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William McKinnon & Co

Engineers, Ironfounders, and Boilermakers

Engineering Works, Spring Garden. Founded 1789 by William McKinnon and Co.

Premises - An interesting group of buildings, with a 2-storey and attic, 4-bay office in French Renaissance style. The main entrances are in a 2-storey and 2-attic, 8-bay block with 2 gables to the street. At the rear are single-storey workshops, including a fine example of a 19th-century foundry, lit at 2 levels. Both of the cupolas have receivers.

This Lowrie style Illustration of is of McKinnon's premises at Spring Gardens

By the late 1700s, 1/3rd of Jamaican Plantations were owned by Scottish Merchants. Some Scots liked to dress their slaves in their Clan Tartan. In 1790, the combined worth of Exports and Imports between the West Indies and Scotland totalled at least £50M in today’s currency.  Some slaves became craftsmen, tradesmen or stock-keepers. Others worked in the sugar mills or other processing areas (the sugar mills were boiling hot, and dangerous places) - and there were a few domestic jobs for men and women - but the majority worked in the fields. This was backbreaking work, and the hours were very long. The average life span for some field workers was about 2 years

This photo shows the premises of William McKinnon & Co, Iron Founders and Engineers in Spring Garden / Windy Wynd, at its junction with Loch Street.

The Company was founded by William McKinnon in 1798, when they did work for many local factories. In the 1860s, they became involved in the production of equipment for Coffee, Cocoa, Rice and Sugar Plantations. The Slavers lash echoes loud in the Iron Works Industry of Spring Gardens

Gray's was founded in 1885 as Gray's School of Science and Art, in recognition of the generosity of its founding father, John Gray (1811–1891), a local businessman and philanthropist.  He began as a carpenter but rose through the ranks to become a Partner in William McKinnon & Co., Engineers and Iron Founders in Aberdeen. In 1859 he was appointed Director of the Aberdeen Mechanics Institution, 1 of the City Institutions which would eventually develop into Robert Gordon’s University.

By the 1890s, they employed 170 men, making Steam Engines, Boilers, Sugar Machinery, as well as machines for Polishing Granite. Eventually, 90% of their manufacturing was exported; they had agencies in 60 countries worldwide and they produced catalogues in English, French and Spanish. 1914 Engineers, Ironfounders, Boilermakers. Specialities: Coffee Plantation Machinery; Sugar, Rice, Cacao and Rubber Machinery. Employees 200 to 300

During World War ll, production switched to munitions work, producing shells, mortars and parts for Hercules Aero Engines. They appear to have ceased trading around 1992-93.


Many North East families owned plantations in the Caribbean in the 18th and 19th centuries. In some cases, the young men who went to the Caribbean had no land or money to their name when they left Scotland. If they did well in the Caribbean they bought one or more plantations there. When they had made enough money, they sold up their properties there and bought an Estate in Scotland, where they retired to live as landed gentlemen.

Production of Sugar Cane and Coffee processing machines had its beginnings in 1798 in Aberdeen,  It was there that William McKinnon began the Spring Garden Iron Works and in 1840 this Company began mass production of coffee processing machinery.  William McKinnon died in 1873 but the coffee machinery work continued.

To successfully meet and service the huge global market that exists for this produce requires highly specialised machinery. McKinnon design and built this machinery to handle all the processes, to meet all the needs.  Coffee-processing machines, for example, take care of everything from the cherry to the green bean. As specialists in plantation machinery, there was no one better qualified than the company known simply as McKinnon.  Manufacturing since 1840 and have seen ourselves grow into a company that has satisfied customers in no fewer than 80 countries around the world. (Central America, South America, India, Uganda and British East Africa)

It was in 1840 that McKinnon which was hitherto manufacturing machinery for sugarcane and rice, started to manufacture machinery for the processing of coffee. McKinnon designed and built machinery to handle all the process requirements of coffee, designed by engineers and plantation managers with practical experience, so that the equipment ensures that the coffee is well processed, without damage and will retain its inherent quality and flavour.  . 

Coffee fruit enters into a central conveyor which will move the coffee fruit through the machine. The ripe fruit will be squeezed through the surrounding sieve and fall down to the collection chute which leads the fruit to the pulper. Green bean will be collected at a separate outlet.

Rotary Dryers are an upgraded version of the McKinnon sterling dryer. The rotary dryers can be used for both cherry and parchment coffee, and yields a uniformly dried product. McKinnon rotary dryers are available in different sizes  Even though the dryers are designed to dry coffee, they can be used to dry other products also (subject to change of perforated screen according to the product).

Pre-cleaners are designed to clean and screen coffee, prior to feeding on to the next processing stage. The machine effectively removes iron particles, stone, sand, rubble, leaves, twigs and other foreign materials.  Separation is achieved by a series of screens, the 1st screen removing large impurities and the bottom screen removing fine materials such as sand and dust. The middle screen separates the coffee and delivers it clean. To increase the efficiency of cleaning, and air sifter is used after the pre-cleaning.

Dry De-stoners are used for removing stones from green coffee, dry parchment and dry cherry. The de-stoner is designed to take advantage of the difference in specific weights between the stones and the coffee.

Hullers are specifically designed to treat dry cherry. The machine consists of a cylinder fitted with feeding and hulling ribs, enclosed in a strong casing, the lower portion of which is perforated to allow the husks to pass into the husk chamber. The hulling is effected by means of the triturating action between the hulling blade and the ribs on the cylinder.

Image from a publication of 1916 which shows McKinnon Okrassa Coffee Dryer.

Fine period feel and carries the company's name.   It is astonishing to think that when the business closed at Spring Garden it was still manufacturing machinery which was technologically not much different from that of the Century earlier.   Low level technology which was accessible financially to small producers and the very lack of sophistication was an advantage as any running repairs might well be made on site by local Smiths or Engineers: Mechanical rather than Electrical. 

McKinnon's Pig Iron Cupola Furnace

Carron Bridge
The Bridge of Carron, which spans the River Spey some way south of Aberlour.  This was built in 1862-3 by William McKinnon & Co Engineers of Aberdeen, to carry the Strathspey Railway Line. As built, it carried 1 rail track alongside a single lane highway. It has been described as the last built Cast-iron Bridge to carry railway traffic in Scotland. Spanning roughly 150 feet, it is clearly the descendant of Thomas Telford’s cast iron bridges, with large cast iron ribs surmounted by X-braced spandrels.  There are 2 small side arches built in masonry.  The railway was removed from the bridge in 1968, and in more recent times the trackbed was refurbished and converted into a footway. The Bridge has been lucky to survive so well.

It is one of Scotland’s best surviving large-span cast-iron bridges and was probably the last of its type. It consists of a central segmental arch of 150 ft span with a rise of 20 ft, flanked on each side by a 25 ft span masonry flood-relief arch.  The main span has 3 arch ribs, each cast in 7 sections and bolted together, with diagonal bracing between the ribs. The deck beams are supported on braced cruciform struts, a feature together with the curvature and span of the main arch are suggestive of a Craigellachie Bridge influence in its design concept. Carron Bridge was designed by Alexander Gibb, Engineer to the Great North of Scotland Railway, whose previous experience as a Contractor had included numerous major bridges. The ironwork was cast and erected by William McKinnon and Co., Aberdeen. Although the Strathspey line was closed in 1968 and its deck adjoining the road removed, there were proposals in 1993 for the bridge to be reconstructed in steel. This proposal was opposed by Historic Scotland, PHEW and others at a public enquiry. The Bridge with its original Ironwork has recently been tastefully refurbished and re-decked by Aberdeenshire Council to carry the present single lane road and footways.

McKinnon India Private Ltd., is a licensed user of the trade mark "McKinnon" of William. McKinnon and Co. Ltd., Aberdeen.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013