The real life story behind 'The Slab Boys' through the A. F. Stoddard Carpet factory Archive

As part of the research for The Slab Boys, our designers and backstage team enlisted the help of the University of Glasgow Archives, which hold the Stoddard-Templeton Collection - a huge archive from James Templeton & Co. Ltd. and Stoddard International plc., two of Scotland’s most significant and influential carpet designers and manufacturers.

In this blog post, Rachael Egan, from University of Glasgow Archive Services, shares some of the interesting anecdotes and stories from the collection.

The University of Glasgow has had connections with the Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow, since its inception in 1943, with one of the founders, James Bridie (aka Osborne Henry Mavor) graduating from the University with a medical degree in 1913. James Bridie threw himself into University life at Glasgow, regularly writing for the student magazine and inventing the now traditional ‘Daft Friday’ celebration at the Glasgow University Union.

Moreover, Special Collections within the University of Glasgow Library holds the records of the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre Company as part of the Scottish Theatre Archive.

With the opening of the most recent production of John Byrne’s The Slab Boys at the Citz this month, another connection between the University and the Theatre has become apparent. The University of Glasgow Archive Services holds the records of A.F. Stoddard & Co, the Paisley based carpet factory in which John Byrne worked, and the stimulus for his play. Through these records we can reveal the real life stories of carpet factory staff in Paisley, like The Slab Boys.

The records of A.F. Stoddard & Co. Ltd. form part of the ‘Stoddard-Templeton Collection’ which encompasses the design library, design archive and heritage carpet collection of James Templeton & Co. Ltd. and Stoddard International plc.: two of Scotland’s most significant and influential carpet designers and manufacturers. The collection is managed by the University of Glasgow, the Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow Life and here at the Archives we hold the fascinating corporate records which tell us about the running of the company and the lives of the staff who worked there.

A. F. Stoddard & Co Ltd was one of the United Kingdom’s leading quality carpet manufacturers. Dating from 1862, the company enjoyed success in domestic and commercial carpet production. Our staff records for the company span the decades in which the factory operated and include: staff wage and salary books from 1863, minute books relating to the management of employees from the 1920s, and records of celebratory staff dinners, or ‘Staffie’s, for example an invitation and a menu for the Centenary Staff Dinner in 1962.

A Designer at Work in A.F.Stoddard & Co. Ltd
(Archive Reference: STOD 200/2/6/4/3/2)

Staff photographs are also a great way to get an idea of what it was like to work for Stoddard’s, the machinery used to weave the carpets, and also what staff got up to when they weren’t hard at work! We have a great collection of staff photographs for A.F. Stoddard with many staff named, creating a great source for family history!

The Glenpatrick Journal, Spring 1952
(Archive Reference: STOD200/2/15/1/1)
We also have a collection of House Magazines spanning 1951-2001 to which employees were encouraged to submit articles, photographs, poems and other contributions and which were circulated throughout the factory to share news and stories. A team of "Magazine Correspondents" covered all departments and compiled articles about staff sports teams and clubs, events, trade, designs, poems, puzzles, household hints, and personal news such as marriages, births, retirements, and deaths.

These publications contain a wealth of information and provide a fascinating insight into the history of company and the day-to-day lives of its employees.

Within the Glenpatrick Journal (the first incarnation of the A.F. Stoddard staff magazine) we learn about the struggles of the Stoddard Football team, the ‘Glenpatrick Amateurs’, as they try to defeat opponents such as the ‘Newton Swifts’ while in the annual staff football match on 23rd April 1951, ‘The General Office and Designers’ defeated the ‘Time Study Office and the Draughtsmen’ by 5 goals to 1! We also find out about the ‘Stoddard Dramatic Club’s new three-act comedy, titled ‘Staff Dance’, presented at Elderslie Village Hall, on 7th November 1952. The play was well received and described as ‘a really first class show’ in the staff magazine!

We are told, in a 1965 edition, that in an average year Design Studio staff:
 “can sharpen away 475 pencils, wear out 97 erasers and apply 700 lb. of paint to some 10,500 square inches of paper, at the expense of 960 brushes”

In fact, you may see a representation of these staff magazines on the set of the production, as Citizens Theatre Assistant Stage Manager, Barry, visited our searchroom to research the house journals.

ASM Barry researches the in-house magazines for the set
As well as these staff records, which give a great window onto the lives of the real-life  ‘Spanky’s , ‘Phil’s,  ‘Hector’s , and ‘Jack’s , we also hold the design archive, comprising of hundreds of beautiful painted carpet designs (the work of the ‘slab boys’, designers, draughtsmen, and artists) in many different styles from which the carpets would have been woven.

Designs were painted up, with paint ground by ‘Slab Boys’, before the weaving could begin.
(Archive Reference: STOD/DES/68/43)
If you’re interested in the Slab Boys as a play, check out the Scottish Theatre Archive  at the University of Glasgow Special Collections. Here you can find scripts, programmes and publicity relating to previous productions, including the 1978 world premiere: original cast members included Robbie Coltrane, Billy McColl and Ida Schuster. The Slab Boys became Part I of Paisley Patterns, a trilogy of plays by John Byrne which included Cutting’ a Rug and Still Life, all performed at the Citizens’ Theatre in 1983. The Scottish Theatre Archive holds material documenting the careers of many actors, writers and designers including David Hayman and John Byrne.

Slab Boys script and programmes from previous productions.
(Special Collections reference: STA)

If you would like to see any of the Stoddard collections, or have any questions about life in the carpet factory please e-mail us on:

For any questions about the Scottish Theatre Archive collections please e-mail:

Rachael Egan, University of Glasgow Archive Services

The Slab Boys is on at the Citizens Theatre until 7 Mar,
then touring to the King's Theatre, Edinburgh from 10-14 Mar