Bascule Chamber Concerts Return

Following the success of the Bascule Chambers performances last year, Iain Chambers is returning to the Totally Thames Festival this September with a new programme to be performed  inside the Tower Bridge bascule chambers.

Bascule Chamber by Martin Deutsch - on Flickr under Creative Commons
Bascule Chamber by Martin Deutsch – on Flickr 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.

Performances of “Bascule Chambers” are being held on the weekend of the 24th and 25th September. A unique opportunity to admire Arrol’s engineering prowess whilst listening to classic and contemporary music in the atmospheric subterranean chamber.

Further information on the performances can be found on the Totally Thames website.

Further information on bridge tours can be found on the Tower Bridge Exhibition website.

Scottish Opera at Titan Crane

As a lover of music, I am sure Sir William Arrol would have been fascinated to learn that Scottish Opera are going to be performing at the Titan Crane in Clydebank on 30th June and 1st July.  In rare moments of leisure time at Seafield House he loved to listen to music on his gramophone or sometimes host live performances in the drawing room.  When Sir William Arrol & Company finished building the Titan Crane in 1907 the site was very much an industrial working shipyard and the last place you would expect to find the opera. John Brown’s shipyard has long since closed down and instead of lifting heavy equipment the giant cantilever crane, now one of only 4 remaining on the Clyde, functions as a tourist attraction.

Clydebank Titan Crane - - 1069892

Titan Crane, Clydebank

It is not so surprising then that Scottish Opera have chosen this as one of the sites on their Pop-up Opera tour of Scotland.  Each show provides a 25 snippet of an opera, performed in a specially adapted trailer.promotional image showing a photo from one of the pop-up operas
There are 3 operas to choose from:

  • A Little Bit of Northern Light
  • A Little Bit of Mikado
  • A Little Bit of Figaro

There still seem to be a few tickets available but they may be snapped up soon. Ticket price is just £5 and includes a trip up the crane, where you can appreciate the mastery of Arrol’s work.

Details of the performances and booking can be found on Scottish Opera’s Pop-up Opera webpage.

Find out more about visiting the Titan Crane.

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 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.

Motion in Scottish Parliament to congratulate Friends of Seafield House

On hearing the news that Seafield House was saved, last week Chic Brodie MSP lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament to congratulate Friends of Seafield House. The motion was published today in the Motions and Amendments on The Scottish Parliament website.

*S4M-11191 Chic Brodie: Seafield House in Ayr—That the Parliament congratulates the Friends of Seafield House in Ayr on what it understands has been their long battle to save Seafield House, which once owned by Sir William Arrol, considered one of Scotland’s greatest design and civil engineers, and believes that securing the future of the house, which it sees as an outstanding architectural and historical development, is a tribute to all of those involved in this hard fought campaign to save it for Ayr and Scotland.

As of the 28 October, the Motion is now supported by: Angus MacDonald, Kenneth Gibson, Graeme Pearson, Stuart McMillan, Graeme Dey, Rob Gibson, Bill Kidd, Joan McAlpine, Richard Lyle, Mike MacKenzie, Dennis Robertson, Adam Ingram, Anne McTaggart, David Torrance, Kevin Stewart, Gordon MacDonald, Annabelle Ewing, Christian Allard, Gil Paterson, John Scott

Our thanks go to Chic Brodie for this acknowledgement on the success of the campaign.

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 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.

FoSH Sir William Arrol Exhibition returns to Rozelle House

Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) are returning to Rozelle House, Ayr, for National Science and Engineering Week 2014.

Photograph of the banner for the Sir William Arrol exhibition illustrated with photos of Arrol, Tower Bridge and the Forth Rail Bridge

The theme of this year’s event is Steps to Discovery 2014: Bicycles, Bridges and Beyond and you can read details of the programme of events on the South Ayrshire Council website.  On the weekend of the 15/16 March the event programme will focus on Bicycles and on 22/23 March on Bridges.

Representatives of Friends of Seafield House will be present on Saturday 22nd March with further activities and information on Sir William Arrol and bridge building including:

  • Viewing of the film “The River is Spanned“, a reconstruction of the building of the Forth Rail Bridge using original photographs. Made in 1950 this film is shown by courtesy of the filmmaker Harry Birrell and Scottish Screen Archive.
  • A chance to view stereoscopic photographs of some Arrol bridges – the 3D TV of Sir William Arrol’s time!
  • Bridge building activities in partnership with the Meccano Society of Scotland with meccano models of Arrol’s Tower Bridge and Middlesborough Transporter Bridge. Plus the opportunity to try your hand at building your own meccano bridges.

If you are unable to join us at the weekend you can still see the accompanying exhibition focusing on Sir William Arrol and his bridge building, which has already opened at Rozelle House. Information will also 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, Monument Road, Ayr KA7 4NQ

Time: 15/16 & 22/23 March 10am – 5pm

Closing date set for sale of Seafield House

Ryden, the selling agent for NHS Ayrshire & Arran, owners of Seafield House, the former home in Ayr of Sir William Arrol, has today announced the closing date for receipt of formal legal offers in the sale of Seafield House.

The closing date is 12 noon on Wednesday 11 December 2013.

Those should contact Russell Rutherford at Ryden on his direct line 0141-270 3128; mobile 07831467169; by fax on 0141-204 3554 or by email The closing date has now been added to the Ryden webpage for Seafield House.

Image of the Seafield House page on the Ryden website

Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) welcomes the setting of a closing date. Seafield House urgently needs a sympathetic new owner who/that will renovate this important B-listed building by way of the proceeds of an enabling development in Seafield House’s extensive grounds.   FoSH have issued a media release to help publicise this development and have offered the in-depth knowledge & expertise of Friends of Seafield House be made available to assist in the sympathetic restoration of the house.

Sir William Arrol inducted to Hall of Fame

At the 2013 James Watt Dinner on 4 October the latest inductees to the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame were announced. Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) were delighted to hear that Sir William Arrol was one of the inductees. As part of the public nomination process, FoSH Committee members & Friends had nominated Sir William for induction in 2013.

Photograph of presentation at the James Watt Dinner with screen displaying the entry for Sir William Arrol

Announcement of Sir William Arrol being inducted at the James Watt Dinner

Four renowned engineers – past & present – were inducted: William John MacQuorn Rankine (1820-1872), engineer, polymath, educator, and pioneer of thermodynamics; Sir William Arrol (1839-1913), engineering entrepreneur, steel bridge builder, designer and manufacturer of cranes, heavy machinery and automobiles, innovator in construction methods; Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt (1892-1973), engineer, inventor and pioneer of RADAR; & Hugh Gill (b. 1958) engineer who developed the multi-articulating bionic hand for Touch Bionics.

Read Sir William Arrol’s profile in the Engineering Hall of Fame website.

The Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame was conceived and developed in 2011 by Gordon Masterton during his term of office as President of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland (IESIS) and is endorsed by Scottish Engineering, the support group for the engineering industry in Scotland. As Gordon Masterton said, “The life stories of these great engineers are truly inspirational. We need engineers of the same calibre today to stimulate our economic recovery and improve our quality of life.”