Family Life

Life in Glasgow

In the early years of their marriage William and Elizabeth moved home several times within the Dennistoun area, from 309 London Road to  167 Greenhead Street to 1 Alexandra Parade and then finally settling down at 10 Oakley Terrace in 1880.  They were joined in their new home by their young niece Cecilia Murray, the 5 year old daughter of Elizabeth’s sister, Agnes Murray. The early years of the Arrol’s marriage were said to be happy ones but sadly Elizabeth was troubled by mental illness and, perhaps realising that they would never have children of their own, they took in Cecilia to raise as their own daughter.  As William was kept away from home more and more with work, Cecilia would also provide companionship for Elizabeth. As well as providing himself with a fine new home, William’s  growing prosperity meant that he was also able to purchase a home for his parents.  Glenara Cottage, in Meikleriggs, Paisley was provided in 1879 as a house where his father could enjoy his retirement.

During the period between 1882 and 1890 while three of his most famous constructions, the Tay Bridge and Forth Bridge and Tower Bridge, were being built William Arrol had a very demanding work schedule. He would often leave home before 6am on a Monday morning, return late on Wednesday evening and head off again early the following morning and not return till late on a Saturday night. During the week he was busy working and travelling back and forth between the sites at Dalmarnock, South Queensferry, Dundee and then to London for meetings with the Bridge engineers on Saturdays.   Despite his exhausting week, William always made time on a Sunday to attend the London Road United Presbyterian Church.

An example of what a page out of William Arrol's diary may have looked like

An example of what a page out of William Arrol’s diary may have looked like

In 1887 the Arrol’s moved to Ayr to escape the noise and pollution of Glasgow but still be within commuting distance for the Dalmarnock works. William Arrol became a tenant at Seafield, an estate of 50 acres on the seafront south of Ayr. The location suited him so well that within a year he had bought the estate and was planning to build a new house on the site, Seafield House. It was here that William Arrol was able to indulge his love of literature, music and art.  It was a grand mansion befitting  William’s growing status as a public figure and the honours that had been bestowed upon him.

On 4 December 1889 William Arrol was given Freedom of the City of Dundee and soon after on 26 February 1890, Freedom of the Burgh of Ayr. Then on 4 March 1890, following the opening ceremony for the Forth Bridge, the Prince of Wales announced that Queen Victoria was to give William Arrol the highest honour, a knighthood.  Other distinctions were to follow that year. He was given the freedom and livery of The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths of the City of London in April and then an honorary LLD, Doctor of Laws degree, from the University of Glasgow.

Sir William Arrol standing at gates of parliament

Sir William Arrol
© National Portrait Gallery, London

After seeing through the completion of the Forth Bridge, Sir William relinquished day-to-day management of Arrol & Company in order to meet other interests and requests on his time.  In the autumn of 1890 he sailed to the United States intending to rest and recuperate from ill health brought on by the exhaustive demands of work .  However, so used to always being active, he could not sit still and spent several months touring vast areas of the country where, rather than sticking to the tourist routes, he made a study of American industry.  He was struck by the hard life of the working classes there compared to those in Britain and did not like the fast pace of life of those with money who thought only of their own pleasure and excitement.  Sir William much preferred to be busy at work than living a life of leisure or travelling.  On a later trip to Egypt, in December 1901, whilst sailing to Cairo then up the Nile to Luxor and Aswan, Sir William wrote “we have nothing else to do but eat and lounge about, which we are getting tired of”.

On his return from America, whilst still consulting on bridge building projects, Sir William ventured into politics. In 1892 stood as the Unionist candidate for South Ayrshire, but it was not until 1895 that he won this seat. It was also in this year that Sir William became Chairman of the Mo-Car Syndicate Ltd, providing financial backing to George Johnston who had built the first British motor car. The company later became the Arrol-Johnston Car Company Ltd.

On the 15 December 1898, the Arrol’s niece, Cecilia Murray, married and left Seafield House, returning to her former home, the Arrol house at 10 Oakley Terrace, which was close to her husband’s tannery in Duke Street.  With Cecilia gone, a mental health nurse was brought to live at Seafield House and care for Sir William’s wife, Elizabeth.  Through ill health she was unable to accompany Sir William to social engagements and his cousin, Jessie Hodgart, who had been living on nearby Racecourse Road for several years, took her place as his companion.   Elizabeth died on 12 January 1904 and the following year Sir William married Jessie.  On 8 March 1905, the day of their wedding, there was  an urgent summons for MPs to come to Westminster to vote on a tariff reform.  Such was his commitment to his parliamentary duties that, as soon as the wedding ceremony was over, they travelled to London so that Sir William could vote that day. Sadly, though, their marriage was short-lived and within 5 years Jessie had died.

Portrait of Sir William Arrol

Sir William Arrol

At the age of 71 years, Sir William married for a third time on 16 November 1910 to Elsie Robertson, a 35 year old from London.  Together they attended many social and public events and charitable functions, such as the opening of bridges, ship launches, the annual Ayr Race Ball , the  dinner for Old Men’s and Old Women’s Home in Rottenrow.  Sir William continued as a consultant for Sir William Arrol & Company and up until the last few months of his life could be found doing his rounds at the Dalmarnock Iron Works, examining projects and having a friendly word with his staff.

Following a brief illness Sir William Arrol died at his home in Seafield, Ayr on 20th February 1913 at the age of 74 years.  On the day of his funeral his body was carried from Seafield House to Paisley where he was buried at Woodside Cemetery.