ROBERT Burns’s father William Burness, a never more than modestly successful tenant farmer of Alloway in Ayrshire, found good friends in the Tennant family of Tennant of Ochiltree, whose senior member John bore the affectionate nickname of Auld Glen.

Life was hard all round the county but they relieved it by companionship with each other, which ran into the next generation. Burness had two sons, Robert and Gilbert, who normally used the surname Burns (a south-western version of the Doric original). Tennant in the end had 13 children, who seemed capable of doing rather better out of a life of austerity.

The sixth of his offspring, Charles, got out with an apprenticeship to a hand loom weaver at Kilbarchan in Renfrewshire. An essential part of a weaver’s job in these times was to bleach the materials to be woven but the technology remained primitive and time-consuming. Tennant experimented on improvements and invented a much more efficient bleaching powder.

The National: The St Rollox Works

In 1788, he bought his own successful bleachfield. He soon moved his business to St Rollox, just outside Glasgow, a city that produced more textiles than anywhere else in the west of Scotland. Here, Tennant could also manufacture his bleaching powder commercially out of a range of alkaline materials.

St Rollox (above) grew into one of Europe’s largest chemical works.

The Tennants remained friends with Rabbie and Gilbert Burns. Rabbie, in his Epistle to “James Tennant of Glenconner” mentions “wabster Charlie”. But Rabbie could not live from his poetry, while Gilbert remained a farmer all his days.

For whatever reason, the Burns brothers never found the path to prosperity as followed by the Tennants (and thousands of other Scots, at home and abroad) during the industrial revolution. The Burns did have bad luck, but in the Tennants’ case it was not just a matter of luck. Their consistent efforts won them consistent rewards.

Outside business, Charles Tennant became politically active and a strong supporter of liberal causes such as free trade and the extension of the vote to working men. He drew up plans for the water supply in Glasgow and the development of its railways. He was hard-working, shrewd, kind and gentle. He refused to be considered for a knighthood a few months before his death in 1838.

READ MORE: Robert Burns: How the champion of liberty has enthralled generations

He was also the progenitor of a dynasty. His son John followed a career in minor political office but expanded the family’s industrial holdings over 40 years. A grandson, Sir Charles Tennant, became a global industrialist, with business across the continents in railways, steel, explosives, copper, sulphur and merchant banking.

He served as president of the United Alkali Company which would form a cornerstone of the gigantic Imperial Chemical Industries.

In 1852, Tennant bought The Glen, an estate in Peeblesshire.

He commissioned architect David Bryce to design a stately home, completed in 1855. It housed a major collection of art.

Huge wealth never stopped Tennant from supporting political reform. He was an MP for Glasgow and for Peebles and Selkirk. His daughter Margot remembered him as a mix of rage and benevolence.

It took another generation for the family’s political talents to emerge more fully, and then in a form peculiar to themselves. Sir Charles’s daughters, Margot and Laura, were more interesting than his son.

At The Glen, the girls grew up wild and uninhibited, roaming the moors, climbing the roof by moonlight, riding horses up the front steps of the house.

The pair of them were inseparable and entered society together in London in 1881. They became the central female figures of an aristocratic group of intellectuals called “The Souls” (“You are always talking about your souls,” complained Lord Charles Beresford, so providing them with a suitable label).

Laura died young but Margot married a widower, the future prime minister HH Asquith, She became a “spur to his ambition” and brought him into London’s glittering social world.

Margot became an unenthusiastic stepmother to five children who were bemused by this creature so different from their quiet mother.

“She flashed into our lives like some dazzling bird of paradise, filling us with amazement, amusement, excitement, sometimes with a vague uneasiness as to what she might do next,” Violet Asquith wrote. In 1908, when Asquith became Prime Minister, Violet was the only child of his first wife still at home, and the two shared a deep interest in politics.

In contrast, her relationship with Margot was often strained, prompting Asquith to write sadly of how the two were “on terms of chronic misunderstanding.”

A huge house in Cavendish Square in London with a staff of 14 servants was the Asquiths’ home till they moved to 10 Downing Street.

Margot bore five children of her own, but only two survived infancy. Elizabeth, born in 1897, married Prince Antoine Bibesco of Romania in 1919 and devoted herself to a literary career. Anthony, born in 1902, became a leading film director.

During the First World War, Margot’s outspokenness led to a public outcry. She visited a German prisoner of war camp and she accused her shell-shocked stepson Herbert of being drunk. The negative public response might well have contributed to the political downfall of her husband.

In the late 1920s, Margot and her husband were in constant financial embarrassment. He left her only £300 on his death in 1928 as he had to use his life insurance to provide for his children.

She in near penury and her financial position caused her constant concern. She made money by advising on “matters of taste” in interior design and advertising cigarettes, often issued IOUs which she hoped would never be cashed and was handed regular gifts of money by Lord Beaverbrook. After Asquth’s death she slowly moved down the residential rungs to rooms at the Savoy Hotel.

She told Harold Nicolson that Neville Chamberlain was “the greatest Englishman that ever lived” for signing the Munich Agreement.

Margot died in July 1945 as the Second World War was ending. Of Burns and Tennant, which Scottish clan had the happier history in 200 years from the mid-18th century?