Baird, James (DNB00)

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BAIRD, JAMES (1802–1876), a wealthy ironmaster and benefactor to the church of Scotland, was born at Kirkwood, 5 Dec. 1802. He was the fourth son of Alexander Baird by Jean, daughter of Mr. James Moffat, Whitburn. Alexander Baird was almost exclusively a farmer and miller until he made his first purely commercial venture by leasing, in 1809, the Woodside coalworks, near Dalserf, which he managed in addition to his land, and to which he added in 1816 the coalfield of Rochsolloch, near Airdrie, and in 1822, the coalfield of Merrystown. James received his early education at the parish school of Old Monkland, and, the circumstances of the family having improved, passed a short time at the university of Glasgow (Scotsman, 21 June 1876). In May 1826 Alexander Baird, then of Lockwood, and his sons William, Alexander, and James, obtained a lease from Mr. Hamilton Colt, Gartsherrie, of the coalfields of Sunnyside, Hollandhirst, and New Gartsherrie. In 1828 the Bairds became ironmasters as well as coalowners by acquiring a forty years' lease of the ironstone in the lands of Cairnhill, adjoining Gartsherrie. They afterwards erected blast furnaces, the first of which was put in blast 4 May 1830, and when in the same year the founder of the firm went out of the business, his sons formed a partnership, under the style and title of William Baird & Co. Alexander Baird died at Newmains in 1833 James Baird assumed in 1830 the active management of the business, and especially gave his attention to the improvement of the machinery. The result of his improvements was to raise the production of a furnace from 60 to 250 tons a week. By 1842 the Gartsherrie works boasted their full number of sixteen furnaces. The Bairds proceeded to acquire coal and iron works in other parts of Lanarkshire, as well as in the counties of Ayr, Stirling, Dumbarton, and Cumberland. Under the title of the Eglinton Iron Company, they added works at Eglinton 1846, Blair 1852, Muirkirk and Lugar 1856, and Portland 1864, and thus possessed between forty and fifty furnaces, with a power of turning out 300,000 tons of iron per annum and of giving employment to nearly 10,000 men and boys. The brothers invested their revenues in the purchase of land, and the estates acquired by the family in the course of their career represented in round numbers the sum of 2,000,000l. James Baird represented the Falkirk group of burghs in the House of Commons from 1851-2 and 1852-7, being the same constituency which was represented, in 1841–6, by his brother, William Baird, the first conservative returned by a burgh constituency in Scotland after the Reform Act, Retiring from parliament in 1857, James Baird devoted much of his time to religious and educational questions, and built and endowed a large number of schools. He was a firm believer in the teaching of the Bible in schools, and a staunch supporter of the so-called 'use-and-wont' platform. In 1871 he founded the 'Baird Lectures' for the defence of orthodox teaching, and his liberality culminated in a gift of 500,000l., made in 1873, to the established church of Scotland, which he passed over to a body described as the 'Baird Trust,' 'to assist in providing the means of meeting, or at least as far as possible promoting the mitigation of, spiritual destitution among the population of Scotland.' The benefaction was well intended, but it did not escape exception as being 'hampered by conditions distasteful to not a few of the more liberal members of the establishment' (Scotsman, 21 June 1876). A month before his death, Baird was credited with the design of devoting a second 500,000l. for the advancement of the higher education of the ministers of all presbyterian denominations, but no mention of this was made in his will. All the brothers of James Baird predeceased him, and by the death of Robert Baird in 1856 he succeeded to the estate of Auchmedden in Aberdeenshire. Besides being owner of smaller properties in Ayrshire, James Baird acquired the considerable estates of Cambusdoon in Ayrshire in 1853; of Knoydart in Invernesshire in 1857; and of Muirkirk in Ayrshire in 1863. He was a magistrate for Lanarkshire, and a deputy-lieutenant for the counties of Ayr and Inverness. He was twice married: the first time, in 1852, to Charlotte, daughter of Mr. Robert Lockhart, of Castle Hill, Lanarkshire, who died in 1857, and secondly, in 1859, to Isabella Agnew, daughter of Admiral James Hay, of Belton, Haddingtonshire, who survived him. He had no children by either marriage; and the firm, of which he continued a member to the last; and the annual profits of which in prosperous years were believed to exceed 1,000,000l., consisted, at the time of his death, of himself and three nephews. He 'left property valued at 3,000,000l. sterling' (Irving, Annals of our Time). Baird died after a few weeks' illness on 20 June 1876, at Cambusdoon, near Ayr, and was buried on the Friday following, 23 June, by the side of his first wife at Alloway, whose church he had endowed.

[Sir Bernard Burke's Vicissitudes of Families, 1869; Jeans's Western Worthies (Glasgow). 1873; Irving's Annals of our Time; Kings of British Commerce, 1876, part i. pp. 23–31; Times, Dundee Advertiser, and Edinburgh Courant, 21 June 1876; Falkirk Herald, 22 June 1876; Glasgow News, 21 and 24 June 1876; and Scotsman, 21 June and August 1876.]

A. H. G.