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James McKechnie

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Sir James McKechnie (c1856-1931), managing director of Vickers of Barrow until 1923

c.1856 Born in Oban[1]

Educated at Glasgow Mechanics Institute of Glasgow and Andersonian College

1870-75[2] Apprentice draughtsman at Duncan Stewart and Co, Glasgow and Canal Basin Foundry, Glasgow

1875-80 Worked for a number of companies (see obituary)[3]

1879-81 Foreman patternmaker at James and George Thomson, Finnieston Works, Glasgow

1881-82 Leading draughtsman at John Elder and Co/Fairfield Engine Works

1882-89 Chief draughtsman, later assistant engineering manager at James and George Thomson, Clydebank Works

1889-95 In charge of engineering works in Spain

1895 Engineering manager of Naval Construction and Armaments Co's Works, Barrow, continuing with Vickers, Sons and Maxim

1899 Appointed special director

1901 Became a Member of I Mech E (giving his birth date as 13 June 1856)[4]

1901 Mechanical engineer, 45, visitor at Windsor Hotel, 250 St Vincent St, Glasgow[5]

1910 Appointed director of Vickers

1911 Mechanical engineer, shipbuilding, worker, 54, visiting the Savoy Hotel, London[6]

1913 Joined Inst of Civil Engineers (giving his birth date as 13th of unstated month 1859 in typed version of the proposal)[7]

WWI Appointed to control the naval construction works of Vickers. Responsible, amongst other things, for the construction and management of the National Filling Factory, Morecambe and the National Projectile Factory, Lancaster

1923 Retired from Vickers

1924 Married Josephine Reynolds[8]

1930 James McKechnie, 65, and Josephine McKechnie, 48, arrived at Southampton from New York[9]



1931 Obituary.[10]

IT is with regret that we have to record the death of Sir James McKechnie, at one time managing director of Vickers, Ltd., of Barrow-in-Furness, which took place in London on Monday last, October 12th.

Sir James, who was in his eightieth year at the time of his death, received his early training on the Clyde. He was for several years with John Elder and Co. as principal draughtsman, and was also chief draughtsman and assistant manager at James and George Thomson's yard over a period of twelve years.

His wide experience of marine engineering, both for mercantile and naval vessels, enabled him to take up a position as shipyard manager in Spain, where he spent some further time, after which he returned to this country.

About the beginning of the century, he entered the service of Vickers, Ltd., as engineering director. Shortly after the outbreak of war, he was made the managing director of the Naval Construction Works at Barrow-in-Furness, with full charge of the engineering and administrative sides, where, under his direction, naval vessels, from battleships to submarines and all types of naval armament and projectiles, also airship construction, was carried out.

Sir James was also responsible to the Ministry of Munitions for the erection and management of projectile and filling factories at Lancaster and Morecambe. He was a director of several other engineering companies allied to the Vickers concern. He retired from the position of managing director at Barrow in July, 1923, and since that time lived in New York and Florida.

His death, which will be regretted by a wide circle of friends, took place in a nursing home in London, and he will be buried in Glasgow.


1931 Obituary [11]

Sir JAMES MCKECHNIE, K.B.E., was engineering manager at the Naval Construction Works, Barrow, at the time they were taken over by Messrs. Vickers, Sons and Maxim, in 1898. He was responsible for the design of the machinery of the 22.5 knot cruiser "Powerful" as well as similar equipment for other war vessels, all of which were distinguished for their speed and low coal consumption.

In 1899 he was appointed a special director of the firm.

At the outbreak of War Sir James was responsible for the initiation and construction of large extensions at the Barrow works. He was also responsible to the Ministry of Munitions for the erection and management of the National Projectile Factories in Lancaster and Morecambe, and was on the consultative committee of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade and Vice-President of the Navy League.

He was apprenticed at the age of fifteen to Messrs. Duncan Stewart and Company of Glasgow, and attended classes at the Mechanical Institute, now the Royal Technical College.

After further experience with other firms in the construction of engines for Clyde steamers and Atlantic liners, he was, in 1889, appointed manager of the engineering works of Martinez-Rivas-Palmer of Bilbao, with whom he remained for six years. He was responsible for the construction and equipment of engineering shops and the training of native workers to enable the machinery of three Spanish cruisers to be produced in Spain. He was afterwards awarded the Spanish Grand Cross of the Order of Isabel la Catolia for these services. His valuable experience in naval design and construction was also sought for in connexion with ships for the Japanese, Russian, Turkish, and South American Governments.

Sir James had been a Member of the Institution since 1901 and was also a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Naval Architects.

He was born in 1856, and his death occurred in London on 12th October 1931.


1931 Obituary [12]

Sir JAMES MCKECHNIE, K.B.E., died in London on October 12, 1931, at the age of seventy-nine. Sir James had a very distinguished career, as, after serving in many works in Glasgow, and studying at the Technical College there, he occupied important positions in two large modern engineering firms and was engaged in designing the machinery for some of the " Atlantic Greyhounds."

He was appointed Engineering Manager of the Naval Shipbuilding Works in Spain, and his work, there was so successful that he was decorated by the Queen Regent with the Knight Commandership of the Ancient Royal Order of Isabella La Catolica - the highest Naval decoration in that country. He returned to England in 1895, and was appointed Engineering Manager of the Naval Construction Works, Barrow-in-Furness. These works were acquired by Messrs. Vickers, Ltd. in 1897, and Sir James was appointed a Special Director, being subsequently promoted to a seat on the Board, and becoming Managing Director of Barrow Works.

He was one of the pioneers of the heavy oil internal combustion marine engine, and was largely responsible for the very great strides in its development that were made by his Company. He also played a leading part in early airship construction. The war productions of his firm were of such national importance and are so well known that they require no reference in detail, the Barrow Works alone turning out battleships, cruisers, submarines, airships, howitzers of all sizes, and all types and sizes of shell, the latter for a long period during the war amounting to upwards of 1,000,000 per week. He was also responsible to the Ministry of Munitions for the erection, equipment, and management of the National Filling Factory at Morecambe and the National Projectile Factory at Lancaster, two of the largest and most successful of their kind in the Kingdom. The value of his work was recognized and he was awarded the K.B.E. in 1918.

He had in the interests of his Company travelled largely in America, Canada, France, Russia, and Germany, and was partly responsible for the work done on the engineering side at the Naval Yards in Spain, Russia, the Argentine, Turkey, and elsewhere. He was a member of the Council of the Institution of Naval Architects, a member of the Management Committee of the Engineering and National Employers Federations, and was deeply interested in all technical and scientific institutions. He was keenly alive to whatever progress was being made in science generally, and the necessity for adapting it to the industries of which he was in charge.

The Barrow Works included one of the largest non-ferrous as well as ferrous foundries in the Kingdom, and he was therefore greatly interested in the products and development of both, and in the proceedings of this Institute. It was in no small measure due to his interest and hospitality that the visit of the Institute to Barrow-in-Furness in the Autumn of 1920 was so successful. He retired from the position of Managing Director at Barrow in 1923, and had since lived in California, but made frequent visits to this country up to the time of his death. He possessed a genial and charming personality and his demise will be regretted by a very large circle of friends.

Sir James was elected a member of the Institute of Metals on December 7, 1910. H. B. WEEKS.


1931 Obituary[13]

"THE LATE SIR JAMES McKECHNIE.

Sir James McKechnie, who died in London on Monday, October 12, at the age of seventy-two, was a very prominent figure in the halcyon days of British naval construction, which culminated, and to some extent ended, just before the war; and by his genial manner and diplomatic gifts then did much to establish a great industry on firm foundation, and to further the prosperity of the well-known firm with which he was so closely connected for many years.

James McKechnie received his early education at private schools, and was apprenticed to the firm of Messrs. Duncan Stewart and Company, Glasgow, when he was fifteen. Here he worked in the fitting and pattern shops and in the drawing office. At the same time he attended classes at the Mechanics Institute, now known as the Royal Technical College, Glasgow. Before his time was up, however, he was selected to go to Demerara to assist in the installation of sugar machinery, but feeling this might lead to permanent residence abroad, he arranged to transfer his articles to the Canal Basin Foundry. Subsequently, he spent a short time in the shops of Messrs. D. and W. Henderson and Company, Messrs. David Rowan, Messrs. Rait and Lindsay, Messrs. Mirrlees, Tait and Watson, and Messrs. James Howden and Company, and then joined Messrs. J. and G. Thomson, whence, after holding the post of foreman pattern maker, he transferred to Messrs. John Elder and Company as leading draughtsman. Soon, however, he returned to his old firm to take charge of the drawing office, in which post he became associated with the construction of the engines for the famous Clyde steamer Columba and of such well-known Atlantic liners as the Catalonia, Servia, Armenia, America, New York and Paris. Later, he became assistant manager under Mr. J. G. Dunlop.

In 1889, he was appointed manager of the engineering works of Martinez-Rivas-Palmer, of Bilbao, where he was responsible for the construction and equipment of engineering shops and the training of native workers to enable the machinery of three Spanish cruisers, with whose building the firm had been entrusted, to be wholly produced in that country. These vessels were equipped with side armour and were designed to develop a speed of 20 knots, conditions which at that time few considered possible. In the event, however, a speed of 20-24 knots was obtained on trial with a coal consumption of 1 -43 lb. per horse-power-hour, and an output of 13,000 indicated horse-power. After six years in Spain, Mr. McKechnie returned to this country to become engineering manager at the Naval Construction Works at Barrow-in-Furness, and continued in this capacity when this concern was taken over by Messrs. Vickers, Sons and Maxim, Limited, in 1898. About this time he was responsible for the design of the machinery of the 22-5-knot cruiser Powerful, as well as for similar equipment for the Niobe and Amphitrite, all of which were distinguished for theirj good steaming performance and low coal consumption. In 1899 he was appointed a special director of the firm,

From that time until the outbreak of, and through, the war Mr. McKechnie remained in the closest touch with the design and construction of marine steam machinery, both of the reciprocating and turbine types and with the development of the heavy-oil airless-injection marine engine, especially for submarines. He was also responsible for the considerable extensions to the works, which were rendered necessary by the immense growth of business in naval construction, by the addition of a large ordnance department and by the introduction of the manufacture of shells and other products connected with the equipping of ships with ordnance and the supply of artillery to garrisons. In 1910 he became a director of the firm, by which time the works were employing some 15,000 men, a number about four times as great as that on the books in 1895. In addition to the ships already mentioned, the Hogue, Euryalus, King Alfred, Vengeance, Dominion, Princess Royal, Delhi and Lion, were constructed, or engined, at Barrow during this period for the British Navy, while the Mikasa, Katori and Kongo were built for the Japanese Navy, the Rurik for the Russian Government and other ships for Turkey, Chile and Brazil, besides many smaller vessels.

With the outbreak of war the activities represented by Messrs. Vickers continued with accelerated vigour, and Mr. McKechnie’s qualities were turned to good account in pushing naval construction in the yard to its maximum. All classes of war and mercantile vessels were produced as well as naval gun mountings, airships, howitzers and projectiles. He was also responsible to the Ministry of Munitions for the erection and management of the National Projectile Factory at Lancaster and the National Filling Factory at Morecambe. Such activities naturally came to an abrupt end with the armistice, when the firms responsible fell on lean times, which necessitated drastic reconstruction and combinations of a kind with which readers of Engineering are familiar. These changes led to a severance of Sir James McKechnie’s connection with Messrs. Vickers, though he still remained on the board of Canadian Vickers, Limited, as well as of a number of other companies. He did a great deal of useful work as a member of the Consultative Committee of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, and of the management committee of the Engineering and the National Employers’ Federation.

For his work in Spain, Mr. McKechnie was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Isabel la Catolica and he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his war services in 1918. He also held the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun. He was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1913, and of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1901, and was also a member of the Institution of Naval Architects."


See Also

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Sources of Information

  • NB His proposal for membership of the Inst of Civil Engineers was completed by an apparently professional typist. There are a number of discrepancies between this and, for example, the proposal to join I Mech E., which was completed in (presumably) his own hand. It is suggested that less reliance can be placed on the dates given in the ICE proposal (and hence in the ICE obituary).
  1. 1911 census
  2. Mechanical engineer records
  3. According to his proposal to the I Mech E
  4. Mechanical engineer records
  5. 1901 census
  6. 1911 census
  7. Civil Engineer records
  8. The Times, October 15, 1931
  9. Incoming passengers
  10. The Engineer 1931/10/16
  11. 1931 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  12. 1931 Institute of Metals: Obituaries
  13. Engineering 1931/10/23