Pollokshields Heritage History

James Howden (1832-1913)

Lived at 2 Linden Terrace, Princes Street (now McCulloch Street)Dr Robert Pollok

James Howden was born in Prestonpans, East Lothian and was educated at the local parish school. Howden served his apprenticeship from age 15 with James Gray and Company, a Glasgow Engineering firm eventually becoming chief draughtsman. Following further experience with Bell and Miller, the Civil Engineers, and Robert Griffiths - designer of marine screw propellers, he launched himself in 1854 as a consulting engineer and designer, his first major invention being a rivet-making machine. The selling of the machine’s patent rights to a company in Birmingham secured him financially and he established James Howden and Company as a manufacturer of marine equipment.

In 1857 Howden began work on the design and supply of boilers and steam engines, his first contract being to supply the Anchor Liner ‘Ailsa Craig’ with a compound steam engine and boilers. Following the development of further patents in 1860 and 1862, he decided to construct main boilers and engines to his own design and started manufacturing in his first factory on Scotland Street – within walking distance of his future home.

A breakthrough came in 1863 when he introduced a mechanical draught system for furnaces for which he became chiefly remembered. Howden’s system dramatically reduced the amount of coal used in ships boilers. The first vessel to use the system was the‘SS City of New York’, and it was subsequently used on the ‘RMS Lusitania’ and ‘RMS Mauretania’, the fastest liners of their era – but which still consumed a thousand tonnes of coal a day at sea!

Howden’s factory became too small for his expanding business and he had a new larger factory built at 195 Scotland Street close to the original factory. This opened in 1898, and featured overhead cranes, handling equipment and even central heating – a rarity at the time. It was enlarged in 1904, again in 1912 and with a further expansion in the 1950s.

Today his red brick factory – one of the last Victorian heavy engineering works in Glasgow, and where the tunnel boring machines for the channel tunnel were made – lies empty and derelict.

Howden's House          Lusitania