On the 4th December 1889 at the Albert Hall, Dundee, William Arrol was presented with the freedom of the City of Dundee.
In his presentation speech, Lord Provost Hunter said that the freedom of Dundee had been bestowed to citizens who had given a large amount of their time and talents for the good of the community and to those whose noble deeds had added lustre to the nation’s fame. He said that the bridging of the Forth had been the greatest triumph of engineering skill of that time and that the bridges across the Forth and Tay would bring a great commercial advantage to Dundee and the East coast of Scotland. He went on to praise the integrity of character, indomitable perserverance, remarkable inate talent, and boundless energy with which William Arrol had risen from humble beginnings to the top of his profession.
After the formal reading of the resolution to confer the freedom of the city on William Arrol, the burgess ticket was enclosed in a silver casket and handed to him. In his acceptance speech William Arrol spoke on the rise of the Union movement and the call for shorter working hours. He stated that about 65% of the total costs of the Forth and Tay bridges had been spent on labour costs and criticised those who would take advantage of situations to force more money for their work. He cited the example of a serious accident during bridge construction where a platform had fallen killing two men and seriously injuring two others. Although the accident had happened due to gross carelessness of men on the platform, others had claimed it was dangerous work and refused to continue until their pay rate was increased. William Arrol had refused and pointed out that an extra penny for one man would have meant an increase of over £1000 per week in wages, costs which a contractor could not withstand. Being very industrious and driven himself, William Arrol believed that shorter working hours would hinder the construction of great works and said that they would lead to working men becoming idle.
Following the presentation ceremony a cake and wine banquet was held in the Town Hall and attended by over 70 invited dignitaries and guests. Many toasts made during the banquet in praise of William Arrol and the bridges. Following one of the toasts, William Arrol, with the modesty of a man unused to such overt praise, responded by saying that the East of Scotland was under a debt of gratitude to the North British Railway Company directors for the manner in which they had erected the two great bridges.
Account of the presentation and William Arrol’s speech is from the Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 5 December 1889, “Freedom of Dundee to Mr. William Arrol”.