Fairbairn, William (1st Baronet of Ardwick) 1789 - 1874


Born at Kelso, Roxburghshire on 19th February 1789 the son of a farmer. His initial schooling was at the local parish school where he learnt to read and do arithmetic. He later studied book-keeping under the guidance of his uncle. In 1804 he was apprenticed to John Robinson a millwright and because of his technical ability he was appointed to look after the engines at Percy Main Colliery, Durham.

In March 1811, after finishing his apprenticeship, he found work as a millwright in Newcastle. In December 1811 he moved to London and secured employment working on helping to build a steam shovel. By June 1816 he had moved again to Manchester and started to work on a new bridge across the River Irwell however, he had a disagreement with his employer and left.

The following year he entered into partnership with James Lillie, who he had previously worked with, and started to provide machinery for cotton mills. The partnership did not last and they ended their business relationship in 1832. Fairbairn concentrated on building light iron ships, firstly in Manchester and then a little later in Millwall located on the River Thames. By 1835 he was again in a partnership with an old pupil, Andrew Murray. In 1844 he abandoned the partnership and left Millwall and concentrated on engineering projects in Manchester.

The cotton industry fell into recession and he found getting orders for machinery for the industry hard to come by. Fairbairn diversified into other areas of engineering including work on developing the Lancashire Boiler, with John Hetherington in 1844.

As well as designing and fabricating boilers William Fairbairn considered the safety of boilers and proposed the establishing of an inspection service. Prior to the service there had been many deaths and injuries from boiler explosions. Between 1864 and 1874, 617 people had been killed and a further 997 people injured as a result of boiler explosions. The Manchester Steam Users’ Association was established in 1854 to employ mechanical engineers to inspect the boilers of members who subscribed to the service.