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Birthplace of Sir William Fairbairn
Roxburgh Street, Kelso, Scottish Borders, UK
associated engineer
Sir William Fairbairn
date  19th February, 1789
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Birthplace of Engineer  |  reference  NT725340
The border town of Kelso is the birthplace of Scottish engineer Sir William Fairbairn. Apprenticed as a millwright, he soon progressed to making machinery and using cast and wrought iron in new ways. Fairbairn associated with the Stephensons and, as well as Britain, carried out work in Europe and Turkey. He was president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1854-5.
William Fairbairn was born on 19th February 1789, in a house at the corner of Roxburgh Street and a side road to Chalkheugh Terrace, not far from the east bank of the River Tweed, at Kelso in the Scottish Borders. The house no longer exists but the site is commemorated by a plaque fixed to the (modern) garden wall. He was baptised on 8th March 1789 in Kelso.
William was the son of Andrew Fairbairn (1758-1844), a farmer who also served in the Royal Navy during the American War of Independence (1775-83), and Margaret Henderson (1760-1820), the daughter of a Jedburgh tradesman. The couple had at least six, and possibly eight, children though only six of them are mentioned by William in his autobiography. Among his siblings were Thomas (1791-1812), Peter (1799-1861) and Elisabeth/Eliza (1801-3).
At the start of the 19th century, the family moved from Scotland to Yorkshire and on to Newcastle upon Tyne. William trained as a millwright at Percy Main colliery, meeting and befriending George Stephenson (1781-1848) who was then working at Willington Quay.
William subsequently worked in London and Manchester. In 1817, he and former workmate James Lillie (c.1788-1862) founded Fairbairn & Lillie to manufacture iron machinery, principally for improving mill operation, which proved a very successful enterprise. The partnership was dissolved in 1832, allowing Lillie to carry on the business as James Lillie & Sons while William set up William Fairbairn & Sons, diversifying into other applications of structural ironwork such as shipbuilding, bridges and boilers.
He worked alongside Robert Stephenson (1803-59) developing the use of tubular steel members for the Conwy Tubular Bridge (1848) and Britannia Bridge (1850), both in Wales. William claimed to have been involved with the design of around 1,000 bridges in his lifetime.
He took out various patents for his innovations, including a riveting machine (1837) and a steam crane (1850) with a unique curved jib, of which one example survives at Bristol Docks. He was a voracious reader and prolific writer, publishing papers on a variety of subjects connected with mechanical and civil engineering.
In October 1861, he was offered a knighthood by Queen Victoria but declined the honour. In September 1869, he accepted the conference of a baronetage, becoming the first Baronet of Ardwick.
In October 1873, while attending the opening of new buildings at Owens College in Manchester William "caught a severe bronchial cold, from which he never recovered". He died on 18th August 1874, at Moor Park in Farnham, Surrey, the house of his son-in-law John Frederick Bateman (1810-89). On 25th August, he was interred in the family vault in the south west corner of the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin at Prestwich, Greater Manchester.
Research: ECPK
"The Life of Sir William Fairbairn, Bart.", partly written by himself, edited and completed by William Pole, Longmans, Green, and Co., London, 1877
"Obituary, Sir William Fairbairn, Bart., F.R.S., 1789-1874", Minutes of the Proceedings of the ICE, Vol.39, pp.251-264, London, 1875
"Sir William Fairbairn", The Engineer, p.154, 21st August 1874
reference sources   OSHDNBBDCE2

Birthplace of Sir William Fairbairn