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About us - our history

The publishers' now retired Managing Director, L. lngram-Brown, here writes of the background of the business, its less familiar products and its present state. In a period of publishing conglomerates, it is indeed welcome to read of a small publisher devoted to quality and traditional standards and quite clearly equally devoted to its independence.

The Company was established in a small way about 1850 as a retail stationery business, with initial premises on the south side of the River Clyde in Glasgow, next to the Railway terminus in Bridge Street. Later came moves to Drury Street, then to York Street and about the year 1908 to 52 Darnley Street, before a final one to the present premises at 4/10 Darnley Street, in December 1981.

In those early days there was no railway bridge across the River Clyde to the Central Station, and the business was near the sailing ships which, at that time, navigated right up the Clyde into the heart of the City, so that it was little problem for the captains and crews of vessels to visit the book shop. These visits led the firm into the publishing of works connected with shipping. In those early days there would appear to have been few publications on maritime affairs available, except perhaps Norie's Epitome of Navigation.

A new and exciting era dawned for the firm with the advent of the first issue of Brown's Nautical Almanac in 1876, one of the first publications undertaken. Officers and all others connected with shipping have found Brown's Nautical Almanac a valuable guide; it is published annually, and is commonly known as 'The Sailor's Bible'.

The first members of the Company were James Brown and his son Robert Brown, whilst later the name was represented by James Ruthven Brown. On September 30th, 1921, further progress was made when the Company became Limited. About 1939 another name entered the Company, with A. H. Ferguson, whose father was with the firm Miller and Richards, Typefounders.

The scope of the Company's publications was broadly increased so that they now covered every phase of sea life. Although too numerous to mention here, publications covered many aspects of nautical knowledge, which, by then had become far more of an exact science. The publishing activities of the company were not, however, limited to nautical affairs. When the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements started, the Company saw further scope for its activities and became connected with both Associations. Activities have since further expanded into the fields of Scottish literature and plays. The list of the latter is extensive and, judging by their successes in play festivals, has been made up with discrimination. Brown, Son and Ferguson are the leading play publishers in Scotland, with over 200 one act and 100 full length plays always in print.

A long established publication of the Company was the Nautical Magazine, inaugurated as far back as March 1832, and when the first editor was Captain (later Admiral) A. B. Becher. Its first publication came only one year after the famous Chambers Journal. In 179 years of publication the names of many famous men who have furthered nautical knowledge have been found in it.

Copies of all Nautical Magazines published from 1832 through 2011 are held at the current offices and, with the exception of one month, September 1960, when a fire raked the premises at 52 Darnley Street 'thus despatching the September issue to ashes (to be replaced by a double issue the next month), the magazine was published monthly since its inception.

On December 31st 2011 the Magazine was bought by Seabreezes Publications of Isle of Man.

As is only natural with a firm which publishes technical works, and especially a publication in which the Astronomical Ephemeris is given, accuracy is the first essential, and the many changes which take place in shipping regulations have to be continually followed and watched. This, and all other aspects of technical works requiring attention, are under the controlling hand of T. Nigel Brown, also the Editor of Brown's Nautical Almanac. Scotland has always been famous for having men whose abilities extend to the publication of technical works requiring careful editing, and even today the company likes to think that it may safely take its place as a Scottish firm which continues these traditions.

Inevitably, over the years, changes have taken place, and with the death of James R. Brown in October 1942, Mr Robertson of the Company's lawyers A. Paul and Co. was appointed a director until October 1946, when R. Ingram-Brown, J. A. R. Grieg and W. Hall were appointed to the board. Mr. A. H. Ferguson retired in 1953 (and died the following year), and R. Ingram-Brown and W. Hall were appointed joint managing directors. Up to April, 1948, the Company had not been a trade union house, but in April that year this was amended and a union branch was formed.

Whether or not it is due to the fact that Brown, Son and Ferguson is a family company it is interesting to note that a number of employees have remained for a substantial part of their working life in their employment. For some it is a lifetime, and yet there is something here in Darnley Street which keeps them there: J. A. R. Greig, a director and production manager (56 years), Mr. Hutcheson, foreman of the machine shop (49 years), Mrs. Hardy, one of the few women compositors in Glasgow (43 Years), W. Hall, joint managing director and sales manager (40 years), R. Ingram-Brown, chairman (43 years), J. H. Greig, compositor and caseroom manager (47 years), Mrs. J. Jeffries, who finished her working life as a part-time employee (39 years), Mr. Hardy (37 years) and T. Rae, sales manager (46 years). The present directors are descendants of the founder of the Firm. T. Nigel Brown is chairman and managing director and in charge of production, and has been with the company since August 1964. Mr L. Ingram-Brown was the company secretary until his retirement in 2008 after spending 40 years with the Company. Richard Brown, the son of the present Chairman, started with the company in July 2006. A fourth Director is Wendy Brown who is the daughter of the present Chairman. The company very much remains a family Company with Richard and Wendy Brown being the sixth generation of the same family to run the business.

The Company is very much alive in Darnley Street, in a convenient position to service the Merchant Navy, and sailors all over the world. With family traditions maintained, Brown, Son and Ferguson Ltd., look forward to the future.