Records of William Beardmore & Co Ltd, steel manufacturers and engineers, Glasgow, Scotland

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

  • Minutes 1902-1976
  • Agenda books 1903-1929
  • Directors' attendance books 1913-1940
  • Financial records 1901-1965
  • Annual general meeting and press reports 1930-1948
  • Salary records 1902-1937
  • Visitors books 1914-1968
  • Photographs c1910-1932
  • Catalogues c1914-1927
  • Miscellaneous volumes and files including legal agreements, correspondence, financial and printed ephemera 1864-1969
  • Press cuttings 1900-1965
  • Armour plate extension files 1936-1957
  • Plans of diesel locomotive 1930

Administrative / Biographical History

William Beardmore (1823-1877) was the son of Joseph Beardmore, iron master, the first superintendent of the Deptford works of the General Steam Navigation Co , London, England. William was apprenticed to his father in 1838. He experimented with the superheating of steam for marine engineers with William Rigby, manager of the Parkhead Forge, Glasgow, Scotland, owned by Robert Napier, marine engineer. David Napier, engineer, had purchased the Parkhead Forge in 1841, from Reoch Brothers, forge masters, who had purchased the site in 1836. Rigby & Beardmore patented a superheater in 1858 and a circular compound marine engine in 1860. William Beardmore and shipbuilder Robert Napier patented a direct acting horizontal engine for screw propulsion engines that were installed in the ships of Robert Napier & Sons . William Beardmore moved to Glasgow in 1861  to join a partnership with William Rigby who had just purchased the Parkhead Forge from his father in law, Robert Napier. They made armour plate for warships at Napier's yard in Govan, Glasgow, but the main part of their business was in the manufacture of boiler plates. William Rigby died in 1863, but William Beardmore maintained the partnership with Rigby's widow, Jane Napier. A second rolling mill extended the works in 1864. Jane Rigby dissolved the partnership in 1871  , due to the financial difficulties of Robert Napier & Sons. To fill the gap, William took his brother, Isaac, into partnership as William Beardmore & Co . During the 1870s, the brothers extended the works, built a new plate mill and sponsored the Glasgow, Bothwell, Hamilton & Coatbridge Railway to give them access to the Bothwell coalfield.

William Beardmore, jnr, (1856-1936) was born in Greenwich, London, the eldest son, of William Beardmore, snr, and was educated at Glasgow High School and Ayr Academy. When he was 15 he was apprenticed at the Parkhead Forge, attending evening classes in maths and chemistry at Anderson's College, Glasgow. When he had completed his apprenticeship, he enrolled at the Royal School of Mines in South Kensington, London, taking courses in metallurgy and chemistry. Although his father, William Beardmore, snr, died in 1877 leaving him his share in the business, William completed his education before returning to Glasgow in 1879 to become his Uncle Isaac's junior partner. William was keen to develop the business and, as a first step, persuaded his uncle to invest in open-hearth steel plant and a steel foundry.

In 1886, Isaac retired and William Beardmore became sole partner. His uncle's trustees were somewhat sceptical about his ability to run the company on his own and attempted, unsuccessfully, to restrict capital investment. He immediately began to expand the scope and size of the business. By the turn of the century, it was not only making boiler plates but also maintained a forge press and a tyre mill to supply the railway industry, as well as undertaking the manufacture of steel armour plate and guns on a regular basis. Beardmore's desire to get ahead found expression in technical as well as commercial development. Some of this work - for example in the manufacture of nickel steel for making boiler plates and gun casements - was experimental. He expanded his business empire, becoming, for example, a director, and eventually chairman and managing director of his brother-in-law's firm, Duncan Stewart & Co Ltd, which constructed steel works equipment. In 1900, Beardmore began the construction of a large modern shipyard and engineering works at Dalmuir, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, on the lower Clyde. Around the same time, he also became involved in the formation of the 'Chiswick Syndicate'; to buy J I Thornycroft & Co of Chiswick, London, specialists in the construction of torpedo boats, fast river craft and steam carriers. This move enabled him to arrange for Thornycroft steam lorries to be made by Duncan Stewart & Co Ltd under licence.

It was at this point that Beardmore ran out of credit and was forced, in 1902  , to form the business into a limited liability company, as William Beardmore & Co Ltd . He exchanged almost 60 percent of the capital with Vickers, Son & Maxim Ltd, engineers and tool manufacturers, for an equivalent stake in that company and a seat on the board. This gave him access to a loan of £150,000 from Vickers who encouraged Beardmore, now chairman of the new company, to carry on with his plans or expansion. He also married in 1902 and, shortly thereafter, bought Flichity House, a 3,000 acre sporting estate near Inverness, Scotland. During the earliest years of his association with Vickers, Beardmore joined the 'gun pool' installing a new gun plant in 1902; completed additions and extensions to Parkhead in 1904; purchased the Mossend Steel Works, to secure supplies of ship plates and angles, from the Summerlee & Mossend Iron & Steel Co Ltd in 1905, inaugurated the Dalmuir Naval Construction Works during 1906 and, in co-operation with Vickers, established the Glasgow Electric Crane & Hoist Co, which was sold in 1906.

The relationship with J I Thornycroft & Co Ltd come to a end in 1907 with Beardmore's resignation as chairman, and Vickers was openly critical as Beardmore found himself in financial difficulty again. Vickers appointed a nominee as joint managing director in an attempt to control his spending. As the company's financial health improved, helped particularly by the order in 1910 for the dreadnought HMS Conqueror, Beardmore found himself being encouraged, once more, to invest, this time in new armour plate rolling plant. By 1913, Vickers's nominees had resigned from the company and Beardmore was back in control. In 1914, he diversified into aircraft manufacture and in the same year, he was created a baronet.

On the outbreak of war in 1914, Sir William Beardmore was immediately called on to supply guns, ships and aeroplanes in quantity. A great deal of money was invested in new buildings and plant to manufacture all this material, particularly at Dalmuir and at Mossend, where the works were completely reconstructed with help from the Ministry of Munitions. Additional premises for munitions work were bought at Paisley, Renfrewshire, and Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire. During the early years of the war there was some labour unrest focused on the company's plants on Clydeside. Issues of rent increases, dilution and restrictive practices led to confrontation between Sir William and his workforce, led by David Kirkwood, but this subsided after Kirkwood was arrested following government intervention. The war years saw further acquisitions by William Beardmore & Co Ltd. In 1917, Sir William bought Alley & MacLellan Ltd owners of the Sentinel Works at Polmadie, Glasgow, and a steam-wagon factory at Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, and acquired a majority holding in the Sheffield special steelmakers, Dunford & Elliot Ltd.

After the end of the war, Sir William's enthusiasm for expansion and development was unabated. He saw the future in terms of the manufacture of passenger aeroplanes, cars, railway engines and motor cycles and opened an experimental civil aviation department. He joined with Swan Hunter Wighan Richardson to acquire the Glasgow Iron & Steel Co Ltd in order to maintain adequate supplies of pig iron for steel. In 1921, he was created Lord Invernairn, taking his title from his home in Inverness-shire. Unfortunately, at this point, he ran into serious difficulty and the company began to lose money. In 1926  , Vickers sold its holding to Invernairn and ceased to participate in the business. That year, the accountant Sir William McLintock, was called in to investigate the company's affairs and revealed that it was, to all intents, bankrupt. In March 1927, a committee of investigation was appointed and, in 1928, Invernairn was ousted from executive control of the company as the first step of its reconstruction, engineered by Montagu Norman, Governor of the Bank of England from 1929. The Mossend works closed in 1928 and the Coatbridge works in the following year, when manufacture of motor cars and aircraft was abandoned. After Lord Invernairn's death in 1936  , Alley & MacLellan and the Dalmuir works were also sold. In 1969  , William Beardmore & Co Ltd was a member of the Thomas Firth & John Brown Group with its headquarters still at Parkhead, Glasgow. In 1975  , William Beardmore & Co Ltd ceased to trade.

Source: A Slaven & S Checkland, , vol 1Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography: 1860-1960(Aberdeen, 1986)

Arrangement

This material is arranged into series, which consist of numbers of items related by format and/or function. Within series, the items are generally arranged chronologically.

Conditions Governing Access

Open

Acquisition Information

A D : 1 July 1976

Johnson Firth Brown Group : December 1982 (UGD 179 only)

Loan : private: March 1992 : ACCN164

Gift : Professor Brown : Glasgow University : March 1996 : ACCN257

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom

Manual file level list available at the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S)1575) and London (NRA14667)

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use & condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures

Custodial History

Unknown

Accruals

None expected

Related Material

GB 248 UGD 127 Papers of T Service, director of William Beardmore & Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 137 Papers of James Mowat, technical director of William Beardmore & Co Ltd

William Beardmore & Co Ltd had links with the following companies:

GB 248 UGD 100/2 Records of Dalmuir & West of Scotland Estates Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 100/3 Records of Glasgow Railway Engineering Co Ltd

GB 248 UGD 100/4 Records of Beardmore Overseas Corporation Ltd

GB 248 UGD 100/5 Records of Beardmore Paisley Ltd

GB 248 UGD 100/6 Records of Broadway Trust Co Ltd

Bibliography

No known publications using this material

Additional Information

This material is original

Updated by Jenny Cooknell, Assistant Archivist, 25 October 1999

Updated by David Powell, Hub Project Archivist, 23 May 2002

Geographical Names