Fairhurst (formerly F.A. Macdonald & Partners and then W.A. Fairhurst & Partners) was founded by Frank A. Macdonald in Glasgow, in 1902, when he established himself as an agent for “Ferro-Concrete Constructions”, a specialist contractor, initially providing design and construction in ferro-concrete utilising the system patented by the French engineer, François Hennebique. The emerging engineering of ferro-concrete, or reinforced concrete as it later became commonly known, had first arrived commercially in Britain around 1898, and by the early part of 1904 there would have been around 20 or so buildings either completed or under construction in Britain using this new technology.
One of these was in Glasgow (a new four storey Office and Pattern Shop for the marine engineering manufacturing company Messrs Alley and MacLellan at their Sentinel Works at Polmadie) and, later that same year, 1904, Frank Macdonald confirmed it as “the first ferro-concrete building erected in Glasgow”, and as such the first example in Scotland. It is interesting to note that the client's engineer was the renowned Archibald Leitch, best known for designing many famous football stadiums around the UK. Although in a neglected and dilapidated condition, and now unused, this building remains standing today.
From these pioneering beginnings, the firm grew with the new technology, defining itself as “Reinforced Concrete Engineers”. As the Hennebique monopoly declined (around 1908) following the expiry of its patents, the firm developed and refined its own approach to the design and construction of reinforced concrete, publishing around 1914/1915 “A Handbook for Engineers and Architects”, defining its methods of calculation, specifications, etc., and providing illustrations and descriptions of completed work. Early work at this time mainly involved building structures, industrial structures, dams, tanks, jetties, and the like. The best known of these projects is perhaps the Usher Hall in Edinburgh which was completed in 1914. Interestingly, the records define the load test regime of its cantilever galleries being undertaken utilising 400 policemen from the City of Edinburgh Police, marching and marking time to simulate the required loading. By this time the firm also had a presence in London, as well as in Glasgow.
During the 1920's and 1930's, as well as further work of the nature generally being earlier undertaken, the firm also undertook a significant amount of bridge design work and structural refurbishment/reconstruction work. An interesting example of the latter would be the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle undertaken in 1923/24 with the noted architect Sir Robert Lorimer, his last major commission. Curiously, the firm developed a name in these same decades for its expertise in the design of outdoor public swimming pools around Scotland.
William Fairhurst, whose name the firm was ultimately to take, joined F.A. Macdonald and Partners in 1931 from the British Reinforced Concrete Engineering Company Limited (B.R.C.E.Co), having been invited to apply to fill the vacancy of “chief assistant” by Arthur Legat, one of the two principals (along with George Dunn) of the firm at that time, and with whom he had earlier worked at B.R.C.E.Co.
In 1933 the original business was re-formed as F.A. Macdonald and Partners (Glasgow) Ltd., and traded under this name until 1947 when it reverted to a partnership form, again, as F.A. Macdonald and Partners. A sister company, F.A. Macdonald and Partners (Edinburgh) Ltd., also existed during the 1930's, closing during the war years and re-forming under another name when peace was established. The two companies shared in the design of major projects such as Portobello Power Station.
Bridge design played a significant role in the workload of the firm until the outbreak of the Second World War when the emphasis of work changed to suit the wartime need. From a pre-war staff compliment of over 40, the numbers dropped to less than 20 during wartime due to staff being called up by the armed forces, and due to certain staff being temporarily transferred to Government Departments. The work generally undertaken at this time was also mainly for these same Government Departments and on other wartime related projects such as ARP shelters, etc.
Bill Fairhurst, having become a Director in 1938, became Managing Director of F.A. Macdonald (Glasgow) Ltd. in 1941. The number of Directors actually grew during the war years to a maximum of 6, although staff numbers had declined. In 1946, the then 4 directors moved their office premises to 11 Woodside Terrace, Glasgow.
The post war years saw a rapid expansion in the general workload of the firm, and an expansion into new areas of work, with many of the major projects in the 1950's carried out for public bodies such as the National Coal Board, (colliery winding towers, fan drifts, offices, etc.), a continuation of the pre-war connection with that industry in the design of innumerable pit-head baths for the Miners' Welfare Committee. Bridges continued in their significance to the firm following publication in 1948 of “Design and Construction of Reinforced Concrete Bridges” co-authored by Legat, Dunn and Fairhurst. Around that same time, the firm commenced its long and ongoing involvement with medium and high rise construction. Low rise housing also played a significant role in the workload of the firm in the post war years, including the development of the “Whitson €“ Fairhurst” housing system of which some 2,800 units were built.
People's Journal: Tay Bridge edition
The early 1950's also saw the start of the expansion of the firm geographically, initially within Scotland, with the opening of offices in Kirkcaldy (1954, - closed 1962), Aberdeen (1956- through the incorporation of an established Aberdeen firm, Messrs Walker and Duncan), Edinburgh (1960), Dundee (1963), Elgin (1972). The further expansion within England started in Newcastle (1972), with offices later opened in Leeds (1978), London (1981), Watford (1990 - as a subsidiary office to the London Office), Wellesbourne (1990, - through the incorporation of an existing firm, Alastair Dick & Associates), and Bristol (1993 - through the acquisition of the local office of an existing firm).
The firm also had a further major presence in London from 1982 to 1997 when it undertook the role of Project Manager for the implementation of the engineering infrastructure for the London Dockland's Development Corporation, (LDDC), employing up to 90 staff at the peak of the workload, all seconded within LDDC's offices. In addition, an office operated in Northern Ireland (in Belfast) from 1962 until 1968.
Over the years, further offices were established overseas (Australia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Germany and the Lebanon) to undertake specific work available to the firm within these countries at various times. Separately, joint venture relationships have led to further projects outside the United Kingdom. Perhaps the most notable relating to the design of St James' Hospital, Dublin, a major 1,200 bed teaching hospital undertaken in the late 1970's and early 1980's.
The last day of December 1959 saw the announcement of the appointment of the firm as engineers for the design of the Tay Road Bridge. This was a major commission at that time, attracting much public attention via the media, and one which was ultimately to be the catalyst for the change of the firm's name to W.A. Fairhurst and Partners.
Tay Road bridge
Dr Fairhurst retired from the firm in 1971, after 40 years, as one of the country's foremost structural engineers, specialising particularly in bridge engineering. He later emigrated to New Zealand where he died in 1982.
Further major design commissions across the spectrum of construction work ensued through the 1960's and 1970's setting the broad platform on which the firm's strengths and expertise is now founded. In 1967 the firm completed the design of the then tallest dwellings in Europe, the 31 storey Red Road flats in Glasgow, and developed its expertise in major building projects into all construction sectors. The 1960's, 70's and 80's saw the firm play a significant role in the motorway and trunk road construction programmes, particularly in Scotland and the North of England.
Red Road flats, Glasgow - the tallest dwellings in Europe in 1967
The 1980's further saw an upsurge in the firm's involvement in out-of-town food and non-food retail developments with numerous significant projects being undertaken for many clients across the length and breadth of the U.K.
Diversification continued from the 1980's through to the present day into the separate fields of Transportation, Project Management, Environmental and Geotechnical Engineering, and Water Services. These areas of expertise opened up new market places for the firm, providing work not only directly for these specialist Divisions but also indirectly for the more traditional core areas of the business within the general realms of civil and structural engineering consultancy.
Since 2000, four new offices have been opened in the U.K. Our Inverness office opened in 2001, followed by Sheffield (2004), Birmingham (2005) and Manchester (February 2007). The firm today continues to operate as the largest private partnership of Consulting Engineers in the U.K., working from 16 principal offices and employing around 360 staff. There is also a further presence throughout other offices by ways of partnering arrangements with contractors and clients.
The diverse range and size of projects undertaken allows considerable cross fertilisation of knowledge, expertise and experience, and the success of the firm is manifest by its considerable repeat business, by the awards won, and by the many prestigious projects completed.
On the 1st January 2012 the firm shortened it's name to Fairhurst in order to help freshen the corporate image of the firm in the modern business environment.
Fairhurst continues to grow in strength and depth and now works in virtually all building and civil engineering sectors, offering its multi-disciplinary services to clients for projects both small and large.
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