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’.

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.

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.

Engineering Music at Tower Bridge

As part of the Totally Thames Festival in September there will be a novel opportunity to see some of Sir William Arrol’s engineering, inside the Tower Bridge bascule chambers, whilst listening to a performance of Iain Chamber’s composition “Bascule Chambers”.

Bascule Chamber by Martin Deutsch - on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qJJrVB under Creative Commons

Bascule Chamber by Martin Deutsch – on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qJJrVB under Creative Commons

All the steelwork for Tower Bridge was manufactured by William Arrol & Co. Ltd. in Glasgow and shipped down to London for construction. Bascules are the steel sections of the bridge which lift to allow passage of tall ships underneath. The bascule chambers are massive, brick-lined spaces which house the counterweights that enable the bascules to be raised. Iain Chamber’s composition is based around the sounds made as the bascules are raised, so essentially the bridge becomes the musical instrument and is supported by 4 brass players.  The premiere of the composition will be the first ever public performance inside the chamber.

Sir William Arrol was very fond of music and often held live performances in the large wooden panelled hall at Seafield House. I don’t suppose  that, as he supervised work on Tower Bridge, he ever imagined that the chambers would be used as a venue for a musical performance although he may have commented on the acoustics of the cave-like space.

Performances of “Bascule Chambers” are being held on 26th and 27th September.  Further information can be found on Iain Chamber’s website and the Tower Bridge Exhibition website.

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.

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