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British Industrial History

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Andrew Fairbairn

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Picture published in 1894.

Sir Andrew Fairbairn (1828-1901) of Fairbairn, Naylor, Macpherson and Co

Son of Peter Fairbairn

1901 Obituary [1]

Sir ANDREW FAIRBAIRN was born on 5th March 1828 at Anderston, Glasgow, being the only son of Sir Peter Fairbairn. He was named after his grandfather, Andrew Fairbairn, whose two sons William and Peter were successively honoured by royalty. The elder—President of this Institution in 1854-55 — received a baronetcy in acknowledgement of his scientific attainments and services, and the younger was knighted when the late Queen visited Leeds to open the Town Hall during his mayoralty in 1858.

About five months after his birth his father left Glasgow, and settled in Leeds. With the aid of Mr. John Marshall, he took the vacant Wellington Foundry (which today employs nearly 2,500 work people); and here the father started making machines of his own designing, not only for flax and woollen machinery, but subsequently for machine-tools generally.

After attending a school in Leeds, Andrew Fairbairn was placed from 1838 to 1842 under Professor Topffner in Geneva. He was next sent to the High School, Glasgow, and after attending lectures at Glasgow College, he spent a short time with a tutor at Huntingdon preparing for matriculation at Cambridge University, whither he proceeded in 1847, entering first at Christ's College, and then a few months later at Peterhouse College. After four years' study he graduated in 1850 as thirty-seventh wrangler.

In the same year he entered himself as a student of the Inner Temple, being called to the Bar in 1852. After three years spent on the Northern Circuit, he ceased to practise and travelled in the United States.

In 1856 ho went to Hanover, where he spent the winter studying German, and in the following year returned to Leeds and entered the business of his father. With a view to extending the business of the Wellington Foundry, he went to Germany, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, where he made himself familiar with the practical working of the flax mills.

In 1860 he was taken into partnership by his father, on whose death in the following year he assumed the sole charge of the business until 1863, when he took into partnership his cousin, Mr. T. S. Kennedy, and Mr. J. W. Naylor.

In 1882 Mr. Kennedy retired from the firm, which was then converted into a private company, under the style of Fairbairn, Naylor, Macpherson and Co.

In 1900 this firm was amalgamated with Messrs. S. Lawson and Sons of Leeds, and Messrs. Combe, Barbour, and Combe, of Belfast, under the title of Fairbairn, Lawson, Combe-Barbour, Sir Andrew being chairman of the joint concern.

In 1866 he was elected Mayor of Leeds, and re-elected in the following year. During the second year of his mayoralty a national exhibition of works of art was opened in Leeds by the Prince of Wales, and the honour of knighthood was then conferred upon him.

From 1870 to 1878 he was first chairman of the Leeds School Board; and in conjunction with Lord Frederick Cavendish he took an active part in founding the Yorkshire College, Leeds, in 1874. The success of their efforts is shown by the rapid progress and present prosperity of the College, of which he was for many years treasurer, besides being a life governor, a member of the council, and chairman of the engineering committee.

In 1877-8 he was a member of the Royal Commission for the Paris Exhibition in the latter year.

In 1878 he was elected a director of the Great Northern Railway, and was also a member of the Great Northern and Great Eastern Railways joint committee. He sat in Parliament for the eastern division of the West Riding from 1880-5, and for the Otley division 1885-6. He presided over the Committee which organised the International Railway Congress, and officiated as the Vice-President when the Conference first was held in Brussels in 1885.

For his services in this respect he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of Leopold of Belgium; and when the Congress assembled in Paris in 1889, he acted as President of the first section, and was made a Commander of the Legion of Honour. He was a magistrate for Leeds and for the West Riding, and a deputy-lieutenant for the latter; in 1892-3 he filled the office of High Sheriff of Yorkshire.

He had not been in his usual health during the winter of 1900, which he spent at his house in Biarritz, and was taken ill there with an internal complaint at the end of May. He managed to travel back to his residence in London, where his doctors found it necessary to make an operation. This was performed with success, but the serious effect of his illness became apparent, and his death took place on 31st May 1901, at the age of seventy-three.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1868.

Obituary 1901 [2][3]

"...we regret to have to announce, died on Friday night last at his London house. By his death the textile industry of Great Britain has lost a prominent member, the city of Leeds a distinguished and valued citizen. Proved by the soundness of his work, in whatever lino it lay, the career of Sir Andrew Fairbairn may well be taken as a fine example of the excellent results of a thorough education. In these days, when much is talked of technical education, of want of initiative, of American push and English apathy, it is refreshing to turn to the upbringing of a successful man.

The only son of Sir Peter Fairbairn, the distinguished engineer and machine maker, Mr. Andrew Fairbairn, as he was then, began ' life under promising auspices..."[More].

1901 Obituary [4]

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