Bob “Dragon”

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I received a request for information on Bob Dragon, or Robert Dreghorn, of the Glasgow Dreghorn family. So here it is. A fairly interesting account but not of someone most would want anything to do with, by the sounds of things…

THE LAST OF THE OLD GLASGOW MANSIONS. 

… 

   The elder of these two houses (which was taken down in 1829) was rising, amid the awe of the citizens, when McUre wrote in 1736. “Lastly,” he says, winding up his Homeric catalogue of the glories of Glasgow, “lastly, Bailie John Craig has built and is yet building a stately house of curious workmanship, beautifully enclosed with several workhouses, shades, and storehouses, with a garden and summer parlour of fine hewen stone, so that no carpenter or joyner in the kingdom has its parallel.” 

   This challenge to the carpenters and “joyners” of the kingdom was taken up in Glasgow itself. In the Bridgegate, from which the Bailie had migrated, lived Allan Dreghorn, a wealthy member of the same trade, and from the Bridgegate – there may have been a rivalry between the wives of the two – Dreghorn followed Craig to the Clydeside, and between the “stately house of curious workmanship,” and “the town’s great and magnificent Hospital,” built the fine old mansion which outlives them both.1 

   Allan Dreghorn, like his father before him, is commonly designated “Wright in Glasgow,” but trade was not so sub-divided then as now, and the Dreghorns were both wrights and plumbers, and were also extensive timber and lead merchants, and whether or not reckoned of the merchant rank, were citizens of credit and renown. 

   Robert Dreghorn, the father, founder of the family, as early as 1714, when only 34, had spare capital to work coal in the great Govan Field, whose wealth, after five generations, seems still inexhaustible. He had also a “heugh,” but we may believe not a very deep one, in the Camlachie Field, in which more than one old Glasgow family have sunk their fortunes. He was repeatedly Deacon of the Wrights, and was Deacon when McUre wrote in 1736, and to him and his brother Deacons, with Deacon-Convener James Drew at their head, McUre inscribes his record of the good service done by “their renowned ancestors, the Trades of Glasgow,” in saving the High Kirk from the hand of the spoiler in 1579. Deacon Dreghorn died on 26th June, 1742, aged 62, and left, besides Allan, born in 1706, a younger son, Robert, born in 1708. 

   Robert Dreghorn the second aimed at something above the paternal calling. He was a merchant and shipowner2 in the great Virginia trade, then in all its glory. He bought in 1752 the estate of Blochairn, which had long been in the old Glasgow family of Spreulls; and which his descendants still own. He died on 9th December, 1760, aged 52, leaving by his wife, Isabella Bryson, two daughters – Elizabeth, who died unmarried, and Margaret, the second wife of James Dennistoun of Colgrain, and one son, Robert Dreghorn the third, of whom hereafter. 

   Allan Dreghorn had meantime followed his father’s business to good purpose. He was the leading partner in the well-known “Smithfield Iron Company.” In 1749 he bought the estate of Ruchill from the five co-heiresses in whom the old Peadie family had ended. In 1752 he built the mansion in Great Clyde Street. And the same year he astonished the town, and we may suppose finally extinguished Mrs Bailie Craig, by appearing in his own carriage, a ponderous structure, built by the hands of his own workmen in his yard close by. It was the first private carriage that Glasgow had seen. What clusters of little boys must have peered at it through the iron railings! How the women must have set down their stoups to stare, as it rumbled up the Stockwell, and the carters on the Garscube Road have pulled to one side as it jolted past to Ruchill! 

   But Adam Dreghorn was a useful as well as a conspicuous citizen. He did good service in the Town Council, and served as Bailie in 1741. And in the ‘45 he was one of six Commissioners deputed to treat with the rebels for “saving the city, its trade, and inhabitants.” (See the “Cochrane Correspondence” for a fac-simile of the requisition to the Commissioners, with the signatures of the leading citizens of the day, and a curious account of the negotiations with the rebels.)3 

   He died at Ruchill on 19th October, 1764, aged 58. He had married Bessie Bogle of Shettleston, but he left no family, and under certain provisions for “Lady Ruchill,” who survived till 1767,4 his nephew, Robert Dreghorn the third – the well-known “Bob Dragon” of Glasgow story – succeeded to Ruchill and the Clyde Street mansion. His uncle’s joining and plumbing trade Bob left to others – he himself had continued his father’s business. 

   The evil memory of this poor man – poor amid great wealth – still lingers here. Some may even yet remember his strange figure stalking over streets day after day, silent and alone; and a younger race may see his likeness in Kay’s “Morning Walk.” By inheritance from his father and from his uncle, by trading and by hoarding, he acquired a fortune that was then enormous and that would be respectable even in these Gartsherrie and Tharsis days; and as one of those awful Virginia dons whose red cloaks dazzle us even at this distance, and owner of a great town mansion, and not one but two country seats, he was a man of note. But wealth and position won him neither respect nor happiness. By his ill looks, his cold manners, his roughness to children, his strange, lonely ways, his greed of money, and his open profligacy, he was half hated, half feared, and “Bob Dragon’s” name (like Marlbrook’s) was a power to hush little boys and girls with. Naturally of a melancholy temperament, he lived a life not fitted for happiness as he grew older. The gloom settled deeper on him – he became a prey to the delirium tremens of avarice – the horror of dying of want – and on 19th November, 1804, the town was startled by the news that “Bob Dragon” had died in his house in Clyde Street by his own hand. tradition points out the north-east room on the drawing-room floor as the scene of the dreadful deed. 

   He had never married, and his fortune passed to his sisters, and after them to his four nieces. These young ladies were reckoned the greatest heiresses of their day, and one after another made brilliant marriages. But their story does not concern us. The family no longer held by Glasgow. Ruchill was their headquarters, and the old town house was deserted and shut up. By-and-by, the whisper grew that it was haunted. Lights had been seen to cross the windows, strange sounds been heard within; evidently the ghost of Bob Dragon still walked his empty halls. The ghost was not laid till after the great fire at John Reid’s woodyard in 1812 (of all our fires, the most fatal to life till this last catastrophe in Tradeston).5 The old house was opened to store some of the salvage, and then the kitchen floor was found piled feet deep with grains of malt. The mystery was clear now: smugglers had taken possession of the empty eerie house as an illicit distillery, and had left the bulky refuse behind them. 

   After this, George Provand, a colour-maker, made bold to take the Dreghorn mansion as his house and workshop. But he found worse trouble there than ghosts. That happy thought, the Anatomy Bill, had not them been suggested; the public mind was constantly stirred by stories of body-snatchings, and of murders done (as murders afterwards were done by Burke and Hare) to supply the surgeon’s table, and somehow poor Provand was suspected of using his premises as a depôt for the horrid trade. It is said that some refuse of red paint had run into the gutter and been taken for the blood of his victims. The end of it, at any rate, was, that on Sunday the 17th February, 1822, a furious mob attacked the house, broke the windows, burst the doors, gutted the place, and tossed the furniture into the Clyde. They could not find Provand himself, or they would no doubt have torn him to pieces. But they abused his son and his servant to the peril of their lives; and some gentlemen who tried to calm their fury were little better served. Bailie Lawrence Craigie had to fight his way backwards to the attic, defending himself with the leg of a table, and probably saved his life by barricading himself in, and escaping through the window by the help of two sheets tied together… 

– Glasgow Herald, Tuesday 3rd September, 1872, p.2. 

1  The Town-Clerk seems to have taken things easy in those days. Allan bought from the town with entry at Whitsunday, 1752, but he did not get his title till 2d October, 1761. The extent of his purchase was 2715 yards, and the price was £107 14s, or under 10d a yard! His brother got the estate of Blochairn for £11,700 Scots. 

2  In the list of the “67 ships, brigantines, and sloops,” with a total tonnage of under 6000 tons, which made up the Clyde fleet in 1735, “Robert Dreghorn” appears as owner of the “Margaret” and the “Graham.” But this may have been Robert the first. 

3  The rebels demanded £15,000, five times the town’s income. The Commissioners managed to get this enormous “requisition” reduced to £500 in goods and £5000 in cash, and much trouble it cost good Provost Cochrane to raise the money – £3500 in small sums through the town, and £1500 in loan from the Earl of Glencairn. The other five Commissioners were – James Smith, weaver, and four merchants – Andrew Buchanan, Lawrence Dinwoodie, and Richard Oswald (represented respectively by Carrick-Buchanan of Drumpellier, Lockhart of Milton, and Gordon-Oswald of Scotstoun), and Andrew Aiton. 

4  The Merchants’ House owes various benefactions to the Dreghorns. The old Deacon left them £100 Scots, Robert the second, £10 sterling; Allan, twenty guineas; and “Lady Ruchill” the odd sum of £11 2s 2⅓d. Bob Dragon’s name does not appear in the list. 

5  Seven lives were lost at this fire. John Reid’s place was on the east side of Virginia Street, now Nos. 9 and 11, with an entrance by No. 28 Argyll Street. It was again burnt down a few years ago, when occupied by Wyllie & Lochhead, and the Argyll Street part is standing now as the fire left it. The wall, with a sort of balcony in Virginia Street, dates from Reid’s day. He was “Senex’s” elder brother. 

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