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British Industrial History

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William McLellan

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2017. Commemorative gates in memory of William McLellan, Rockcliffe near Dalbeattie, Scotland, where he lived. (Image: Bob Walton).
2017. Commemorative plaque, Rockcliffe near Dalbeattie, Scotland. (Image: Bob Walton).

Colonel William McLellan CBE (1874-1934) of Merz and McLellan was a Scottish electrical engineer.

Born in Palnackie, McLellan joined Charles Merz in 1902 to form the Merz & McLellan consulting partnership.

Became Colonel McLellan

In the 1920s, he designed the Galloway hydro-electric power scheme.

1935 Obituary.[1]

WILLIAM McLELLAN, C.B.E., was born on the 7th December, 1874, at Palnackie, Kirkcudbrightshire, and died at Orchard Knowes, near Dalbeattie, on the 11th December, 1934. He was educated at Birkenhead College and Liverpool University. He interrupted his university course to obtain practical experience at the engineering works of Cochran and Co. of Birkenhead, returning to the university for a final year.

On leaving the university in 1896 his first step was to become an assistant with Messrs. Siemens Brothers and Co. He remained with them until February, 1898, when he left to join the staff of the Cork Electric Tramways and Lighting Co. as mains engineer. In Cork he began his long association with Mr. C. H. Merz, then engineer and manager of the Cork Co., which lasted for the rest of his life.

In December, 1899, he resigned his position at Cork and went to Tyneside, where, in association with Mr. Merz, he took a prominent part in the development of the electric power undertaking of the Walker and Wallsend Gas Co., including the design of the Neptune Bank power station, which was, a little later, the first large power station in Great Britain to use steam turbines. In 1902 the electric part of the Gas Company's undertaking was taken over by the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Electric Supply Co. (now the North Eastern Electric Supply Co.), the pioneer power company in Great Britain. It was then that the firm of Merz and McLellan was formed, and the firm has since that time acted as consulting engineers to the North-Eastern Electric Supply Co.

In 1903, in conjunction with Mr. Merz, he contributed a paper on " Power Station Design " to the Journal of the Institution, and thereafter a great part of his time was occupied in power-station construction. He was responsible for much of his firm's work of this kind at home and abroad. He travelled to America, Australia, India, and Argentina. This last journey was in connection with the electrification of the Central Argentine and Buenos Aires Western Railways, and he was in fact on his way home from Buenos Aires in August, 1914, at the outbreak of war. He at once joined the 17th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers as a second lieutenant. Applying himself to his military duties with characteristic thoroughness, he was quickly promoted, and would no doubt have accompanied his battalion to France in the late summer of 1915 had he not received a call, impossible of refusal, from Sir Eric Geddes, then newly appointed Director of Production in the Ministry of Munitions, to assist in the urgent task of providing an adequate supply of power for munition work. For 2 years he held this position, which later became that of Director of Electric Power Supply. During this time he was made Lieut.- Colonel and paid visits to Palestine, Egypt, and several to France in connection with technical and transport problems. When the submarine menace became acute he went to the Admiralty with Sir Eric Geddes, the latter having been appointed First Lord, and took a prominent part in helping to overcome it. In 1918 he accompanied two diplomatic naval missions; the first to the United States of America, the second to Italy. For war services of unusual interest and variety he was made C.B.E. in 1919.

After the War he resumed practice as a consulting engineer. This was a period of reconstruction in the electricity supply industry. Meantime the growing demand for electricity in the London area, particularly for power purposes, had to be met by the construction of the Barking power station. To the design of this station, as to that of the new Dunston station on the Tyne, he gave a large part of his time during early post War years. The chief preoccupation of his later years was the creation and direction of the Galloway Water Power Co.

His personal characteristics were simplicity and directness. Preferring, as he always said, to arrive at his conclusions from first principles, he had the ability to go to the heart of an engineering problem. His conclusions were sound and had rarely to be reconsidered. Though in his later years he became reluctant to attend a function of any kind, public or private, up to and beyond the war years he sought companionship and he will be best remembered by his friends as a sympathetic companion, willing to share all he possessed in thought and kind. Most of his friends were also his contemporaries, and amongst these he has left a gap impossible to fill. The steam-power-stations he designed will be replaced in the due course of development, but the Galloway water power scheme is likely to remain an enduring memorial in his native county of his vision and achievement as an engineer. Apart from his work his interest was in literature. His chief recreation was sailing.

He joined the Institution in 1902 as an Associate Member and was elected a Member in 1909.

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