The thread about the “Three As” of Scottish motor manufacturing, and the pioneering woman who was a key figure in one of them

Today’s auction house artefact is this splendidly shiny McVitie & Price 1924 digestive biscuit delivery van, an Albion Type 24 built in Scotstoun in Glasgow. Estimated to sell for £24-28k. Albions were apparently the grocery delivery van of choice way back when this was built, being economical and reliable. Lyons, Nestles, Huntley & Palmer and of course Edinburgh biscuiteers McVitie & Price were big customers.

The Model 24 could also be built as a bus.

Albion Type 24 with bus body. (Pic © Scottish Motor Museum)

The radiator badge was originally a cast logotype stylised to look like a lion. To this a rising sun was later added in various guises. The product line names and badges later got a bit more patriotic.

Albion was one of the “Three As” of Scottish motor engineering, along with Argyll in Alexandria and Arrol-Johnston in Paisley.

Argyll expanded massively into the biggest car plant in Europe in 1906 and crippled themselves with the costs and inefficient production methods. They were bankrupt within a year. The factory limped a while until the costs of lawsuits finally closed the doors. The place later became a Royal torpedo factory and enjoyed a much longer life as such. It continued as such into the late 1960s, when it was bought by Plessey, promptly closed, lay vacant for 30 odd years and was then fortuitously saved as a shopping centre.

The Argyll car factory in Alexandria, later became a torpedo factory. CC-BY-SA 4.0 LesleyMitchell
The Argyll car factory in Alexandria, later became a torpedo factory. CC-BY-SA 4.0 LesleyMitchell

Arrol-Johnston (the Arrol from the famous Sir William Arrol who built a certain big red bridge over the Forth) prospered better, and in 1913 moved to a purpose built factory in Dumfries. They got the Americans to build it for mass production. The factory at Heathhall was built by the architect who built Henry Ford’s second factory for the Model T. A very sensible move. Looking futuristic for 1913, it was the first reinforced “Ferro-concrete” building in Britain apparently.

Arrol-Johnston’s Dumfries works, © Le Couvey-Martin Family Archives

Although the company later failed, an interesting aside was the “Galloway” a car designed by a woman, built by Arrol-Johnston’s largely female workforce, for the woman motorist; Dorothée Pullinger was daughter of Arrol-Johnston’s managing director and chief designer, Thomas Pullinger.

Dorothée Pullinger. © Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Dorothée Pullinger. © Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

She started work in the Arrol-Johnston drawing office at the age of 16, and when the First World War broke out, the 20 year old Dorothée was sent to the Vickers works in Barrow to be the “Lady Superintendent” of the 7,000 women workers producing munitions in the factory. Awarded an MBE for her service, she was nevertheless refused entrance into the Institute of Automobile Engineers until 1920, it’s first woman member. Back at Arrol-Johnston after the war, the Galloway was largely designed and built in a subsidiary called Galloway Motors, which largely employed the female expertise and labour that had been built up during WW1 on war work.

Galloway car on display at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow. CC-By-SA 4.0 Midwich Cuckoo
Galloway car on display at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow. CC-By-SA 4.0 Midwich Cuckoo

They were initially sold under a strapline of “a car made by ladies for others of their sex“. Galloway’s apprenticeships for engineers only last 3 instead of 5 years as it was felt that the women attended better and learned faster than men and so could get it all done sooner

Dorothée won the Scottish Six Day Trial in 1924 in a Galloway. She went on to have a long and successful career in running industrial steam laundry companies and was the only female industrial advisor to the Ministry of Production, advised the sprawling Nuffield group on the employment of women and helped to set up and run 13 war factories with them. Dorothée described her job as being “to see that the fullest use is made of woman-power throughout the Nuffield Organisation“.

Of the “Three As”, Albion fared the best and were bought by Leyland in 1951 therefore found their way into that particular stable and everything it entails. In the 1970s, British Leyland slowly rationalised the Albion product lines and production, with some moving to other BL plants. In 1972 they rebadged all Albions as Leylands. In 1980 all production in Glasgow moved to the Bathgate Truck & Tractor Plant.

In 1984, a collapse in BL’s fortunes saw the huge and modern plant in Bathgate shut down, with a crippling effect on a local economy also being hit with steelworks and colliery closures. In 1987 two young lads from Auchtermuchty wrote a song about it and other things.

That was not quite the end for Albion though, as truck components were still being made in the Scotstoun factory. When Leyland DAF collapsed in 1993, the business was bought out as Albion Automotive. In 1998, the new company was acquired by the American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. of Motown, Detroit, producing various transmission comonents and – I think – they are still hanging on in Scotstoun in a much reduced form.

And Digestive biscuits, that fine Edinburgh* invention? Still being made, (although the McVities name is now mud in certain Scottish households thanks to recent industrial developments).

* = Alexander Grant, who developed the Digestive for McVitie and Price in Edinburgh may actually have invented them earlier in his home town of Forres. Apparently biscuits called “digestives” were a thing in those parts before McVitie’s patented and popularised the industrial form of it.

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These threads © 2017-2023, Andy Arthur

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