THE Balfour Kilpatrick name first appeared in 1971. That was just two

years after it celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its founding by

the master plumber James Stevenson Kilpatrick.

Mr Kilpatrick served his time in Gourock and set up his own plumbing

business when he was 20, in Gilmour Street, Paisley. That was in 1854,

about three decades before the commercial use of electricity for power

and lighting got under way.

The plumbing business thrived and eventually two sons, James and John,

joined their father in his workshop.

James senior was 65 when he and John formed James Kilpatrick & Son,

Electrical Contractors, in the Terrace Buildings at Paisley Cross.

Since they knew virtually nothing about electrical work it was a

considerable risk, so the other son, James, stayed with plumbing. That

business later moved to Old Sneddon Street and traded successfully as

James Kilpatrick & Sons until around 1970.

Meanwhile the venture into electrical contracting was steadily

growing. In 1912 the firm made a profit of #700 and employed a staff of


James Stevenson Kilpatrick retired the following year and John formed

a new partnership with his manager, a Mr W. R. Scott. Their working

capital was #750 topped up with a bank loan of #1000, enough to take

them into armature winding.

With the advent of the First World War, demand increased and electric

welding became a prominent activity. At the cessation of hostilities the

Kilpatrick workforce numbered 25 and peace brought with it an explosion

in the demand for electricity.

In 1925 the first international contract was carried out, at a J. & P.

Coats mill in Budapest. Four other contracts followed quickly, with

Kilpatrick's men working on mills in Poland and Romania.

One of the apprentices who worked on the Hungarian commission was

James D. D. Shaw who, just 12 years later, would become the firm's

managing director and eventually the longest-serving chief executive in

its history.

With the death of John Kilpatrick in 1926, the company experienced a

change of leadership. Mr Scott had left to pursue other business

interests and James Orr took over as managing director.

The company moved to the site at River Cart Walk that was to be its

home for the next 50 years, during which it diversified still further.

Distribution schemes, cable laying, and street lighting activities

were added to domestic lighting installations, including taking an

electricity supply into 200 houses on Arran.

A glass-blowing and filling plant was set up in Paisley to tackle the

manufacture of neon tubing for advertising signs.

That same year, Kilpatrick turned over #100,000 and employed 75

people. At this point the shareholders sold their interest to Sir Duncan

Watson and the company became a subsidiary of Duncan Watson (Engineers)

Ltd of London.

James D. D. Shaw took over as managing director when James Orr moved

to London and with Sir Duncan assuming chairmanship, Kilpatrick went

into the Second World War, a conflict from which it was to emerge four

times bigger.

Before that it had been appointed main electrical contractor to the

Empire Exhibition in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park. The #80,000 order

would be worth #1.5m in today's terms.

The work was on a scale which would normally have taken three years.

It was finished in

buildings, a 300ft tower, and illuminated lakes, cascades, and

fountains -- all of which used enough electricity to power half of


Wartime work involved the creation of an aircraft assembly plant in

Northern Ireland, where Lockheed fighters were built. Warships, landing

craft, and the installation of Asdic submarine detection equipment in

merchant ships kept personnel (augmented by hundreds of electricians

drafted from London) working at a cracking pace.

By 1947 Kilpatrick employed 750 people and had buckled down to the job

of repairing damage and laying the foundations for peacetime.

About 80 women were engaged in making 20,000 electrical kits for the

ubiquitous post-war ''prefabs'', but perhaps more significantly, the

company became involved in the construction of overhead transmission

lines carrying up to 33,000 volts.

This followed the setting up of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric

Board and the first major contract was the line from Tummel Bridge to


Exciting times, but there was more boardroom drama when the company

was taken over for the second time. Power Securities Ltd, a subsidiary

of Balfour Beatty and Co. Ltd, took up the share capital.

Kilpatrick kept its original name and continued to grow. Within two

years the payroll numbered 600 and in 1951 they tackled the biggest

single contract for electrical work ever placed in Scotland. This was

for the Rolls-Royce factory at East Kilbride.

But the really significant development of this period involved the

expansion of its overseas interests. Work on a jute mill in East

Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was supervised by Fred Goodwin, who went on to

become general manager of the Special Projects Division.

A successful tender for the complete electrical installation in King

Faisal's palace in Baghdad preceded the setting up of the first overseas

office, also in Iraq.

Baghdad was the location for the first British Overseas Fair and

Kilpatrick got the nod to do the electrical work. Contracts for 14 more

of these fairs all round the world were to follow and a special

exhibition unit was formed.

The assassination of King Faisal could have ended the Iraqi connection

in 1956, but in 1958 the Dokan Dam project put paid to the speculation.

Kilpatrick was now a major force in the Middle East, opening offices

in Lebanon and Kuwait. In the sixties it spread its net even wider,

acquiring H. H. Green and Co. (Pty) Ltd, in Melbourne and forming

Bicknell Kilpatrick in Jamaica two years later.

That same year Kilpatrick took over a South African company, S.M.

Missing, while home contracts included power-station work at Kincardine,

Hunterston, and Longannet. The company also worked on the Forth and

Erskine road bridges.

All the while its scope was being broadened. It had established

Lounsdale Electric Ltd in Paisley to design and manufacture

switchboards, and acquired the Aberdeen-based Dow and Nicholson Ltd. In

1968, on the eve of a third takeover that confirmed it as the country's

foremost electrical contractor, it reinforced its foundations by opening

a new and bigger training school.

It had been a headlong dash through the first half of the century,

during which time it had grown from a small family business to a fully

international organisation, offering complete electrical services on a

worldwide basis.

On its fiftieth anniversary it merged with the giant British Insulated

Callender's Cables group. In the subsequent reorganisation, Kilpatrick

was given the leadership of an electrical company within the group

headed by Balfour Beatty. Mr Shaw was confirmed as chief executive and

appointed chairman.

Mr Shaw retired in 1971, having served the company for 50 years, 34 of

them as its chief executive.

In recent years the pace of change has been just as hectic, with North

Sea contracts being added to an impressive portfolio. Its present

headquarters in Renfrew will be familiar to many as the Scottish Cables

building. It was always a powerhouse of industrial activity.

It is appropriate, therefore, that it should have been retained as the

base for Kilpatrick, a company which has been one of the great Scottish

industrial successes of the twentieth century.