13th February 1839

Engineer and bridge builder William Arrol is born

William Arrol was responsible for some of the most important bridges of his day. In particular, he worked on the Forth Bridge and the new Tay bridge, which replaced the original railway bridge that collapsed in the storm of December 1879. His work on these two bridges earned him a knighthood.

He featured on the £5 note issued by Clydesdale Bank in 2015.

Engineer and Parliamentarian

As well as being a renowned engineer, William Arrol was a member of parliament for South Ayrshire, where he triumphed in the general election of 1895, and for which he continued to serve, as a member of the Liberal Unionist Party, until 1906. He was hardly prolific in his contributions to national debates, being recorded in Hansard, the official record of the London Parliament, as having spoken only six times in the House of Commons between 1896 and 1905. However, when he did speak or ask questions his contributions show a keen focus on Scottish issues.

In a 1905 debate concerning land taxation, he reminded other members that “they had heard a great deal about garden cities around their larger industrial centres, but in his opinion there were no better lungs for a city than large works, with extensive open spaces, and if the Glasgow Corporation would try to reduce the rates so as to accommodate large works within the boundaries instead of driving them out, it would be a great deal better for the citizens and for the working population”.

Jobs for all

It may seem contrary to argue in favour of heavy industry in the city centre, rather than beyond the city limits, but his argument made sense when Arrol explained that “he was interested in a concern employing about 2,000 hands. It was about ten miles outside the city, and houses were built for the workpeople, though most of them preferred to live in the city. The reason why the men were willing to work outside and yet live in the city of Glasgow was in order to get employment for the girls and women left in it. He knew a case where a man was content to live in Glasgow and get 5s. less weekly than he would have had living in Dumbarton where he worked, simply because in the former place he had better facilities for finding employment for the female members of his family.”

Arrow was born in Renfrewshire, trained as a blacksmith, and joined a Glasgow bridge building company in his 20s. He died in Ayr on 20 February 1913.



Other events that occured in February

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