- Ledgers 1898-1946
- Journals 1909-1946
- Cashbooks 1920-1971
- Correspondence 1910-1919
- Register of contracts 1917-1938
- Bank books 1908
- Staff and wage records 1919-1952
- Pant records 1916-1949
- Contract papers 1882-1944
- Licences, patents and commercial agreements 1907-1938
- Property agreements 1902-1946
- Miscellaneous documents relating to other companies 1908-1930
- Papers relating to the McAlpine family 1922-1930
- Inventories 1926-1943
- Photographs 20th century; company histories c1913-1930
- Research notes made by Iain Russell as part of his research for Sir Robert McAlpine & sons: The Early Years mid-1980s
- Photocopies of newspaper cuttings from 1887-1906 [mid-1980s?]
- Cataloguing project reports 1979-1982
Records of Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons Ltd, civil engineering contractors, Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, and London, England
- This material is held at
- ReferenceGB 248 UGD 254/1,/21-25
- Dates of Creation1882-1982
- Name of Creator
- Language of MaterialEnglish
- Physical Description5.6 metres
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
Sir Robert McAlpine was born in 1847 at Newarthill, North Lanarkshire, Scotland . After leaving school at the age of 10 he worked in a local mine, first as a trapper and then, from the age of 15, at coal face itself. At the age of 17, he became a bricklayers apprentice in Coltness, North Lanarkshire, but continued to work in the mines during the winter months. In 1868 , he entered into business on his own as a jobbing builder, marrying shortly afterwards and settling in Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, and later Hamilton, South Lanarkshire.
In 1872 , Robert won his first major contract to build 100 miners' cottages in the Hamilton area for William Smith Dixon , owner of businesses in iron and coal. The successful completion of the cottages provided Robert with the capital to undertake larger building contracts on the railways, pit-heads and iron works in Lanarkshire. By 1877, he was regularly employing several hundred men with a turnover of £100,000. His business expanded with contracts all over Scotland from Edinburgh to Argyll. He purchased land to build housing, building over 500 houses and 50 tenements between 1875 and 1878 . However, the depression of 1877 lead to unemployment and shrinking markets for coal and iron left him with houses he couldn't sell and he was declared bankrupt in May 1880 . That year had seen him enter a partnership of convenience with his cashier, William Richmond, as McAlpine & Richmond , knowing that if he was declared bankrupt he could lose everything. Although the partnership ended with his bankruptcy, he was able to control the business while Richmond, the sole partner, remained in the background.
McAlpine was able to emerge from bankruptcy in August 1881 when he resumed his role as partner in McAlpine & Richmond . In 1882, McAlpine & Richmond won a major contract worth £300,000 to build the new sewing machine factory for the Singer Manufacturing Company at Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, and this was completed in 1885.
In 1883, McAlpine dissolved the partnership with Richmond and expanded into civil engineering, under the name, Robert McAlpine & Co , with the main company offices situated in Clydebank. His first contract in 1884 was for the building of the original 21-mile section of the Lanarkshire & Ayrshire Railway , and was the first of 4 contracts for this company. This enabled the firm to establish a reputation as railway contractors and between 1884 and 1904 the firm built nearly 150 miles of railway lines in Scotland and Ireland.
In 1893 , Robert took his eldest sons, Robert jnr and William Hepburn, into partnership as Robert McAlpine & Sons , with his other sons, (Thomas) Malcolm, Alfred and Granville joining the partnership in 1905 . The company began to build reservoirs, docks and pipelines while continuing with the traditional side of the business by building gasworks, warehouses and railway stations. By 1893, the company was employing 7,000 men with a turnover of £450,000. By 1900, Robert had passed most of the administrative duties of the business to his sons, although he remained an active partner, especially in big contract work such as the Radnor Park "Holy City" housing development at the Singer works begun in 1904. By 1914, McAlpine owned over 1,400 houses and shops in the area.
Robert's use of concrete as a building material from the 1870s onwards, something relatively unusual in Scotland at the time, lead to his nickname, "Concrete Bob". His company experimented with various forms of concrete and in later years used mass concrete in constructions. In 1904, the company began to use reinforced concrete on a large scale as well as taking out licences to used patented concrete methods. The first such licence was for Hennibique's patent and the licence was managed by a new subsidiary company of McAlpine's, McAlpine Hennebique Ferro-Concrete Co Ltd , established in 1907.
In 1906, Malcolm McAlpine opened The Victoria Agency Ltd in London, England, winning in time major contracts for the building of reservoirs in England and Wales. During the 1914-1918 World War, Robert McAlpine & Sons completed over £5 million of war contracts, and, in 1916, the head office was moved from Clydebank to London , although the main Scottish office remained in Clydebank until 1923 . The post war years saw further expansion in house and road building contracts with local authorities in both England and Scotland.
In 1918 , Robert McAlpine, snr, was awarded a baronet and the company became known as Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons . The 1920s and early 1930s saw the incorporation of a number of subsidiary companies as the company began to expand further into the UK. These limited liability companies were created to manage regional contract work on behalf of the company and included: Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons (London) Ltd , Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons (Scotland) Ltd , Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons (Midlands) Ltd , Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Ltd , Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons (Ireland) Ltd , Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons (Birmingham) Ltd and Sir Robert McAlpine Properties (Scotland) Ltd . Although the parent company remained a partnership, the new companies, with the partners of Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons as directors and shareholders, helped to spread the financial risk of undertaking large projects. If a contract belonging to Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons (London) Ltd failed for example, only that company would be financially liable and not Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons .
In Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons 1922, won the contract for the building of Wembley Stadium, London, and the British Empire Exhibition buildings. They later built the Dorchester Hotel , London, in 1931, which they fully owned between 1937-1976 as a subsidiary, Dorchester Hotel Ltd . By 1931, the business was managed by William, Malcolm and Alfred and Sir Robert died in 1934 .
At this time Robert, jnr, took over the running of the business but he himself died 13 days later. William McAlpine , his brother, then took over as chairman. In 1956 , the company was incorporated with limited liability as Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons Ltd . In 1972, the McAlpine family formed Newarthill Ltd , a public company quoted on the Stock Exchange, to become a holding company for the main concern and other family controlled businesses. The main concern was taken back into private hands in the mid 1980s and in 1992 renamed Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd with its registered offices in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England.
Slaven, A and Checkland, S (eds.), vol 2Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography 1860-1960 ( Aberdeen , 1990 )
Russell, Iain F,Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons: The Early Years ( Wiltshire , 1988 )
The material has been arranged into series as shown in the scope and content. Within series, items are generally arranged chronologically.
Conditions Governing Access
Deposit : Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons Ltd : 1985
Other Finding Aids
Digital and manual file level lists of the surviving records of Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons Ltd, subsidiaries and related companies are available in the searchroom ref: UGD 254
Manual file level list available at the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S) 3111) and London (NRA32523)
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
This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures
Held by Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons Ltd, Kettering. Transferred to Glasgow University Archive Services in 1985 during the preparation of the company history.
This material is original
Compiled by David Powell, Hub Project Archivist, January 2003
No alterations made to date