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Ferryhill Foundry

James Abernethy FRSE (12 June 1814 – 8 March 1896) was a Scottish Civil Engineer.
Abernethy was born in Aberdeen to George Abernethy. As a boy, James assisted his father on the extension of the London docks.  He later worked as an Engineer and Iron-founder, his primary area of work being Bridges and Marine Engineering. His works include the South Dock and Half Tide Basin of Swansea Marina, Tennant Canal, Aire and Calder Navigation, New Junction Canal and many bridges in Scotland. He designed and built the Canale Cavour in Italy.

Marine Engineer, James Abernethy's (1814-96) cousin, also called James Abernethy (1809-1879), was an Iron Founder based in Aberdeen, who was responsible for the production of a number of bridges in Scotland. He also had a son called James, and the Foundry business continued until the middle of the 20th century.

James Abernethy & Co Ltd, Ferryhill Foundry, Aberdeen, who made Invercauld Bridge and 2 others on the Dee, at Polhollick and Cambus O' May

PicturePictureGranite Turning Lathe

James Abernethy was born in 1809, one of the 3 sons and 5 children of James Abernethy, iron-founder and his wife Anne Harvey. The elder Abernethy had established an iron founding and sawmilling business in partnership with George and Robert Tower of Ferryhill and Alexander Gibbon, an Advocate in Aberdeen. Abernethy Sr., may have been assisted in the business by his brother George James junior who was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and Marischal College, and served his articles with his father. He also gained experience as a journeyman in Manchester, Birmingham and London. He returned to the family firm at Ferryhill and subsequently, assisted by his brothers, gradually took over running the business, James Abernethy & Co.  The business of the firm was quite varied at the beginning and included machinery for mills and processing machinery for colonial tea and sugar plantations and for guano extraction.  Although the firm tried to dispense with the mill-wrighting side of the business, it still made mill machinery throughout the 19th century. However after 1850 the main business was Bridges, generally to the designs of others, like Alexander Gibb and James Willet.  Abernethy & Co provided the expertise as fabricators of cast and wrought iron structures. The bridges were generally for the Great North of Scotland Railway. By 1882 the GNSR had more than 300 under-bridges with cast-iron beams as well as many arch and lattice-girder bridges.  In 1841 Abernethy married Isabella Bathia Wyllie, the daughter of an Aberdeen bookseller. The couple had two sons. Abernethy was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1866.  He died in 1879, his practice being continued by his sons, James Washington Abernethy, born 1845, and David Wyllie Abernethy, born 1848. The business continued until the mid-20th century.  - James Slight


The huge stonemason's lathe you see here, has a strong link with the Australian township of Moruya and its granite history
Manufacturer;                                  J. Abernethy & Co; Aberdeen, Scotland.
Year Of Manufacture;                     
Weight;                                            24 tons (approx)
Length of bed;                                 25 feet (approx)
Maximum turning length:                21 feet (approx)  

J. Abernethy & Co. of the Ferryhill Foundry in Aberdeen produced an absolutely enormous range of castings and machinery. They could design and completely build machinery for almost any industry. They were the world's largest maker of Granite Working Machinery including Cranes and Lathes etc. They closed their foundry in the 1960's.  From the 1820's until the 1930's Aberdeen was the largest granite producing area in the world with 25,000 men employed in the industry in Aberdeen and the surrounding area.  Whole families of granite workers were recruited to move to Moruya in Australia to work the granite for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1930's.  This lathe must have been moved from Aberdeen to Moruya at this time.  This was probably easier than the 1st plan which was to ship the finished granite from Aberdeen until they found suitable rock at Moruya. 

After the bridge was built, most of these families moved back to Aberdeen but some remained in Australia so some North East Scotland families have branches in Australia as well as Aberdeenshire.  Drain covers and 'branders' (gratings) can still be seen in older parts of Aberdeen with "J. Abernethy & Co. Ferryhill Foundry. Aberdeen" cast into them.  On the opposite bank of the River Dee less than 1/2 a mile from the Abernethy's Foundry was the Factory of Harper & Co. who were the world's largest manufacturer of flat belt and rope pulleys.  When the British Standards for pulleys was published they were an exact copy of Harper's specifications!

PictureLathe probably made 1881

Cut cast iron samples from an 1861 Abernethy sectional railway bridge used for tensile/strength testing for insurance purposes (These bridges are still in use in their hundreds on Scottish railway lines) The testing Lab said in their report that they were the best samples of cast iron they had tested in the 45 years they had been in business. 

Public footbridge, Polhollick: this suspension footbridge is situated 2 miles West of Ballater, and built in 1892. Like that at Cambus O' May it is a gift of Mr Gordon. Set in a more open situation, it has been built a little more sturdily, and with less charm. The lattice cables are finished with a tooth-edged cross girder above a metal arch. The cables, of steel rope, are stayed by cross bars which give a ladder-like effect from a distance; the abutments are lozenge-shaped.  This short bridge carries a footpath across the River Dee to the NE of Polhollick farmstead. The location assigned to this record defines the centre of the span.

Suspension bridge of wire rope and truss deck type: Built 1892 by James Abernethy and Co., Ferryhill Foundry, Aberdeen, engineers. Lattice-girder pylons, wire-rope cables, rod suspenders, lattice-girder span. Span about 170 ft (52m).

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Last modified: 01/09/2013