A true story of Scottish ingenuity and entrepreneurship.
With thanks to Sandy Orr, a descendant.

" Scotch impudence and perserverance is beyond all "

History tells us that it was the ability to adapt and improve machinery and processes that saw the change from linen to cotton manufacture in the Paisley and Glasgow areas during the 1800s. With this grew a strong competition in the market place for so long enjoyed by the Lancashire cotton manufacturers. It was this competition that caused Samuel Oldknow, a Lancashire textile magnate, to utter the above comment . Concomitants of the industrial growth were more and better roads, and canals for the carriage of raw materials for the new iron works. These developments meant more employment, urban growth, higher standards of living and a demand for the conveniences of life - the consumer society and service industries began to emerge.

I decided to have a look for Scottish Orrs who were innovative in some way and found the  following example.


 It was against the background of a demand from the middle classes for the `elegancies of life ` that a niche market for a carpet cleaning service was found and exploited by Alexander Orr (1839 - 1919) of Edinburgh. I am indebted to his grandson Alexander C Orr of Scone, Perthshire for the information of his ancestor and the business.

We tend to think of carpets merely as floor covering but in the 18th century it was commonly a thick woolen fabric used to cover tables and beds. The manufacture of hand made carpets as floor coverings was brought from France and it was not until the 19th century that power looms were introduced. During the 19th century homes were carpeted with free lying squares and when soiled were lifted and beaten with flails . Alexander Orr (Sr) was a cabinet maker and upholsterer who had premises in Pitt Street, Edinburgh. He started a carpet cleaning business and developed industrial machinery for the purpose which he patented in 1887. Very simplyOrr`s Patent. he improved the construction and way the machine beat and cleaned carpets , and the way the dust was collected. He produced his machines in three sizes, 15ft 17ft and 20ft long using Oregon pine for the casing.. On his death the rights passd to his son, Thomas (1864 - 1929 ) who had trained as an engineer and who continued production in Fettes Row, Edinburgh. These industrial machines were used by carpet cleaners, laundries, house furnishers and the like with well over a hundred in use throughout the UK and abroad.

The carpet cleaning side of the business was managed by another son, George Marshall Orr ( 1879 - 1939 ), who took over the manufacturing side in 1929. He continued manufacture and spent a deal of time travelling at home and abroad supervising assembly and installation. During this period a modern dust extraction unit was added. A further son, Richard (- 1986 ) had an interest in the busines and set up his own carpet cleaning business in Liberton, Edinburgh which closed down in 1986.

In 1923 George Orr, now trading under his own name, moved from Fettes Row firstly to Drum Brae Road, Corstorphine and then to larger , more modern premises on the Glasgow Road, Spec.gif (44413 bytes) Corstorphine where he ran the business until his death in 1939. All types of rugs, carpets and tapestries were received for cleaning while repairs and alterations were carried out on traditional and oriental carpets. These services were carried out for the public and trade customers as well as for Insurance companies . A furnishing department offered an innovatory ` Home Selection Service ` where pattern books were delivered to peoples homes " for leisurely selection " From 1939 until 1959 the family of George continued to run the business before it passed to his son, Alexander C Orr.

Now well into the 20th century the Orr Carpet Beating Machine was of sufficient significance to be included in the ` Design Review ` published by the Council of Industrial Design, for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Change was, however, catching up with the market place as general standards of living improved and the introduction of fitted carpets with in situ cleaning, resulted in less lifting of carpets for cleaning. Sadly the call for the machines became less and the last two were produced in the 1960`s - a reconditioned machine for England and a final new machine with metal framework ( another innovation ) to South Africa. Regular orders were still executed for spares but continuation was not viable and the firm of George Orr ( Machine Makers and Carpet Cleaners ) ceased trading on 21 June 1968.

The invention may not rank in the public mind alongside those of some more famous Scots - John Logie Baird (TV) , John Boyd Dunlop (car tyres ) or John Paul Jones ( the US Navy ) to mention just a few - but it did bring to many a better quality of day to day life for the best part of 100 years. For that our grateful thanks.

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