09 Sep 2014
Last year I asked Lesley Richmond, who is the University of Glasgow's archivist, if she would help us with a project. Lesley's responsibilities include the management of the University's extraordinary collection of historic business records capturing the details of so many of Glasgow's successful companies. We asked if she would help us research a selection of the Chamber's members from across the 230 years since our foundation.
Amongst those members was Barr and Stroud Ltd whose contribution to Glasgow's engineering track record continues to this day inside the Thales Group. Having met with some of the team from Thales recently, I'm inspired to draw on the University's work to retell the Barr and Stroud story as a reminder of just how strong the legacy of our engineering industry remains.
Archibald Barr was a Paisley boy who took an engineering apprenticeship, although I'm not sure where, and subsequently studied for a Bachelor of Science at Glasgow University which he secured in 1878. Barr soon became a lecturer at Glasgow before a spell at Yorkshire College of Science. He returned to Glasgow in 1894 though to take up the Regius Chair of Civil and Mechanical Engineering back at Glasgow. Notably he managed to persuade the Glasgow merchants to cough up some £40,000 to build and equip the James Watt building which still stands today. It seems he was a dab hand at getting the business community to invest in university work raising money on several occasions over the years.
The most important development for Glasgow though was his decision to reply to an advert from the Royal Navy for the design of a range-finding device. Together with his friend William Stroud their successful design became the platform for setting up Barr and Stroud initially in an attic space in Ashton Lane which I remember well from my student days as part of the Cul de Sac and which is now the G1 Group's Radio.
Barr and Stroud of course developed into a substantial engineering business with a facility in Anniesland. Today it is part of Thales Optronics with modern space at Linthouse, and remains a firm feature of Glasgow's engineering landscape. The Thales team continue to innovate; they are world leaders in the design and manufacture of day and night vision equipment with customers all across the world. Indeed they are proud recipients of a Queens Award for Enterprise in International Trade. They make infra-red cameras and laser rangefinders for tanks and armoured vehicles, and they make submarine periscopes.
And because Thales Optronics is part of a much bigger group they can draw on that group's expertise in other markets. So for example, there is a transportation team based at Linthouse that draws on global experience in urban transport systems and has worked on several local rail projects recently including the Airdrie to Bathgate line, Glasgow Central's new signalling centre and signalling improvements for the Paisley Corridor.
So there you have it - one example of a long-standing Chamber member in engineering, where innovation and research are essential to the business, borne of a university spin-out and contributing both to our international balance of trade and to investment in our local transport infrastructure. Almost a perfect score on the economic development bingo card.