Arch Henderson in the 1930s

February 13th 2019

The global depression of the 1930s affected the company, with a much reduced workload compared to the previous decade, but there were still some significant projects undertaken, not least in Stornoway Harbour, which was a continuation of work started in the 1920s; and the completion of the Peterhead slip, which had been the firm's first project in 1919.

The ferry terminal at Stornoway has since been replaced, but its classic 1930s design with a stepped pediment feature over the central bay and margined metal windows had been of sufficient merit to allow it to be included in an architectural guide.

Other new works included two projects at Lossiemouth; work on the North Pier and later jetty repairs and strengthening works to the breakwater. The banner photo of Lossiemouth Harbour was taken on 4 February 1937. The firm also undertook some consultancy work in Coleraine, County Derry; Eyemouth, North Berwickshire; and at Deeside Golf Club; and coastal protection works with an extension to the fishing wharf at Girvan.

Our archives have photo albums from the 1930s with small black and white images taken at various sites, frustratingly lacking in names of the engineers who appeared in some of the photos. Whoever they were though, they were smartly dressed in suits, ties and trilby hats, even when they were inspecting harbours and coastal defences, such as in the photo below, which was inscribed with Eyemouth, 1933 on the back. The photographs taken during site construction works are also interesting for the lack of mechanical aids, safety equipment and PPE.

In 1938 G. Gordon Nicol left the Partnership and Archibald Henderson continued on his own. The reasons are not clear but it has been suggested a contributing factor was that, in a period of low demand for their services, G. Gordon Nicol saw an opening for the firm to move into the sales of safety razor blades, a move Archibald Henderson was not tempted to make. There are also anecdotal reports the two Partners stood over a map of Scotland sharing out the ports between them; although the history of the firm over the following decades suggest most ports chose to stay with Archibald Henderson. Mr Nicol did however, remain in engineering, playing an active part during WW2 in civil engineering projects relating to defence.

In 1939, the first of the next generation of Hendersons started working for the firm when the younger of his sons, Gordon, then aged 20, took up a pupillage with his father. This was to run for two years, one spent in the office and one on site, before he was called up and commissioned in the Royal Engineers, serving in the UK, India, the Middle East and Italy.

Archibald Henderson’s older son, Ian, joined the civil engineering profession in 1936, after obtaining a degree at Aberdeen University. However, he chose to get his early experience as a contractor, being employed as an Assistant Engineer by Balfour Beatty & Co; and then by William Tawse Ltd, an Aberdeen contractor which was to build many of the firm’s harbour projects over the next four decades.

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