Stewart Spiers – Plane maker of Ayr, Scotland


by Ron Spiers, England 2003


Collectors of hand tools will be aware that iron woodworking planes were once made by makers such as Limond, Miller, McLauchlan and Rutherford in the town of Ayr, Scotland. Stewart Spiers was also a maker and an excellent book on the subject was published in 1998 by Nigel Lampert, Through Much Tribulation: Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr, ISBN 0-646-36426-X. Only 1000 copies were printed so in order to more widely publicize Stewart’s family to genealogists, the author provides the following information about the family. He thanks Mr Lampert, who lives in Australia, for kindly giving permission to use his book as the source of much of this article.


Stewart, like his father, was a cabinet-maker and no doubt his need to smooth the wood on which he was working led him to manufacture hand planes of his own. He became a great innovator, using materials available from local founderies, such as iron and brass. He also had a large family to feed and no doubt he saw an opportunity to increase his income, so making and selling planes would seem an obvious choice. He was also an amateur violinist and member of the Ayr Musical Association which later became a member of the Ayr Choral Union. Apparently he became a plane-maker almost by accident having purchased a rough casting, finishing it himself at home and selling the completed plane to a local cabinet-maker for a large profit. His business had started. Obviously a very intelligent man. His cabinet-making business remained his main trade for some years until plane-making started to become a full time occupation from about 1864. His journey from Ayr to London in 1851 to visit the Great Exhibition would have been expensive but no doubt he was looking for ideas to improve his planes. At about that time the family moved to 11 River Street, Ayr, the Spiers business being at 12 Garden Street. The latter street was redeveloped in the 1960’s, but 11 River Street remains much as it was. In 1862 he still recorded himself in trade publications as a cabinet-maker and it was not until 1871 that he described himself as an iron plane maker. At that point he moved the family to a larger, grander house in Ayr, named Firth View.


There were many types of plane, each for a particular use, with names such as smoothing, rebate, mitre, bullnose, chariot, rabbet. Stewart was not the originator of the steel dovetailed plane and whilst he claimed to be an inventor he has no patent recorded at the London Patent Office. However he made many improvements to planes of the day. When he died his daughters took over the running of the business and on 10th March, 1910 a Patent, No. 10,531 was granted, for Improvements in Planes for Wood-working Purposes granted to Jane Stewart Spiers, Maria Carstairs Spiers and Mary Stewart Jackson nee Spiers trading as Stewart Spiers of 24, Old Bridge Street, Ayr, Steel Plane Manufacturers and William McNaught, Foreman with the said Firm. It is probable that McNaught, was also named because as a practical user he was likely to be the man behind the improvements.


In 1922/23 the business was purchased by John McFadyen, senior, a marine engineer of 27, Queens Terrace, Ayr, son of a knitted goods manufacturer. In 1998 the McFadyen house was an hotel. In 1925 Miss Spiers sold Nos. 2 to 4 River Terrace which the business had occupied from 1899–1932 to Ayr Corporation, who still owned it in 1998.


As is common in Scotland the spelling of Spiers sometimes becomes Speirs and vice-versa, but generally the Spiers spelling was used in the family and in the business, except for the odd plane having a Speirs stamp on it.


Ayr is associated with Robert Burns, the poet and Excise Duties collector, who was born in Ayr in 1759 and died in Dumfries in 1796. Notable works by him include the universal anthem, Auld Lang Syne and Tam O’ Shanter. It is possible to imagine Stewart Spiers playing and singing those.


Despite so many male children it is surprising that there are no direct male descendants of this Spiers family. Nothing is known about Alexander’s daughters, Jane Stewart Spiers, born 1836 in the USA, or Margaret Young Spiers, born in 1834 in the USA.


The Spiers family tree is as follows –


First Generation


1. Robert Spiers. Born 1743. Died 27 January 1810.


If one considers the naming pattern often used in Scotland where the first son is often named after his father’s father, then it is possible that Robert’s father may have been a William born about 1715. The John Speir name occurs in the Ayr Burgh Accounts for Alloway in 1587 and there is a Robert Speir  in 1607. A William Spier is recorded in the Ayr Hearth Tax records in 1691. There is no known link to these persons but obviously there had been Speir/Spier families in Ayr for many years prior to Robert’s birth.


He married Jane Reid before 1778. She was born on 28 March 1740 and died in 1833.

They had the following children:

          2          William Spiers


Second Generation


2. William Spiers. Son of Robert Spiers and Jane Reid. Born 14 March 1778. Died 1844.


It is probable that all of William’s sons were cabinet-makers because it was usual for occupations to run in families.


He married Jane Stewart in 1807. She was born 1788 and died 1874.

They had the following children:

          3          Alexander Spiers

          4          Robert Spiers

          5          William Spiers

          6          John Spiers

          7          James Spiers

          8          John Spiers

          9           Stewart Spiers 

          10          Jane Spiers

          11          Thomas Spiers


Third generation


3. Alexander Spiers. Son of William Spiers and Jane Stewart. Born 22 March 1808. Died 8 April 1837 in the USA.


He married Mary Young in 1831 who was born 1804 in the USA and died in February 1853. Occupation: Governess in 1851.


Mary was born in the USA but was English. After her husband’s death she moved to Scotland to live with Alexander’s parents, William and Jane.


They had the following children:

12          William Spiers

          13          Jane Stewart Spiers

          14          Margaret Young Spiers


4. Robert Spiers. Son of William Spiers and Jane Stewart. Born 21 June 1810. Died 26 September 1836.


5. William Spiers. Son of William Spiers and Jane Stewart. Born 7 June 1812. Died 17 November 1881. Occupation: Cabinet-maker.


He established his own cabinet-making business in Ayr, probably after being a journeyman working away from his home town. It was usual to have to work away from the area of apprenticeship for some years as a journeyman, working for someone else before finally becoming a master craftsman. Once that period was completed he could work for himself. Hence the name journeyman.


He married Marion McConnell in January 1839 in Ayr, Scotland. Born c1813. Died 1885.

They had the following children:

15          William Spiers

          16           Marion Spiers

          17          Jane Stewart Spiers

          18          William Spiers


6. John Spiers. Son of William Spiers and Jane Stewart. Born 13 March 1814. Died 25 July 1816.


7. James Spiers. Son of William Spiers and Jane Stewart. Born 19 April 1816. Died 22 June 1835.


8. John Spiers. Son of William Spiers and Jane Stewart. Born 26 July 1818. Died 31 October 1840.


9. Stewart Spiers. Son of William Spiers and Jane Stewart. Born 22 October 1820 in Ayr. Died 19 July 1899. Ocupation: cabinet-maker and later an iron plane maker (Spiers Planes). Residence: Firth View, Ayr, Scotland.


Their Marriage Reference at the English Public Record Office is 1d/818 Oct/Dec 1854 Greenwich. For more detailed information about plane-making see the book by Nigel Lampert mentioned at the beginning of this article. A family gravestone erected by Stewart Spiers in the Secessionist Graveyard in Ayr provides details of his families deaths.


He married Elizabeth Carstairs on 21 December 1854 in St. Paul, Deptford, Kent, England. She was born on 6 Apr 1820 and died on 22 November 1906.


Deptford is on the River Thames, two miles downstream from London’s Tower Bridge. A mile further on is the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. It is not known how Stewart met Elizabeth, but her father was in the Royal Navy and Deptford is a shipping town. Perhaps he had business with merchants or users of his planes in the timber yards. He must have returned to Ayr soon after the marriage.


They had the following children:

19          Jane Stewart Spiers

20          Maria Carstairs Spiers

21          Mary Stewart Spiers

22           Isabella Veness Spiers


10. Jane Spiers. Daughter of William Spiers and Jane Stewart. Born 10 July 1823. Died 13 April 1841.


11. Thomas Spiers. Son of William Spiers and Jane Stewart. Born 16 October 1825. Died 1852.


Fourth Generation


12. William Spiers. Son of Alexander Spiers and Mary Young. Born 1833. Apparently died young. Occupation: Cabinet-maker in 1851.


13 Jane Stewart Spiers. Daughter of Alexander Spiers and Mary Young. Born 1834 in the USA. Nothing further known.


14. Margaret Young Spiers. Daughter of Alexander Spiers and Mary Young. Born 1834 in the USA. Occupation: Assistant teacher in 1851. Nothing further known.


15. William Spiers. Son of William Spiers and Marion McConnell. Born 1839. Died 1842.


16. Marion Spiers. Daughter of William Spiers and Marion McConnell. Born 1843. Died October 1905 at Troon, Scotland.


She married Donald Cameron in 1870. He was born in 1835 and died in 1894 at Largs, Scotland. Occupation: Van driver at marriage, later a policeman.


They had the following children:

23           William Spiers Cameron


17. Jane Stewart Spiers. Daughter of William Spiers and Marion McConnell. She was born in 1845 and died in 1847.


18. William Spiers. Son of William Spiers and Marion McConnell. Born 1849. Died 1906.


19. Jane Stewart Spiers. Daughter of Stewart Spiers and Elizabeth Carstairs. Born 1855 in Ayr. Died 1941.


The magazine, Woodworker, of December 1977 has an article on p.382 regarding a patent on woodworking planes, Planes of Spiers of Ayr, 1909, The firm at that time was run by Jane Stewart Spiers, Maria Carstairs Spiers and Mary Stewart Jackson.


20. Maria Carstairs Spiers. Daughter of Stewart Spiers and Elizabeth Carstairs. Born 1858. Died 1937.


21. Mary Stewart Spiers. Daughter of Stewart Spiers and Elizabeth Carstairs. Born 1859. Died 1953 at Haywoods Heath, West Sussex, England.


She married the Rev. Samuel A. Jackson on 17 December 1888 at Firth View, Ayr. Born 1861. Died c1924. Occupation: Mathematics teacher. Residence: St. Pauls College, Cheltenham, England in 1912.


Samuel was Vice Principal of St Pauls College and was ordained as a minister. The College later became Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education.


They had the following children:

24          Stuart Spiers Jackson


22. Isabella Veness Spiers. Daughter of Stewart Spiers and Elizabeth Carstairs. Born 26 June 1862 in Ayr. Died 16 January 1901.


Fifth Generation


23. William Spiers Cameron. Son of Donald Cameron and Marion Spiers. Born 30 March 1877. Died 1958 at Rosskeen, Inverness, Scotland. Occupation:Gamekeeper at Glenburn, Stonehouse, Lanarkshire in 1909.


He married Margaret McDonald on 3 December 1909. Born 1873 possibly in Glasgow. Occupation: Domestic servant. They had two children as far as is known.


24. Stuart Spiers Jackson. Son of Rev. Samuel A. Jackson and Mary Stewart Spiers. Born 1889. Died in Flanders, France. He married Helen? No children.


At the time of his death in World War 1 in France he was a 2nd Lieutentant in the 1st Battalion, The Worcester Regiment. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1918. Details concerning him are given on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Debt of Honour Register, web site


Worcester is about 18 miles from the family home in Cheltenham.