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Dumfries, Heathhall, Edinburgh Road, Car Factory

Aircraft Engineering Site (First World War), Car Factory (20th Century), War Memorial (20th Century)

Site Name Dumfries, Heathhall, Edinburgh Road, Car Factory

Classification Aircraft Engineering Site (First World War), Car Factory (20th Century), War Memorial (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Lochthorn; Arrol-johnston Works; Arrol-johnson Factory; Gates Rubber Company; Gates Factory, Main Road; Heathall Uniroyal Factory

Canmore ID 85560

Site Number NX97NE 159

NGR NX 98937 79018

NGR Description Centred

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Digital Images

First 100 images shown. See the Collections panel (below) for a link to all digital images.

Administrative Areas

  • Council Dumfries And Galloway
  • Parish Dumfries
  • Former Region Dumfries And Galloway
  • Former District Nithsdale
  • Former County Dumfries-shire

World War One Audit of Surviving Remains (8 October 2013)

The Arrol-Johnston car factory was converted to the production first of aircraft engines and, later in the war, complete aircraft. Completed aircraft were delivered by rail to the aircraft acceptance park at Renfrew. The nearby landing ground (NX97NE 153) was used for aeroplanes landing to collect spare parts from the factory.

Information from HS/RCAHMS World War One Audit Project (GJB) 8 October 2013.

Archaeology Notes

NX97NE 159.00 centred 98957 79079

NX97NE 159.01 NX 98804 79089 Canteen

Rubber Works [NAT]

OS 1:10,000 map, 1974.

(Location cited as NX 989 791). Motor car factory, Heathhall. Built 1913 for the Arrol-Johnston Co Ltd. A large group of three-storey reinforced-concrete flat-roofed buildings, now a rubber works.

J R Hume 1976.

'The Arrol Johnson Works is the only virtually complete British example of a concrete framed, multi-storey daylight car factory built in emulation of American principles...'.

P Collins and M Stratton 1993

Gates Factory, Main Road, Heathhall. Built in 1913 for the Arrol Johnston Motor Company on the model of designs by Albert Kahn. Additions in the same manner by Kerr & Watson, 1924.

J Gifford 1996.

This factory is depicted, but not noted, on the 1991 edition of the OS 1:10,000 map.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 17 March 2006.


Publication Account (2007)

The Arrol-Johnson company was one of the early builders of motor cars in the United Kingdom and reputed to be the first in Scotland. A completely new factory was built for the company on the outskirts of Dumfries by S. Stevenson & Co. of Glasgow in 1912–13. The main building was of reinforced concrete using the Kahn system of the Trussed Steel Co. It was originally L-shaped in plan and 42 000 sq ft in area. In addition there were buildings housing a foundry, gas supply and electric power plant, together with staff houses.

A famous product of this works in the 1930s was Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird car, which for a time held

the world land speed record. The main building suffered from spalling and deterioration of the concrete and was completely refurbished in the 1980s. For many years the building was owned by the Uniroyal Company and it now forms part of the Gates Rubber Company’s works.

R Paxton and J Shipway 2007

Reproduced from 'Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders' with kind permission from Thomas Telford Publishers.

Design (October 2011)

Drawing of proposed New canteen added 1917 for Arrol Johnston Car Manufacturers. This building has been demolished (2011).

Project (March 2013 - September 2013)

A project to characterise the quantity and quality of the Scottish resource of known surviving remains of the First World War. Carried out in partnership between Historic Scotland and RCAHMS.

Project (February 2014 - July 2014)

A data upgrade project to record war memorials.

Field Visit

Dumfries, Heathhall, Edinburgh Road, Car Factory

Former Arrol-Johnston Works (NX97NE 159.00)

1. Introduction

The former Arrol Johnston Car Co. Ltd factory, described as ‘the only virtually complete British example of a concrete framed, multi-storey daylight car factory, built in emulation of American principles’, (1) is located on the northern outskirts of Dumfries, in south-west Scotland. It opened in July 1913 and was built of reinforced concrete and brick on the Kahn reinforcement bar design (2) by S. Stevenson and Co. of Glasgow. (3) Heralded as an ‘epoch-making event’ which established Scotland ‘in the position of being a permanent [motor car] producer’, (4) it is a tangible reminder of Edwardian manufacturing confidence. Although more modest in scale, Heathhall bears a striking resemblance to Henry Ford’s Highland Park factory, Detroit (Albert Kahn, 1909). The Kahn system adopted was synonimus in the United States with motor car manufacturing and was taken up as a new industrial aesthetic. (5) Even today the main building (originally covering an area of some 1.01 hectares or 2 ½ acres), although showing signs of wear and tear, still catches the eye on the A701 into Dumfries.

But why a slice of pre- World War 1 Americana in what was, when constructed, a sylvan idyll on the outskirts of a Dumfriesshire market town? The answer is Thomas Charles Willis Pullinger. Pullinger, a native of Bexley Heath, London, had been the manager of Arrol-Johnston since 1908. After study visits to Henry Ford’s car factories in Illinois, and on being told by Ford of a firm in New York that built using a cheap, reinforced-concrete system, Pullinger duly returned to Scotland and designed Heathhall, managing the move from Arrol-Johnston’s previous premises in Paisley, Renfrewshire. Heathhall represented cutting-edge building design to house the manufacture of the motor car.

The site was chosen as it had land available, a rail link to the Caledonian Railway and to the markets in England, a local workforce in Dumfries and the ability to build housing to attract families to Heathhall. Even though only around 10% of the original 300 houses planned were ever built, this follows the practice of company housing being built to attract workers and their families. There were also 200 skilled workers available from the Paisley factory and the presence of a local coach building firm, Penman’s. (6) The new factory also offered the element of being fire-proof as well as offering an adaptable floor plan giving a flexibility of use and ease of addition. It provided greater spans than those of the traditional factory layout based on the multi-storey textile mill of wooden floors and brick walls, and (before the advent of the car assembly track) greater integration than that offered by the single-storey engineering workshop. The columns on the top floor are thinner than on the ground floor to reduce the weight of upper floors. (7) The site was also self-sufficient for water and power.

There are other examples of Trussed Concrete Steel Co. system/Kahn design buildings in Scotland such as the altered and empty Galloway Engineering Co factory at Tongland, Kirkcudbrightshire (1917) and G and J Weir administrative building, Cathcart, Glasgow (1912).

Car production at Heathhall had ceased by the late 1920s with the factory finally closing in 1931. The site was taken over by the Air Ministry on the eve of the Second World War (1939-45) and was used as a store until 1946. The North British Rubber Company, who specialised in compound rubber and fractioned fabric manufacture, bought the site in 1947. The site has continued to be used for manufacturing rubber based footwear and other products (as the North British Rubber Company, then Uniroyal). The site is now owned by a subsidiary of the Gates Rubber Company who manufacture rubber floor underlay.

2.0 General process of building cars at Heathhall

At the time that Heathhall Factory was built, cars were largely hand-made. Heathhall was making four cars a day by the end of 1913. (8) The chassis was assembled first, placed upon trestles to raise it to a working height. There would have to be space for workers to move around the trestle and reach each part of the work piece. Other components, as required, would have been moved on trolleys or carried from where manufactured/pre-assembled to where needed. Finished components would then have been laid out in the stores in car construction order.

Once the wheels were fitted, the car would be road tested. Then the chassis and body were fitted together (the car body tended to be built by others, in Arrol-Johnston’s case, Penman’s engineering in Dumfries, and would be partially assembled, painted and varnished on site), the electrics (although in 1913 this would have been limited) were added and the final upholstering would be the last task. (9) Due to the non-standardisation of components at this time, many early car factories built their own foundries to cast such components as cylinder blocks, as external suppliers could not meet demand. (10) The foundry at Heathhall is at the north end of site.

3.0 The Building Layout

(see drawing: DC54562)

Heathhall was originally constructed on an E-plan, with a further two wings and connecting range added around 1916 (11) for building aero-engines for the Air Ministry during the First World War (1914-18). (12) In general the main building was laid out according to American innovation in car manufacture, with raw material in at the top floor and finished cars exiting at ground floor level. The second or top floor would have been extremely light due to the amount of glazing and skylights, which have since been removed. This floor is where body building, upholstering and panel beating were carried out. There were also machine shop areas where turning and milling machines produced parts such as pistons, water pumps and brake drums. The linking range may have been used as a laying-out and viewing area as well as for stores and quality control areas. The car body would then have been sent to the next floor down by lift, where the car chassis and body would be put together and fitted out. Final assembly and checking was carried out on the ground floor and out to the railway branch or by road to customers.

This design was to enable the separation of distinct functions within each part of the factory. The other design principle evident in the building is the maximisation of natural light for the production process. Apart from the concrete frame and the brick panels on each floor, the facades are entirely fenestration. The flat-roofed main building has three stories and a partial basement carried on reinforced girders and stanchions. The long connecting range of the ‘E’ plan allowed access to the workshop areas in each wing, and each floor utilised the electric lifts located on the return between wing and connecting range. These lifts were large enough to take a completed motor car. There were also safety features such as the walkways which connected each of the wings at all floor levels, and an abundance of lavatories and mess room areas. In addition, the smithy and foundries, polishing and painting shop, and the original power house in the northern portion of the site were clearly demarcated within the overall plan and fed into the stores on the ground floor of the main building.

The perimeter fence has been removed and all that survives is the concrete gateposts of the railway access at the east end of the site (DPXXXXXXX).

3.1 Main Building, Building1: Wings A-C, 1912/13

(see drawing: DC54562 and MS/6318)

The main building has three stories and basement with two additional fourth storey additions between Wings C and D and Wings D and E measuring 21.3m (69 feet 9 inches) in length by 16.3m (53 feet 6 inches) in width and connected by a brick- built corridor (DP). The roof is flat and of concrete carried on reinforced girders and stanchions of 5.5m (18 feet) centres. Each wing measures approximately 43.8m (143 feet and 6 inches) in length, 16.3m (53 feet 6 inches) in width and 5.5m (18 feet) in height (apart from ‘A’ Wing which is approximately 75.6m (248 feet) in length as it accommodates the gateway entrance and the original showroom). The long connecting wing running north-west to south east measures some 171.6m (563 feet) in length and 16.3m (53 feet 6 inches) in width. The building is some 13.1m (43 feet) in total height. (13) The columns on each floor get thinner on each floor. Steel-framed window glazing was used to ensure plenty of natural light, especially on the top floors and minimum brick was used to infill between glazing and the concrete frame. (14)

The Kahn system was conceived around the reinforcing bar that was developed by Julius Kahn and utilised by his brother, the architect Albert Kahn, (marketed by the Trussed Concrete Steel Co. USA also known as Truscon) to improve reinforced concrete as a building method. The Kahn bar was used in the building of the Packhard No. 10 building in Detroit (1905) as well as in the building of Highland Park in Detroit for Henry Ford (1909). (15) However, Heathhall shows signs of the wear and tear associated with the Kahn system with spalling and exposure of the reinforcing bars (DP 102786-7), although repairs have been carried out on the concrete frame relatively recently (16) possibly when in the ownership of Uniroyal.

In general the main building was laid out according to the American innovation in car manufacture of raw materials in at the top floor (second floor) with machine shops and finished cars exiting the Finishing Department at ground floor level. At first and ground floor level, Wings B and C have had the fenestration blocked as the original open yard between the two wings has been infilled with plant relating to the rubber manufactory (c. 1947).

The following describes the general movement of a car through the building from the second floor to the ground floor.

Second Floor

(see DC54562 and photographs DP102727-31; DP 102788-805; DP 102815-18)

In general, the second floor of this building would have been extremely light due to the amount of glazing and the skylights (which have been removed). This area of Wing A is where body building, upholstery and panel beating were carried out. There was access to the ‘Car etc. Lift’ in the long connecting range of the ‘E’ plan between Wings A and B. This was close to the body building top floor on wing A and also allowed, along with the goods lift in Wing C, the ability to move material between floors. Wings B and C on the second floor were machinery areas where turning machines produced pistons, water pumps, hubs, gear blanks, drums for brakes. This floor also accommodated gear cutting and milling machines as well as drills and force presses. It has been noted that the overhead drives for the banks of machine tools required in this area would have reduced the light levels from the roof glazing. (17) Wing A was provided with a sawdust chute as a large part of the body would have been of wood. There were also swarf chutes (swarf is material removed by a cutting or grinding machine during the machining of metal etc.) from Wings B and C. Waste material could be removed from the work areas straight into the yard at ground level where it could be collected and recycled.

The range linking Wings A and B may have been used as a laying out and viewing area and the range linking Wings B and C are on the original plan as ‘Tool Room’ and ‘Stores’ and ‘View Room’. The car body would then be sent to the next floor down.

By the late 1940s the North British Rubber Company proposed that the second floor was used as offices, sewing department and golf ball line along with storage. The partial third floor areas or ‘penthouse’ were used for storing shoe lasts. (18)

First Floor

(see DC54562 and photographs DP102710-23; DP102741-2)

The first floor is where the chassis and the body would be joined. In Wing A, south end, there was the body painting area, (19) and chassis erection took place in Wing B. The components erecting compartment was situated in Wing C, with ‘Finishing stores’ between Wings A and B. The ‘Finishing Stores’ would have held the components and trimmings allowing the chassis and body to be completed. The car would then be moved to the painting area and presumably the final trimming taking place at this point. There would have been work benches by the windows to allow maximum natural light. (20)

By the late 1940s, the first floor contained the general offices, repairs conveyors and the vulcanisers of the North British Rubber Company. (21)

Ground Floor

(see DC54562 and photographs DP 102702-09; DP 102768-72)

The car now would then have been moved by lift to the ground floor. In Wing A the space was divided into the Car Stores with a double sliding door (showroom for finished cars), the entrance gate and the Repairs shop. The long range linking A and B Wing contained Car Finishing and this is where final adjustments and checking would have taken place. At the east end of the long range connecting Wings B and C, the Chassis Painting and Enamelling department would have fed onto the first floor via the small goods lift. This would have contained perhaps an enamelling tank sunk into the floor and the stoves to cure the paint. All of this including the partitions between the Chassis Enamelling area and the Car Finishing area had been removed at some point after 1938, as partitions with ‘glazing in the upper parts’ are mentioned in the sales brochure. (22)

After the car has left the Finishing Area it would then have been dispatched by rail or by road. The Repairs Shop (Wing A) and the Running Shed (Wing B), where the cars’ engines would be checked and where repairs to cars already sold (not unlike a modern garage), could be carried out were also on the ground floor. Original drawings (23) also indicate that there was an area in the courtyard between Wings A and B labelled as ‘Wash’, with a double door adjacent. This may have been an area where cars were cleaned or valetted prior to being shipped out. This area has been replaced with modern buildings.

The Rough Stores were housed in Wing C. This is where general materials would have been kept supplied by amongst others, the foundry and the polishing and plating shops adjacent. There are also remains of the rail-lines and evidence of the original concrete floor having been partially resurfaced showing where the rail-lines were located. It is unclear if the use of rails was more extensive than this example and the remaining rails in Wing A. It is probable that this was the extent which entered the main building as there were partitions on the ground floor which would have restricted the movement of rail-mounted wagons. The Chassis Enamelling area would have had tanks sunk into the floor to allow the submersion car parts. (24) These tanks have been filled in over the years.

The Cycle Stores and Mess Room with lockers, toilets and the stairwell to the upper floors was housed in Wing B. Lockers and toilet facilities were provided at the north end of all wings of the factory.

Addition of Wings D and E with their connecting corridor and the two third storey four by three bay sections took place as a result of the building of aero engines at Heathhall during the First World War. Thomas Pullinger helped develop the BHP aero engine and Heathhall built some 50 Sopwith Camels. These two wings are similar to Wings A to C as they are built using the Kahn system and finished within three years of the opening of the factory.

By the time of the North British Rubber company, the ground floor was used as storage for raw materials and fabric preparation and drying as well as containing the rubber milling machines, ‘sole preparation’ areas and the central shipping area. It was during this time that the yard between Wings B and C was covered over. (25) By the 1990s, Wing E was where the curing ovens for Hunter wellington boots were situated.

Building 2: Power House

This two-storey, red-brick power house was originally built in 1912-13. After 1947 it was used as a ‘bale warming’ area and also contained ‘high tension’ cubicle area – this may be linked to the Banbury Building which was built adjacent. (26)

Building 3: The Foundry Building (NX97NE 159.01)

(see DC54562 and photographs DP102671-83; DP102693-5)

The foundry buildings area is in two phases and covers an area of some 1.1 acres. The western end (0.5 acres) was built as part of the first phase of the Heathhall Car Factory (Wings A to C). They are traditional ‘A’ framed brick buildings with a slate roofs on light steel roof trusses. The drawings held at Ewart Library (27) show that the foundry buildings were split up into the foundry, the power plant, the producer plant, plating and polishing and the smithy. This block has been expanded to the north (adding another 0.2 acres) possibly before the addition of the eastern five bay north lit workshop (Building 3E). The building of the Banbury Block (Building 4) involved the removal of the west section of the north wall of the Foundry Building.

When taken over by the North British Rubber Co. these buildings were used as fabric stores and drying, with areas for mills and conveyors (linked to the Banbury Building),’belt making’ areas, and golf ball thread drying plant.

Currently, it is an open plan area containing machinery for cutting carpet underlay foam backing. The floor has been re-skimmed so difficult to see where any divisions or plant specific to the foundry, power plant, plating, polishing and the smithy department and subsequent use may have been.

Building 3E: Eastern five bay north-lit workshop

(see DP102696-9)

This 0.34 acre, brick-built, north lit, post-1913, pre-1938 building has five bays and a concrete floor. It has been used up until recently and connects to ranges 3A-D and 3F. After 1947, this area was the ‘belting and flooring, curing and finishing area’ and housed vulcanisers, finished goods and a repair area. This workshop area is currently not in use.

Building 4: The Banbury Building

(see DP102685-6; DP102747-60)

The Banbury Building is a three-storey, brick and steel-framed block built in the late 1940s by the North British Rubber Co. The Banbury was the marque of the machine installed for mixing ingredients together to produce rubber for processing into goods such as footwear and protective clothing. One No.11 Banbury Mixer was installed in 1947 along with two 84-inch Mills and four combined cracker and plain roll mill lines together with five calenders, to produce the required compound rubber. In 1951, another No.11 Banbury Mixer was installed along with other equipment (MS6318/5). The Banbury building has been unused for the last few years since footwear ceased to be manufactured on site.

Building 5: Boiler House

This was built around 1947, and is a one-storey, steel-framed brick-built building with concrete floors. (28) It is still in use as a boiler house, although the original boilers have been replaced.


(1) Collins, P and M. Stratton, British car factories from 1896: a complete historical, geographical, architectural and technological survey, 1993 (Godmanstone), 248

(2) Trinder, Barry (Ed) The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Industrial Archaeology, 1992, 379

(3) Paxton, R. and J. Shipway, Civil engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders, 2007 (Thomas Telford, London), 35; Hutcheson Donald, J, Arrol Johnston Car Factory, 1978, 13 (thesis – copy in Ewart Library Strong Room, Box 075/MC; 076/BT, Dumfries). Hutcheson Donald also mentions that Dalbeattie aggregate was used and the sand was got from the site to make the concrete.

(4) ‘Opening of the Arrol-Johnston Works’, The Motor, 5th August 1913, 18

(5) Collins and Stratton, 11; 13, 14 - photographs of chassis assembly at Chalmers Motor Company of Detroit’s premises in 1910; Body Making at Packard Motor Car Co. Detroit, 1905 and Upholstering area at the Hudson Motor Car Co., Detroit 1910 are all built on Kahn principle and very similar to Heathhall.

(6) The Motor, 5th August 1913, 19; Dodds, A., Making Cars, 1996 (NMS), 34, 35. The new factory also offered the element of being fire-proof as well as offering an adaptable floor plan based around the unit of the bay giving a flexibility of use and ease of addition to the structure

(7) Dodds, 35

(8)The Motor, 18 December 1913, 1316

(9) Collins and Stratton, 11-12

(10) Collins and Stratton, 13-14

(11) Collins and Stratton, 150; although noted by J Gifford, 1996, 282 that additions ‘in the same manner’ by Kerr & Watson, 1924; one of the fire doors on the second floor between Wings B and C (original part) carries a 1921 date, see DP102894.

(12) Collins and Stratton, 248-50.

(13) High Powered Aeronoautical Engines Limited, Particulars, Plans and Conditions of Sale of the Modern Freehold, Railside Manufacturing Premises, Heathhall Works, Dumfries, 1938, 1

(14) Dodds, 35 shows Wing A, first floor

(15) Trinder, 379

(16) Paxton and Shipway, 35

(17) Collins and Stratton, 14

(18) North British Rubber Co. drawing of proposed layout, Ewart Library Strong Room, Box 075/MC; 076/BT: Sanquhar Miscellaneous; papers and Arrol-Johnston Floor Plans

(19) Dodds, 35

(20) see Collins and Stratton, 14 for comparative American example

(21) North British Rubber Co. drawing of proposed layout, Ewart Library Strong Room, Box 075/MC; 076/BT: Sanquhar Miscellaneous; papers and Arrol-Johnston Floor Plans

(22) High Powered Aeronoautical Engines Limited, 1938

(23) North British Rubber Co. drawing of proposed layout, Ewart Library Strong Room, Box 075/MC; 076/BT: Sanquhar Miscellaneous; papers and Arrol-Johnston Floor Plans

(24) Ewart Library Strong Room, Box 075/MC; 076/BT: Sanquhar Miscellaneous; papers and Arrol-Johnston Floor Plans

(25) North British Rubber Co. drawing of proposed layout, Ewart Library Strong Room, Box 075/MC; 076/BT: Sanquhar Miscellaneous; papers and Arrol-Johnston Floor Plans

(26) North British Rubber Co. drawing of proposed layout, Ewart Library Strong Room, Box 075/MC; 076/BT: Sanquhar Miscellaneous; papers and Arrol-Johnston Floor Plans

(27) North British Rubber Co. drawing of proposed layout, Ewart Library Strong Room, Box 075/MC; 076/BT: Sanquhar Miscellaneous; papers and Arrol-Johnston Floor Plans

(28) Drawings North British Rubber Company, permissions from John Jardine, Interfloor, Edinburgh Road, Heathhall, Dumfries and held at Ewart Library, Dumfries.


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