Arrol’s Seafield House revealed: our new virtual exhibition

Friends of Seafield House had planned to launch the exhibition “Arrol’s Seafield House revelealed” on 16th May 2020 at Rozelle House, Ayr, in association with South Ayrshire Council, as part of 2020 Year of Coastal Waters.  The exhibition was in celebration of the 130th anniversary of the completion of Seafield House and the opening of the Forth Bridge, Sir William Arrol’s greatest construction.  However, as one of Arrol’s favourite poets, Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”.  Due to the COVID-19 lock-down we postponed the launch and instead bring you this virtual exhibition as a taster of the full exhibition, now planned for May 2021.

Screenshot of the home page of the exhibition titled "Arrol's Seafield House revealed" with balck and white photograph of the house.

Click on the image to enter the exhibition

 

The exhibition was created by FoSH Committee member, Kirsty Menzies, and offers a guided tour through Seafield House using the photographs of Bedford Lemere and Co., which are held by Historic Environment Scotland.  The photographs were taken by Harry Lemere on 12 May 1890, not long after the construction and interior decoration of Seafield House was completed. Our grateful thanks go to Historic Environment Scotland Archives for permission to use the images from their Bedford Lemere Seafield House collection.

Screenshot of tweet by Historic Environment Scotland on 15 June 2020 saying "William Arrol was the engineer whose company built the Forth Bridge - but have you ever wondered what his house was like?  No cantilivers in sight, but there is some rather interesting stuff from our #HESarchives in this from @ Friends Seafield!"

There may be no cantilevers in sight but we hope you will find the exhibition riveting nonetheless.

 

 

Celebrating 130 years of the Forth Bridge

On 4th March 1890 the Forth Bridge was officially opened by Edward, Prince of Wales.

The Forth Bridges are celebrating the bridge’s 130th anniversary at the Education Centre, South Queensferry, on the 4th March.  There will be a free exhibition from 12:30-17:00 and expert talks from 18:00-20:00 on construction and restoration of the bridge. Further details of the event on Facebook.

Invitation titled 'Happy Birthday Forth Bridge, 130 years' with details of times for the exhibition and talks.

The Forth Bridges Invitation to the day of celebration

The bridge was a feat of engineering, designed by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker, and built by William Arrol & Company.  It took 8 years to complete and over 4, 000 men were involved in its construction. It took 54,000 tons of steel to build, was 2,467 metres long, and when opened had the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world (521 metres).  The Prince of Wales drove the last rivet into the bridge,  assisted by William Arrol, and at the luncheon afterwards he announced that Queen Victoria had conferred a knighthood on William Arrol in recognition of his great achievement in the construction of the bridge.  Today the Bridge remains an icon of British engineering and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

ForthBridgeSouthQueensferryShore_0706crop

Front cover of the Illustrated London News from 8 March 1890

Sir William Arrol assists the Prince of Wales to place the last rivet in the Forth Rail Bridge.

Trip to Tower Bridge and its bascule chamber AV installation

Ever since the first FoSH blog post about the Tower Bridge bascule chamber concert in 2015 I have wanted to experience this unique venue for myself. My wish was finally fulfilled last week when I was privileged to attend the preview of the latest audio visual experience in the bascule chamber. The event lived up to all my expectations and more.

 

The magic of the occasion began as soon as we stepped from entrance into the stairwell and began the descent down the 115 steps to the chamber deep below the tower. An eerie blue light, image projections on the walls and electronic music with voices set the atmosphere for what was to come. We entered the bascule chamber, a vast, damp, brick-lined space with a steeply stepped curved wall to the front and massive steel plates of the counterweight above. Our seating was at the very base, with space for only 50 people. Even without the cold of the chamber I was chilled at the thought that, should the bridge be opened, the 1200 tons above my head would come down and fill the space where I was sitting. But all that was forgotten as soon as the audio visual installation began. Tower Bridge: 125 years of London’s defining landmark was created by artists of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to celebrate the people who built, maintained and operated the bridge since construction began in 1886. Archive images passed before our eyes across the stepped wall as we listened to a haunting electronic soundtrack and voices of actors portraying characters from the past.

Photograph of a sepia photograph of Tower Bridge projected onto a wall with blue lights below.

Image projected on the stepped wall of the bascule chamber

We were transported through the ages by photographs of the workers and the bridge at various stages of construction and operation, passing through times of war and changing cultural fashions through the decades, culminating with the bridge’s display for the 2012 Olympic games.

The following day I took the opportunity to revisit the Tower Bridge Exhibition. The last time I had visited was over 4 years before and at that time could find no reference to Sir William Arrol or the workers who had constructed the bridge. Since then the content of the exhibition has been greatly developed and the focus is very much on the working people who contributed to the life of the bridge.

Climbing the stairs of the north tower the story of construction of the bridge and the people involved unfolds amidst the riveted girders of the staircase. Profiles of people like Andrew Stephenson Biggart, Arrol’s general manager for the steelwork, and images of the steelworkers are portrayed alongside text and images of other construction workers, including divers and stonemasons. At the top of the stairs we are greeted by the portrait of Sir William Arrol in pride of place beside Horace Jones, John Wolfe Barry and Sir William Armstrong. Continuing on through the exhibition we find stories and images with audio recordings of some of the people who worked on and operated the bridge. Many of these ordinary workers have been immortalised in brass plaques in Tower Bridge’s ‘Walk of fame’, a blue line which leads visitors from the south tower to the engine rooms and shop.

photograph of a brass plaque in a blue painted line leading across the walkway on Tower Bridge

Edward Roughley’s plaque in the ‘Walk of fame’

I was very pleased to walk along this and see plaques dedicated to some of steelworkers that I had researched and written about in my blog post, Tower Bridge and the work of its men of steel, men like John Heaney, riveter; Andrew Dick, blacksmith; Edward Heaney, crane driver and, a personal favourite, John Chalk, 15 year old rivet boy.

 

Kirsty Menzies, FoSH Committee

Many thanks to Tower Bridge for the invitation to the preview of  the bascule chamber event and Tower Bridge Exhibition.

Celebrating 125 years of Tower Bridge and the work of its ‘men of steel’

Yesterday we celebrated with Tower Bridge the 125th anniversary of its opening on 30 June 1894.  On anniversaries like these we always remember the bridge designers and main contractors, but we should also remember the individual construction workers whose toil and skill helped build this iconic structure. Little is written about these men and boys but research carried out by FoSH committee member, Kirsty Menzies, for Tower Bridge helped to reveal stories of some of the steelworkers.

Colour photograph of Tower Bridge showing the central towers, bascules and side spans.

Tower Bridge, London

Today we take a look back at these ‘men of steel’ in a blog post based on this research and published on our Sir William Arrol website.  The stories of the workers demonstrate the high level of skill that Sir William Arrol & Company Limited required of them.  It also tells of the experienced men who were deployed to Tower Bridge to ensure the successful completion of its steel structure.

Read more about the Tower Bridge ‘men of steel’.

FoSH New Membership Year 2017-2018

The new membership year started with our AGM on 15 May 2017 and it is time for membership renewals or for those who would like to become FoSH members to become a Friend of Seafield House. Corporate memberships are also welcome. Details are to be found in the Membership section of our website.

FoSH continue to monitor the building and will continue to update the local Seafield community by leaflet and personal contact and maintain our website, Facebook page and Twitter feed over the time that it takes for planning permission and consents for the restoration of Seafield House as residential apartments and the building of the small number of houses in the grounds as the enabling development.

We would welcome your support in this hopeful year for Seafield House. Please become a Friend or renew your membership by completing the form in the Membership section of our website.

Recent coverage of Seafield House in online press

The Mail Online recently published an article showing photographs of the decaying interiors of Seafield House.  The images show the very sad state of the building with rotten ceilings and floors, with mould and damp and exposed brickwork.

images showing damp ceilings, mouldy fireplace boarded up window and damp wooden panelled walls

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4317448/Pictures-decaying-interior-abandoned-hospital.html

Unfortunately the article contains several inaccuracies and fails to mention Friends of Seafield House (FoSH), and the campaigning  FoSH has done  with SAVE Britiain’s Heritage to ensure that the house is not destroyed.  FoSH continue to push for progress on development of Seafield House and hope that action will be taken soon before what remains of the architectural detail decays beyond restoration.

FoSH would urge people not to attempt to enter the building.  Not only is the structure very unsafe, but the creation of entry points into the buildings will encourage others to go inside who could cause further damage, either accidentally or on purpose.

If you would like to do something to help Seafield House then support the work of FoSH and follow our news and events online.

Capturing the mood

A fabulous night was had by all at Waterstones Ayr as we gathered on World Book Day to listen to Beatrice Colin read from her novel To Capture What We Cannot Keep.

photogrraph of woman in a bookshop reading from a book with others sitting listening and drinking wine.

Beatrice Colin reads from her novel

Beatrice enthralled us with an excerpt from the air balloon excursion over Paris where Cait Wallace first meets Emile Nouguier.  To set the mood we were treated to french fizz, a delicious sparkling Blanc de Blanc, supplied by Corney & Barrow, Ayr. In recognition of the Seafield connection Beatrice also read an excerpt where Cait had returned to Glasgow and was meeting with William Arrol.

“The city lay beneath a fug of smog and smur.  At William Arrol’s ironworks in Dalmarnock, the yard was full of steel girders on their way to the Queensferry workshop for the new Forth Bridge.  Arrol’s office was on the first floor above the erecting shop.  In his letter he’d asked if she could drop by sometime the following day to see him about a personal matter. Cait’s timing was unfortunate, his secretary told her.  Arrol had just been given the news that a twenty-year-old rigger had died in a fall from the Forth Bridge construction site.”

Afterwards Beatrice gave us an insight into her research for the novel and how she so perfectly managed to capture the atmosphere and spirit of the period.  The attitudes, clothes, city sites and engineering work are so well described that you are transported to  late nineteenth century Paris and Glasgow at the time of the Eiffel Tower and Forth Bridge constructions. But all too soon the evening came to an end and Beatrice followed in Arrol’s footsteps, catching the train from Ayr back to Glasgow, albeit without steam engine or horse-drawn carriage to meet her at the other end.

Meet the author of Arrol/Eiffel inspired novel in Ayr

poster with an image of the book and details of th event.If our blog post about the launch of Beatrice Colin’s latest book, “To Capture What You Cannot Keep”, has whetted your appetite, then come along to join us for a drink and hear more about it at Waterstones Ayr on the 2 March at 7pm.

Beatrice will be there to discuss and read excerpts from her novel, and if the Glasgow launch is anything to go by, it will be a very enjoyable evening. Afterwards Beatrice will be happy to sign copies of her book.

The novel is beautifully written and and builds a very evocative atmosphere of Paris in the late 1880s. It is based around the construction of the Eiffel Tower, and as it grows, so does the romance between Caitriona Wallace and Emile Nougier. Cait and the Arrol niece and nephew are fictional creations, but many of the characters are based on historical figures and have been well researched, including William Arrol. Although he isn’t one of the central characters, he has a strong presence throughout the novel and has been sympathetically portrayed. In the story, during an encounter with William Arrol, a reference is made to the house he was building in Ayr “with a vast conservatory and a view of the Firth of Clyde”, what was to become Seafield House.

Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) have organised the evening in association with Waterstones Ayr who are putting on the event to celebrate World Book Day and the launch of the novel, with its Ayr connections. Drinks will be served in store from 6.30pm and members of the FoSH committee will be there to answer any questions about Seafield House and Sir William Arrol.

Tickets are free and available now from Waterstones in Ayr or by phoning 01292 262600.  Further details are on the Waterstones Ayr website and Facebook page.

Arrol and Eiffel inspiration captured in fiction

Last night saw the launch, in Glasgow, of Beatrice Colin’s latest novel To Capture What We Cannot Keep.  It is a story of love in the 1880s set around the construction of the Eiffel Tower and may be the first work of fiction to feature Sir William Arrol.

Cover artwork with image of the Eiffel Tower

It follows the romance between Émile Nouguier, one of the engineers who designed the Eiffel Tower and Cait Wallace, a young widow and chaperone to Alice and James, a niece and nephew of Sir William Arrol. Whilst Cait and the Arrol siblings are purely fictional characters, Beatrice has cleverly woven them into a story based around historical fact.  She was inspired to write the story following a visit to Paris which sparked her interest in the Eiffel Tower and she chose Émile Nouguier as a central character for the story.  Beatrice also wanted to introduce a Scottish dimension to the story and it was only when she discovered that Gustave Eiffel had attended the opening of the Forth Bridge that the Arrol connection was made.  As Beatrice has pointed out, both Nouguier and Arrol are responsible for building famous iconic structures, like the Eiffel Tower and the Forth Bridge, and yet, despite their achievements, the two engineers are relatively unknown.

Beatrice Colin lives in Glasgow and is a novelist and lecturer in creative writing, and this is her 7th published book.  It was during her research on Sir William Arrol that first introduced Beatrice to Friends of Seafield House, when she came along to the launch of the campaign, back in 2012.  Since then we have been intrigued to hear how her story developed and eagerly anticipated its completion.

To celebrate its publication, Friends of Seafield House have arranged with Waterstones bookshop in Ayr to host an evening event with Beatrice Colin on 2 March.  Keep an eye on this page for further details if you would like to come along and hear Beatrice read some excerpts and talk about her novel.

A little bit of Seafield on the other side of the world

An Arrol descendent  recently got in touch to tell us of her old family home, Glenarrol, in Victoria, Australia, which bears an amazing resemblance to Seafield House.

As the photographs show, the layout of the hallway is almost identical to that of Seafield House and Glenarrol also features similar wooden panelling on the walls, ceilings and above the doorways.  The dark, heavy architectural designs of this type were very popular in the late 19th century when Seafield House was built but surprisingly Glenarrol was built much later, in 1928.

Who would have thought that behind the door of the contemporary 20’s cottage-style, red-brick home lay an interior inspired by scottish victorian design?

Vanessa Kiessling explained that the house was built by her grandfather, David Rodger, the youngest son of Jane Arrol Faulds. Jane was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire in 1840, the year after Sir William Arrol was born and the area where he grew up before moving to Paisley.  The exact family connection to Sir William Arrol is not known but the family always referred to him as “Uncle”.  Jane’s husband, David Rodger, died at sea before his son David was born in 1873, leaving Jane to bring up their 5 children on her own.  Early in 1885 her eldest son, Peter, emigrated to Australia and once he had settled in Melbourne, sent for his mother. Together with 11 year old David and his 2 sisters, she sailed on the Loch Tay later that year to join him.  Peter set up a building business in Melbourne and was contractor for many well-known buildings including Flinders Street Railway Station, Melbourne, and St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane.  His young brother David also became a builder and joined the business, working as foreman on many of the sites.  David made several trips back to Scotland and in 1912 got married in Port Glasgow before returning to Melbourne with his bride.  It is thought that during these trips he may have visited “Uncle William’s” Seafield House and  was so inspired by the design that he used elements of it when building his own home in 1928.

 

Many thanks to Vanessa Kiessling for sharing her amazing story and photographs, and for permission to use them on our website.