Beith - Industry - Furniture Making

Furniture Making

From 1845 until the 1980s Beith had the honour of being the most important furniture-manufacturing town in Scotland with a reputation for high-quality furniture. The origins of the industry can be traced back to Mathew Dale who started by making hand-built furniture for local people in 1845. An former employee of Dale, Matthew Pollock progressed the manufacturing by introducting machinery in a factory setting 3-miles outside of the town at Beith North railway station. After approximately 12-years Pollock and his brothers, sold the factory to Robert Balfour, and moved into the town to expand their business. Balfour suffered the same problems as the Pollock Brothers in being unable to attract workers from the town to walk the 3-miles to work. In 1872 he built a factory near the Beith Town railway station and persuaded the railway company to build a siding to allow easy transportation of raw materials and finished products.

The industry expanded across the local area making it a centre of excellence in furniture manufacturing and building its reputation throughout the world. In the late 1920s transportation switched away from the railway but the industry continued to burgeon with many companies producing high-quality furniture; McNeil Bros, specialised in board room and library fittings, Stevenson and Higgins made lift cages, which were fitted in many hotels and department stores, Balfours were for a number of years the main manufacturers of mantlepieces in Scotland, some were designed in the elegant style, and required the expert skill of woodcarvers. Matthew Pollock Ltd supplied furniture to both the RMS Queen Mary and the RMS Queen Elizabeth II.

Furniture is no longer produced in Beith due to the closure of the various manufacturing firms. The closures were caused by a multitude of problems such as the state of the economy and an inability to compete with self-assembly furniture firms and their increase in popularity. The last big furniture manufacturer to close was Beithcraft (formerly Balfours) which finished in 1983 (after a major fire a few years earlier that destroyed large sections of the plant) with the loss of 420 jobs. With this final closure came the end of the Beith reputation for being one of the main furniture manufacturing centres in the country.

This history of carpentry is remembered in the nickname of the local football team, Beith Juniors, who are commonly referred to as "The Cabes" (Cabinet Makers).

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