Fragrance brands

The Glasgow match factory that made the iconic Swan Vestas and Scottish Bluebell brands

As the maker of the iconic Scottish Bluebell matches, the Bryant and May The factory was the workplace of generations of Glasgow and a boon to the local economy.

Located at 201 Shuna Street near the Forth & Clyde Canal, the building incorporated parts of the former Ruchill Sawmills, built around 1885 for D McFarlane and his son.

In 1921 Bryant & May, who were Britain’s leading match makers, moved in and added a new scent to an area already filled with the distinctive stench of McLellan rubber factories.

Whole forests of trees came down the canal, passed through the sawmill and ended up in matchboxes in people’s pockets and purses.

Scottish Bluebell was one of Bryant & May’s main brands.

We forget that before disposable lighters and self-igniting gas cookers, how essential matches were to life – especially in predominantly working-class towns like Glasgow, where smoking was commonplace.

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Whole families worked in the factory, with the bittersweet smell of freshly cut wood, sulfur and potassium chlorate blowing east through the city.

The Ruchill Sawmills on Shuna Street where the Bryant & May factory was located.
The Ruchill Sawmills on Shuna Street where the Bryant & May factory was located.

Bryant & May were the bright sparks behind such famous names as Swan Vestas and Scottish Bluebell.

Such was the demand for matches, Bryant & May even planted their own forest, at Ballochyle in Argyllshire.

Speaking of her late mother’s time working at the factory, Glasgow resident Irene Sartawi said: “My mum worked there for 10 years before she got married.

“She quit a job at a law firm at age 15 for better pay at Bryant & May’s.

“It was some really good jokes there, she said; lots of laughs.

“She also told me of older women putting piles of matches in their underwear to resell to newsagents for a few extra shillings. One woman got badly burned doing this.”

Boxes for matches produced by Ruchill were proudly adorned with the words “Made in Scotland”.

TV commercials for Scottish bellflower became a legend, while hand-painted advertisements for Bryant & May’s brands were ubiquitous on picket fences and gables across the country.

A photograph of one such advert, taken by Chris Doak, recently appeared on the Lost Glasgow Facebook group and drew dozens of comments from people who remembered the famous Ruchill factory.

Covering the entire gable of a building in Pollokshaws Road, the Swan Vestas painted advertisement was a well-known feature for many years until it was removed in the early 1980s during external repairs to the fabric of the building .

Speaking to Glasgow Live, Norry Wilson, founder of Lost Glasgowsaid the faded ad was a familiar sight in his formative years.

He said: “Although I walked past it every day as a schoolboy – often with a single cigarette and a few matches stuffed into my sock – until Chris posted this picture I had completely forgotten about the advert on the pinion.

“Later, slightly refreshed after a night at Heraghty’s, Sammy Dow’s, or the Elcho Bar, I often found myself on that side street, Barbreck Street, in the private taxi office of Arrow-Dee, looking up at the peeling and fading announcement.

“At the time, the building housed The Kind Man pub, which later became The Hoops, with a dodgy pool hall in its basement.

“Today it’s the Rum Shack, which offers great Jamaican food, with an excellent selection of rums and a stunning basement concert hall.

“These days, when I come out of the basement to smoke – lighter in hand – I often look up at the now empty gable and think of the old advertisement, all the souvenirs and cigarettes that she aroused.”

With demand declining rapidly, partly due to the advent of inexpensive disposable lighters, Bryant & May ended its Glasgow business in 1981.

After the company’s Garston factory closed in 1994, production was relocated to Sweden, marking the end of match making in the UK.

Following the Scandinavian relocation, the boxes of Scottish Bluebell recently stated ‘Made in Sweden’. The iconic brand has since been discontinued.