A Great Scottish Engineer : 1839 - 1913

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Angus Mac Kinnon
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A Great Scottish Engineer : 1839 - 1913

Post by Angus Mac Kinnon » Wed Feb 20, 2013 7:05 pm

Today marks the centenary anniversary of the death here in Ayrshire of one of Scotland’s foremost engineers whose engineering and contracting achievements became renowned world-wide. Like many of the other successful and innovative engineers of that era, particularly in the world of shipbuilding, marine engineering, civil engineering and countless other industries, William Arrol came from humble origins and his achievements and successes were due to his own strong character, self belief, hard work, natural skills and no shortage of vision and ambition.

He was born in 1839 in the village of Houston in Renfrewshire. Whilst still a young child, William’s parents moved to Johnstone. His grandfather lived there and is recorded as being the first person to use gas in that locality. His father worked in the Mills of J. & P. Coats of Paisley, rising from the position of cotton spinner to Mill Manager.

Nevertheless, the Arrol family was poor and, in keeping with an all-too-frequent trend in these times, young William was forced to leave school at an early age and by the time he was just 9 years of age he was already working, as a ‘piecer’ in a Johnstone Mill. After another two years, he was working in the Paisley thread mills but, finding no attraction in factory work, he started an apprenticeship in the blacksmith trade with a Paisley firm and found that more to his liking.

On completion of his apprenticeship, William Arrol decided to improve his knowledge and experience by travelling to various towns in both Scotland and England, gaining the skills and experience he craved, until he returned to Scotland at the age of 24 years he took a position as Foreman in the Boiler Works of Laidlaw & Sons.

The young Arrol was not, however, satisfied with that impressive progress and was keen to branch out on his own and develop his various skills. After five years he opened his own Works in Bridgeton which later became too small for his ambitions causing him to found the Dalmarnock Iron Works which enabled the desired expansion and the specialisation in designing and manufacturing bridges of every type and size. It was in this regard that he made his name world-famous, designing bridges that were no longer constructed in assembled sections but building the structure on land and sliding it out over the expanse of water to be ‘bridged’.

Additionally, Sir William Arrol was personally involved in the design and manufacture of special tooling and machinery of some very advanced and clever designs that saved on time and effort and accelerated the construction programmes without sacrifice in final quality.

The major achievements for which his Firm became known was when he was awarded the Contract Tay and Forth bridges which ultimately led to his well-deserved knighthood. Another of his many fine achievements was the London Tower Bridge – a work of genius.

Here in South Ayrshire, he built his beautiful and substantial home, Seafield House, built from 1888-1890, on the outskirts of Ayr, the town where he was a respected Member of Parliament from 1895 through 1906. His ‘B’-listed former home went on to serve many important functions, including a hospital for the wounded of WWI, then in the years 1921 – 1991, a Maternity and Childrens’ Welfare Hospital, including a Paedriatric Unit from 1944. From 1991 it was the Headquarters Building for the National Health Service.

A truly gifted Engineer - Sir William Arrol - 1839 - 1913
Angus Mac Kinnon

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SCameron
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Re: A Great Scottish Engineer : 1839 - 1913

Post by SCameron » Thu Feb 28, 2013 11:05 pm

Sir William Arrol became one of the two Scottish directors of the new Babcock & Wilcox Ltd when it came into being on 4th July 1891 (significantly American Independance Day) to take over the Glasgow-based business of the New York-based Babcock & Wilcox Company. The other Scottish director was Andrew Stewart of the Clydesdale Ironworks in Coatbridge (later Stewarts & Lloyds). This week Sir William Arrol's nephew two generations removed, Mr Stuart Arrol retired from Doosan Power Systems (the former UK Babcock & Wilcox company) after 37 years service with the company. In his time with the Company's R&D and engineering design departments Stuart was deeply involved in the sodium technology group in the days of the fast breeder reactor development and more recently in robot-type manipulators for use in NDE work on nuclear plant. In this work he was based for many years in the old Lockheed works in Renfrew High Street then in the firm's main factory in Porterfield Road, Renfrew which was established away back in 1895 when his illustrious predecessor's own firm, William Arrol &Co., built some of the new factory workshops, a few of which remain today.

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