This thread was originally written and published in September 2020. It has been lightly edited and corrected as applicable for this post.
Coincidentally I looked this place up a few days before this tweet as I had come across some photos of it on Flickr towards the end of its life.
The Eagle Buildings were at 5 Tower Street in Leith, next to the Sailor’s Home (now Malmaison Hotel).
Here is in in 1992, when it was being used as a workshop and store by a shopfitter. The photographer suggests demolition was in 1997.
Most of that “sandstone” front was mock and was actually a showcase of the Portland cement wares of its occupants, Currie & Co. Ltd, Building-Trade Merchants in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leith and across the Scottish central belt.
Currie & Co, Ltd. had been incorporated in April 1898 by the merger of two similar building supply and cement merchant businesses owned by John Patrick Currie:
- Currie & Co. of Glasgow, founded in 1873, headquartered in Wellington Street. Subsidiary companies included the North British Asphalt Company, the North British Coal and Firewood Company and the Eagle Portland Cement Co. This is the eagle connection; it was a brand to sell cement.
- Joseph A. Currie & Co. of Edinburgh and Leith, founded in 1875 and headquartered in Bernard Street in Leith. This business had been bought in 1893 by John Patrick on the death of his brother Joseph Allan at the age of only 42.
This 1911 advert reveals that they had a lineage going back to the late 18th century through A. M. Ross & Sons, slate merchants in Glasgow.
The headquarters had moved from Glasgow to 19 Rose Street in Edinburgh around this time, that building too was called the Eagle Buildings and it remains so to this day. If you crane your neck and look up as you pass, you’ll see an eagle watching over you high above in its “eerie”.
Joseph Allan Currie was born in Cupar, Fife, in 1851. At the age of only 21 he was appointed manager of the Waltham Abbey Gas Works in London. He returned north and settled in Leith two years later, bringing with him a new trade of Portland cement merchant. Cement was not manufactured in Scotland at the time, but was imported from the Medway. Leith was therefore the perfect base for such a venture. Joseph Allan added plaster of Paris, pavement stone, lime, fireclay and earthenware to this business, becoming a successful builders merchant, growing the business to become one of the largest in Scotland. In 1894 his company was reported as being the largest suppliers of roofing felt in the region; an increasingly popular product due to the increasing cost of roofing slate and timber.
His obituary described him as having “indefatigable energy, strong personality and business tact“. Joseph was remarkable as being the sole suppliers of Portland cement for both the Forth Bridge works and the ill-fated first Tay Bridge.
The construction of the Forth Bridge required some 20,000 tons of Portland cement, which was manufactured on the River Medway and was brought by sea to South Queensferry. Here it was transferred to an old hulk that Currie had purchased called the Hougomont; a ship that had been built in Burma as a convict transport for Australia. The Hougomont could store 1,200 tons of cement, which had to be stored for a certain number of days before it was used. When smallpox broke out amongst the workers in 1886, the Hougomont was moved to Port Edgar and used as an isolation hospital, helping the outbreak to be quickly dealt with.
John Patrick Currie – born 1848 – continued to run the business and became the largest Scottish building merchant and cement distributor, Scottish agents for I. C. Johnson & Co. Isaac Charles Johnson and his business partner had painstakingly reverse-engineered existing cement products, improved them and then produced a different product that they were careful to make sure was not subject to existing patents.
An 1894 description of the company in a trade publication states:
The commodities which Messrs. Currie & Co. deal in principally are: Portland cement, Scotch and Irish limes, pavement, freestone, crushed granite, Arran sand, slates, fireclay goods, barytes, umber, plaster of Paris, whiting, &c. In all these lines Messrs. Currie & Co. hold large stocks, and are ready to meet any demands with promptitude. Their standing is accepted as a guarantee of quality, and they spare no effort to maintain their high reputation for reliable material. The business in every department receives the direct personal attention of its founder and sole proprietor, Mr. John P. Currie, a gentleman whose commercial capabilities are well demonstrated in the success that has attended this influential concern. The business in which Mr. Currie is now so actively engaged derives its support from a thoroughly representative and increasing connection, and continues to develop.Rivers of the North – Their Cities and their Commerce.
It seems that the Curries named nearly all their properties Eagle Buildings, with at least 3 in Glasgow.
John Patrick died at home in Edinburgh in March 1919 at the age of 71. After his death, the company seems to have moved its headquarters to another Eagle Buildings, this time in Dock Street, Dundee. By this time it was an agent for the Cement Marketing Company, which would eventually rename itself after its most famous product; Blue Circle Portland Cement. The company was still trading in 1953, after which the trail in newspaper archives goes cold.
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