brochure has been prepared with the intention of giving information on the history of the Company on which our experience is based, and at the same time, to show some of our recent technical advances in the Offices, Works and Sites. I hope that all our friends and customers will not only,find the contents of interest but will discover therein an image of the largest structural engineering Company in Great Britain moving ivith the new conditions of the twentieth century and constantly seeking ways to improve its service to the client.
GEORGE III had been on the throne for 30 of the 60 years of his reign when, in 1791, John Redpath, son of a Scottish weaver, was apprenticed to an Edinburgh ironmonger. The weaver was a poor man, and in sending his son a modest sum of money he wrote “fie as frugal as you can and ware it to the best advantage, as you know it is not easy got”. So well did young John “ware” it, that by 1802 he was able to enter into partnership with John Stevenson Brown. They opened a shop in the centre of Edinburgh, trading as ” Ironmongers, Nailmakers and Seedsmen, under the name of Redpath and Brown. George III. 1791 John Redpath apprenticed to Edinburgh ironmonger. First steamship on Hirer Thames.1802 Partnership of Redpath &. Brown formed, John Rennie builds his first iron arch bridge. Trafalgar. War with United States of America, 1812 James Marshall apprenticed to Redpath &, Brown. Waterloo. McAdam introduced his road surface. 1816 Leith Branch opened. 1817 S. Brown builds River Tweed suspension bridge, near Peebles. Formation of the Institution of Civil Engineers, First steamboat crosses Atlantic. Telford builds Menai Bridge. George IV. 1820 Formation of Redpath Brown. Company, with James Marshall. First railway, from Stockton to Darlington, by George Stephenson, First book published on “Strength of Materials and Structural Analysis” (Henri Navier). Foundation of Middlesbrough. William IV. Formation of Royal Institute of British Architects. First patent for wire rope. Brunel commences Clifton Bridge, Bristol, Queen Victoria, First electric telegraph operates. London University establishes Department of Civil Engineering. Brunel builds Hungerford Bridge, London. 1841 J. S. Brown retires. The ironmongery side of the business prospered so well that the rest was soon overshadowed, and by 1816 the partners were able to open a branch at Leith. Among their pioneering activities their records show such items as: “Grave Safety Covers, inclusive of iron screws for use with the above covers” a grim reminder of the prevalence of body-snatching for the clandestine trade with the students of surgery. Their dealings in wrought iron led J. S. Brown to concentrate on the design and construction of bridges. His earliest known example is an iron wire suspension bridge across the River Tweed below Peebles, built in 1817 and in use until 1957. Another bridge across the same river, built in 1825 and still giving service today, connects Gattonside to Melrose. At the inaugural ceremony Brown is reported to have observed, ” When I undertook the execution of this bridge, my mind was anxiously set upon doing it in such a way as would make it both useful and ornamental: so as to be a credit to myself and to give satisfaction to all connected with, or interested therein”. Brown’s engineering ability may be gauged from the fact that it was not until 1826 that the first book ever to appear on the subject of “Strength of Materials and Structural Analysis” was published by the French Engineer, Louis Navier. The Partners invited James Marshall, who had been apprenticed to them some years earlier, to join the partnership in 1820, and thereafter the business was carried on under the name of “Redpath, Brown and Company”. By the time J. S. Brown retired in 1841, the new era in engineering was well under way. The world’s first railway had been opened, and its promoters, looking for an outlet for their coal trade to the sea had chosen a site on the River Tees that was to become Middlesbrough; the Stephensons (father and son) had constructed the Liverpool and Manchester railway, and I. K. Brunei was building the Great Western railway and the “Great Western” steamship (first to cross the Atlantic). The enormous demand for engineers led London University to establish a department of civil engineering. When, five years after Brown’s retirement, John Redpath died, James Marshall became the sole partner in Redpath Brown’s. He proved to be a sound commercial administrator, attempting no new ventures, but developing the ironmongery business into a major enterprise over the next twenty-five years, During these years, when Nasmyth introduced the steam hammer for forging, and Bessemer patented his process for steel-making, the engineering feat which created the greatest public interest was the building designed by Joseph Paxton and erected in Hyde Park, London, to house the “Great Exhibition” of 1851. This huge iron-framed, glass-clad structure, soon to be christened the “Crystal Palace”, was erected in 17 weeks; an unprecedented example of “pre-fabrication”. It persuaded one young visitor, a nephew of James Marshall, that structural engineering should be his career. Joining his uncle as an apprentice, John Cowan applied himself with enthusiasm and vigour. In 1868 he became a partner. Five years later, with the retirement of Marshall, he assumed full control, and the period of quiet development for Redpath, Brown and Company was over. Cowan, whose enterprise and ability was later to earn him a knighthood, lost no time: he made the decision which virtually decided the future role of the Company. He imported from Belgium stocks of the new wrought-iron rolled beams and installed some simple plant in his stockyard for their manipulation. At this time, sections were cut to length by the “skull-cracker” method. The section was nicked all round by hammer and chisel at the point to be cut and laid across two supports; an iron ball was hoisted by crane, and a man at the jib-head “sighted” and released the ball to fall on the exact spot to break the section. The demand for ironwork in buildings grew very quickly, and under its impetus technical developments soon had supplies of the new Bessemer and Open Hearth steels available. Iron ore found in the Cleveland Hills around Middlesbrough had a high phosphorus content: Gilchrist & Thomas, at the works of steel makers Bolckow, Vaughan, demonstrated how the phosphoric content could be eliminated’ in a Bessemer converter. The first rolled sections in this new material became available in this country in 1883, when Dorman Long commenced production at their Britannia Works. The considerable economy in design of these sections, together with the greater reliability of steel, more than offset its higher cost, and the changeover from iron to steel for structural purposes became an accomplished fact. By now, Redpath Brown were executing orders in the North and Midlands of England, and had opened a branch office in Glasgow: a few years later, a small structural shop was also opened in that city. Enterprising John Cowan, finding his next-door neighbour in Edinburgh had an excess of power, promptly arranged for the drive shaft to be extended into his own shops! HS. could now (1886) offer his customers drilled and riveted compound girders. -He also gave them what was even more badly needed—authoritative information
In 1892 was published a modest volume of “Roof Designs and Tables of Safe Loads on Iron and Steel Rolled Sections”; the first edition of the Redpath Brown Handbook. Cowan had many other ideas, but his main problem now was to find the capital to implement them. He saw his opportunity in 1896, when a group of influential Midland businessmen approached him with a proposition that he should undertake the manufacture of the Stirling Water Tube Boiler. A new company—Redpath Brown and Company Limited was floated with a nominal capital of £100,000; the wholesale ironmongery was disposed of to-two employees in the department, and a new factory, with both structural and boiler shops, was built in Edinburgh. Machinery in the works was driven by electric motors. Nasmyth introduces steam hammer. First beams in iron rolled in France by Zore. J. Redpath dies. J. Marshall sole 18′ partner, Robert Stevenson builds Britannia Tubular Bridge, Menai Straits. Crystal Palace at Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London. Bessemer patents his method of steel- making. Rankine publishes his first “Applied Mechanics”. John Rennie completes Saltash Bridge, River Tamar. John Cowan apprenticed to Redpath 186 Brown. First successful Atlantic cable laid. J. Cowan becomes a partner 1886 Suez Canal opened. J. Cowan assumes control from J. 187 Marshall. Gilchrist &. Thomas successfully converts Cleveland Ore. Edison produces Incandescent electric lamp. James Marshall retires. 1881 Chas. Parsons patents steam turbine. Daimler drives cycle with internal combustion engine. Glasgow office opened 1885 Machinery installed at Edinburgh 1886 warehouse. Parliament introduces free elementary education. Redpath Brown publishes first Handbook. Redpath Brown becomes a Limited 1896 Company. Diesel perfects his engine. New Factory at Edinburgh with 1897 electric power. First completely steel-framed building in British Isles by Redpath Brown. Wright brothers fly heavier-than-air machine. New factory in London commences Establishment of British Engineering Standards Association, ,’New factory in Manchester. This innovation was so far ahead of its time that the Company had, perforce, to install its own steam-driven generator. Some years later a separate company was formed to carry on manufacture of the boilers. When this was eventually disposed of, Redpath Brown was able to concentrate on its main role as Structural Steel Engineers. The turn of the century saw a period of general prosperity and industrial expansion. The Company was constantly adopting new ideas in design, construction and erection. Cowan, as an enlightened employer, increased his wage rates and shortened the working week by starting his men at 7.30 a.m. (6.30 a.m. was the generally accepted time) and introduced a Workmen’s Savings Bank. Under his medical scheme, employees and their families had the services of a doctor (with medicine supplied) for one penny a week. Later he was to pioneer the principle of paid holidays. Demand was now beginning to overtake the capacity of the industry and deliveries were becoming protracted. It was then that the Company adopted its policy of laying down large stocks, to safeguard its tradition of always honouring delivery promises. The decision, taken in 1900, to establish a branch in the London area began the expansion programme which was to ensure the Company’s lead in the field of structural steel engineering. A riverside factory was built on reclaimed land at East Greenwich: production commenced in 1903. That same year a Manchester firm, The Structural Engineering Company, was acquired; new workshops built on the Trafford Park Estate were in production by 1904. The first completely steel-framed building in the British Isles was a furniture store at Stockton-on-Tees, designed and erected by Redpath Brown & Co. Ltd. in 1900. In the next few years a number of similar structures were successfully completed (among them store buildings in Edinburgh and Belfast), and by 1911 the Company had constructed, for a Manchester office building, a framework containing over 7,000 tons of steel, the first 2,000 tons of which was erected in 8 weeks! To meet the needs of this rapidly growing business, the capital of the Company was increased to £250,000. By now, the British Engineering Standards Association had introduced a standard for rolled steel beams, channels and angles, and the Company had issued a new and enlarged edition of its Handbook based on these standardised sections. Within a few years another edition covered, in addition, the Regulations of the London County Council. Interrupted by the four years of World War I, the Company continued to expand, and in 1917 the nominal capital was increased to £600,000. Two years later, the ordinary share issue was brought up to £350,000, which, with the £175,000 preference shares, made a total issued capital of £525,000: at which figure it still stands. Turnover was now substantial, competition was very keen, and the Company was having to look further afield for its business. The export market developed so rapidly that, by 1922, a specially-built factory near Glasgow was working to capacity. It was at this point that the Directors were approached by Bolckow, Vaughan and Company, who wished to acquire the whole of the ordinary share capital of the Company. The proposal was accepted and the arrangement worked to mutual advantage for the next seven years. In 1929, Bolckow Vaughan merged with Dorman Long and Company Limited, and Redpath Brown became one of the Dorman Long Group of Companies. That same year Sir John Cowan died, after almost 70 years of unremitting service to the Company. Speech and music first transmitted bjf radio. Institution of Structural Engineers founded, Bleriot flies English Channel. George V. Capital increased to £.200,000. 1910 Ford Motor Co. produces ‘Model T in Manchester, England. Production of Munitions for World War I. Authorised capital increased to £600,000. Ordinary share capital brought up to £,31:0,000. Total capital issued to 25,000. New Factory at Glasgow, principally i921 for exports. Ordinary share capital acquired by 1922 Bolctow Vaughan &. Co. 1929 Merger with Dorman Long &. Co. Ltd. Sir John Cowan dies. Whittle patents his gas turbine for jet propulsion, British Standards Institution formed. Edward VIII. George VI. British Standards Institution issues B.S.449—structural steel design. 1939/45 Military production at all factories. Elizabeth II. 1959 Dorman Long introduces Universal sections. During the 1939/45 period all factories were heavily engaged in supplying to the Armed Forces products (such as a small fleet of tank landing craft) not normally associated with structural steelwork. The years since the war have seen a steady expansion of all branches of the organisation. Within the various Works streamlining of the production lines has been achieved with the introduction of modern plant, including automatic welding, electroslag welding, multi-spindle drilling and shot-blasting. Modern buildings require very large pieces of fabricated steel to be shop assembled prior to delivery. To meet this requirement heavy cranes have been installed at the various Works and pieces up to 50 tons in weight are handled as easily as small units. On the building sites a similar metamorphosis is in evidence, with tower cranes-supplanting the traditional scotch derricks-feeding pre-fabricated units to the site welders, working to erection programmes analysed by “critical path” methods. But probably the greatest advances have occurred in the design offices. Following the introduction of Universal sections in 1958 and high yield steel in 1962, the Company’s engineers, using new methods of design and analysis available with computer programmes, are now offering steel frame designs of greater efficiency, flexibility and economy, than ever before. Yet another edition of the Redpath Brown Handbook incorporating these latest advances, is in course of preparation. Its early publication will demonstrate the determination of the Company to remain in the fore-front of the structural steel industry; its proud history being its inspiration for the future. TODAY, as a result of its continued expan- sion, Redpath Brown is the largest structural steel fabricating company in Great Britain, having a capacity of 100,000 tons per annum. Its staff of nearly 3,000 employees is engaged in the design, fabrication and erection of steelwork for every part of the world. Exports are the life blood of the United Kingdom’s economy, and Redpath Brown plays its full part. Currently steel fabrications of all types are being sent to twenty-one overseas countries, and visits are frequently made by senior executives of the Company to our overseas agents and offices. Over the years the name Redpath Brown has become principally associated with the larger con- tracts—power stations, automobile factories and the like. In fact, the Company does obtain a considerable proportion of its trade from smaller contracts such as steelwork for shops, schools, churches, and all types of storage sheds and workshops. No job is too large for the Company to handle and no contract too small to receive individual attention and service.
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A valuable bit of history from a Redpath Brown Apprentice starting in 1961 in Trafford Park. RB&C was chosen for me when I was 16 years old at a Labour Exchange and within ayear I was in their design department under the mentorship of the great William (Basher) Bates. I worked on the production of the manual at that time. A massive job with tables and tables of data to be checked by crude calculators. I searched on the internet foloowing an artical in the ISE mag regarding a new book Early Structural Steel in London Buildings which gives hidden credit to Manchester bas the start of the steel framing business. Before progressing to the design side I had produced a massive linen drawing of the 14 ft deep girders for Ferrybridge power station from which the boilers were suspended. My mind went back to the wonderful floor plans and details for Kendal Milne store in Manchester the like of which I have not seen since. I was so lucky to have been placed in RB&C and this has stood me in good stead since.he fact that I was from RB&C got me my first overseas job in Holland on their name alone. Further work in France Belgium Italy Germany Iran Saudi Arabia and London 🙂 followed. I was quite surprised to find I had the edge on the Londoners in structural steelwork but now I can see some of the reason. Still going strong in Saudi Arabia.
Regards and thanks
Ray Cookson M.I. Struct E
I have just read my comment. The start is badly written. I meant to convey it is your article that is valuable history. Comments from a former apprentice. Thanks
My father worked at redpath for many years as a checker, his name was Sid Budgen ,I say was as he past some 15 years ago his wife and my mother Margaret is still alive today at 92. I worked there for a time in my teens and to see the riveters was something to behold. To see the fire boy swing the white hot rivet in the air and the riveter pick the hot rivet out the air with a pair of tongs about 9 inches long wow!!!
My father, James Kirwen, was an engineer at Redpath Brown, prior to his recruitment and emigration to Canada 1951. He said he got his start there and was always grateful. He passed away a few years back and I wanted to see if this Company was still in existance.
I’ve come across a woodworking gouge (probably turning gouge) stamped Redpath, Brown & Co, Edinburgh, but I can find no record of the company ever having produced hand tools. Any comments much appreciated!