1985: the. disused sheds and empty cc: are Govan’s workshops and: stood.
Alexandria factory had virtually ceased.
Nevertheless, the Argylls were some ofthe finest cars built during the period. The Torpedo Car, the Double Phaeton and the Limousine-Landaulette were fast tough and reliable, with prices ranging from £275 to £550. An early Argyll held the John O’Groats to Land’s End record of 42 hours, five minutes, and other models won speed and endurance trials in Ireland, India and Australia. In 1913, an Argyll 15/30 set a new world standard at Brooklands of fourteen hours faultless running at an average speed of 76 mph.
Employing an average of 1,300 men and, at times, as many as 2,000, the Argyll works had a major impact on the already thriving Vale of Leven. Contemporary photographs show the Argyll plant surrounded by other smoking factories. Although many workers travelled daily from Glasgow by train, rows of tenement houses for Argyll employees were built in Alexandria by the company, altering the whole character of the town.
Alexander Govan clearly blended the ideas popularised by the American apostle of ‘scientific management’, Frederick Winslow Taylor, with his own notions of welfare capitalism. Attempts were made to reduce skilled labour’s control over production by breaking the process down into separate tasks, but a variety of social activities were also promoted by the management, including sports, a works orchestra and choir, and a company magazine. In 1906, the company proudly announced the appointment of Signor E Veneri, ‘the talented convenor of entertainments‘.
Govan died at the age of 38, in
1907, but the company continued production until they became involved in a crippling law-suit with Daimler-Knight over patent
‘ " ’ ".3; as;
infringements. Argyll Motors went into liquidation in 1914, although some cars were made in Glasgow under the Argyll name in the 19205. Not only was the automobile industry in the Vale of Leven dead; since the Albion Company had abandoned the production of private models in 1913, to concentrate on commercial vehicles, Scotland lost both of its major motor car enterprises before the First World War.
The Argyll factory, however, remained intact and began a varied existence as a major local employer until 1971. During the First World War, it became a Royal Navy munitions works and many Argyll employees were taken on. Despite the self-serving philanthropy of the Argyll management, a strong sense of union solidarity had already developed, which bridged the gap between the skilled and unskilled. Under the Admiralty, the most militant workers were sacked and a number found employment on Clydeside.
The factory closed down again amid the post-war depression and, apart from briefoccupancy by a silk ﬁrm, lay idle until the 19305, when at one point the unemployment rate in the Vale of Leven stood at 68%. In 1935, the navy returned to begin production of torpedoes. Weapons manufacture continued until the late 19605, and the old Argyll works is still known locally as ‘the Torpedo Factory’. In January, 1971 , the Plessey electronics firm acquired the factory for only £650,000 — raising false hopes in local people and contributing ultimately to the sorry state of the building today.
After just nine months, Plessey announced their intention to close down and shift equipment worth £1 million to Ilford. The workers took over the factory, occupied it for several months and only agreed to release the machinery on the
understanding that the site would be turned into an industrial estate. Since then, the office block has stood empty and the factory behind it has become a bleak wasteland.
The red sandstone frontage and tower, with granite pillars and corner facings, is still an impressive sight as one leaves the centre of Alexandria, but a closer look reveals the signs of
neglect. The outside walls and upper
floor offices, lit by skylights in a ﬂat
3 roof, have suffered extensive water : damage. The roofneeds re-laying, the walls need re-pointing and there are a number ofbroken windows.
Small trees grow out of the stone-work at the south end, causing the balustrade to tilt dangerously. And yet. many of the ﬁner aspects of
the building remain intact: the
marble staircase in the entrance hall,
' the workings ofthe four-faced clock,
the statues surrounding the stone replica of an Argyll car, the carved globes, fish and walruses over the main doorway.
At the back, where the factory
; once stood, is a wide-open space ' with a few remaining sheds, their - original white-tiled walls sprouting
ferns and ivy. A freezer firm
2 occupies one building and a
Strathclyde Regional Council
workshop another, but the last thing
the site resembles is an industrial
estate. That, however, is what it is
supposed to be.
The present owners, under the name of Alexandria Industrial Estates, are two London-based
brothers, Andre and Solomon
Grussgott. Previously in conflict
5 with the local council over the
safety of an asbestos tip in Clydebank, this publicity-shy pair have so far failed to comply with the belated requests of Dumbarton District Council to make the necessary repairs to the Argyll factory.
The letting agents for Alexandria Industrial Estates say they are
‘always hopeful‘ of finding a commercial tenant. but admit that the immediate prospects are not good, given the peculiar dimensions ofthe building and the amount of renovation work needed.
A campaign to have the building restored and used is gathering some momentum, but has as yet made little progress in the face of ponderous bureaucracy. A local group, Save The Argyll Building (STAB). has been formed by Mrs Susan Kirkpatrick Chalmers. who points out that the office block is ‘one of the features of the town - or ought to be.’ A mildly-eccentric and much travelled artist. she runs the campaign from her cluttered studio in Alexandria. ‘There are so many other possible uses for the building than as a factory;, she says. and suggests that it could house a gallery, a theatre or a concert hall.
Bill Williams, publisher of the arts newspaper An Work. who has repeatedly tried to draw wider Scottish opinion to the issue. is worried that disputes over who is responsible for the necessary repairs will be allowed to drag on long enough for the irreversable decay of the building to solve the problem once and for all. The owners would then be in a position to make a massive profit on the land for house-building. Williams would like to see both the offices and the space behind them transformed into an industrial museum. ‘There is no original site recording the unique industrial history of this part of Scotland‘. he says and since Alexandria is just offthe road from Glasgow to Loch Lomond such a museum could attract thousands.
There is no shortage of concerned public officials who are prepared to agree that the Argyll Motors factory ought to be preserved, and there are clearly plenty of ideas for the future use of the building. The only thing in short supply is time.
The List 1—14 November 9