We recently received a donation of some fascinating archive material relating to Wm Cummings & Son, who manufactured boxes on their premises at Murano Place.
This donation came to us from our friends at the Living Memory Association, and we were especially grateful because it adds to a collection of material on the firm which was already held by Edinburgh City Archives. The story is still, however, incomplete – and we’re hoping that’s where you come in!
More of that later. First, here’s a quick history of the company:
William Cummings founded his box making business in 1876. The enterprise had expanded by 1888 to premises covering an area of 80 feet by 80 feet and buildings four stories high. The ground floor was taken up with the sawmill machinery – numerous circular saws of all different types. Once cut to size, the prepared boards were taken to the second story by a steam-powered hoist where the boxes were formed using a box-nailing machine.
Sawmill department of Wm. Cummings & Son Ltd, c1898
Also on the first floor was a machine invented by Mr Cummings for ‘dressing off’ the finished box. It was reported in the Timber Trades Journal of 1889 that Mr Cummings was ‘ever at work devising means for the saving of labour and producing work of greater efficiency, and thereby enabling his manufactures to be produced at a minimum of cost’.
On the 3rd floor the boxes for export were given their metal lining and the top floor was used as a store area for drying and seasoning the turned and finished goods. All the machines across the building were driven by a 40 horse power engine. The premises also included offices, stables and a work yard piled high with stocks of raw materials. The company benefitted from its close proximity to Leith Docks were supplies came and went.
Female workers at Wm. Cummings & Son Ltd. box makers, c1900
The 1891 census shows William living with his family at Rosslyn Street (now Crescent), a short walk from Leith Walk. He’s aged 40 and widowed, the head of a family of 3 sons and 4 daughters. His eldest son, Andrew is 16 and working as an apprentice clerk (presumably in the family business) and his youngest child is Minnie aged 2. The next year, William Cummings has died leaving his son, Andrew to look after the practicalities of running the business at only 17 years of age.
In 1900, Andrew Cummings formally took responsibility for the firm and changed the name to Wm. Cummings & Son Ltd. In 1907 there were 150 employees across the different departments of sawmill, home and export case, confectionery box, tin lining, fancy paper box, leatherboard box and turning department. Under the direction of Andrew Cummings the firm continued to apply mechanical innovations and labour saving devices to improve efficiency.
Wm. Cummings & Son Ltd delivery van at gates to Palace of Holyrood, 1949
The company was still in operation into the late 1960s but we’re not sure when the business folded. Maybe you can help us? Do you remember the factory on Murano Place or know someone who worked there? We’d love to hear from you if you can tell us more.
You can browse all the amazing pictures of this bygone era of working life on Capital Collections.
The Wm. Cummings & Son collection is now being kept securely altogether at Edinburgh City Archives.