James Howden Hume (1866-1938)

In May 1921, Mr James Howden Hume donated to Kelvingrove Museum a painting which is called “Roses” by Louisa Perman (Mrs. Torrance) and a copy of it is displayed below.

Figure 1.Louisa Ellen Perman; Roses; © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (www.artuk.org)

Our Donor, James Howden Hume was born in Glasgow in 1866. His father was William Hume, an iron merchant, and his mother was Ann Howden, sister of James Howden [1]. He was educated at The High School and the Royal Technical College, now Strathclyde University. He lived at 11, Whittingehame Drive, Govan, and Glasgow and spent the last eight years of his life in London [2]. His illustrious uncle, Mr James Howden [3,4], during the end of the nineteen century, took the industrial revolution one stage further by his inventions and modifications which were able to increase the efficiency and the applications of steam power machinery, mainly used in marine engines and boilers [5]. As our donor’s profession and business life were closely linked to his uncle, it is appropriate that at this point, some more information is given about his uncle, Mr James Howden.

Young James, after completing his education at the Royal Technical College, served his apprenticeship as an engineer in the firm founded by his uncle, James Howden (1832-1913), who was born in Prestonpans, East Lothian in 1832 and was educated at the local parish school. His parents were James Howden and Catherine Adams. At this point, as there are too many similar names in this family, to ease the confusion a clarification must be made. The name of our donor is James Howden Hume. His uncle was James Howden whose father was also James Howden.

Mr. James Howden, the uncle, served as an apprentice from 1847 with James Gray & Co., an engineering firm in Glasgow, a firm with an established reputation for stationary engines. It was noticed that his talents for technical drawing were considerable and, even before his formal apprenticeship was concluded, he was promoted to the position of the chief draughtsman.

Figure 2. James Howden Hume Snr. Chairman 1913–1938 by kind permission of Mr Nick McLean, Website & Digital Marketing Manager of Howden.

Mr James Howden, having finished his apprenticeship, started work first with Bell and Miller, the civil engineers, then with Robert Griffiths, who designed marine screw propellers. In 1854 at the age of 22, he set up in business in Glasgow as a consulting engineer and designer. Before long he registered a vast number of patents in many fields of engineering [6].

Mr James Howden’s first major invention was the rivet-making machine. The selling of the patent rights to a company in Birmingham for this invention secured him financially and James Howden & Co. was established as a manufacturer of marine equipment. In 1857, James Howden began work on the design and supply of boilers and steam engines for the marine industry. His first contract was to supply the Anchor Liner’s ship Ailsa Craig [7] with a compound steam engine and water boilers, using steam at 100 lb pressure. Using this sort of pressure was a considerable advance on existing technology. That same year, together with Alexander Morton of Glasgow, he was awarded a patent for the “invention of improvements in obtaining motive power.” On 28 February 1859, he applied for a patent for the “improvements in machinery, or apparatus for cutting, shaping, punching, and compressing metals.” In 1860, he patented a method of preheating combustion air; his patent was granted for the invention of “improvements in steam engines and boilers, and in the apparatus connected therewith”. In 1862 he decided to construct main boilers and engines to his own design and started manufacturing in his first factory in Scotland Street in Glasgow’s Tradeston district [8]. A breakthrough came in 1863 when he introduced a furnace mechanical draught system which used a steam turbine driven axial flow fan.

James Howden’s best-known work was the “Forced Draught System”, introduced in the 1880s, which used waste gases to heat the air in boiler’s combustion chamber and which was adopted by shipbuilders all around the world. This system dramatically reduced the amount of coal used in ships’ boilers. Howden patented this device in 1882 as the ‘Howden System of Forced Draught’. During the 1880s, more than 1000 boilers were converted to this specification or constructed according to Howden’s patent. The first vessel to use the system was the ship the New York City, built in 1885. Amongst the liners to use the Howden system in their boilers were the Lusitania and Mauretania, the fastest liners in the world when they were built [9].

Now, we come to our donor, James Howden Hume. He started his career as an apprentice in his uncle’s firm James Howden & Co. Ltd in the 1880’s [10]. Then, he became a director in 1890. Together with his uncle, he managed the firm until his uncle’s demise in 1913, when young James became the Chairman of the company and remained in this position until his own death in 1938.

Below are the pictures of some of the machinery that were manufactured by Howden and Co. Ltd., the cover of Howden’s Quarterly depicting an artist’s impression of the factory and the main offices of James Howden & Co. Ltd. at 195 Scotland Street, Glasgow, as well as  the cover of Howden’s Quarterly Centenary Edition No 20, October, 1954.

Figure 3. Howden engines at Shieldhall Sewage Works of Glasgow Corporation, installed in 1908.
Figure 4. A triple expansion high-speed Howden engine of 2,700 H.P for Woolwich Arsenal, London, installed in 1914 the largest of that design in the country at the time
Figure 5. Artist’s impression of the factory and the main offices of James Howden & Co. Ltd. at 195 Scotland Street, Glasgow
Figure 6. On the cover of Howden’s Quarterly Centenary Edition No 20, October, 1954. Clockwise from the top: A Victorian era paddle steamer: Howden Patent boiler front: triple expansion reciprocating steam engine: double inlet forced draught fan: auxiliary steam engine circa 1880s: steam turbine fan drive: rotors of a Lysholm screw compressor: vortex dust collector: double inlet fan impeller and shaft: Variable pitch axial fan impeller.

 (Figures 3,4,5, and 6 by kind permission of Mr Nick McLean, Website & Digital Marketing Manager of Howden.)

James Howden was fortunate that his nephew turned out to be an engineer of much the same skill and stature as he was. James Howden Hume had joined the firm just when the “forced draught system” was on the point of being widely used in the 1880s. It was not long before he became Chief Draughtsman and his uncle brought him in as a Partner in the firm. Around the mid-1890s, such was the success of the two gifted engineers, uncle and nephew, that James Howden had hoped to be able to retire from manufacturing and continue working as a consultant. However, he could not find anyone reliable enough to make the fans and other machinery needed to work his forced draught system properly. So, once again, he had to take on manufacturing his inventions himself and leave the management of the firm to his nephew. At that time, his existing factory had been designed to build main engines and boilers and was unsuitable for the much smaller auxiliary machinery needed for the new system. So he constructed another factory at 195 Scotland Street. This remained the main headquarters of the Company for nearly a hundred years. The next advance was when the firm became a private limited Company in 1907, with James Howden as Chairman of the Board and James Howden Hume as Managing Director and James Howden’s son, William Howden, as a Director [11]. On the death of Mr James Howden on 21 November 1913, our donor, Mr. James Howden Hume became the Chairman of James Howden and Company.

In 1914, at the break of the First World War, the first challenge that our donor Mr. James Howden Hume, as the Chairman of the Company, was to cope with the cancellation of orders from German ship owners amounting to about a third of the firm’s marine work. However, new ships needing Howden equipment were being placed by British ship owners, as the German submarines sank large numbers of British merchant fleet, with appalling loss of life. It was then an extraordinary story emerged of a British ship that had escaped from an attack by a German submarine by making full use of its Howden equipment, increasing its speed far beyond the normal by forcing its boilers to the maximum. When the Ministry of Shipping heard of this, they immediately ordered that all ships, replacing those sunk, should be fitted with the Howden forced draught system. In the time gap while these new ships were being built, J.B.MacGillivray, who joined Howden in the 1880s and worked with three generations of the Howden family, using his Howden international contacts, managed to find twelve Japanese built ships, amounting to a total of over 115,000 tons, which were duly delivered to the Ministry of Shipping, making the British government the owners of merchant ships for the first time in their history [12]!

In addition to the war effort shown by Howden Company, in 1914, a 15MW turbo-generator, the largest in the United Kingdom, was supplied to Manchester Corporation and came into operation after a year of the death of Mr James Howden, the uncle of our donor. It is believed that the replacement was not only for the increased demand for electric power but also for the old and very noisy turbine in situ [13].

Later, when the United States had joined the war, they also needed Howden equipment. However, the Glasgow Scotland Street factory was hard pressed to fulfil all its orders, so our donor, James Howden Hume, had decided that manufacturing directly in the USA had become an urgent need. Therefore, in 1918 a factory was acquired in Wellsville, New York. His eldest son, Crawford William Hume, who had joined the firm in 1913, was sent out to set up and run this factory [14]. This action gave the Howden Company an international status.

At the end of the Great War, the Howden order books were very full. However, this did not last long as the worsening economic situation forced the cancellation of contracts by the early 1920s. Keeping the Works going at full capacity had become a problem. This problem, however, was solved after our donor’s two sons met Frederick Ljungstrom, an engineer of the Swedish firm, AB Ljungstrom Angturbin, quite by chance in Brussels. In their conversation, Frederick Ljungstrom, having realised that all of them were in the same business, showed them a design of a new mechanical air pre-heater that his firm had developed. When they returned to Glasgow and showed the design to their father they all realised that it was the answer to the problem of pre-heating air for the much larger boilers that were by then being used in the Howden land business. The principle of the modification was that the heat is retained within the system rather than lost up the chimney and the boilers become much more efficient, with a dramatic saving of fuel. Howden obtained the license [15] from Ljungstrom for ‘exclusive rights for manufacturing and sales for land use within the British Empire’ and this turned out to be of great importance to both Companies and has being used in power stations, oil refinery distillation and methanol, ammonia, copper & steel furnaces and many other applications, including ships. In his presidential address to the Institution of Engineers & Shipbuilders, our donor, Mr James Howden Hume described it as [16]:

The latest development in hot air forced draught is a somewhat radical departure from the standard arrangement, involving an entirely novel method of heating air by mechanical means, instead of the original stationary tubular heater.

It was during those precise weeks that a new contract came through for Howden equipment for the boilers of the new Battersea power station in London [17], so the situation was saved from disaster in the nick of time. Looking back, the building of that huge and distinctive red-brick power station with its four giant chimneys became something of an iconic symbol of the recovering economy of the whole nation. Alas, today in 2018, the Battersea Power Station is no more, as it was recently converted to luxury flats.

After the both World Wars, Howden Company continued collaborating with the Swedish partners. In fact, one of the Swedish engineers later became a Technical Director in the Howden Company.

In The Bailie [18] a summary of his life is given. It is mentioned that, in his lifetime, our donor, James Howden Hume, had a wide number of interests in the affairs of Glasgow and was a Deacon of the Incorporation of Hammerman 1924-1925 (http://www.hammermenofglasgow.org/index.htm) as well as being  a Freeman of the City of London and Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights (https://www.shipwrights.co.uk). The Bailie also mentions that from 1923 to 1925 he was the President of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland (IESIS) (http//www.iesis.org/about/presidents.aspx).  About his early age, it is mentioned that James Howden Hume took a keen interest in art, particularly in the works of Guthrie, Lavery, and Henry of the Glasgow School of Art between 1919 and 24, he was President of Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts (https://theroyalglasgowinstituteofthefinearts.co.uk/). He was also a keen collector. He possessed several very notable paintings by  McTaggart and many of his pictures being in constant demand by various exhibitions throughout the country. He was a keen yachtsman and sailed on the Clyde and he loved yacht racing and cruising [19]. In addition to that, as a young man, he also had the skill and spunk to play for Queen’s Park Football Club, Scotland’s oldest amateur soccer team founded in 1867. He spent his last days in London where he died in 1938. He was survived by his wife Agnes, two sons and a daughter [20].

In summary, our donor, James Howden Hume, was working with his uncle in the 1880’s. Subsequently becoming Chief Draughtsman, then General Manager, he became a director of the firm James Howden & Co. Ltd in 1900. On the death of his uncle in 1913, he became the Chairman of the company and remained in this position and continued with the progress of the company until his own death in 1938. In the Obituaries column of the Glasgow Herald of Thursday, May 26, 1938, an article appeared for NOTED GLASGOW ENGINEER, James Howden Hume [21].

After his death, the Howden Hume family continued to run the firm. The business was to grow and became the world’s leading fan makers. They were involved with most of the important engineering jobs of the 20th century.  A few examples [22] of these are the following great engineering feats of Howden Company:

  • In 1947 they supplied the main blowers for two nuclear reactors at Windscale.
  • In November 1982, the CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board) awarded a contract to Howden for the first-ever wind turbine generator in the UK; this was commissioned with an output of 200kW.
  • In 1988, two Channel Tunnel drilling machines had been built at James Howden & Co. 195 Scotland Street, Glasgow.

Acknowledgements

I should like to thank Mr Nick McLean, Website & Digital Marketing Manager of Howden for his kind permission to use some of the pictures of early Howden machinery as well as some archive material taken from the book “Douglas Hume a personal story” by David H. Hume whom I owe my thanks for making the Industrial Revolution Era and his family’s contribution to that era a very interesting read.

References:

[1] Douglas Hume a personal story by David H. Hume,Published in aid of the June and Douglas Hume Memorial Fund administered by Foundation Scotland, ISBN 978-1-905989-88-1, Printed by Nicholson & Bass Ltd., Belfast.

[2] Scotlands People, Valuation Rolls 1920

https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[3] Grace’s Guide to British Industry

https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/James_Howden_and_Co

[4] Wikiwand, James Howden

http://www.wikiwand.com/en/James_Howden

[5] “A Hundred Years of Howden Engineering” (1954).

by Crawford W Hume, James Howden & Co Ltd. Mitchell Library.

[6] Wikipedia search for James Howden

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Howden

[7] op. cit. Wikiwand, James Howden,

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] op. cit. Douglas Hume; p 39

[11] ibid. 

[12] op. cit. Douglas Hume p.48-49

[13] ibid.

[14] op cit. Douglas Hume p.40

[15] op cit. Douglas Hume p.49

[16] op. cit. Grace’s Guide to British Industry

[17] op. cit. Douglas Hume p.49

[18] The Bailie, Man You Know Vol. XCIII, No 2419, 26 Feb. 1919, Mitchell Library

[19] op. cit. Douglas Hume p.54,

[20] Obituary The Glasgow Herald, Thursday, May 26, 1938, Obituaries.

[21] ibid.

[22] op. cit. Douglas Hume p.188-191 . 

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