David Dale

David Dale (1739-1806) was a prominent Glasgow businessman, entrepreneur, banker and philanthropist. He was joint agent of The Royal Bank of Scotland's first Glasgow branch, opened in 1783.

Background and early life

David Dale was born on 6 January 1739 in Stewarton, Ayrshire, the son of William Dale (1708-1796), a grocer, and his wife Anne Blackwood. He had a younger brother named Hugh (christened September 1741) and, from his father's second marriage, a half-brother James (christened September 1753).

Working life

Dale first worked as a cattleherd, but then served a weaver's apprenticeship in Paisley. He later worked as a weaver in Hamilton and Cambuslang. At around the age of 24 he moved to Glasgow, where he became clerk to a silk mercer. In 1763 he established his own business as an importer of fine yarns from Flanders. By the end of the 1760s he had diversified his business interests, becoming involved in weaving and an inkle factory. In 1769 he became a burgher of Glasgow and a member of the Merchant Guild and Trades House.

New Lanark

In 1783 Dale entered a partnership with Richard Arkwright to establish cotton spinning works on the Clyde. Work started on building the first mill there in 1785. Later that year the Dale-Arkwright partnership was dissolved, and Dale became sole owner of the venture. By 1795 Dale had four working mills on the Clyde, employing 1,334 people. To house them, Dale built the village of New Lanark.

New Lanark was managed according to humane and progressive principles, and attracted widespread interest. According to its visitors' book, by the late 1790s about 750 tourists were visiting each year. Living conditions were better than for factory workers elsewhere. The pauper-apprentices in the workforce, drawn from the poorhouses of Edinburgh and Glasgow, were provided with sensible clothing, nutritious food and schooling.

In 1799 Dale sold the New Lanark mills to a Manchester company. They appointed as their manager Dale's son-in-law Robert Owen, who continued and expanded Dale's humane policies there. New Lanark became world-famous for its progressive employment conditions.

The Royal Bank of Scotland

In 1783 The Royal Bank of Scotland, which had previously traded only from Edinburgh, resolved to open an agency in Glasgow. It appointed Dale as joint agent, along with Robert Scott Moncrieff. The agency was housed in part of Dale's own shop premises on Glasgow's High Street, near the Cross. Robert Scott Moncrieff carried most of the burden of managing the business, but Dale’s status in Glasgow and his knowledge of its business community made him a valuable advisor and guide for the new venture, which proved highly successful.

Scott Moncrieff retired at the end of 1803, and was succeeded by John More. Dale remained joint agent alongside More until his death in 1806.

Other business and philanthropic interests

Dale was also involved in the establishment of cotton mills at Catrine (1786), Blantyre (1787), Kilmore (c.1791), Spinningdale (1791), Newton Stewart (c.1795), and Stanley (1802). In 1785 he was a partner in the establishment of Scotland's first Turkey-red dyeing works, the colour produced being known as Dale's red. He was also involved in a disastrous coalmining venture at Barrowfield.

Dale was active in the foundation of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce in 1783. He was one of its first directors, and served two periods as chairman. He was elected a magistrate of the city of Glasgow in 1791 and 1794.

He was a founder of and preacher in the Old Scotch Independents congregational church.

He provided philanthropic support to numerous causes, including the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Town Hospital, the Royal Infirmary, Bridewell prisoners, Calton charity school, the Andersonian Institution and the Humane Society. When Scotland suffered food shortages in the 1790s he chartered ships to bring supplies from overseas to help lower local prices.

From 1800 onwards Dale largely withdrew from active business life.

Family life

Dale married Ann Carolina Campbell on 7 September 1777. She was the 24-year-old second daughter of John Campbell, who had been cashier of The Royal Bank of Scotland from 1745 until his death earlier that year. They had at least six children together:

  • Ann Carolina, born 4 August 1778. In 1799 she married the industrialist Robert Owen. She died in 1831.
  • Arabella, born 3 January 1780; died 17 May 1783
  • William, born 23 March 1784; died 1789
  • Jean [Jane] Maxwell, born 26 October 1785
  • Mary, born 6 March 1787
  • Margaret, born 4 August 1788; died 18 July 1814
  • Julia Johnston, born 15 October 1789

David Dale's wife Ann Carolina died in January 1791.

Death and legacy

David Dale died on 17 March 1806. His obituary in Scots Magazine remarked, 'Humanity has lost a warm and steady friend.'

The Royal Bank of Scotland featured David Dale’s portrait on its £5 notes (from 1966) and £1 notes (from 1967). Both note designs were superseded in 1969 when a new set of notes was introduced following The Royal Bank of Scotland’s merger with National Commercial Bank of Scotland.

From 1967 Dale’s portrait was also used as the illustration on The Royal Bank of Scotland’s savings stamps.

Related publications and online sources

  • WT Johnston, David Dale and Robert Owen Studies (CD-ROM. Livingston: Officina Educational Publications, first published 2000, revised to 2006)
  • David J McLaren, David Dale of New Lanark (Milngavie: Heatherbank Press, 1983. 2nd ed., 1990)
  • ‘David Dale, Scots banker, benefactor and industrialist 1739-1806’ Three Banks Review, June 1952, vol.14, p.38-44
  • ‘David Dale’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Summary of our archive holdings

  • Marriage contract of David Dale and Ann Carolina Campbell, 1777
  • Letter from Dale to William Simpson, cashier of The Royal Bank of Scotland, 1803
  • References to Dale in the letters of Robert Scott Moncrieff, joint Glasgow agent of The Royal Bank of Scotland, to William Simpson, cashier of The Royal Bank of Scotland, 1801-3