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British Industrial History

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Penman and Co

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Penman and Co Ltd, boilermakers, Caledonian Iron Works, Strathclyde Street, Bridgeton

c.1871 Mr. Robert Penman started his boiler-making business, in Dalmarnock Road,

Built additional works in Strathclyde Street.

1888 the Strathclyde Street premises were occupied by Messrs. Penman & Co.

1888 Glasgow International Exhibition. Lancashire Boiler. [1]

By 1895 4 large-sized Lancashire boilers were turned out every week.

1896 Mr Penman died; his sons succeeded him in the business. The eldest, Mr. William Penman, was born in Springburn in the year 1856, and attended Annfield Academy. Mr. Robert Reid Penman was about five years younger; the youngest brother, Mr. Alexander Penman, passed through the ordinary apprenticeship to the trade, and became an inside manager.

1965 Business closed

From ‘Captains of Industry’ by William S. Murphy. Published 1901.


TECHNICAL education has at last attained to what may be called scholastic respectability. The professors of engineering and mechanics are permitted to sit in equality with the Professors of Greek or Latin. For so much we congratulate ourselves, and fondly hope that now British industry has a chance to resume its former lead in the van of progress. This is not the place to discuss schemes of technical education and their worth, but we may be permitted to observe that shrewd business men do more than hint of an evil greater than technical education can cure. The notion that the noblest position a man can occupy is wealthy idleness has too firm a hold upon the general mind. What is the use of trying to educate artisans in the technics of industry when they are possessed by the idea that the noblest position is outside industry altogether? How can young men he expected to study hard at a trade which they hope to quit as soon as they are able? Industrial enthusiasm is a much more desirable quality than technical knowledge. We would respectfully suggest to the educational authorities that professorships of labour should be established in all universities and colleges forthwith. Perhaps that is impossible, and if possible might not meet the case. At any rate, industrial enthusiasm is the great desideratum at the present hour; we have to convince our artisans that the trade at which they spend their time and energy is worthy and manful. That achieved, the technical educator's task were half done. The secret of the wonderful success attained by our early engineers and mechanics lies in the fact that they thought their craft worth while. To men with the like enthusiasm the possibilities of industrial development and conquest arc practically infinite

Boilermaking is an industry of first importance, and every man engaged in it ought to know that by his labour he confers benefit on the community. Electricity, gas, air, and hydraulic motors notwithstanding, steam is still the prime motive power for machinery of all kinds, and without the boilermaker's aid steam is unattainable. He is an important part of the vast mechanism we call industry. In some industries boilermakers form a group or department along with others; but to obtain a clear view of the boilermaker and his craft it is best to look in upon an establishment wholly devoted to the making of boilers, such as that of Messrs. Penman & Co.

The boiler ordinarily used on land, as distinguished from the marine boiler, is simply a huge cylindrical shell with two fire-flues running throughout. Simple as the structure appears, the task of building a large boiler is one of considerable difficulty, and requires no little technical skill. When to the difficulty of making one boiler you add the necessity for producing a large number cheaply and satisfactory to the Government inspectors, you arrive at the present-day boilermaker's situation.

In the open yard at Strathclyde Street lie piles of iron plates, varying in thickness from 0.25in. to 1.0in., and in length from 5 ft. to 28 ft., weighing from 2 cwt. to over a ton. These plates are conveyed to the planing machine, one of the largest tools of its kind. It is a long iron table, surmounted by a series of screws which when the plate is marked and laid, hold it firmly in position. Beside the table a long screw lies, and attached to it a keen cutter, which runs the length of the plate, cutting it smooth and fair. The top of the plate is similarly treated by the knife at the end of the table. The plate is now ready to be marked for drilling.

When marked with mathematical exactness the plate is rolled into cylindrical form by a series of vertical iron rollers. These exert an enormous pressure, turning cold steel plates without jar or crack into cylinders. Next, the cylinders are clamped on to the drilling machines — flat circular tables fitted with clamps that at once centre and hold the cylinder steady for the drills, with huge arms rising up on each side holding bright gimlets as big as dirks. As soon as the cylinder is in position, the gimlets begin to play with a peculiar serpentine motion, piercing into the steel in an incredibly short time.

The next important stage is the riveting. To those familiar with the clanging clatter of the riveters on the Clyde, the riveting done here comes with all the charm of novelty. Cylinder is laid over cylinder, and their edges brought together. Then the mechanical riveter gets to work. Heated a red heat, the rivets are fed into its human-like grip, then slowly, but with the pressure of 70 tons to the squarer inch, the rivets are driven home. Two cylinder plates having been fastened together, they are elevated by the overhead crane to admit a third, which in turn is joined on and again is elevated to receive another, till the whole length of the boiler is completed.

The building of a boiler is a practical paradox - you begin at the top, though the building goes on at the bottom. The flues are made by quite a different process. Alongside the main building stand the smithy and forge, with blazing tanks of fire huge Naysmith hammers and familiar smithy implements: turned gigantic and automatic beyond recognition. Here the flue-tubes are welded. Small plates of steel are rolled into circular tubes and welded at white heat. Plain steel pipes as they now are, the novice might think they have only to be riveted like the parts of the boiler; but the boilermaker knows better. He knows that, in such a form, they could not withstand the enormous lateral pressure to which they must submit. The edges of the little pipes have to be flanged, turned over flat, and each pipe riveted on to the other, flange to flange. The flanging machine is an ingenious contrivance, resembling closely the jaws of an animal. Into those heavy jaws the heated shell is thrust, and is literally squeezed into shape. When properly flanged, drilled, and otherwise prepared, the short pipes are subjected to a riveting machine, which joins them all together, and forms the flue-tube.

We have endeavoured to sketch the chief operations in the boilermaking process, though to the expert it will at once be evident that many details are omitted. All through the extensive buildings machines of every description whirl and fly, hammers strike with superhuman force, huge guillotines shear through steel, serpentine drills drive through heavy plates here the covered furnaces heat the stubborn metal to welding temper, there the open tires of the olden time smithy glow — an arsenal of iron-working instruments.

The equipment of this boilermaking work is surprising in its completeness, Overhead cranes hang at the workman's hand: in a little box-like compartment the electric light dynamos are contained; in another the hydraulic power plant gathers its enormous force; in yet another a little steam cylinder and piston, flanked on either side by two big fly wheels, work at terrific speed, developing the air pressure for supplying the numerous pneumatic hand dries and caulking hammers used in the final stage of the boiler construction. Though so catholic in their use of power, those boilermakers yet pin their greatest faith on the utility of their own speciality. Yet they are not blindly optimistic. For the boiler with which they develop the steam power needed for driving the works machinery is a patent tube-boiler devised by themselves.

The Messrs. Penman have not yet put this boiler on the market, preferring rather to subject it to complete and thorough tests in their own service. The boiler certainly appears to be a compact and serviceable device, and may perhaps, like the naval guns at Ladysmith, save the situation for steam users, begirt by rival powers and evil circumstances.

The main building surrounds and roofs over a space of 480 ft. by 120 ft. - a magnificent hall, divided into three bays, the southmost containing the ranges of huge machines already described, the centre bay affording space for handling the material; the northmost being what we may call the erecting or building shop. Here the huge cylinders are brought and laid down to receive the ends, the flue-tubes, the various fittings and equipment necessary for the complete boiler, and finally the caulking.

The history of the firm that built up this very complete boilermaking establishment is not long nor full of incident. About the year 1871 Mr. Penman started business in the boilermaking line, taking premises by the side of Dalmarnock Road, and began to make a reputation as a boilermaker. His business outgrew the capacity of the original site, and though retaining the old place as a branch establishment, built works in Strathclyde Street that seemed at the time quite adequate to all the requirements of the business.

In 1888 the Strathclyde premises were occupied by Messrs. Penman & Co. Since then additions have been built, till the whole space of three acres is fully occupied, the works being, we believe, one of the largest boilermaking works in the country. The firm, as we have seen, employs mechanical tools with thoroughness; but, notwithstanding, it has on the pay-roll nearly 300 men. With such a staff, armed with so many powerful appliances, the output may well be very big. As a matter of fact, four large-sized Lancashire boilers are turned out every week, consuming in all over seventy tons of metal weekly.

We regret that the chief captain of this industry died in 1896; but he has left behind him sons and successors in whose hands the business has not suffered. Obtaining the succession by right of birth, the men under their command assert that they hold it by right of superior ability. The eldest of the brothers, Mr. William Penman, was born in Springburn in the year 1856, and attended Annfield Academy, a school now wiped out existence by the School Board regime. At an early age however, he was put to work as an apprentice under father, and the Spartan lot of the boilermaker's apprentice was no whit softened to him because of his father's position. Rigorous training seldom fails to strengthen a man, and the fruit of it we learned from an old employee was that "Penman could drive rivets wi’ ony man in Glesca." The boast need not be literally taken, but as a pleasant evidence of ability in the one and loyal appreciation in the other.

Mr. Penman takes the general management of the business. Personally genial, he interests himself chiefly in societies connected with the iron working industry. A member of the Hammermen's Incorporation, the Mining Institute, and the Institution of Shipbuilders and Engineers in Scotland, he keeps himself abreast the currents of thought in his own sphere.

Mr. Robert Reid Penman is five years or so younger than his brother, and, though in a slightly different way, passed through similar training on his road to headship of the commercial department. He also keeps in close touch with the iron industry, and holds membership in various societies for the development of technical ideas and the furtherance of industrial interests.

The youngest brother, Mr. Alexander Penman, is a practical boilermaker, having passed through the ordinary apprenticeship to the trade, and now acts as inside manager. All three brothers work in harmony together, each devoting himself to his particular department. The heads of such an industry have to be alert, vigorous, and able to govern men, and we are much mistaken if the Messrs. Penman lack any of those qualities.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1888/04/27 p338
  • Scottish Archive Network