William Collins and Sons: publishing and paternalism

Who: William Collins I, II, III, IV and V
Job: Publishers
Where: Glasgow and London
When: 19th and 20th centuries
Archive: HarperCollins Publishers Historical Archive

William Collins and Sons began in Glasgow in 1819. Welfare of workers was always a main concern due to the fact the business had been founded on Christian principles. William Collins I believed in the dissemination of information for the masses. Before starting the company, he had opened a chain of Sunday schools throughout Glasgow. He also helped to build 20 churches by founding the Glasgow Church Building Society in 1834. Following his father’s footsteps, William Collins II also became interested in the welfare of the people of Glasgow. He became the Lord Provost of Glasgow in 1877 and was important member of the Glasgow Temperance Movement. For the welfare of his employees, he opened the Collins Institute in 1887 which contained dining rooms, games rooms, a concert hall and a library for all Collins’ staff to use. A second institute was opened in London in 1899 for employees in the capital by William Collins III.

Workers outside Collins Institute Glasgow, c 1877

Workers outside Collins Institute Glasgow, c 1877

Welfare continued to be of high importance to the next generation of Collins: William Collins IV and V. From the beginning of the 1900s, there was a Welfare Committee who gave support to employees – whether they had broken their glasses at work and needed them repaired or had a sick family member. Moreover the company held a yearly employee day out, which started in 1877 when 950 employees went on a trip down the River Clyde on the SS Bonnie Doon. However, the tradition continued over the years with outings to different locations including Tighnabruaich, Dunoon and Rothesay and on different boats including the Queen Mary and the Waverly.

Large Picnic
These trips continued long enough that they are even in the memory of current employees of HarperCollins. Sports days, luncheons and group activities were also commonplace in William Collins and Sons. The Collins family valued their workers and therefore wanted to provide more than just a job.

In the Herriot Hill Works in Cathedral St, the employees also had access to a small medical centre with both a doctor’s surgery and dentist. This even continued out to the Bishopbriggs site where Collins moved to in the 1970s. To complement the availability of health care, the Collins family also bought a large property called Holmwood House in Largs on the River Clyde in 1948. The inaugural opening of the house took place on the 8th of May 1948. The house was a rest home for workers who had been ill or had a sick family member. The employee and their family could spend a few days recuperating in the fresh air of the coastal town. The house was run by trustees from the factory, though sadly it closed in 1963. However during its time, the house provided many Collins employees with a break away from city.

For more images of William Collins and Sons see the Working Archive Gallery!

The HarperCollins Publishers Archive is situated in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow. Any enquiries should be sent to the archivist – dawn.sinclair@harpercollins.co.uk . The archive is generally not open to the public. However part of the historical collection is also held at Glasgow University Archive Service.


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