In 1837 James Arthur, aged just 18, opened his own draper’s shop in High Street, Paisley. In 1849 he teamed up with another draper, Hugh Fraser, to set up a retail and wholesale drapery business in Buchannon Street, Glasgow. The company also had a warehouse in Miller Street which was later extended into Queen Street. In 1856 Arthur and Fraser separated, Arthur taking control of the wholesale side of the business and Fraser the retail part.
In 1863 John Robert Kay joined James Arthur as partner and the firm became styled Arthur, Kay & Co.
In 1865 a certain Mr. Evans joined the partnership and the title became Arthur, Kay & Evans, however just a year or so later the company had become simply Arthur & Co.
By the time of Arthur’s death in 1885, the company had expanded to such an extent that the Queen Street warehouse comprised of 50 departments, which apart from textiles, included departments for furniture, bedding, clocks, jewellery, stationery, ironmongery and musical instruments.
In 1878 Arthur & Co. was incorporated as a limited company. By the end of the 19th century the firm had opened warehouses in London, Newcastle and Edinburgh as well as establishing a presence abroad in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Arthur & Co. Ltd. also owned a shirt factory in Glasgow, a garment factory in Leeds and a linen factory in Londonderry.
James Arthur’s eldest son, Matthew Arthur, took control of the business following his father’s death and the company continued to prosper, reaching its peak volume of trade in the early 1920s.
The Queen Street warehouse was bombed during the Second World War but was rebuilt in 1958. In the same year Arthur & Co. Ltd. was acquired by the department store retailers, House of Fraser Ltd.
In 1967 the company title was changed to Arthur-Fraser Investments Ltd. and the firm remained active until 1973.