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Harper & Company

Harpers Limited, founders, engineers, millwrights, blacksmiths, and storemen, Albion Iron Works, Albion Street, (1856 mtill c.1890) and New Works, Craiginches (c.1892)

John Harper left his parents’ farm near Turriff in Aberdeenshire around the age of 9 and found employment as a Market Gardener before  moving down to Edinburgh with his brother Hugh, where they became wire fencers. This continued in Glasgow and in 1856 they returned to Aberdeen to set up their own business as fencers and gate manufacturers. Before long they had established a foundry. In 1863, aged 30, John Harper registered a patent 'device for straining wire’, which was crucial to the development of Bridge building.  John and Hugh Harper were Engineers who founded the business of Harper and Company of Aberdeen. John is seated in front smoking a cigar, seated behind with large beard is his brother Hugh. The company they founded originally made wire fencing. Later John Harper moved into the manufacture of suspension bridges, engines and other machinery. Originally at Albion Iron Works, Albion Street, from Justice Street to the Links, Aberdeen.  They began to specialise in the manufacture of power transmission systems. John Harper died in 1906 and Hugh in 1912.

John Harper, Jr., Managing Director (Harpers Limited), Heathpark, Maryculter
John Harper, Sen., Seafield House, Seafield Road, Mannofioeld

Louis Harper, Architect and Engineer designed the Craiginches Ironworks for his father, John, in 1892 in an area that is now known as East Tullos Industrial Estate. Harpers Ltd (which was the 1st Aberdeen factory to install electric light) manufactures included rope and belt pulleys, flywheels, steel shafting, toothed gearing and bearings. The premises had 28 travelling cranes on 2 miles of overhead rails and 28 electric motors with a roof area of 3 acres. The Foundry had 5 bays altogether (35 feet, 25 ft and 3 bays of 18 feet wide) all of which were 260 feet long. There were 2 cupolas melting 9 and 6 tons of iron per hour respectively and numerous gear-wheel moulding machines and rope-pulley grooving machines capable of an output of 100 tons of castings per week. The 'Turnery' (machine tool shop) was connected to the Foundry with Bogie rails for the rapid movement of castings to the tool shop and was equipped with all sorts of specialist equipment, all driven by 4 lines of shafting.

The adjacent Caledonian Railway connection allowed the import of pig iron and the export of finished castingsHarpers Ltd also produced light iron Suspension Bridges designed by John Harper. The Harpers main business was supplying power drive machinery to Aberdeen’s many Industrial Mills


Louis Harper AMICE
Civil Engineer, and Architect, 115 Union street, home - Seafield House, Seafield Road, Mannofield

Louis Harper was born on 6 June 1868, the son of John Harper, a native of Turriff and his 2nd wife Margaret Ross.  John Harper with his brother Hugh had established a successful business in the manufacture of wire fences in Edinburgh and subsequently in Glasgow. In 1856 they returned to Aberdeen and continued as gate and fence manufacturers and subsequently established a Foundry. In 1863 John Harper patented a device for 'straining the wire' in fence-making which was to become crucial in the development of Suspension Bridges which the firm subsequently began to design. 

Louis attended Nelson College at Lee in Kent from 1880 until about 1881 and Aberdeen Gammar School from 1881-1883. He served his articles from 1883-1887 with Jenkins & Marr who were Architects as well as Civil Engineers. In the latter year he joined Harpers Limited as Manager of the Bridge Department. At this time the business was managed by his older half brother John who has taken over after his father retired, though at this time the latter still acted in an advisory role. He was involved with the design and construction of bridges over the River Nairn, over the Dee at Chester, Darwin Harbour in the Falkland Islands and Tees at Crathorne, Yorkshire. Two years later in 1889 Louis commenced practice on his own account at 115 Union Street as Architect and Civil Engineer, his 1st known work being the Stores and Offices at Albion Street for Harpers Ltd. He was responsible for the design of a number of Bridges at this period: a Bridge for the Great Northern Railway at Lincoln and Bridges over the Rover Bandon, Co Cork, Ireland, over the Feugh at Banchory and over the Carron at Falkirk.  Louis Harper was elected an Associate Member of the Institute of Civil Engineers 5 December 1893. On Christmas Day 1895 Louis married Alice Edwards. They had 5 children, though none became Architects. 

At the beginning of 1896 Harper took into partnership George Sutherland who was then in practice in Elgin but had received at least 1 commission in Aberdeen. The address of the firm was given as 115 Union Street in Post Office directories and they are described as 'Architects and Engineers'. The partnership lasted until about 1899 or 1900 when Sutherland withdrew. Harper remained in practice at the same address but transferred his business to Seafield, Aberdeen, his home address, in about 1903. When in partnership with Harper, Sutherland's 1 major commission was a large block in Bridge Street, the remainder being speculative housing, some of it for himself. Sutherland subsequently formed 2 other partnerships with James M Pirie in 1902 and after this was dissolved from 1907 with Clement George.

Despite the partnership with Sutherland, Harper was principally an Engineer in the 1890s and was responsible for a large number of Bridges built to his father's basic design, mainly for private estates initially but later expanding to public work and in the 1890s for an increasing number for foreign countries as far afield as Nepal and the Falkland Islands. After 1905 only 1 bridge is recorded. Harper died on 26 January 1940, though the business appears to have continued after that date.

The Harpers were involved in the construction of light wire suspension bridges from about 1865 until 1924. Initially they designed and built and latterly only designed.  Louis Harper died in 1940

Burnhervie Bridge - River Don - Completed c. 1880. "The original bridge was built by Harper & Co, Aberdeen, around 1880 and its timber pylons were replaced with cast iron ones. In 1979 when overloaded during a raft race a bank stay cable failed and a major rebuild was undertaken by the local authority.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013