Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

William Melville

From Graces Guide
Published 1901. William Melville.

William Melville (c1850-1920) of the Glasgow and South Western Railway

He wrote an account of the railway widening and extension of Glasgow St. Enoch Station, work for which he was responsible. It included a detailed description of the City Union Railway Bridge (Glasgow)[1]


THE Glasgow and South-Western Railway Company is a vigorous organisation, living and enterprising, extending into new territory, strengthening its hold on what has already been brought under its sway, and every way growing in wealth and power. Luckily for the people of this country a railway company's growth represents increased public usefulness, not merely higher dividends to the shareholders. So clear is the sense that they are public servants, railway officials, at least, would scarcely appreciate the difference between State ownership and the present company system. We do not mean to suggest nationalisation of railways or anything of that sort, but simply use the supposition to illustrate how closely the public value and the prosperity of railways are associated. On that account railway developments are deeply interesting to the general public, and railway constructors worthy of public honour. The labour involved in railway making is immense. First, there are inquiries to be made as to the trade and prospects of the district through which the line has to pass; then a survey of 'the proposed route; next, a Bill has to be promoted in Parliament enabling the company to purchase compulsorily the land needed for the railway; and, last of all, the actual building of the line, which usually includes deep cutting into the land, tunnelling intervening hills, bridging of streams and rivers, making long viaducts over wide valleys, as well as the laying of rails and the building of sidings, junctions, and stations.

Behind all those operations, directing and controlling, stands the railway engineer, on whose shoulders the burden of railway building and maintaining rests. What may be pleasure to railway directors, gain to shareholders, and advantage to the public, is work to him. But the railway engineer is generally a man of special talent, who rejoices in his work, and to whom new enterprise appears only in the guise of fresh fields for experiment and delightful realisation of his ideas. Such a man is Mr. Wm. Melville, engineer of the Glasgow and South-Western Railway Company. Energetic and fond of his profession, Mr. Melville enters heartily into new projects and plans for the extension or improvement of the railway, and seldom allows Parliament an interval between one Bill and another.

Strangely enough, Mr. Melville was born in a town to which railways have not yet come. He is a native of Dunoon, his father having been a well-known citizen of that thriving coast resort. After leaving school our future engineer was apprenticed to the joiner trade, but his bent toward mechanics was so decided that he was sent to an engineer's office in Glasgow. Having there acquired some knowledge of engineering theory and draughtsmanship, the youth apprenticed himself to the North British Railway engineering department in Edinburgh for practical instruction. So thoroughly did he apply himself to the work that when his apprenticeship ended he was appointed assistant engineer to Mr. Carsewell, chief engineer to the North British Railway in Glasgow. Here he took part in many large and important works, among others the extension of Queen Street Station, the circular glass roof of which was constructed from his design.

When Cowlairs Locomotive Works were enlarged and remodelled, Mr. Melville was entrusted with supervision of the new structure, and saw the plans carried out. He designed and superintended the building of Craigendoran Pier and Station, the doubling of the line between Helensburgh and Cardross, and other important extensions of the North British Railway in the Western district.

In August, 1882, Mr. Melville was offered and accepted the post of assistant to Mr. Graham, chief engineer of the Caledonian Railway Company. Among his first duties in his new post was the construction of the lines of railway which the Caledonian Company have run through the city, from Dalmarnock in the east, through Bridgeton to St. Rollox in the north — a costly and difficult undertaking, the success of which is no small evidence of the engineer's ability. The traffic on the Alloa branch line had become congested, and Mr. Melville was called on to widen that branch. Perhaps the Caledonian Company have had no more difficult obstacle to negotiate than Argyle Street in Glasgow. That busy thoroughfare lies between the Central Station and all their lines of egress. To Mr. Melville was given the task of widening the Argyle Street bridge and the lines to Eglinton Street Station, with the least possible offence and hindrance to city interests and traffic. The work was carried out successfully.

Coast traffic always seems to grow, demanding constantly extensions and doubling of railway lines. The Caledonian Company decided to relieve the congestion at Greenock Station by building a line to James Watt Dock, and entrusted the engineering work to Mr. Melville. This work safely accomplished, the way was clear for another and more extensive undertaking, namely, the railway to Gourock Pier. In that great enterprise Mr. Melville played an important part, supervising the boring and building of the longest tunnel in Scotland, and the construction of the splendid station and pier.

In 1891, however, his services with the Caledonian Railway Company came to a close, for in that year the post of chief engineer to the Glasgow and South-Western Railway Company fell vacant, and Mr. Melville was called to fill it. He entered at once into his work with enthusiasm and vigour. The chief engineer of a great railway not only has to prepare plans, design works, survey new routes, build and maintain railway lines, but must also fight or conciliate opposition in the Court of Parliament, and act the politician as well as the engineer. Mr. Melville's long training equipped him thoroughly. To give a complete list of all the extensions and new lines Mr. Melville has promoted and carried through in those years would be to recount the recent history of the Glasgow and South-Western Railway.

Since Mr. Melville's appointment the Glasgow and South-Western line has grown from 319 to 375 miles in length, with 65 miles additional in course of construction and about to be constructed. In addition to preparing plans and supervising construction, the head of the engineering department controls a staff of 1200 workmen—platelayers, masons, bricklayers, painters, joiners, blacksmiths, mechanics, and craftsmen of various trades. The principal workshops are at Irvine, and the head offices at St. Enoch Station, Glasgow Mr. Melville exercises an efficient control over the whole' department—a thoroughly alert, practical man to whom names and reputations are of less consequence than facts and good work. He does not admire himself, as the fashion of some is, by praising the magnitude of his achievements; he talks rather of the railway company than of himself. So far as one can gather, Mr. Melville is only conscious of having done a long day's ordinary work in an ordinary way. The able man is generally the least conscious of his ability.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'City Union Railway Widening and Extension of St. Enoch Station' by William Melville, Trans. Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, Vol XLIV, 1901, pp.222-262
  2. Captains of Industry by William S. Murphy. Published 1901.