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James Finlayson

1772 - 1852

Industrialist. Born in Penicuik (Midlothian), the son of a tailor, it is assumed he began working in a cotton mill there in his youth, which was the first in Scotland. He seems to have gained experience as a mill engineer although little else is known of his time in Scotland. At some point he went to Russia, where he came into contact with Tsar Alexander I, who was keen to promote industrialisation. He encouraged Finlayson to build a textile factory. He travelled to Finland - then a vassal state of the Russian Empire - and realised the potential of its rivers for powering mills. In 1823, he established a mill at Tampere and later an ironworks, to manufacture mill machinery. These industrial concerns grew to employ thousands and Tampere became the second city of Finland. He also founded an orphanage in there. Following an industrial decline, Finlayson withdrew from the venture in 1836. However, the company went on to become the largest weaving mill in Scandinavia and continued to operate as Finlayson-Forssa into the 21st C.

Finlayson retired to Scotland in 1837, first to Govan and then to Nicholson Square in Edinburgh, where he lived with his wife until his death. They were Quakers and worshipped at the nearby Friends' Meeting House in The Pleasance.

Finlayson was buried in an unmarked grave in Newington Cemetery. A headstone was installed in 1970 by Finlayson-Forssa, to be maintained by the Paisley-based textiles company J. & P. Coats in support of Scottish-Finnish solidarity. In 1988 a plaque was unveiled in Nicholson Square inscribed thus:

"James Finlayson, industrialist and philanthropist.
Born Penicuik 1772. Died 1852.
Around his great textile manufacturing enterprise in Finland grew that country's second city of Tampere. His spiritual qualities and his love of mankind have seen to his name being one deeply respected in Finland's industrial and national history."

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