Family Story – Steven and Struthers

Bronzefounders 1868-1956

by Robert Stevenson

My Great Grandfather, John Steven, decided in 1866 that he would like to start up a business of his own. In the first three years he lost money, probably due to a lack of capital. Steven & Struthers, Bronzefounders, was incorporated in 1868 by John Steven and Wilson Struthers. It was the story of an enterprising and energetic man founding a successful company. The company continued to cast bronze for eighty‐four years.

John Steven was then thirty‐three and an experienced foundryman. It was one of many enterprises that sprung up in Glasgow’s golden age of shipbuilding and heavy engineering. The skills came from John Steven, and probably the investment from Wilson Struthers.

After World War II ended in 1945 the only surviving Steven was my Grandfather James known always as Jimmy. He was 71 in poor health, and the sad, rapid decline of Glasgow engineering and shipbuilding had started. Since Steven & Struthers were sub‐contractors, their business dried up.

They do not seem to have developed any significant export business. There were no grandsons of the right age with the wish, or the skills, to take over, and realistically the business had no future. In 1956, after Jimmy’s death, Steven & Struthers was sold to Manganese Bronze and soon ceased to exist. The works closed down and site was sold off.

What did Steven & Struthers make?

It is amazing how many different things Steven & Struthers made. Everything from small bronze whistles to large casting such as stem posts, propellers and propeller shafts. I suppose all items were made to order and no production line would be possible.

In 1939 they bought the failing Gorbals Brass and Bell Foundry with which there had been a long association. I suspect it continued to lose money, but it carried on making bells in a rapidly shrinking market. They made foghorns for lighthouses and a number of them survive. One, in Shetland is even occasionally sounded.

The End of Steven & Struthers

Who carried on running Steven & Struthers after Jimmy retired, in about 1950, is not clear. I have a vague recollection that it was some cousin who had been a salesman for Olivetti typewriters. If this was true, he faced a huge challenge: he had no experience of brass founding, Thomas Burt was long dead and the whole engineering/shipbuilding industry was in rapid decline.

Jessie (Mamie) Steven the majority shareholder apparently opposed the call for investment in new power tools. The minority shareholders (mostly surviving widows) did not want to sell the company, but Mamie pushed it through and in 1954 Steven & Struthers was bought by Manganese Bronze who appear to have closed the company.

The original foundry still exists. According to Mum (Sheila Steven) Mamie opposed the suggestion that more capital be raised saying, “A bad workman blames his tools”. I remember being annoyed by this comment as Mamie had never used a tool in her life, and such competitors as Germany and Japan were building brand new foundries and shipyards with the latest equipment. But I think Mamie was right, though possibly for the wrong reasons.

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Please feel free to contact Robert Stevenson

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