Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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John Aird and Sons

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1848 John Aird, senior left the Phoenix Gas Co which nevertheless continued to provide him with pipe-laying work.

1840s Laid water mains experience for the East London waterworks

His son Charles (1832- ) was a drawing clerk[1]

1851 His son, John Aird junior, joined his father as his clerk. The firm became known as John Aird & Sons

1850 Aird senior obtained contracts for pipe-laying and building work for the Great Exhibition.

1852 One of Aird junior's first tasks was to assist in the demolition of the Crystal Palace and re-erection at Sydenham.

1850s the activities of John Aird & Sons expanded rapidly. Gained contracts for the new waterworks of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Co, the Grand Junction Water Co, and the West Middlesex Water Co near Hampton.

On the European continent, the Airds began mains laying in the Netherlands, before building waterworks in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Altona, Schiedam, Brunswick, Riga, Archangel, and Moscow. In Copenhagen, in addition to the waterworks, John Aird senior built the first major outfall sewer, which nearly bankrupted the firm.

The Airds formed a partnership with Charles Fox and Thomas Crompton to establish the Berlin Water Company. Aird's brother-in-law Henry Gill was the engineer. Alexander, John Aird's younger brother, was the contractor's agent on many of these schemes, and remained in Germany for forty years.

The firm continued to work on gasworks contracts. Charles increasingly took responsibility for the gasworks side of the family's business. John Aird junior worked on the South Staffordshire waterworks, Berlin waterworks, Palermo gasworks, and contracts in Ottawa, Brazil, and Singapore.

Major projects included:

1860s the Airds began railway contracting. In the Thames Valley Railway they took an entrepreneurial role with nearly 90 per cent of the share capital.

They also became increasingly involved with other contractors. In addition to waterworks schemes at Calcutta, with Brassey and Wythes, and works with Peto and Betts in Cagliari, they partnered Sir John Kelk in the construction of Millwall Docks (1863–8), which they helped finance. Their most lasting connection was with Charles Thomas and Thomas Lucas, who shared their premises in Belvedere Road, Lambeth, in the 1860s.

1866 In the wake of the Overend Gurney banking failure both the Airds and the Lucas Brothers were ideally placed to fill the vacuum left by the bankruptcy of many of the leading contracting firms. Between them they completed many of Peto's contracts.

From 1870 the two families operated as three firms: Lucas Brothers, who carried out building works, Lucas and Aird, who carried out railway and civil engineering contracts, and John Aird & Sons, who continued to specialize in water and gas contracts.

John Aird junior took increasing responsibility within the family firm, having supervised the massive Beckton Gasworks contract, completed in 1870.

1876 Following John Aird Senior's death, the firm was reorganized.

In early 1877 it was in serious financial trouble with the Nottingham and Melton contract for the Midland Railway, and Lucas Brothers had to rescue it. Charles Aird retired, leaving John Aird junior to continue with the Lucas brothers.

Aird's sons, were brought into the business:

  • John (1861–1934), joined in 1879, and became a partner in 1886. One early scheme he worked on was the 1885 Suakim–Berber military railway.
  • Malcolm (1872–1934), joined in 1892.

1895 A new firm of John Aird and Co was set up to carry on the railway and civil engineering work, and Aird and Sons continued the water and gas contracts. John Aird junior remained very active. Nearly fifty more contracts were taken by the two Aird firms before his death.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1851 census
  • Biography of Sir John Aird, ODNB