many awards at world fairs for their goods.
At the Great Exhibition, London, 1851. Prize medal for joiners' tools in the class of Cutlery & Edge Tools, Great London Exposition, 1862. Prize medal honoris causa. International Exhibition, Melbourne, 1880. Gold medal International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art, Edinburgh, 1886. Prize medal
The firm Alexander Mathieson & Sons were one of the leading makers of hand tools in Scotland. Its success went hand in hand with the growth of the shipbuilding industries on the Firth of Clyde in the nineteenth century and the emergence of Glasgow as the "second city of the Empire". It also reflected the firm's skill in responding to an unprecedented demand for quality tools by shipyards, cooperages and other industries, both locally and far and wide.
The subject item is of further significance as it gives a snapshot of the technological development of sailing ships and their operation before steam-powered vessels took over around the world. Tools such as the subject item demonstrate the traditional craftsmanship and skill of the shipwright and the aesthetic quality of the timber ships designs of the time.
Caulking tool Off-set.
Inscriptions & markings
Stamped on blade "Mathieson & Son Glasgow" also stamped in handle, James S Steele tool box.
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- Internet search of Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences Use of subject item in ship building
- Wikipedia internet search Mathieson & Sons company history
- Internet search of Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences collection ISBN/ISSN: Collection of traditional shipwright's caulking tools 2022, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 8 October 2022, <https://ma.as/570575> Collection of traditional shipwright's caulking tools