George Davidson - Victorian Entrepeneur

George Davidson was a very gifted man. The son of a miller he excelled not only in business, but was reputed to be a gifted singer, much in demand, and with a large repertoire of Tyne-side songs. He was successful in three disparate business ventures as well as serving the public on Gateshead Council in a number of different roles.  In addition he was on the board of directors of a number of other companies.

George was born on the 28th September 1822 at Cow Close Mill near Ravensworth Castle,Teams Valley, Gateshead. He was one of a large family of 12 children. On leaving school he went into the building trade and later became a butcher at Low Fell, Gateshead, a business he ran for 27 years. In 1867 he started the Teams Glass works, initially making chimneys for paraffin lamps, but quickly he developed the glassworks into one of the best known and largest press glassworks in the country.

Although we associate George Davidson with his Glass works, he was also heavily involved in developing the Gateshead and Teams areas. In 1860, the Teams area of Gateshead was mostly countryside with a few houses and some small scale brickworks. By the time of his death in 1891, the area was heavily industrialised and now had street after street of housing for workers in this boom town. From 1858, when the Local Government Act enabled local authorities to make bye-laws to control buildings and streets and required developers to submit plans, George submitted over 27 plans for building houses and shops. These were not plans for single houses, but for rows of terraced houses for the workers of Gateshead. He even had a street named after him (the original Davidson Street no longer exists, but Davidson's name survives in another Davidson Street in a different location in Gateshead).

George owned a large number of houses which were listed in his will of 1889. The rents from these houses were to go to his surviving daughters on his death. A full list of these properties can be seen in the article on the will in the May 2003 newsletter.

As well as building houses, he was also a large land owner in the area and there are instances of him selling land to other developers. His other business roles include:

  • Chairman of the local board of the Federal Fire Insurance Company 
  • Member of the local directorate of the Northern Accident Insurance Company 
  • Chairman of the Newcastle Builders Insurance Company

In 1884 one of his ventures was the Alexandra Electric Light Company of Gateshead. During 1884 and 1885 'George Davidson, Robert Cattley Jackson and John Black Duncan of the Alexandra Electric Light Company' submitted no fewer than  6 patent applications and one registered design all related to the manufacture of incandescent electric light bulbs. The patents were:

14552/84  "Improvements in mercurial air or vacuum pumps"
14553/84 "Improvements in the manufacture of carbon for incandescent electric lamps and apparatus to be used therein"
15754/84 "Improvements in incandescent electric lamps"
15764/84  "Improved means to be employed in the production of the vacuum in the bulbs of incandescent electric lamps"
3765/85 "Improvements in the manufacture of filaments and carbon for incandescent electric lamps"
3769/85 "Improvements in the manufacture of filaments for incandescent electric lamps"

Of these only 3765/85 was accepted. The company registered one design, number 16562, Class I in November 1884.

Tyneside was in the forefront of the development of incandescent electric lights. In 1878 Sir Joseph Swan demonstrated in Newcastle the first practical incandescent carbon filament lamp. Two years later Sir Joseph's house in Gateshead was the first house in the UK to be lit by incandescent lamps. It would make sense for George Davidson to combine his experience of the glass industry with the new electric lamp technology. The company, sadly, does not appear to have flourished.

One of the most unusual of Davidson's other interests appears to have been engineering. On 25 June 1884  a patent entitled by 'Improvements in combined hand and steam Steering gear' was submitted by one 'George Davidson, the Teams, Gateshead Glass Manufacturer and Robert Turnball Chester-Le-Street Durham'. A second patent on the same theme was submitted in October 1884. As neither patent was accepted, no copies exist in the Patent archives. It is, however, interesting to speculate on the relationship between Davidson and Robert Turnball was and what venture they were involved in.

George was not only an active business man, he also served the local community on the Gateshead Town Council. George began his Public Service as a member of the Town Council for Gateshead in 1856. He became an Alderman and eventually Mayor of Gateshead from November 1886 to November 1888. As well as serving on various Council committees he was also served as a Justice of the Peace on the Board of Magistrates for many years. George also served as a Tax Commissioner.

George Davidson died on the 22nd February 1891 on his way to a Church service. The Gateshead County Borough Council minutes recorded the following:

'It was resolved unanimously on the motion of the Mayor (each member rising from his seat) that the Town Council of the County Borough of Gateshead record with regret the sudden and unexpected death of Alderman George Davidson which occurred on the 22 February last.
As a large employer of labour and interested in important industrial works Mr. Davidson had a large share in the development and progress of the Borough. As a member of the Town Council during a period (with a slight interval) from the year 1856, as an Alderman, as Chairman of the Quay and Railway Committee, as Mayor of the Borough during two years ending November 188 and as a Member of the Borough Bench of Magistrates for many years Mr. Davidson evidenced a great capacity for the Public work and was at all times active and reliable in the discharge of all duties committed to his charge.
The Town Council desire to express to the widow and family of the late Alderman Davidson their deep regret that they are deprived of so valued a colleague and their conviction that his services will be long remembered in the history of the Borough.'

 His son, Thomas, continued to develop the Glassworks on his father's death. Although Thomas still continued to submit building development plans to the Council, he was not as active in Public service or in other business ventures as his father.

Copyright (c) Chris and Val Stewart 2001-2004