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J & A Taylor, Engineers, Ayr

by Rob Close

The illustration above shows the workforce at J & A Taylor's Townhead Works, Ayr, probably towards the close of the 19th Century (see also the map below - taken from the first Ordnance Survey (1857), 1:2500). It was submitted to us by Jan Munachen, of Perth, Western Australia, who is interested in learning more about the company. It is probable that one of the men in the photograph is a Munachen.
The Townhead Works were in Smith Street, Ayr. Land here was first acquired by John and Andrew Taylor in 1847, from the Ayr merchant banker James Morris, and the Taylor brothers acquired additional land in 1854 (from James Potter) and in 1856 (again from James Morris). They also disposed of land, in 1856 and 1869, to G & J Muir, whose Kyle Foundry was built adjacent to the Townhead Works. The 1857 1:500 OS Map shows a 'machine shop' behind the original Smith's Institution, accessed from the lane (still in existence) which runs behind and parallel to Kyle Street on the north-east side: this is presumably the first workshop of J & A Taylor. The other buildings, both of the Taylors and the Muirs, postdate the survey of this map, which shows the site between Smith's Institution and the old Fever Hospital as a disused freestone quarry, with a ruined engine house.
An extensive note on the business is found in Ayrshire Historical Commercial & Descriptive, published in 1894:
'One of the firms engaged in the engineering and millwrighting industries of Ayrshire is that of Messrs J & A Taylor, of Townhead Works, Ayr. This notable and thoroughly representative house was founded in 1847 under the auspices of its present proprietors. The business has its headquarters in premises covering a large area of ground, and comprising spacious buildings and sheds laid out upon a convenient scale and plan, and admirably adapted to all the purposes of the engineering industry and the commercial operations associated with the same. All the various departments of the Townhead works are equipped with the most improved and powerful machinery for the class of work carried on, and the whole establishment affords an exposition of that remarkable industry of making machinery by machinery. Messrs J & A Taylor have a very good equipment of lathes, planning and drilling machines, boring, slotting and shaping machines, punching and shearing machines, &c., &c., all constantly at work on their premises, in the production of those goods for which the house has gained a national renown. A considerable number of hands are employed, and the industry is carried on throughout with a degree of vigour and active progress in its several stages that speaks well for the perfect organisation, development and effective value of all its working resources. Messrs J & A Taylor have exceptional productive facilities, and they are consequently in a position to produce first-class work on the shortest possible notice. Their manufactures in all the modern designs and types of cranes, wheels, hauling machines for slip-dock purposes, dock gates for harbours, stationary engines, shafting, pulleys, &c., &c., are highly esteemed both at home and abroad for soundness of materials, excellence of constructive detail, and faultless workmanship. The engineering output of the firm represents careful accuracy and finish, as well as the highest condition of efficiency in action and effect, and in all their parts and details these productions exemplify a care that ensures the finest finish and quality that can be secured in any class of mechanical apparatus of the several kinds. Repairs are undertaken and executed with precision and despatch. We may mention, as indicating what the firm is capable of achieving, a few of the more noteworthy contracts that have recently been carried into effect by Messrs J & A Taylor. Among these may be classed two twenty-ton cranes for the Harbour Trustees of Ayr; engines, boilers and shafting for the extensive boot manufactories of Messrs John Gray & Co., Maybole; T A Gray, Maybole; James Ramsay, Maybole; John Lees & Co., Maybole; R Dobbie & Co., Ayr; A Cuthbert & Son, Ayr; William Alexander & Sons' sawmill; hauling engines and gearing for Ayr Slip Dock; hauling engines for George Taylor & Co., Annbank; coal-screening machinery for the Dalmellington Iron Co.; William Baird & Co. Ltd; the Garrockhill and Duchray Coal Co.; engines for Messrs Templeton & Sons' mill, Ayr; and Wyllie & Co., manure manufacturers, Ayr; two powerful disintegrators for the Carron Iron Co., Falkirk; and one disintegrator for Messrs William Baird & Co. Ltd., Lugar. It is not using language of too laudatory a character to say that the firm's entire business is conducted with energy and enterprise. Messrs J & A Taylor are constantly extending the scope of their operations and adding new features to a long list of notable productions; and by the merits of their engineering and millwrighting output, and the honourable straightforwardness of the firm's commercial dealings, they have won the confidence of a far-reaching connection, and have established upon a sound basis a trade whose volume and influence are constantly increasing throughout the length and breadth of the county. (Anon, Ayrshire Historical Commercial and Descriptive, London, 1894, 39-40)

© Rob Close 2003
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