The Doric Columns
A & J Robertson (Granite) Ltd.
After serving his apprenticeship as a Monumental Mason in Aberdeen, followed by a period of seasonal working in Barre, Vermont, in the USA, Alexander Robertson returned home in 1876, and with savings he had earned from working in the States, joined forces with another mason, Mr Gray, and set up their own stonecutters business. The Robertson and Gray partnership worked out of St Clair Street, which ran between King Street and West North Street. In 1876 there were 37 different granite firms. Most of these firms were made from short lived and ever changing partnerships. Like most other partnerships, Robertson & Gray did not last. In 1878 Alexander Robertson continued business on his own, based at 259 King Street on the corner of St Clair Street. Sixty years later in 1936, when Alexander's grand-son Sandy entered the business, the firm still occupied this site. By the end of this decade, the firm had grown and Alexander rented a 2nd yard in St Clair Street, employed a number of operatives, and had customers throughout Scotland and the North of England.
After only 10 successful years in business, Alexander died suddenly in 1886, at the age of 45. His son George, at the age of 25 took over the responsibility of running the business, with his second wife Jane inheriting ownership of the other half. The company changed its name from Alex Robertson, to Alex Robertson & Son. In 1893, George gave up the St Clair Street site in favour of a new site at 271 King Street, the opposite corner from 259 King Street. In 1897, a consortium of granite merchants set up the Granite Supply Association Ltd. Managed for three generations by the Sutherland family, its main purpose was to supplement the local supply of granite by importing a wide variety of granites from abroad. This gave the local industry, now consisting of around 70 firms, a consistently fair price for imported blocks, and a wider variety of coloured granites to choose from.
The 3 surviving sons of Alexander Robertson's 2nd marriage, Norman, William and John, joined their stepbrother and learned about the industry. They all served their time in the family business, and when they had completed their respective apprenticeships, the company name changed to Alex Robertson & Sons. Norman set up his own business in Falkirk, retailing gravestones, using the family firm as his supplier. William and John remained with George. In 1905, George, like his father before him, died comparatively young. He left his share of the business to his stepmother Jane Robertson, who became its sole owner. With her eldest son Norman already in business by himself, she gave the responsibility of managing the business to her second eldest son, William, aged 24. William had scarlet fever at the age of 27 and when the 1st World War broke out in 1914, he had been excused from military service on health grounds. His brother John continued to work as a letter cutter for the family firm on his return from war service.
William bought over the business from his mother in 1928. The period between 1929 and 1931 saw many granite firms go out of business. Competition was severe and by 1936, William had only two employees, both family. His brother John was the letter cutter and Norman's brother-in-law, Bill Burnett, was the mason. They were one of the smallest of Aberdeen's 68 granite firms and had considerable debts. This was the year William's eldest son Alexander R (Sandy) joined the family firm. A high achiever at school, Sandy entered the family business against the wishes of his mother. She was sure he could make a better life for himself away from the failing business, with apparently no prospects for the future. He attended evening classes in bookkeeping and related subjects, and by April 1937 the firm had its first proper bookkeeping and account system in place. Electricity and a telephone were installed, and the following financial year saw the firm's turnover double. Sandy's younger brother Bill left school and joined the family firm in 1938. In 1939 when Sandy was drafted to serve in the 2nd World War, Bill took over Sandy's job, until he too was called up in 1941. During the war William bought the photographer's studio of W L Dunn & Co next door at 273 King Street. This was back-to-back with the Masons Shed at 271 King Street and would become the new lettering shed. Within a few years the firm employed 3 masons, 2 letter cutters and 2 apprentice letter cutters. Since 1948 Robertson has never been without at least 1 apprentice on their books.
By the end of 1950 the firm had a healthy bank balance and no debts. Sandy Robertson commented "The firms cash was now kept entirely separate from their own and they drew wages and nothing else." On 1st February 1951, after some lengthy negotiations by Sandy, Alex Robertson & Sons bought over James Taggart & Son. At this time James Taggart & Son had a workforce of about 12 men and a bigger premises at 92 Great Western Road, (about half-way between Chattan Place and Claremont Street) which soon became Alex Robertson & Sons head office and works, leaving 259 King Street as a retail branch. 271-3 King Street was converted into a petrol filling station and owned by Sandy's wife, Nan Robertson. This filling station, kept separate from the granite industry, was sold to Ellis & McHardy Ltd in 1963.
William Robertson died in 1958 at the age of 77. Sandy had effectively been in charge of the day to day running of the firm since his return home after the war, and was therefore well equipped to head the family business on his father's death. He soon realised that in order to survive in the ever increasingly competitive international granite market, not only would they have to expand the business, but also they would have to consider joining forces with other local granite firms. In 1960, the company opened up their first branch out with Aberdeen in the small town of Buckie. One of the main competitors in Aberdeen at that time was a company called James Robertson & Son, of 393 Hardgate (no relation and premises adjacent to the railway bridge). The son, Bill Robertson, was keen to go into partnership with Sandy over the purchase of Buckie. Although Sandy preferred to embark on the Buckie venture by himself, two years later in 1962, both firms began talks of amalgamation again. On 1st March 1963,
Alex Robertson & Sons merged with James Robertson & Son, and adopted the new name of A & J Robertson (Granite) Ltd.
William Edwards & Son (Granite Merchants) Ltd, whose premises consisted of 2 yards, No.s 3 and 4 Pittodrie Street. In August 1971 it acquired the share capital of Robert Crofts & Sons Ltd whose yard in Pittodrie Street was adjacent to the former Edward's yard on the south side of the street. It was to this area on the east side of King Street, bounded by Merkland Road East to the South and occupied mainly by granite firms since the 19th century,
In May 1965 Robertson acquired the share capital of William Edwards & Son (Granite Merchants) Ltd, whose premises consisted of 2 yards, No.s 3 and 4 Pittodrie Street. In August 1971 it acquired the share capital of Robert Crofts & Sons Ltd whose yard in Pittodrie Street was adjacent to the former Edward's yard on the south side of the street.
It was to this area on the east side of King Street, bounded by Merkland Road East to the South and occupied mainly by granite firms since the 19th century, that Robertson would now relocate and establish its head quarters. Now head office and manufacturing could be concentrated on one site. In 1971,
Pittodrie Granite Turning Co.
Robertson also acquired the goodwill of William Taggart & Son, Allenvale Road, the remaining biggest competitor in Aberdeen, along with its business in Fraserburgh. After a period of ill health, Bill Robertson took early retirement on 30th June 1978, leaving Sandy Robertson as sole Chairman and Managing Director. Sandy's son Graeme had joined the company in 1974 as a trainee manager, and joined Frank Fyfe, Eddie Masson and Ronald Rennie on the Board of Directors in 1978.
Robertson Stone Centre was established in 1977 to cater for a wide variety of products in natural stone, granite, marble and slate for domestic purposes. Starting off in a former polishing shed at the rear of No.9 Merkland Road East, its success soon warranted a larger site. In July 1983 the Stone Centre relocated to the newly acquired 15 Merkland Road East. Graeme Robertson, as well as sitting on the Board of Directors, personally managed the new Stone Centre until 1981, when a dedicated manager was employed. Graeme assumed overall responsibility for retail sales. Between 1978-1984 Robertson acquired 5 more memorial retail outlets in Scotland. James M. Lamb, Montrose, Robertson & Moncur, Dundee, Jas Tiernan & Son, Edinburgh, Brian Leggatt, Dunbar and Robert Donald, Arbroath.
On 10th January 1984 Graeme was appointed Joint Managing Director with his father who remained Chairman. Sandy retired from full time work in 1989 and Graeme was appointed sole Managing Director. In 1999 when his father retired as non-executive chairman, Graeme became Cairman and Managing Director of the firm. Between 1985-1990 a further 12 firms across the UK were acquired. Beattie & Co. Ltd, Carlisle, John Wilson & Son, Tweedmouth, Samuel McKnight, Ayr, Maybole and Prestwick, A Ross, Forfar, Geo Carnegie & Sons Ltd, Dundee, George Stalker, Whitehaven, Hugh McLachlan, Ayr, F & S J Taylor, Coventry, Ward of Oswaldtwistle, McDonough of Halifax, Braithwaite of Darwen and H Stevenson & Sons Ltd, Burnley and Colne.
In August 1987 Robertson acquired a 40% interest in Harold Stevenson's long established family firm in Burnley. His nephew Brent Stevenson became a Director of Robertson and, still based in Burnley, sat on the board of directors until a period of ill health in 1996. Brent resigned from the Board of Directors and sold his shares in the company back to Robertson's. In return, Robertson sold 3 branches to Brent, Blackburn, Colne and Oswaldtwistle. Brent Stevenson remains a trade customer of Robertson today. In 1989 an open yard at No.8 Pittodrie Street was purchased, which became a holding area for granite blocks. No.9 Merkland Road East now houses the memorial show-yard, the office block and the car park, while the neighbouring stockyard and factory on the Pittodrie Street side are fitted out with up-to-date equipment.
Between 1991 - 1995, 7 more business were acquired. E M & F Willett, Cheltenham, N Jury Ltd, Huddersfield, B Astill, Leamington Spa, plus E M Lander, Joslin Memorials, Cyril J Corden and Blake & Horlock, all in London. Between 1996 - 2001, the expansion of Robertson's retail outlets continued. They bought over nine branches from John Fyfe Ltd. Edinburgh, Wishaw, Cumnock, Arbroath, Dumbarton, Dalry, Dalkeith, and 2 in Motherwell. They also acquired Hulme, Stockport, Hulme, Hazelgrove, Nell Lane Memorials, Manchester, Twyford, Wilmslow, Clow Bros, Oldham, Border Memorials, Kelso and James Dowell & Son, Kirkwall.
This was a very busy period for A & J Robertson (Granite) Ltd. Some weeding out among the new acquisitions was necessary for not all proved to be viable, particularly when a group of businesses were bought from a single seller. Most of these acquisitions required some sort of property upgrading, and much investment of time and money was spent bringing them up to scratch. Since then a further 2 branches were acquired, Alfred Tomes & Son, London, in 2003 and Monkland Memorials, Coatbridge, in 2004.
A & J Robertson (Granite) Ltd now has a total of 37 branches around the UK
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