Barrhead Sanitary and Fireclay Works, Glasgow

Shanks and Co, makers of sanitary ware, of Tubal Works, Barrhead, Glasgow.

John Shanks (1825 – 1895), born in Stonefield, Paisley, Renfrewshire, on 22 December.

Apprenticed as a plumber with Wallace and Connell, Glasgow.

1851 – Started his own business at 32 High Street, Paisley, as a plumber and gas fitter.

1851 - John Shanks High Street Paisley

1853 – Opened a branch in Lowndes Street, Barrhead, before moving to larger premises in Main Street

1855  – Closed the Paisley shop; joined by his younger brother Andrew Ferrier Shanks.

1860 – Shanks established a brass foundry and finishing shop in the upper floor of the premises so he could manufacture water closets; bought cast-iron components from George Smith and Co of Glasgow, and earthenware closet basins came from J. M. P. Bell of Glasgow.

1863 – Patent on a water closet with a plunger valve to release the waste and a ball cock to refill the basin.

1866 – Shanks built a new brass foundry at Barrhead, called the Tubal Foundry.

1871 – Patent for a combined supply, waste, and overflow fitting for a bath; another for an overhead water closet cistern.

1873 – To reduce his dependency on Smith and Co., Shanks started his own iron foundry.

1875 – Declared bankrupt; Andrew took over the firm.

1878 – Shanks had resumed active business. A new partnership was organised with the two brothers having equal shares. Appointed an agent in London; showrooms were established at 46 Cannon Street.

1877 – a patent on sanitary ware, water closets and cisterns, and cast-iron bath with a shelf incorporating the waste and overflow, and lavatory washbasins.

1881 – Patent on a bath tap with a flexible tube and perforated rose for providing a shower or spray bath; another on a syphonic water closet cistern.

1882 – Patent on a mixer tap.

Below – 1884 – Property Index 1884.

1884 – 1892 – Three patents for urinals.

1885 Patent on a valve closet with two discharge valves for use on ships.

1892 – Patent on a close coupled water closet – arguably his most important and original contribution to the development of the water closet.

1894 – Shanks patented a jet syphon closet that flushed the closet using a jet to charge a syphon that drew the waste from the basin instead of relying on the sheer force of the flush. Shanks was just ahead of two chief main rivals with his patent: Thomas W. Twyford and George Jennings patented their versions a few months later.

1895 – John Shanks died; his son John and nephew William Shanks continued the business.

25/08/1888 – Lennox Herald – International Exhibition, Glasgow – Sanitary section – Messrs Shanks & Co., Barrhead, have a series of rooms fitted up with their well known baths and wash-hand basins. Some of them are fine pieces of work and appear to have been got up regardless of expense. They also show their folding sitz and spray baths, got up in a style which ought to satisfy an eastern monarch. They have also devoted some of their attention to water waste appliances and some of their different patents are shown in the closet and …? arrangements.

1898 – The company was registered on 2 December, to take over the business of sanitary engineers, of the firm of the same name.

1902 – Established its own fireclay works – the Victoria Pottery.

1914 – Manufacturers of sanitary appliances. Employees 1,000.

1918 – Acquired the earthenware manufacturers J. and M. Craig of Kilmarnock.

21/03/1930 – The Glasgow Herald – 31st Annual General Meeting reported in the newspaper.

24/01/1950 – The Scotsman – Pottery worker’s health … Members of the British Stoneware Manufacturers Association include A. W. Buchan & Co, Ltd, Portobello, and Govancroft Pottery Co Ltd, Tollcross, Glasgow. The National Federation of Clay Industries membership includes Chas. Buick & Sons, Ltd, Alloa; Shanks & Co, Ltd, Barrhead: Steele Bros & Sons. Ltd, Edinburgh; John Steele & Sons Ltd, Glasgow and the following Kilmarnock firms: Bourtreehill Coal Co, Ltd; J. & R . Howie, Ltd and Southhook Potteries Limited.

1962 – 1965 – Acquired Southhook Potteries Ltd, J and R Howie Ltd, George Howson and Co Ltd of Hanley, all makers of sanitaryware.

08/03/1963 – The Glasgow Herald – Shank’s take over offer – Shanks & Co., of Barrhead, the sanitary engineers and fireclay manufacturers, are offering to take over Southhook Potteries, of Kilmarnock, who are in the same line of business. The directors of both companies have agreed on the merger. Details of the terms of the offer to Southhook Potteries share-holders appear on page 4. Both companies originated last century. Shanks have two works at Barrhead and one at Kilmarnock. Their net profit for 1961 was £80,787 and an Ordinary dividend of 12 1/2 per cent was paid. Southhook’s net profit for the year to October 31, 1962, was only £797 and no Ordinary dividend was paid.

08/03/1963 – The Glasgow Herald

Shanks Southhook

16/04/1963 – The Glasgow Herald – Shanks & Co Ltd – Difficult Conditions During Year – Prospects more favourable. The sixty-fourth Annual General Meeting of Shanks & Co.,  Ltd., will be held at the Company’s Head Office, Tubal Works, Barrhead, on May 8th.

The following statement by the Chairman, Mr G. M. Shanks, has been circulated with the Directors’ Report and Accounts for the year ended December 31, 1962:-

In my statement a year ago I spoke with reserve regarding our company’s immediate prospects. So many uncertainties lay ahead that it was impossible to predict what future trends would be. It is now apparent that I was fully justified in making no optimistic forecast. We have undoubtedly had difficult conditions to face during the year.

Although our turnover in the home sector, due to recovery in demand during the final months, has fully equalled that of last year, our shipments to our old established markets abroad have again fallen away. This has been due, as mentioned in my last statement, to the growth of local manufacture, intensification of import restrictions and unstable political conditions. While we have increased our trade with other countries, the volume of new business so gained has not been enough to offset the loss.

Our marine branch, due to the depression in the shipbuilding industry, has also had a poor year. The inflow of orders has declined, within turn a reduction in the output of marine equipment from our factories.

Taking all three sections together, the overall result has been a moderate fall in the total turnover of the company.


Once more we have had to face against the background of lower output, the rising spiral of manufacturing costs. Wages, materials and services have all advanced during the year and together make a formidable total. Along with that, we have had severe competition to meet and our selling prices, therefore, despite economies achieved by improved methods, could not wholly absorb the higher costs above mentioned.

These factors have naturally had an adverse effect on our trading results and, as you will see from the consolidated accounts our earnings for the year, after providing for taxation, depreciation and other charges-but after crediting our share of the profit earned by our South African Subsidiary – have declined from £85,787 to £72,616, a drop of £13,171.  In the circumstances, your directors do not feel that this is an unsatisfactory result.

We have spent during the year the sum of £71,221 on capital additions. This compares with £167,920 in the previous year, when we had a considerable outlay to meet in our South African factory.  This year the additions to the latter plant have been of minor nature.

Our stocks stand at £821,176 and show almost no change from the previous year.

Our overdrafts amount to £114,832 compared with £122,882 in the previous year.

The directors recommend that the same final dividend as in the previous year should be paid, viz.- 10%, making with 2 ½% Interim already paid, 12 ½% for the year, and that a balance of £87,858 should be carried forward.


Our South African subsidiary has made good progress during the year. The development stage has passed and it is now operating at a profit.  It has thus been able to make a  small contribution to the consolidated earnings of the company.

Our Newcastle branch has long been engaged in the distribution of plumbing and heating supplies, and it is now felt that for reasons of trading policy it should be separated from our manufacturing activities. A new company has therefore been formed, under the title of North Eastern Distributors Limited, and this has taken over the entire activities of the branch. The new company came into being on 1st July last year.


You will have observed the announcement in the press of our intention to make an offer to the members of Southhook Potteries Limited, Bonnyton Works, Kilmarnock, to acquire the whole of their share capital. The Southhook Directors have recommended their shareholders to accept our offer and a copy of the letter of offer is being sent to you under separate cover for your information, together with a notice of an Extraordinary General Meeting and a Class Meeting of the Ordinary Shareholders which are needed for the purpose of consenting to the issue of Ordinary Shares as a result of the terms of the Offer. We hope to welcome Southhook to our Group and expect that our position will be strengthened by this acquisition.


Turning to the future, I am glad to say that the prospects are more favourable then they were a year ago.

During the opening months of the current year, the demand for our products in the home market has been fully maintained and, in view of the large programme that lies ahead in housing and in the construction of schools and hospitals, I would definitely expect to see further expansion in this sector.

The outlook in the export field is also more hopeful. The contraction in demand from our traditional markets has slowed down,  while our trade with those countries that place no bar on the entry of our goods has expanded to an encouraging degree.  I, therefore, feel able to say that the overall decline in our export trade has now been arrested and that we can even look forward to a rising trend.

Our marine branch cannot look for a return to its normal scale of demand until the recession in the shipbuilding trade passes. Nevertheless, there is still a measure of activity in the industry and I feel that the downward limit has already been reached. Any change would be is in an upward direction.


I am also glad to report that there has been an easing of the highly competitive conditions alluded to earlier in my statement.  At last, it is being realised by those engaged in our industry that if such conditions were to persist there would be a danger if profit margins disappearing altogether. In consequence, there has been a much-needed improvement in the price of a large section of our products.

We do not, however, disguise from ourselves the fact that our industry still remains a very competitive one and we must never, therefore, relax our efforts to improve our manufacturing efficiency. Much has already been achieved in that direction. Departments have been reorganised. Improved equipment installed and new methods devised.  Additional measures are now being planned to raise still further the standard of efficiency, not only of our factories but of the sales and administrative sides of our business.

I would conclude this statement by recording my high appreciation of the loyal and diligent services rendered by our staff and operatives throughout the year.

1969 – End of manufacture of cast iron baths.

1969 – Merged with Armitage to create Armitage Shanks.

Below – 1932  – Shanks sanitary ware for ships

1932 - Shanks sanitary ware for ships

1860 – 1865 – A piped water supply and sewage system were introduced to Barrhead. John Shanks, a plumber from Paisley anticipated the resulting demand for sanitary ware and opened a workshop in Barrhead.

Shanks patented a non-return valve that allowed flushing toilets to be installed in ships and due to this and further inventions, his business flourished.

He opened a brass foundry to produce the brass fittings and taps for his sanitary ware. This was followed in 1904 with a pottery in the centre of town, which allowed the company to produce its own ceramics.

The name Shanks became world-famous and the company’s claims to fame include, producing sanitary ware for the ill-fated Titanic liner; and the presence of a Shanks toilet in the Dalia Lama’s palace in Tibet.

In the 1960s it was taken over by Armitage Ware Ltd and a new company Armitage Shanks Ltd was created. In 1989 the Tubal works closed followed by the Ceramic works in 1992 and the remaining business moved to England.

05/10/2015 – Today the works are long gone. The site is still vacant but flattened. There are large mountains of broken up ceramics remaining – there must have been 100 of thousands of pieces of bathroom ware crushed to form these huge piles.

armistage shanks crushed ceramic mountains

Below – And this is a selection of broken coloured sherds showing typical colour ranges

armitage shanks colour range

Below – Some relevant items found on site in 2016.



shanks barrhead

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