J & P Coats (UK) Ltd

Key Information

Type of entity

Corporate body

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J & P Coats (UK) Ltd

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Dates of existence

1808-1981

History

In 1802, James Coats, snr, (1774-1857), a weaver from Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, set up in business, laying the foundation of the business that was later to become J & P Coats Ltd, thread manufacturers, Paisley. James Coats senior was born in 1774, into a family of Paisley weavers. After serving his apprenticeship as a weaver, he spent six years in the army with the Ayrshire Fencibles, a cavalry regiment. He returned to weaving in 1796 on leaving the army and in 1802, shortly after his marriage, he went into business on his own. Seeing a market for Canton Crape, the majority of which was at that time imported from China, he set about trying to reproduce this material in his own factory. Canton Crape was made from silk, the manufacture of which had been introduced to Paisley in 1760 by Humphrey Fulton; hence both the raw material and the skilled labour were readily available. Another manufacturer, James Whyte, had also been trying to produce Canton Crape, with much the same degree of limited success as James Coats. He and Coats decided to combine their knowledge by entering into partnership, and were eventually successful in producing Canton Crape in such quantities as to virtually corner the market. As his fortunes increased so James Coats began to look to the future. He built a house in Back Row, Ferguslie, Paisley, and became a sleeping partner in the Paisley firm of Ross & Duncan, a firm of thread twisters. At the same time he acquired knowledge of the business which would be useful to him in years to come since the production of Canton crepe requires yarn which has a particular twist. When his contract with Ross & Duncan expired in 1826, James Coats built a small mill at Ferguslie, and began producing his own thread, using a 12 horsepower engine. The mill at Ferguslie was the forerunner to the larger works which J & P Coats developed on this site. On his retirement in 1830, the management of the manufacturing department was passed to his partners and his son William, and the thread business was transferred to his sons James Coats, jnr, (1803-1845) and Peter Coats (1808-1890), the firm becoming known as J & P Coats. Shortly after its inception another son, Thomas Coats (1809-1883), entered the firm as a partner. Each of the three brothers had knowledge of a different area of expertise: James in manufacturing, Peter in merchandising, and Thomas in engineering. The company expanded rapidly during the 1830s, both at home and overseas, and by 1840 three-quarters of their trade was with the USA. For twenty years the selling department of the American branch of the business was managed by Andrew Coats (1814-1900), a younger brother of James, Peter and Thomas. The high quality of Coats' thread made it extremely popular, to the extent that several companies produced inferior imitations, resulting in a number of legal cases In addition to the Paisley mills, J & P Coats built mills in the USA at Pawtucket, Rhode Island State, between 1870 and 1883. James Coats of Auchendrayne, Ayrshire, the son of Sir Peter Coats managed these mills. Production at Paisley continued apace, with new markets opening up at home and abroad. In some cases high customs duties were overcome by building mills abroad, so that in a short time J & P Coats had branches in Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Spain. In 1883, the firm became a private joint stock company of family shareholders and in 1890 the business was floated as a public company, with a capital of £5,750,000 and an average annual profit for the preceding seven years of £426,048. James Coats, jnr, remained unmarried, but a number of the sons of Peter and Thomas Coats entered the firm as partners, thus retaining the family interest in the company. One of the leading competitors of the Coats' firm was the firm of Clark & Co, another Paisley thread company, which had grown up through the same period as Coats. With the death of John Clark of Clark & Co in 1896, the way was opened for take-over. J & P Coats amalgamated with Clark & Co, its American associates and also with Brook of Meltham and Chadwick of Eagley Mills, Bolton, England, to form the enlarged firm of J & P Coats Ltd, with a market value of around £22 million, and approximately 25,000 shareholders. The company, with its headquarters in Glasgow, Scotland, had 17 production centres, 60 branch houses, 150 selling depots, and around 21,000 employees throughout the world, the UK workforce totalling around 11,000. One of the leading figures in the company at this time, was Otto Ernst Philippi, Foreign Sales Manager, whose selling policy has been regarded as one of the major keys to the firm's success. The company continued trading as J & P Coats Ltd throughout the first half of the 20th century, expanding by acquiring controlling interests in several other textile companies. In 1960, following the takeover of Patons & Baldwins Ltd, the company became known as J & P Coats, Paton amp;& Baldwin Ltd. In 1965, they acquired a controlling interest in the Pasolds group, which included 'Ladybird' children's wear, 'Donbros' knitwear, and 'Chilprufe' garments. In 1967, they acquired both Dynacast Precision Engineering and Jaeger fashions. In June 1967, the company became known as Coats Patons Ltd. In 1967, Coats Patons Ltd amalgamated with Vantona Viyella to form Coats Viyella plc, a company registered in Uxbridge, Middlesex, England, which became Coats plc in 2001. Between 1934-1939 the company sponsored the Needlework development in Scotland scheme, a collaboration between art and design education and industry. The scheme encouraged needlework and therefore also the sale of J & P Coats thread. This developed into the nation-wide Needlework Development Scheme managed by the The Central Agency Ltd of J & P Coats Ltd. Loan collections of historical and modern embroideries were developed with examples being purchased by, or donated to, the Scheme. These collections were then exhibited and loaned to schools in order to help teach and promote embroidery as an art form. In 1961, the company withdrew funding for the Scheme and it ceased to function. The collection of over 3000 textile items was broken up and disseminated between around 14 universities, colleges and museums in the UK.

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Sources

Glasgow University Archive Services, finding aid for Records of Coats Viyella plc, thread manufacturers, Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland

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