Aitkenhead Builders were accomplished builders for many decades. The Aitkenhead Building Company had been building bridges and structures in Hamilton and Bothwell throughout the 18th Century. During the 1830’s the family moved from Bothwell to Priestfield, Blantyre, presumably for business opportunity.
Of note were James Aitkenhead born in 1829 and William Aitkenhead, his younger brother born in 1837. As the boys reached adulthood and came through apprenticeships in their father’s building company, they started to build properties in Blantyre from the 1850’s. By the 1860’s they lived at Causeystanes and at Kirkton and were known particularly for their stone masonry skills.
Success followed and several important Blantyre commissions are down to the accomplished work of the Aitkenhead Brothers. In 1875, Robert built Stonefield Parish Primary School on Glasgow Road and later his brother was commissioned to built the Stonefield Wee “infant” school in 1892. By the 1880’s the brothers were not only married with families of their own, but their own sons were taking an interest and it was time for expansion.
The Greenock branch was founded by Alexander Aitkenhead (1858–1933). He had trained as an apprentice in the firm and spent two years further training in North America in the late 1870s. In 1882–3 the company had erected Mure Memorial Church, Baillieston, and Girvan Parish Church, and one of Alexander’s first jobs on returning to Scotland was as foreman for High Blantyre’s Old Parish Church constructed in 1863. He moved to Greenock in 1883 to supervise construction of Finnart United Presbyterian Church, and opened new offices in South Street, where he was joined briefly by a cousin from Blantyre. For industrial clients Aitkenhead’s made the concrete bases for the Scottish Aluminium Co.’s heavy machinery, laid the concrete floors of local shipyards to withstand the pressure of keels under construction, and extended Ardgowan Distillery, with its necessarily high load-bearing capacity. The firm used advanced technology itself, including mechanical planes to shape stones on trolleys, and had its own railway sidings at its Trafalgar Street yard. *
The Blantyre branch continued along building further important public buildings, such as the Old Parish Church Halls in 1893. At the time Aitkenhead Builders employed 26 men and 6 boys and had their own premises at Aitkenhead Builders Yard, at the foot of Sydes Brae.
The company was not to be confused by a winding up on 1897 of both the Blantyre and Greenock businesses. This was done not due to insolvency, but due to restructuring, formerly handing over the businesses to the younger generations and allowing a chance for further members of the family to be involved.
The Edinburgh Gazette on 8th January 1897, told of the firms demise and rise from the ashes. “THE Firm of R. AITKENHEAD & SONS, Builder” and Contractors, High Blantyre, of which the Subscribers Robert Aitkenhead, senior, Alexander Aitkenhead, and Paton James Gloag Aitkenhead were the sole Partners, was DISSOLVED on the 19th day o December 1896, of mutual consent.
The Subscribers Mr. Paton James Gloag Aitkenhead and Mr. Robert Aitkenhead, junior, will henceforth carry on the Business of Builders and Contractors there under the same name, and they will collect all debts due to the late Firm, and pay all debts due by it. ROBERT AITKENHEAD, SENR. ALEX. AITKENHEAD. PATON J.G. AITKENHEAD. ROBERT AITKENHEAD, JR.
JOHN TAYLOR, Hairdresser, 94 Main Street, Alexandria, N.B., Witness. ALEXANDER B. MAXWELL, Inspector of Poor, Blantyre, Witness.”
The name Paton Gloag being incorporated as middle names into one of the Aitkenhead sons is interesting and is certainly named after the Old Parish Minister who had the pleasure of being the first minister of the Old Parish Church. The area where the yard once was, still exists today on Hamilton Drive. It is my understanding that Aitkenhead continued building in Blantyre for many decades after.
* Additional material from ‘R Aitkenhead & Son’, Mackintosh Architecture (online resource), at http://www.mackintosh-architecture.gla.ac.uk/catalogue/name/?nid=AitkCo accessed 15 November 2015′.
1: Glasgow Herald, 13 October 1882, p. 9; 6 October 1883, p. 7.
2: Greenock Post Office Directories, 1882–1911.
3: William Murphy, ‘Captains of Industry; Messrs R. Aitkenhead and Sons, Building Contractors, Greenock’, Glasgow Weekly Herald, 8 June 1901, p. 19; Glasgow Herald, 26 August 1897, p. 7.
4: Glasgow Herald, 22 October 1900, p. 6.
5: William Murphy, ‘Captains of Industry; Messrs R. Aitkenhead and Sons, Building Contractors, Greenock’, Glasgow Weekly Herald, 8 June 1901, p. 19. This church was destroyed by enemy action in 1941, and replaced on a new site, with a modern building by Jack Coia.
6: William Murphy, ‘Captains of Industry; Messrs R. Aitkenhead and Sons, Building Contractors, Greenock’, Glasgow Weekly Herald, 8 June 1901, p. 19.
7: Edinburgh Gazette, 8 January 1897, p. 36.
8: Census 1901 for Alexander Aitkenhead, Parish: Greenock West; ED: 18; Page: 1; Line: 8; Roll: CSSCT1901_193, http://www.ancestry.co.uk