Sunday, 22 August 2010

Angus Kennedy, Part II

Angus Kennedy was a very energetic man and typical of an early Victorian yuppy, who kept re-inventing himself in different professions. Having started out as a cabinetmaker he became an iron turner, then a mechanical draughtsman and finally an architect and civil engineer.

By 1855 he was a partner in the firm of Hoey, Kennedy & McGregor, who were millwrights and engineers in Cook Street, Tradeston. The firm dissolved in October of that year when Mr McGregor left and I don’t think Mr Hoey stayed much longer.

On 17 October 1856 James Thom, powerloom manufacturer and Angus Kennedy, Civil Engineer registered a patent for “improvements in looms for weaving.”

By this time Angus would have been thinking about another change of career, which would lead him to put the letters “I.A. and C.E.” after his name, meaning Industrial Architect and Civil Engineer, although there is no sign that he was ever formally trained by anyone. Tradeston at that time was a hotbed of new enterprises of all sorts and there would have been great opportunities for self-confident and intelligent men with practical skills. I believe that Angus was persuaded to establish himself as a civil engineer and architect by his friend Charles Randolph.

Charles Randolph was born on 26 June 1809, a few months before Angus, and died on 11 November 1878. His father was a printer and stationer in Stirling. (His grandfather had been a surgeon who was imprisoned at Carlisle after the 1745.) He was educated in Stirling initially, then at Glasgow Grammar School (High School?), then studied classics at Glasgow University. He didn’t enjoy this and transferred to Andersons Institution to study science. He served an apprenticeship as a millwright with David Napier at Camlachie, then started his own business as a millwright at Tradeston Street, now Centre Street, Tradeston, in 1834, being joined by John Elliott from 1837 to 1841. In 1852 he was joined by John Elder and the firm became Randolph & Elder. After that the firm branched out from mill machinery into marine engines.

John Elder, born on 8 March 1824, was the son of the legendary David Elder, who was really the father of marine engineering on the Clyde. David was brought up in Kinross-shire and observed water mills in his youth. A mathematical genius, he came to Glasgow in 1817 at the age of 32 to work as a millwright and engineer. By 1821 he was the manager of Robert Napier’s works at Camlachie and the following year designed his first steam-ship engine, for the Leven, which plied between Glasgow and Dumbarton. His son John was educated at the High School and briefly at Glasgow University before being apprenticed to his father and Robert Napier. By the time of his death at 45 on 17 September 1869 he would have produced 111 marine engine sets and numerous patents.

The principle of the compound engine was discovered about 1781 by one Jonathan Hornblower. It reused steam by exhausting it from the first high-pressure cylinder into the second, larger, low-pressure one. The low initial steam pressures from the early boilers meant that it was unsuccessful. In 1811 an English inventor called Wolff had produced a better design, which John Elder developed as a an nadvanced two-cylinder compound engine. In 1856 Randolph & Elder took out a patent for a version of this that put the cylinders in a “V” formation, saving space in the engine room. Further versions had two sets of high and low pressure cylinders, opposed to each other. Later, John Elder developed the triple expansion engine, which carried the principle further.

It seems that the first ship engined by Randolph & Elder was the Brandon, launched in 1854 from a site that I haven’t yet identified, but probably at Napiers. She was equipped with Wolff-type engines designed by Elder and built in Tradeston. The Brandon became part of the fleet that worked in South America. It was a very successful design and led immediately to orders from the Pacific Steam Navigation Company for sister ships, the Inca and Valparaiso. Because of the efficiency of the engines these ships were able to travel vast distances with minimal coal consumption.

We have already seen that Angus was a partner in a firm of millwrights at Cook Street, round the corner from Randolph & Elder, in 1855. When the latter took over a site in Govan just up-river from Napier’s yard in 1858 they gave Angus Kennedy his first major commission, to design their new engineering works at 13 to 23 Tradeston Street. This building stood until 1969.

Randolph & Elder went on to become a major force on the upper Clyde. Both men became extremely wealthy, partly as a result of building at least five extremely fast blockade runners for the Confederate rebels during the American Civil War, the Condor, Evelyn, Falcon, Flamingo and Ptarmigan. It’s fascinating that these devoutly religious entrepreneurs were not averse to taking part in what the US government regarded as a form of piracy and doing business with people who they knew were supporters of slavery. The UK government turned a blind eye, partly because in typical fashion the USA had refused to sign the international treaty banning piracy at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. When Abraham Lincoln decided that his government should after all sign it and outlaw the British ships he was told that he was rather late. Ultimately both principals left fortunes to good causes, Randolph endowing inter alia the Randolph Hall at Glasgow University and Elder the park named after him in Govan.

In 1864 Randolph & Elder moved to the Fairfield Farm at Govan, when they renamed their business Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. They commissioned Angus Kennedy to design their new engine shop, which appears to be his greatest project, currently Grade A listed. This was completed in 1868. The address is 1048 Govan Road.

It is a great tribute to Angus Kennedy that he got this commission, as I’m sure Randolph & Elder wouldn’t have entrusted such an important project to someone they didn’t respect. In those days ships were built in the open and only the engines indoors, so the shop would have been the most important building on site. Twenty years later the firm went to Honeyman & Keppie, an absolutely leading firm, to design their offices.

No comments:

Post a Comment