Adam Hunter
introduction  •  early years  •  Sir William Arrol & Co  •  cranes, bridges & workshops  •
at his peak: 1920s  •  the 1930s cut short  •  an appreciation  •  professional affiliations  •  selected works  •  sources
William Arrol & Co and new horizons
After leaving school, Adam Hunter’s first taste of engineering was as an apprentice pupil at Tancred, Arrol & Co, where he was supervised by engineer James Edward Tuit (1860-1906).
Tancred, Arrol & Co was a partnership between Sir Thomas Selby Tancred (1840–1910), William Arrol (1839-1913), Joseph Phillips (1828-1905) and Irishman Travers H. Falkiner (1829-97). At the time, they were contractors for three major Scottish railway projects — the Caledonian Railway Viaduct over the River Clyde (completed 1878), the replacement Tay Rail Bridge and the Forth Bridge.
The contractor's job is to construct projects specified by consulting engineers and architects, turning designs into reality. Towards the end of the ninetenth century, with the availability of new materials and the increasing ability and ambition to tackle larger, more complex structures, contracting firms took on the significant challenges such projects entailed. They employed specialised engineers and co-ordinated the many trades involved. Construction was becoming more industrialised.
William Arrol had founded the Dalmarnock Iron Works in Glasgow's Dunn Street in 1871, and he soon became a noted steelwork engineer. He had his own company too — William Arrol & Co. This was amended to Sir William Arrol & Co when the Forth Bridge was finished and Arrol was knighted (see the feature on the building of the Forth Bridge).
From 1886 to 1889 Hunter was an apprentice at the Forth Bridge works near South Queensferry in Edinburgh. His father had been in charge of the bridge workshops since 1885, and on its completion in 1890 he was appointed resident engineer for the operational structure. It's claimed he also designed the gondolas used in the continual repainting of the structure. The Glasgow Herald would later praise the methods developed by Arrol and others, by which the construction time "for building the bridge was reduced by fully two years".
Young Hunter gained invaluable experience during the erection of the bridge and documented the work he was engaged on in a series of drawings. These include drawings of annealing furnaces; hydraulic bending and other fabricating machinery; a winding engine and gear for a jetty; and hydraulic riveters — the latter invented by Arrol. Joseph Phillips's son Philip J. Phillips (born 1857) photographed the bridge's ongoing construction. These images are now an historical resource.
In December 1889, the 20 year-old Hunter was transferred to Arrol's London office at 32 Victoria Street, Westminster. He was promoted to Assistant Civil Engineer and worked on the design and erection of steel bridges and other structures, again with James Tuit, who was by then Chief Design Engineer. Hunter was paid two guineas (£2.10) a week.
By 1890 Tuit was one of the company's directors. Hunter worked with him in 1890-5 on various projects, including the steelwork for Tower Bridge (engineers: Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Marc Brunel), various swing bridges over London docks and the rebuilding of Shoreham Viaduct (original 1845). Tower Bridge is probably the most famous structure associated with William Arrol & Co, as emblematic of London as the Forth Bridge is of Scotland.
Hunter must have been interested in more than just the practical application of his engineering knowledge, for in 1890 he embarked on a course of evening classes at the City of London College, completing his studies in 1893. The Church of England had founded this institution in 1848 as "Metropolitan Evening Classes for Young Men". It became City of London College in 1861 and merged with other establishments to became the City Polytechnic in 1891. After several more name changes it's now London Metropolitan University.
While working and studying in London, Hunter lodged in the Westminster area. In mid 1890 he was in Bessborough Gardens, on 11th July that year he moved to 46 Vincent Square. He was evidently a keen diarist and his 1890 diary survives, showing that his income that year was £128 (£10,400 in 2009 using the retail price index) and his expenditure was £101 — about half of which went on board and lodgings.
He also spent about £5 on technical books and papers, beginning a collection that was to form an impressive personal library. In 1890 he took the periodicals The Engineer, Engineering, and Mechanical World, as well as the Daily News, which had been founded in 1846 by Charles Dickens. He also bought books on ironwork and bridges, including William John Macquorn Rankine's Civil Engineering (first published 1862) and works by Thomas Minchin Goodeve on mechanics and mechanisms.
Perhaps one of Hunter's most useful books at that time was Wilhelm Westhofen's definitive The Forth Bridge (first published 1890). Westhofen was born in Germany and a naturalised British subject who had worked as an assistant engineer on the bridge. He moved to South Africa with his wife and children in 1892.
Despite filling his days with work and his evenings with education, Hunter's diary shows he kept in contact with his family, attended concerts and lectures, was interested in music and fine arts, visited 25 of London's visitor attractions, smoked a pipe and fell into the River Thames. Fortunately this last escapade was not as hazardous to his health as it would have been before Sir Joseph William Bazalgette’s (1819-91) work in the 1860s and 70s on diverting sewage into the purpose-built inner London sewer network that is still in use today.
Four of his brothers also seem to have inherited the family interest in engineering. The 1891 census shows 19 year-old Peter Hunter to be working as a steam engine fitter, lodging at 7 Glebe Park Street in Kirkcaldy, Fife. From about 1906, he was engineer for erecting plant and machinery at Stothert & Pitt in Bath, and during 1910-21 resident engineer for the operation of the Forth Bridge. After that he became a consultant inspecting engineer in Glasgow.
John Hunter was Carriage & Wagon Superintendent for the North Western Railway in Lahore, India (now in Pakistan) before joining the Armoured Train Detachment of the North Western Railway Rifles in World War I (1914-8). In 1917, he was invalided out as Major in the Royal Engineers. Johnstone Hunter worked at the British Aluminium works in Burntisland, Fife. Thomas Hunter MBE was Distribution Engineer for the Fife Power Company, later part of the South East Scotland Electricity Board.
Meanwhile, Adam Hunter was doing well at Arrol. In 1895, he would be promoted and the next decade would see him working on significant British projects — and ones that would take him further afield.
introduction  •  early years  •  Sir William Arrol & Co  •  cranes, bridges & workshops  •
at his peak: 1920s  •  the 1930s cut short  •  an appreciation  •  professional affiliations  •  selected works  •  sources
All items by Adam Hunter  •  Everything built ... 1869 - 1933
main reference  BDCE3
portrait of Adam Hunter  courtesy Roland Paxton

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Adam Hunter
This biography was funded by
the ICE R&D Panel
Institution of Civil Engineers
© 2022 Engineering Timelines
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
(engineers: Sir John Wolfe Barry
and Henry Marc Brunel)
Hunter transferred to Arrol's London office in 1889. From 1890-5 he worked under James Tuit on the steelwork for Tower Bridge.
Photo: © and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
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