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Robert Aytoun

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Robert Aytoun (1799-1874)

1839 Robert Aytoun of Capeldrae(?) Colliery, Fifeshire, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1877 Obituary [2]

MR. ROBERT AYTOUN, the youngest son of Major-General Roger Aytoun, of Inchdairnie, Fifeshire, was born in Edinburgh in the year 1799.

He was educated in Scotland, and was for four years at the University of Edinburgh, where he chiefly devoted himself to the physical sciences, mathematics, chemistry, and natural philosophy, in which he acquired great proficiency. After the completion of his education he passed as a Writer to the Signet, and entered into business as a member of the firm of Aytoun and Greig. Among their clients was his eldest brother, who possessed the family estates, through part of which runs the river Leven on its outflow from the lake. Mr. Aytoun’s attention was thus directed to the flow of the river, and he was the first to suggest an improvement, which was carried out by Dr. Coventry under an Act of Parliament called “The Leven Improvements.” This operation was a great success, and is described in the “Edinburgh Courant” of January lst, 1831. The chief merit of this work was conceded to him by all parties acquainted with the circumstances.

From this period Mr. Aytoun was regarded as a man who had a natural turn for physical science, to which he afterwards devoted constant attention. He became a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, and, on the 11th of June, 1839, an Associate of this Institution. No discovery or invention in physical science which came under his notice escaped his serious attention, and this was especially the case after he retired from the active practice of his profession as a Writer to the Signet, when for some years he undertook the superintendence of the mining operations on a property belonging to himself and other members of the family, and carried it on successfully till 1872. Mr. Aytoun was a constant attendant at the meetings of the Society of Arts in Edinburgh, and read many Papers before that body.

In 1856 he was presented with the silver medal of‘= the Society for an "Improved Assay Balance," and again in 1860 he received their silver medal, with a handsome timepiece, for the invention of a disengaging catch for preventing accidents to miners’ cages in cases of overwinding. He also invented a safety cage for mines, and exhibited it in operation at the International Exhibition of 1862, when it obtained honourable mention.

Amongst other Papers read by him before the Society was one in 1862 on it means for supplying unlimited brake-power to trains by providing a mid-rail of wood, to be grasped by strong springs attached to the brake-vans and tender. The committee appointed to consider this plan reported that it was perfectly efficient, but not likely to be adopted on account of the expense. This mode of brakeing trains has since been applied independently in descending the steep gradients of the Mont Cenis Upper Railway with complete success.

The last Papers contributed by Mr. Aytoun to the Scottish Society of Arts were on a “Proposed New System of Working Railways by Compressed Air,” and A Mode of Raising Water from Mines by Compressed Air.”

In July 1874 a letter from him appeared in the journal “Iron,” entitled “New Theory of Comets,” which drew an answer from Mr. George P. Bidder. This was his last effort in his favourite direction, as within a few days of the publication of this letter he was seized with an attack of bronchitis, which carried him off after some weeks’ illness on the 9th of September. For many years before his death he had been the senior member of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts.


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