Whytock & Reid

Decorators and Furnishers,
 Cabinetmakers and Upholsters

Sunbury House, Belford Mews


Whytock & Reid's premises at Sunbury House, Belford Mews, near the water of Leith close to Dean Village, were only about half a mile from the West End of Princes Street.  Yet, within their grounds, the atmosphere seemed very rural.

Whytock & Reid, Sunbury House, Belford Mews, Edinburgh - 1995


When I first visited Whytock & Reid in 1991, they had:

a)  Large workshops on three floors.  This was  the building on the left in the picture above.  (The building, straight ahead adjoining it had not yet been built.)

b)  Showroom.  A newer lower building, close to the workshop above, but off the picture to the right.

c)  Two large sheds, as in the picture below (and hidden behind the trees in the picture above)..  These were listed buildings, each containing large quantities and many varieties of wood, some of it 200 years old.  This enabled the company was able to find a good match for the wood on furniture that they restored.

Whytock & Reid, Sunbury House, Belford Mews, Edinburgh - 1995


When I returned to Whytock & Reid in 1995, some of their land had been sold

a)  The former workshop above had been converted to a showroom and small workshop.  (A new workshop had been constructed.  That is the newer building in the centre of the top photo above.)

b)  The former showroom above and much of the land had been sold to create a private house with conservatory with garden.

c)  The first of the two large sheds had been dismantled.  It was proposed to dismantle the other shed and reassemble it at Summerlee Industrial Heritage Museum in Coatbridge, Central Scotland.

Whytock & Reid, Sunbury House, Belford Mews, Edinburgh - 1991


Bill Paterson was Works Manager at Whytock & Reid when I visited the firm in 1991.

Whytock & Reid, Sunbury House, Belford Mews, Edinburgh - 1991 

Twenty-two years after I took this photo of him, Bill (on the left, above)  sent me an email, telling me more about the firm during the 28 years that he worked there.

Bill wrote:

"You may be aware that I retired in 1999.  The death of old man, Campbell Reid, in 1999 and my retirement were unfortunately the death knell for such an illustrious company.

In 1971, when I joined the firm, we had:

-  4 wood machinists

-  1 apprentice

-  20 cabinetmakers

-  10 high class joiners

... but the strikes and 3-day-weeks of 1972 and 1973 meant that we had to downsize. 

Power was only available from midnight 'till 4am, three nights per week, and  daylight working was only from 9am till 3pm, if that.  That virtually  finished the firm, but it struggled on for another 30 years.

By 1991, the firm had:

10 cabinetmakers (carpenters).

-  2 apprentices.

-  1 wood machinist.

The firm also had:

-  French polishers.

-  upholsterers

-  sewing women.

Bill Paterson, Kingsknowe, Edinburgh:  August 29, 2013

History of Whytock & Reid


The firm was founded around 1804, and remained in the same premises for about 200 years.  It is one of only two companies in the world that held a Royal Charter continuously for over 150 years.

The Whytock family sold out of the business around 1900 and left Scotland, selling their invention for carpet weaving for about 7m. 

When I visited the company in 1991, it was still being run by the Reid family.  'Old Man' Reid was then aged about 78.

In earlier years, the company had made some fine furniture.  I was told that they preferred their wood to be air dried rather than kiln dried, so they had to order their wood 20 years ahead of using it!

Whytock & Reid, Sunbury House, Belford Mews, Edinburgh - 1995

I met Works Manager, Bill Paterson, whilst taking photos at Whittock & Reid in 1991,  Bill later wrote:


By 1991, when I first visited the company, much of its business was selling antiques, but some some restoration work, including reupholstering  and French polishing.  At the time of my visit, it was working on:

-   a large oak plaque for the outside of Dundee Custom House
-   restoring monkeys for the Edinburgh Lyceum Theatre
-   a set of  new chairs for Glasgow University
-   a set of pews for the military chapel at Fort George
-   one of  emblem (a bee for Viscount Whitelaw) for St Giles church.

Whytock & Reid, Sunbury House, Belford Mews, Edinburgh - 1991

There was also still some specially commissioned church furnishing work.

Whytock & Reid, Sunbury House, Belford Mews, Edinburgh - 1995

The company closed in 2004.

With acknowledgement to Mr Paterson for telling me many of the
details above when I visited Whytock & Reid in August 1991.




Bill Paterson

Kingsknowe, Edinburgh

Bill Paterson (on the right in the photo below, taken in 1991) was Works Manager at Whytock and Reid.  He worked for the firm from 1971 until his retirement in 1999.

Whytock & Reid, Sunbury House, Belford Mews, Edinburgh - 1991 

Bill has been researching the 197-year history of Whytock & Reid, and has written several pages of comprehensive notes about the company.

Here, below, are some extracts and comments, taken from Bill's notes, in which I've attempted to capture the main events in the history of the company, and show the scope and scale of some of the company's work.



From Haberdashers Shop to Royal Warrant

The Business expands to include carpets


Haberdashers Shop

"Richard Barnet Whytock was born Dalkeith in 1784.  He and his brother, William, opened a haberdashers shop at 67 South Bridge, Edinburgh, around 1806-07."


Partner 1

"In 1810, Richard took on a  partner, Robert Grieve.

Together, they established WHYTOCK & GRIEVE at 77 South Bridge selling furnishings and upholstery.

However, ten years later, he was trading alone as  RICHARD WHYTOCK & Co. now based at 25 New Buildings, North Bridge, Edinburgh."


Partner 2

"Around 1825, Richard was still trading as RICHARD WHYTOCK & Co., but now from Queensberry House, Canongate.  At this time, he then took on a new partner, Henry Henderson."

House Decoration

"The Whytock & Reid business was expanding.  By 1828, it included gilding, painting, wall hangings and complete house decoration.

It moved to 37 George Street, then to 7 George Street."


Carpet Loom

"Richard invented and patented 'The Tapestry Carpet Loom' in 1832."

Royal Warrant

"In 1838, he was granted the Royal Warrant:

'Richard Whytock, patent carpet manufacturer to the Queen'




"By 1840, Whytock & Reid were producing 10,000 yards of carpet per day.  Six years later, Richard sold the carpet patent and carpet works to his partner, Henry Henderson, for 7m."


Mid-19th Century

Deaths of Richard  then James.

Alexander Whytock takes control


Lace Making

"Richard bought Alex Campbell's lace-making warehouse at 9+11 George Street."


Showroom and Office

"Nos. 9+11 George Street were demolished and a new purpose-built showroom and office building was erected for RICHARD WHYTOCK & Co.  This survived until 1960, when it was bought by Royal Insurance Co."


"The firm also had workshops for cabinetmaking and upholstery at Rose Court."


Richard Whytock RIP

"Richard died, leaving the business to be run by:

-  brothers, Alexander and James (who died, 1868), and

-  cousin William Alexander."



"Around 1868, Alexander and William created a new company, RICHARD WHYTOCK & Co., ROAD & RAIL WAGONS.

This company pioneered containerisation of transport, 100 years before its time.

The company took new workshops at Tynecastle and Greenside and built wooden containers and flat bed horse-drawn waggons there, to the same dimensions as the Railway companies' flat bed cars, and used his own packers to load and unload the containers.

However, the business was very costly to operate and was  scrapped."


Death of James Whytock

"Following the sudden death of James Whytock in December 1868:

-  Alexander Whytock, who lived in a large mansion, 'The Grange', at Duddingston, took control of the whole firm.

-  William Whytock, who lived in a flat at 7 George Street, remained a partner but only in the furnishing and decorating parts of the firm."


Late-19th Century

Merger and Consolidation

Then a Fire


Creation of Whytock & Reid

"In 1876, Alexander Whytock and Robert Reid agreed to merge their companies:


DAVIDSON & REID to create


Robert Reid

"Before the merger with RICHARD WHYTOCK & Co. Robert Reid had been:

a partner in his father's furniture making firm, JOHN REID & SON of Ayr

-  THEN, a partner with Walter Davidson in DAVIDSON & REID, a company based in, Frederick Street, Edinburgh, until it bought Sunbury Distillery at Bells Mills from the Haig Whisky family and converted it into:

cabinetmaking and upholstery works.

carpet beating, cleaning and mending workshops.

-  timber yards and carpet drying green."


"Following this merger to create RICHARD WHYTOCK & Co, there was a consolidation of the Edinburgh businesses and premises:

-  All manufacturing was transferred to Bell's Mills Works

-  The Reid showroom at 127 George Street was closed down and transferred to 7-11 George Street

- The upholstery and curtain making workshops at Rose Court were retained.

The firm, WHYTOCK, REID & Co., now had businesses in the west of Scotland (Ayr) and East of Scotland (Edinburgh).  These traded under different names, the East of Scotland using the name:  WHYTOCK & REID of EDINBURGH."


Alexander Whytock  RIP

"Alexander  Whytock died in 1882."


Sale of the Business

"Alexander's cousin, William Alexander, sold out the WHYTOCK, REID & Co. business to the Reid Brothers, Robert and Hugh in 1886.

Robert and Hugh were the eldest sons of John Reid.  They were Partners in the JOHN REID & SON, AYR business."

Workshops Fire

"Earlier in 1886, a catastrophic fire had broken out at Bells Mills workshops. Only the carpet works and woodsheds were left standing.  Following the fire, all the woodworking and cabinetmaking activities were  transferred to the John Reid & Son's Ayr workshops.

It may have been this fire that prompted William Alexander to sell his shares in the business in 1886."


New Workshops

"A brand new, purpose-built workshop was opened in 1888, named 'The Belford Cabinet Works'.  It was lit by natural light and town gas.

It had a new steam engine to power all the saws, planers, moulding and carving machines through overhead axles, pulleys and individual leather belts.  Cranes, huge rip-saws and timber sheds were installed in the wood yard."


John Reid  RIP

"John Reid died, leaving his sons as joint partners in WHYTOCK, REID & Co."


Early-20th Century

The Golden Age

of House Furnishing


Creation of Whytock & Reid

"The last of the original partners in WHYTOCK, REID & Co retired in 1909.   He was David Reid, the youngest son of John Reid. 

This was also the year that the firm's Ayr works closed down."

House Furnishings

"This was the golden age of house furnishing and decoration, and Whytock & Reid's name was now well known in Scotland and beyond.

Ship builders, ship-owners, merchants and industrialists were all buying up old family estates and modernising them.  These included:

-  The Coats of Paisley

-  Andrew Carnegie at Skibo Castle

-  The Armstrongs of Cragside, Northumberland

-  the owners of Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute

-  residents of Edinburgh New Town

all wanting the latest in decoration and furnishings.

Complete houses including Balmoral, Holyrood and Manderston, and  Culzean, Mellerstain, Monzie Dawyk and other large estates  were all looking for remodelling and decoration.  Even the latest steam yachts and Pullman-type railway carriages were fitted out by Whytock & Reid."


Move to Charlotte Square

"J Murray Reid sold the premises at 9-11 George Street and moved the Whytock & Reid showroom and offices to 7 Charlotte Square."


Restoration and Repairs

"After returning from their military service, Campbell and Murray Reid began to rebuild the business.  With restrictions on wood and fabrics, they concentrated on restoration and repairs, rather than manufacturing.

Many large houses in Scotland had been commandeered by the War Office during the war, so now needed to be put into good order."


From Mid-20th Century

Manufacturing in Full Swing after World War II

Then retrenchment as the company winds down.


Post-War Manufacturing

"By the 1950s, the firm's manufacturing was back in full swing and the company again had about 100 workers, including:

-  30 to 40 cabinetmakrers and joiners

-  10 wood carvers

-  10 French polishers

-  10 to 15 upholsterers

-  10 seamstresses

-    4  wood machinists

-    2  yard men

-    1 setter out

-    5 or 6 designers

-     foremen

-     apprentices

-     porters

-     van drivers

-     sales staff

-     office staff."


Church Furnishings

"By 1966, many old family firms were closing down.  One of these was Scott-Morton, a coompany that specialised in ecclesiastic furnishings.

After the auction of their assets, J Campbell Reid was approached and offered the name and good will of the firm at a reasonable cost, and so Whitock & Reid's Edinburgh business  became:


This gained Whitock & Reid many church contracts."


Joining the Firm

"When I joined Whytock & Reid in 1971, I found it to be very similar to how it was over 80 years earlier when the Bedford Cabinet Works were  built in 1888.

The main difference was that the gas steam engine had been replaced in the 1920s by individual electric motors, each 5HP, to power the saws, planers, etc.

Belting and pulleys were still being used to drive the machines, but from the basement under the machines, rather than from overhead shafts and belts which would have been very dangerous in operation."


'Three-Day Week'

"In the  winter of 1973-74 , the country had all sorts of strikes.  These led to power shortages and the '3-day week'.  A few contracts were terminated as they could not be fulfilled, but we struggled through.

The staff levels in the works then were much reduced, with only:

-  16 cabinetmakrers and joiners

-    5 wood machinists

-    4 French polishers

-    2 painters

-    1 wood carver

-    8 upholsterers

-    8 sewers

-    5 foremen

-    1  driver

-    1  designer

-    1 delivery driver

-    1 porter

-     1 manager"


New Showrooms

"In 1974, the lease on the company's showrooms at 7 Charlotte Square could not be renewed.  (The building became the National Trust's 'Georgian House'.)

It was decided that the vast acres at Belford Road could  be better used, so the old carpet sheds were demolished, the drying green tarred over, and new showrooms and offices built above the Water of Leith, overlooking the weir and Dean village, a perfect idyll site.

The showrooms were now concentrating on buying and selling antique furniture"

New Showrooms

"Work continued steadily.  We concentrated on the manufacture of our own designed chairs and sofas, and church and commission work. 

We installed new oak panelling to match the old on the walls of the Throne Room at Holyrood Palace.

The National Trust for Scotland became one of our best customers.  Most of their properties had furnishings, curtains, carpets and interiors supplied by Whytock & Reid."


Sale and Scrapping

"Campbell Reid eventually retired from being a Partner  in 1989, aged 77.

By the late 1980s:

-   the entire Whytock & Reid site at Belford Works had been sold to and was being rented back from a builder.

- all the massive Victorian and Edwardian wood-working machines, some of which had been installed in 1888 and were capable of converting huge baulks of timber into furniture pieces, had been scrapped.

-  the large veneer press, the morticer and the tenoner had all been sold for scrap.  Modern machines had been installed in the new machine shop, which was a fraction of the size of the old one.

-  the Baltic pine wood shed, which stood since 1875, had been taken down and re-erected at Summerlee Heritage Museum at Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire."


"During this period of retrenchment, the staff numbers were greatly reduced to fit the physical limitations of the available space.  They were reduced to:

-    5 cabinetmakrers and joiners

-    4 sewers

-    1 French polisher

-    1 wood machinist

-    1  delivery driver

-     1 manager."


Winding Down

"In 1996, a new company was formed.  WHYTOCK & REID LTD, but it was to be only another 8 years before the whole business would cease trading."


The Royal Yacht, 'Britannia'

"Whytock & Reid's final major job before my retirement in 1998 was for the 'Royal Yacht Britannia', then docked at Leith, empty of all moveable fittings and furniture.

We were contracted to replace and restore everything necessary to bring the fittings and furnishings back to the state they were in when  the yacht was first fitted out in 1954.

This included the vast dining table for the State Room.  It had to be made in sections, each about 8 feet by 4 feet, able to be joined together in different permutations, to create a 'T' shape, 'E' shape, 'H' shape or as a large dining table with other sections being used for side tables.I also found that the deck was not flat and that the centre was 6 in higher than the edges, so the table had to be made with adjustable feet so that no matter where they were placed, they could be roughly levelled."


The End

"Whytock & Reid ceased trading in 2004, just 3 years short of the firm's bi-centenary.  David C Reid, the last Partner, died in 2010."

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  26 October 2013
based on more extensive notes provided by Bill Paterson, Kingsknowe, Edinburgh:  October 25, 2013




Ricky Martin

Hobart Tasmania

Thank you to Ricki Martin,, formerly an Apprentice at Whytock & Reid, who wrote:

"I love the write-up bt Bill Patterson (above) but was disappointed to read about the closing of Whytock & Reid."


"I worked for Whytock & Reid from 1969 until 1976, starting before Billy Patterson started there.

I remember:

Andrew Mitchell

Willie Selkirk (Manager)

- Alex Brown, my foreman (great man)

George Curry (friend and mentor)

George Nickel

Tammy Cragie

Johnny Steeples

jimmy Swinton

Jimmie Greeves (polisher )

 jimmy Dunn

-  James White

Richard (Ricky) Martin, Hobart Tasmania:  March 5, 2015


Whytock & Reid:     Photos

Edinburgh at Work