Over the course of 2019, our centenary year, we will share our story of how we evolved over the last 100 years, starting with a quick look back at the first decade.
Archibald Henderson and G. Gordon Nicol established the company in 1919, soon after WW1. The war years had been busy for Archibald Henderson as he had worked on a number of marine infrastructure projects for the military. After the war, many Scottish harbours began the process of getting back to normal for the benefit of their usual harbour users – the fishing fleets, freight transport and passenger boats; all of which were using larger vessels and required updated harbours, with deeper berths and improved facilities. In the 1920s the herring drifters dominated the Scottish harbours. There were still a few sail powered fishing boats around, but larger steam powered drifters were increasingly popular, and usually served a dual purpose as whitefish boats when the herring season had finished.
It all started at Macduff, on the Moray coast. Archibald Henderson switched from the role of Resident Engineer to Consulting Engineer while he completed the supervision of the project to build the Princess Royal Basin. This 2¼ acre basin was largely excavated in rock on which the new mass concrete quay walls were founded. The excavation was carried out manually, using jumper (a heavy steel bar with a chisel point), pick and shovel, with the rock being carted away on horse-drawn cart. The project was important enough to warrant a royal visit when it was officially opened in 1921. The VIPs arrived in MacDuff harbour on a flag-festooned steam drifter.
Most of Henderson & Nicol’s early work was related to harbours, including improvements at Peterhead, Girvan, Nairn and Stonehaven; and these harbours would use the firm’s services many times over the next century. The mid 1920s also saw the start of the firm’s long involvement in Lerwick Harbour and Stornoway Harbour, the principal harbours in Shetland and the Western Isles respectively. But the firm’s marine work was not restricted to Scotland, and, during the 1920s Henderson & Nicol designed slipways in Grimsby in Lincolnshire, and Fleetwood in Lancashire.
The firm also undertook more general civil engineering designs. In the 1920s such schemes included a bathing pool near Banff, water supply and sewage projects in Cults and Countesswells, and work for the Deeside Golf Club.
In 1923, Archibald was elected president of the Aberdeen Association of Civil Engineers and G. Gordon Nicol took on that role in 1928.