Tower Bridge : Acknowledging Sir William Arrol’s contribution

Tower Bridge in London is considered by many to be the finest bascule bridge in the world, an icon of bridge building. Designed by Horace Jones and John Wolfe Barry, its construction owes much to Sir William Arrol’s innovation and engineering expertise. His company – one of five main contractors – was responsible for the construction of the central steel structure that is hidden from view, but provides the bridge’s core strength. His success in constructing, in steel, the Forth Bridge – another of the world’s iconic bridges – led to the significant commission at Tower Bridge.

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

Tower Bridge, London

Construction of Tower Bridge took eight years. Arrol’s construction of the bascules, side spans, towers and walkways involved over 11,000 tonnes of steel, each section manufactured at the Dalmarnock Works in Glasgow and shipped to London. The visible stone structure is both protective of the steel core and decorative.

Until the summer of this year, Arrol’s role in the construction of this iconic bridge was lesser known. Through our website, FoSH was contacted by Dirk Bennett, Tower Bridge’s new Exhibition Development Manager, who knew of Sir William’s contribution and wished to make it visible. FoSH was delighted to provide background detail. In July, Sir William Arrol’s portrait was placed alongside those of Horace Jones, John Wolfe Barry and Sir William Armstrong, the hydraulics engineer, in Tower Bridge’s main exhibition hall.

colour photograph showing the 4 portraits on display at Tower Bridge Exhibition.

Portraits in Tower Bridge Exhibition: Sir Horace Jones, Sir William Arrol, Sir William Armstong, Sir John Wolfe Barry. Photograph ©Tower Bridge Exhibition


Sadly, the research for the Tower Bridge element of the engineering and construction series that Rob Bell presented for Channel 5’s current series, “Britain’s Greatest Bridges: Discover how six of Britain’s most iconic bridges were designed and constructed”, did not reference Sir William Arrol. Indeed – surprisingly, given the programme title – those responsible for Tower Bridge’s construction were entirely overlooked. Happily, in the previous programme on the Forth Bridge, Rob Bell paid full tribute to Arrol’s innovation and construction prowess.

Sir William Arrol exhibition extended to 15 August

IMG_1398Due to popular demand the FoSH exhibition Sir William Arrol: A Renfrewshire Connection, has been extended until Saturday 15th August.  There has been a lot of interest in the exhibition particularly after the coverage in the Paisley Daily Express and the success of the Forth Bridge getting UNESCO World Heritage Status.  So for those of you who have missed it or would like to see it again here is a second chance!  See the Heritage Centre webpage for opening times and contact details.

Also, if you are in the vicinity there is an exhibition on the Scottish artist George Wyllie, “THE WHY?SMAN”  in Paisley Museum, next door to the Heritage Centre. the Whysman exhibiton poster with photo of George Wyllie

The exhibition looks at some of Wyllie’s most famous works, including A Day Down a Goldmine, The Straw Locomotive, The Paper Boat and Spires, and also includes work that has not been previously exhibited.

When Wyllie was a young boy growing up near the Glasgow shipyards he liked to draw and make models of the cranes he saw around him. While still at school, he was offered a job in the crane-building department of Sir William Arrol & Co. based on the strength of this work. Jan Patience, tells us there is a good Arrol story in her forthcoming biograhy of George Wyllie.

The free exhibition runs from 17 July to 13 September.  See the Paisley Museum webpages for further information and opening times.

Last chance to see Arrol Exhibition at Paisley Heritage Centre

The exhibition Sir William Arrol: A Renfrewshire Connection, is due to finish in the next couple of days.  If you haven’t already been along to the Paisley Heritage Centre to see it you have until this Saturday.

Exhibition Board The exhibition has been mounted by Friends of Seafield House to coincide with the 2015 meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Germany. The exhibition gives the background to UNESCO World Heritage nominations and why, in particular the Forth Bridge was a worthy submission.  When it was announced on the 5th July that the Forth Bridge was to become a World Heritage Site we had to make a quick addition to the display.  Being optimistic that it would be a positive result, we were well prepared and had stickers already made up with the winning announcement.

The exhibition is also a celebration of Sir William’s strong connections with Renfrewshire. He was born in the village of Houston and grew up in Paisley, and the exhibition tells of his early career as a blacksmith and engineer there. It also looks at the manufacturer of  Arrol-Johnston cars in Paisley and Sir William Arrol’s connections to the earliest motor cars built in the UK. Sir William Arrol never forgot his roots and when he died his body was carried from his home at Seafield House in Ayr to Woodside Cemetery in Paisley, where he was buried.

As well as the FoSH display boards, the Heritage Centre have provided a display of resources from their archives and have set up iPads with links to relevant websites, so visitors to the exhibition will be able to find out more about Sir William Arrol and the Forth Bridge.

See the Heritage Centre webpage for opening times and contact details.


Budding engineers inspired by Arrol bridges at NSEW exhibition

Despite the beautiful weather, members of the public abandoned the sunshine to visit South Ayrshire Council’s National Science and Engineering Week (NSEW) events at Rozelle House in Ayr at the weekend.

Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) were there with an exhibition on Sir William Arrol, the bridges he constructed and Seafield House, which became his home at the height of his building career and which FoSH are now campaigning to save.

photograph of a display case containing photographs and books of Sir William Arrol with a scale model of Tower Bridge in the background.

Sir William Arrol exhibition – display case and Meccano model of Tower Bridge

photograph of a display case containing a board with information about Sir William Arrol and in the background another information board and stereoscope with photographs of Arrol bridges.

Sir William Arrol exhibition – Display case, information board and stereoscope with photographs

Display cases with photographs, books and  exhibition boards told the story of Sir William Arrol and his successes in engineering construction, including Tay Bridge, Forth Rail Bridge, Tower Bridge and the Arrol Gantry (used in construction of the Titanic).  Throughout the weekend a short film about the construction of the Forth Rail Bridge was being shown, “The River is Spanned” , courtesy of Harry Birrell, filmmaker, and Scottish Screen Archive.  The film was a prize winner at the Scottish Amateur Film Festival in 1950 and used original still photographs of the bridge being built, including 50’s special effects, to show the work involved at the different stages of spanning the River Forth.  There were also photographs of some of the bridges built by Sir William Arrol which, when seen through the Stereoscope viewer were revealed in their full 3D splendour.

Many thanks go to the Meccano Society of Scotland for their contribution, one of the highlights of the FoSH exhibition. Their meccano models brought life to examples of bridges built by Sir William Arrol: Tower Bridge built 1886-1894; and a transporter bridge similar to Arrol’s Middlesborough Transporter Bridge built 1910-1911.

photograph of a meccano scale model of Tower Bridge

Model of Tower Bridge, built by Bobby Middlemas of the Meccano Society of Scotland

photograph of a meccano scale model of a transporter bridge

Model of Transporter Bridge, built by Alistair Rennie of the Meccano Society of Scotland











The working models were fascinating to watch and demonstrated the engineering principles behind the bridges. With the expert assistance of Alistair Rennie of the Meccano Society of Scotland, some budding engineers had a go at bridge building, helping to construct a meccano model of a bascule bridge similar to the bridge over the White Cart in Renfrew, which was completed by Sir William Arrol & Co Ltd in 1924.

photograph of a boy and girl building sections of a bridge using meccano with help from a meccano expert

Budding engineers building a meccano model of a bascule bridge

Download a copy of the FoSH Exhibition leaflet for National Science and Engineering week.

Information Board now on site at Seafield House

Photograph of Information Board at entrance to Seafield House

Information Board at Seafield House

FoSH were given permission to mount an information board about the History of Seafield and Sir William Arrol  on the boundary wall at the entrance to Seafield House.

Now anyone passing by on Doonfoot Road, and wanting to know more about the beautiful neglected house within, will be able to read about  it.  The information board tells of the history of the Seafield Estate, of Sir William Arrol’s life and how he built the house as his home and, after his death, it’s history as Seafield Hospital.

It is hoped that the board will help to raise awareness of the significance and importance of the magnificent roofless ruin lying on their doorstep and encourage people to join the campaign to save it.

Image of an exhibition board about Seafield and Sir William Arrol

FoSH Information Board about Sir William Arrol and the history of Seafield House.

FoSH take Sir William Arrol Exhibition to Rozelle House

Friends of Seafield House are mounting a display exhibition on Sir William Arrol in Rozelle House’s National Science & Engineering Week 2013 programme, which takes place over the weekend 16 & 17 March.

Image of an exhibition board about the Arrol Gantry in Belfast

The theme of National Science & Engineering Week 2013 is Invention & Discovery and FoSH will focus its its contribution on Sir William’s engineering inventions & innovative construction techniques, which revolutionised engineering & construction in the early 20th century.  By focusing on the Arrol Gantry, Sir William’s part in the building of building of ships including the Titanic will be explored. It is fitting that Sir William Arrol is included in this year’s programme, as we mark the Centenary of his death in Ayr on 20 February 1913.  Information will also be available on FoSH and their campaign to save Seafield House in Ayr, which was Sir William Arrol’s home for many years.

Venue: Rozelle House, Rozelle Park, Ayr KA7 4NQ

Time: 16 & 17 March 10.30 – 3.30

– Exhibition to Commemorate the Centenary of the Death in Ayr on 20 February 1913 of Renowned Scottish Engineer & Contractor Sir William Arrol (1839-1913)

Exhibition to Commemorate the Centenary of the Death in Ayr on 20 February 1913 of Renowned Scottish Engineer & Contractor Sir William Arrol (1839-1913) 

Carnegie Library Foyer, 12 Main Street, Ayr KA8 8EB : 11-23 February 2013

Opening hours: Monday & Tuesday 9.00am – 7.30pm; Wednesday, Friday & Saturday 9.00am – 5.00pm;  Thursday  10.00am – 7.30pm ; Sunday  CLOSED


To commemorate the centenary of the death in Ayr on 20 February 1913 of renowned Scottish engineer & contractor Sir William Arrol, Friends of Seafield House is mounting a Foyer Exhibition at the Carnegie Library, Ayr from 11 to 23 February 2013.

The exhibition focuses on Sir William Arrol’s life at Seafield House in Doonfoot Road, Ayr; his engineering & contracting achievements, which include the construction of iconic structures including the Forth Rail Bridge & London Tower Bridge; & his public service as Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for South Ayrshire from 1895 to 1906.

The exhibition is researched & written by Rob Close & Brian Williamson with design by Big Blue Dog & production by Owen Kerr Signs. Photographic images have been sourced from the Royal Commission on Ancient & Historic Monuments (RCAHMS), Glasgow City Archives & the Carnegie Library’s Scottish & Local History Library.

Photo of display cabinet containing photographs andmemorabilia about Sir William Arrol and Seafield House

There will be information on how the public can nominate Sir William Arrol for induction into the Engineering Hall of Fame in this Centenary Year & the campaign mounted by Friends of Seafield House to propose “The Arrol Bridge” as a name that will go out for public vote in Transport Scotland’s “Name the Bridge” competition for the name of the new Forth Crossing.

Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) was established on 15 October 2012 to support SAVE Britain’s Heritage & others who are working to SAVE Seafield House & secure a new use for this important B listed building in Ayr. Further information can be found on the FoSH website