George Bowie Sawers(1855-1923)

In the minutes of the Corporation of Glasgow of 5 February 1919 (page 615) [1], it was reported that: ‘the sub-committee agreed to accept an offer made by Mr G B Sawers of 1 Belgrave Terrace, Hillhead to present to the Corporation two pictures entitled:

1-Skaters on a Frozen River after Peeter Bout 

2-A Village Festival attributed to Mathys Schoevaerdts

 and to accord the donor a cordial vote of thanks therefore.’

The paintings that our donor presented to the Corporation in 1919 are displayed below. Dutch and Flemish paintings were popular with Glasgow collectors and it is possible that our donor had bought these paintings in Glasgow where there was a number of well-known art dealers, among them Alexander Reid and Craibe Angus who had contacts in Europe. These dealers could help buyers with their purchases of what was available in the art market.

Our donor, Mr George Bowie Sawers was born on 3 February 1855 [2], in the Tradeston District of Glasgow, in 14 Kenning Street. His parents were Robert Sawers, and Janet Anderson Sawers of Perth. His father’s occupation was recorded as ‘a pattern designer’. He was born into a family three boys and two girls.

Most of our donor’s career was spent in the locomotive industry in Glasgow. Initially, he workedfor the Hyde Park Locomotive Works and when the Company joined with the North British Locomotive Company [3], he became the joint secretary of the new firm.  

According to the 1881 census, our donor was living with his parents at 1 Belgrave Terrace, Glasgow and also spending some time in Dunoon where his father had a house. He was a very civic minded person and although his demanding position in a large company kept him very busy, he managed to find time to be a member of the 1st Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteersandreach the rank of major. [4] The Volunteers was initially a Scottish Volunteer Unit of the British Army and it was raised in Glasgow in 1859. During WWI, the Unit served on the Western Front and Ireland. All of our donor’s business-life was spent in the service of Messrs Neilson, Reid and Co., Glasgow, afterwards known as the NB Locomotive Co. Apart from his usual company work, he appears to have been an elected member of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. His name appears in Volume 28, 1912 – Issue 12 of the Proceedings of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

He retired approximately seven years before his death. However, his name appears on the passenger list of s/s Etruria on 9 September 1898, on the return journey from New York, USA to Liverpool, England. This indicates that he had managed to have some free time to travel. When he retired, he moved to Hunters Quay in Dunoon and bought a house named Tignacoille. He was a well-known personality in the area as he had spent many years on holiday in his father’s house at Kirn. Although public life had no attraction for him, it appears that he liked playing bowls and he was still involved in the 1st Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers. It was after taking part in such a match at the Green that he felt unwell and later died of heart failure in his house. In the report of his death in the local paper [5] it was mentioned that ‘he was a most generous subscriber to all deserving objects’. The report continued:

Major Sawers died 7 August 1923 aged 69 years at his home Tignacoille, Hunter’s Quay Dunoon. [6] He was in his 69th year when he died; he leaves a number of nephews and nieces. The cause of his death was heart failure. In accordance with his express wish, his remains were conveyed to the Crematorium at Maryhill on Friday, 10 August 1923.

A remembrance note printed in the 11 August 1923 edition of the Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard after his death stated that he had lived in his residence Tignacoille, Hunters Quay, which he bought about 20 years before his death. [7]

His will dated 27 January 1923 [8] was recorded at Dunoon on 8 October 1923. His estate was valued at £12,286: 7s: 3d.

As our donor spent most of his working life in the North British Locomotive Company (NBL or North British) and because  NBL is an important development in the history of steam locomotive, it is important at this point to introduce the NBL and give a short history of it from 1903 until it closed down in 1962.

The NBL was created in 1903 through the merger of three Glasgow locomotive manufacturing companies: Sharp, Stewart and Company (Atlas Works), Neilson, Reid and Company (Hyde Park Works) and Dübs & Company (Queens Park Works), creating the largest locomotive manufacturing company in Europe. [9]

The main factories were located at the neighbouring Atlas and Hyde Park Works in central Springburn, as well as the Queens Park Works in Polmadie. A new central Administration and Drawing Office for the combined company was completed across the road from the Hyde Park Works in Flemington Street by the architect James Miller in 1909.  Hugh Reid, who was a well-known engineer and philanthropist of his time, became Deputy-Chairman and chief   Director. William Lorimer was the chairman. The building later became the main campus of Kelvin College.

The new company produced 5000 locomotives (the 5,000th one was produced in 1914) and the company had 7000 employees at that time. 

The Company [10]

1903 The largest Locomotive Company in Europe was created through mergers.

1905 Hugh Reid was the joint inventor with David MacNab Ramsay of the ‘Reid-Ramsay’ steam-turbine electric-locomotive, which underwent some trials but was not placed in service.

1914 The 5,000th locomotive was produced.

1914 Specialities: all types of locomotive engines; contractors to home railways, government railways of India, South Africa, Australia etc., state railways of France, Norway, Chile, Argentina, Japan, China, Egypt etc., also to railways and docks companies, steelworks, mines etc. Employees, 7,000.

1914 WWI Made 1,400 locomotives.

1918 The factory produced the first prototype of the Anglo-American Mark VIII battlefield tank for the Allied armies, but with the Armistice it did not go into production.

1924 Construction of the Reid-MacLeod turbine-driven locomotive, designed by Hugh Reid and James MacLeod. The turbine developed 500 HP at 8000 rpm. The reversing turbine developed 70% of the forward power. Boiler pressure 180 psi. 4-4-0+0-4-4 wheel arrangement.

1927 See Aberconway Chapter XV for information on the company and its history

By the start of WWII 8,850 locomotives had been completed.

1951 NBL acquired a controlling interest in Henry Pels and Co. (Great Britain), Ltd. Thereafter machine tools were made at the Queens Park works.

1961 Engineers and locomotive builders.

1962 The company ceased trading.

NBL had supplied many of its diesel and electric locomotives to British Rail (BR) at a loss, hoping to make up for this on massive future orders that never came. This, with a continuing stream of warranty claims to cure design and workmanship faults, proved fatal – NBL declared bankruptcy on 19 April 1962. Andrew Barclay, Sons and Co acquired the goodwill. They had built 11,318 locomotives since 1903.

Whilst highly successful as designers and builders of steam locomotives for both its domestic market and abroad, NBL failed to make the jump to diesel locomotive production. In the 1950s it signed a deal with the German company MAN to construct diesel engines under licence. These power units appeared in the late 1950s BR designs, later designated Class 21, Class 22, Class 41, Class 43 (Warship) and Class 251 (Blue Pullman). None of these were particularly successful (constructional shortcomings with the MAN engines made them far less reliable than German-built examples). A typical example of this was the grade of steel used for exhaust manifolds in the Class 43s – frequent manifold failures led to loss of turbocharger drive gas pressure and hence loss of power. More importantly, the driving cabs of the locomotives would fill with poisonous exhaust fumes. BR returned many NBL diesel locomotives to their builder for repair under warranty and also insisted on a three-month guarantee on all repairs (a requirement not levied on its own workshops). This and the continuing stream of warranty claims to cure design and workmanship faults proved fatal – NBL declared bankruptcy. Because of the unreliability of its UK diesel and electric locomotives, all were withdrawn after comparatively short lifespans.

NBL built steam locomotives for countries as far afield as Malaysia and New Zealand. The Colony of New South Wales purchased numerous of their locomotives, as did the State of Victoria as late as 1951 (Oberg, Locomotives of Australia), and in 1939 it supplied locomotives to New Zealand Railways, some of which were later converted to other classes. In 1949, South Africa purchased over 100 engines from the company. Some still operate tourist trains on the George-Kynsa line. Additionally South Africa also purchased some engines from the company between 1953 and 1955. These successful engines, with various in-service modifications, survived until the end of steam in South Africa in 1990. NBL also introduced the Modified Fairlie locomotive in 1924.

In 1957, the last order for steam locomotives was placed with the company and the last steam locomotive was completed in 1958. Although the company was making small industrial diesel locomotives, and received some early main line diesel orders from British Railways, the orders were never big enough to maintain the company. Other locomotive manufacturers, who had acted swiftly in transferring from steam to diesel and electric production, were becoming more successful. Messrs Andrew Barclay Sons & Co (Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland) acquired NBL’s goodwill.[11]

References

[1] Minutes of the Glasgow Corporation Minutes of 5th February 1919, Volume November 1918-April 1919, page 615.

[2] Birth Certificate, obtained from Scotland People.

[3] Archives of North British Locomotive Co., Springburn Museum (Mitchell Library, Glasgow).

[4] The London Gazette, 31 October 1899. Page 6531.

[5] Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard, 11August 1923. Archives of Argyll and Bute Council.

[6] Death Certificate, records from Scotlands People.

[7] op.cit. [5]

[8] Confirmations and Inventories 1923 (Vol. M-Z), Mitchell Library.

[9] https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/450f1232-3643-3c24-b8b9-9df92d152798

[10] https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/North_British_Locomotive_Co

[11] https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/450f1232-3643-3c24-b8b9-9df92d152798

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.