Origins of the James Watt Engineering Building

Photograph of Archibald Barr from 1891

Photograph of Archibald Barr from 1891

The Gilmorehill Story continues with the construction of the James Watt Engineering Building!

When you look into the history of the origins of the James Watt building, it becomes apparent how instrumental one man in particular, Archibald Barr, was in bringing into being a building dedicated solely to engineering. Barr, a graduate of the Engineering school at the University and Regius Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics from 1889 to 1912, infamously declared his own alma mater uniquely deficient in terms of teaching modern engineering, stating that Glasgow “stands now absolutely alone among all the Universities and Colleges in the world in which Engineering Science is taught in having no provision for laboratory work.”

Barr’s indictment spurred the University on to dedicate a space solely for the use of the Engineering School at a time when many different departments were clamouring for their own buildings on an increasingly crowded site. On what seems like a one man mission, Barr raised the £40,000 needed for the construction of the new engineering building by petitioning local charitable bodies as well as Glasgow industrialists. He also managed to get local companies to fund the £14,000 necessary for the crowning glory of the building – the modern equipment!

The foundations of the James Watt Engineering Building.

The foundations of the James Watt (South) Engineering Building, added  1957-1959.

The resulting engineering building, opened in 1902 by Lord Kelvin, was cutting edge and completely furnished with the latest engineering equipment and technology. With the new building complete and Barr’s vision for the department as keen as ever, student numbers soared from thirty nine to upwards of two hundred during his relatively short term at the university.

Constructing the James Watt Engineering Building.

Constructing a later section of the James Watt Engineering Building.

The Engineering building bears the name of the somewhat more famous engineer James Watt, who worked from 1756 to 1764 as mathematical instrument maker to the University, but the engineering building owes its existence almost solely to Archibald Barr.

James Watt Engineering Building foundations covered by the shadow of the Gilbert Scott's tower and J. Oldrid Scott's spire.

James Watt Engineering Building foundations covered by the shadow of the Gilbert Scott’s tower and J. Oldrid Scott’s spire.

This is the second of three blogs written by our Club 21 volunteer Lauren Moffat.

Follow us @GUArchives #gilmorehillstory so you won’t miss our weekly Thursday tweets and blogs!



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