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.


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.

Forth Bridge inscribed as World Heritage Site

The Forth Bridge was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee today in Bonn, Germany, making it Scotland’s 6th World Heritage Site.

Friends of Seafield House had fully supported the bid for World Heritage status and are delighted by the announcement.

Photograph of the Forth Bridge

Discussions started with a presentation by ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) which described the situation, bridge structure and context of the bid in relation to the criteria for OUV (Outstanding Universal Value). It was proposed that the bridge be inscribed under critera (i) and (iv).

(i) “represents a masterpiece of human creative genius”

(iv) “is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history”

ICOMOS presentation

ICOMOS presentation

Image of the Conference theatre full of committee members

World Heritage Committee




The bid received overwhelming support from the committee who welcomed the inscription of the bridge as an outstanding example of engineering design. One member supported the inscription, pleased to see that it was from an under-represented category in the list. Another member referred to a 20 year old report which had drawn up a list of potential World Heritage bridges, including the Forth Bridge. There was so much praise for the bridge, it’s significance in the history of rail transport and civil engineering, and it’s aesthetic value, that there was an underlying impression that the bid for the Forth Bridge was long in coming. Many of the comments gave praise to Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker’s innovative design and also Sir William Arrol’s advanced construction techniques. These were some of the other comments on the Forth Bridge offered by the committee:

“Tall and formidable testament to the genius of man”

“A crucible for the application of new design principles in civil engineering”

“Masterpiece of civil engineering”

“Engineering wonder of the word”

“Stunning engineering marvel”

“Impressive milestone in design and construction methods”

Members of the committee also praised the quality of the nomination documents, saying how well prepared they had been, concise and convincing and to be held up as an exemplary for future bid submissions. Some concern was shown over ensuring protection of the views and of the structure itself. ICOMOS commented that a report was being mapped out for submission by 31 December 2015 which would review the immediate environs of the bridge and a radius of 20km around it. This would identify main vista points and ensure that controls were in place to favour protection of the bridge and the lines of site around these vistas.

Footage of the meeting can be found on the Records webpage of the 39th session of the Committee for Jul 5, 2015.


FoSH exhibition launched with Clydesdale banknote presentation to Arrol family

Friends of Seafield House are staging an exhibition, “Sir William Arrol (1839-1913): A Renfrewshire Connection” in the Heritage Centre at Paisley Central Library for the month of July.

The exhibition was opened on Friday 26th June with the presentation of a commemorative version of Clydesdale Bank’s new £5 polymer banknote, featuring Sir William Arrol and the Forth Bridge. Jamie Martin, Head of Payments at Clydesdale Bank handed over the polymer £5 with a serial number representing Sir William’s birth date, to Ellen Arrol, the oldest family member and a great niece of Sir William. Other family members were delighted to receive a note in a collector’s case.

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Jamie Martin presenting the banknote to Arrol family.
Picture by

Christian Cooksey/CookseyPix.com on behalf of the Clydesdale Bank and the Big Partnership.

Ellen Arrol, whose grandfather James, William’s brother, was also an engineer and director of Sir William Arrol and Co, said:

“We’re very proud of our family and their role in building the Forth Bridge. Sir William and my grandfather James weren’t just great engineers; they also helped to shape modern Scotland,connecting the country and creating jobs.”

Like the introduction of the new £5 polymer note, the exhibition aims to celebrate the nomination of the Forth Bridge for UNESCO World Heritage status. It has been arranged to coincide with the meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Bonn on the 28th June to 8 July when the winning bids will be announced. Fingers crossed that the Forth Bridge will be on that list!

Exhibition Banner at entrance to Paisley Central LibraryThe 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, where the seed of his engineering prowess developed in his early career. He was also one of the founding directors of the Mo-Car Company which was the first manufacturer of UK automobiles and produced Arrol-Johnston cars in Paisley for many years. When he died Sir William’s body was carried from his home at Seafield House in Ayr to Woodside Cemetery in Paisley, where he was buried.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to find out more about Sir William Arrol’s life and the Forth Bridge from the display boards, library artefacts, iPads with links to relevant websites and there will also be screenings of the film “A River is Spanned” by Harry Birrell, courtesy of the Scottish Screen Archive.

The exhibition runs until the 24th July.  See the Heritage Centre webpage for opening times and contact details.

A huge thanks go to the staff of Renfrewshire Libraries for providing the venue and their fantastic help with the exhibition.

125th Anniversary of Forth Bridge Opening

This week marked a special anniversary in the life of Sir William Arrol. It was 125 years ago on 4 March 1890 that the Forth Bridge was officially opened and that Sir William Arrol received his knighthood.

Photograph of Forth Bridge from South Queensferry shore

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 it’s construction. It took 54,000 tons of steel to build and at 2, 467 metres was the longest bridge  in the world when it was completed.

Front cover of the Illustrated London News from 8 March 1890

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

The bridge was opened by the Prince of Wales who drove the last rivet into the bridge with the assistance of William Arrol.  At the luncheon following the opening the Prince of Wales made a speech in which he announced that Queen Victoria had conferred a knighthood on William Arrol in recognition of his great achievement in the construction of the bridge.

A wonder of it’s age, the Bridge remains today a landmark structure and icon of British engineering.  A nomination for it to be given World Heritage Status has been submitted to  the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and  the decision is expected in June this year.

Further information on Sir William Arrol, his life and work, can be found on a new website SirWilliamArrol.scot which is currently under construction by one of the Friends of Seafield House committee.

Members of the Friends of Seafield House Committee are also looking forward to attending a lecture to mark the 125th Anniversary at the ICE Scotland Museum in the William Arrol Building at Heriot-Watt University on 27 March.  The lecture will focus on the Bridge’s lasting legacy and an original hydraulic riveting machine, used to bolt in many of the 7M rivets will also be unveiled at the event.

Seafield House Scrapbook to feature in Forth Bridges Exhibition

Image of the programme cover for the Forth Bridges Festival

The Friends of Seafield House are delighted that their Scrapbook, created  for the Forth Bridges Scrapbook Project, is to feature in the Forth Bridges Festival Scrapbook Exhibition – By the Bridges.  The exhibition is being held in Queensferry Parish Church, South Queensferry, from 4th to 13th September where examples of some of the best scrapbooks will be displayed. The exhibition will contain objects, unpublished images and film archive material created by individuals, families and the communities who live by the bridges, with unheard tales and stories from them.  Friends of Seafield House have provided a leaflet about Sir William Arrol and the Seafield House campaign and also arranged for Harry Birrell’s film “The River is Spanned”, illustrating the building of the rail bridge, to be shown during the exhibition courtesy of the Scottish Screen Archive.

Download a copy of the FoSH leaflet for the Forth Bridges Festival.

Venue: Queensferry Parish Church, The Loan, South Queensferry EH30 9NS

Time: 4th – 13th September 2014, 10am-4pm daily (except Sunday 7th, 12pm-4pm)

As well as the exhibition there will be a Forth Bridges App, launched on September 6th, guiding people, who wish to walk around South and North Queensferry, to some of the local historical viewpoints of the bridges while illustrating some of the stories collected through the Forth Bridges Scrapbooks project.

The exhibition is part of the wider programme for the Forth Bridges Festival which includes exhibitions, boat trips, flotilla, fireworks, parties and more.  The festival programme can be downloaded from the Forth Bridges Festival homepage.

Digital scrapbook on Seafield House

Friends of Seafield House have created a scrapbook about Seafield House on the Forth Bridges Scrapbooks website.

Image of Seafield House

Seafield Scrapbook on the Forth Bridges Scrapbooks website

The aim of the Scrapbooks project is to gather stories, photographs and other historical material relating to the Forth Bridges and create a central hub for information about them. The Forth Road Bridge celebrates it’s 50th anniversary this year and the Rail Bridge celebrates it’s 125th anniversary next year.  The archive will be used as part of the Forth Bridges Festival. Anyone can sign up and create a scrapbook and the process is very simple. People can illustrate their personal stories about the bridges with their own images or a selection from the gallery provided.

The Seafield House Scrapbook  explains the link between Seafield House and the Forth Rail Bridge, of how William Arrol built the house and lived there whilst working on the construction of the Forth Bridge. It also describes the current condition of the house and the campaign to save it.

Sir William Arrol on new polymer banknote launched by Clydesdale Bank

Image showing a specimen of the front of the £5 note

The new banknote featuring Sir William Arrol  © Clydesdale Bank

Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) welcomes the news that the Clydesdale Bank has today unveiled a commemorative £5 note to mark the nomination of the Forth Rail Bridge for inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage List and Sir William Arrol’s role in the construction of this iconic bridge. As the release from the Clydesdale says:

“[This] will be the first fully polymer banknote to enter circulation in Great Britain. Introduced to commemorate the nomination of the Forth Bridge for inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2014, the new £5 banknote combines images of the bridge’s structure with the use of modern technology to create a striking and complex design … in keeping with the Bank’s award winning World Heritage Series, [the note] also features the image of a prominent and innovative Scot in its design. A portrait of Sir William Arrol, one of Scotland’s most celebrated engineers, appears on the front of the note. His company – Sir William Arrol and Co. – constructed the Forth Bridge and was also responsible for a number of other famous structures including the giant cantilever Titan Crane in Clydebank which also features on the new note.”

The limited production run of the new polymer notes is scheduled to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the opening of the bridge in March 2015, with two million notes to be issued through Clydesdale Bank branches.

In its release, Clydesdale Bank included a quote from Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for
Culture and External Affairs, who said in welcoming the launch of the banknote:

“Today we are celebrating two eras of Scotland’s innovation and foresight. The introduction of this innovative new banknote featuring the iconic Forth Bridge as a symbol of Scotland’s engineering heritage and ingenuity is very welcome. We are immensely proud of the Forth Bridge and its nomination for inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The launch of this banknote is such a fitting way to mark this nomination and Sir William Arrol’s work and I applaud the Clydesdale Bank for this gesture.”

FoSH Patron, Andrew Arrol, said today:

“This is a fantastic piece of good news and very well deserved. It is entirely appropriate that one of Scotland’s greatest engineering achievements should be commemorated in this way.”

Kirsty Menzies, an Arrol relative & FoSH Committee Member said:

“I am thrilled and proud that Sir William Arrol is featured on the note. With his induction into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame and now being featured on a banknote, Sir William is finally getting the recognition that he has long deserved. The banknote design embodies a great image of the Scottish pioneering spirit and invention.”

For further information on the release from the Clydesdale Bank, please contact Kay McCarthy The BIG Partnership 0141 333 9585/07736 774338 or Roanna Katz, The BIG Partnership, 0141 333 9585 / 07846 786 265

For further information on Friends of Seafield House, please contact Lianne Hackett, FoSH Secretary on info@friends-of-seafield-house.org.uk or 07796466384

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.

Professor Charles McKean

Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) were saddened to hear of the death of architectural historian, Professor Charles McKean on 29th September 2013.

Charles McKean was a professor of Scottish Architectural History at the University of Dundee.  He was the author of many books, including “Battle for the North”, a study of the war between the two rival railway companies, the North British and the Caledonian, to offer the fastest route from London to Aberdeen and the north of Scotland. In this book Charles McKean, highlighted the vital role that William Arrol had played in ensuring the successful construction of both the new Tay Bridge and the Forth Railway Bridge. In addition to his teaching and research, Charles McKean took an active role in several organisations which supported the preservation of of Scottish architectural heritage and he had been very generous in offering advice to FoSH on the campaign to save Seafield House.

Read his obituary in The Herald.

Forth Bridge Photographic Competition

The Forth Bridges Forum is looking for entries for their photo competition for the Forth Rail Bridge.   Sir William Arrol was the contractor for the bridge which was built between 1883 and 1889.   Photographs entered into the competition will help with the Management Plan that will form part of the Forth Bridge’s World Heritage Nomination to UNESCO.

There are two categories:

Best Contemporary Photograph, to find the best views of the Bridge

Best Historical Photograph, to showcase old family pictures of the Forth Bridge

The winners of the competitions will be able to claim  a VIP visit to the Forth Bridge. Winners will also receive a copy of the recently published book ‘Forth Bridge: Restoring an Icon’.

Further details and instructions to submit an entry can be found on the Forth Bridges Forum website.

Closing date for entries is 30 September 2013.