Founded in 1900, Motherwell-based Anderson Boyes was one of the world’s leading makers of machinery for the mining industry for almost a century.
Mechanised Coal Cutting
The first chain coal cutting machine was invented in Coatbridge in 1871 by John Alexander of the iron- and coal-masters William Baird and Company. This kind of coal cutter works much like a chainsaw, with sharp metal teeth attached to a moving chain. The machine was used to ‘undercut’ the coal face so that when explosive charges were inserted into holes drilled in the coal, the whole face would collapse as far as the depth of the cut.
The Gartsherrie coal cutter wasn’t a commercial success but it was an important innovation and the forerunner of many successful chain coal cutters after Anderson Boyes revived the concept in 1906.
Mechanised coal cutting allowed coal masters to scale-up their operations and was enabled by improved power supply options, mainly compressed air and electricity.
Anderson Boyes arrived on the scene at an ideal time, when the British coal industry was close it to its highest ever level of production. Scotland’s coal output was to peak in 1913. At the same time, electricity was becoming widely-used underground which opened-up the possibility of using electrically-powered machinery and the longwall method of mining was beginning to be introduced into larger mines. Mechanised coal cutting was essential for longwall mining .
Even in the company’s early years the export trade was important for Anderson Boyes. Whereas labour supply was not a problem in the UK it was a much bigger issue in the coal mining regions of, for example the United States. For that reason the US introduced mechanisation more heavily.
In 2011 we arranged to visit the former Anderson Boyes works (by then an industrial estate) with Jim Barr, who had been an apprentice there between 1958 and 1963. Here Jim returns to the Director’s Offices where he had been given his cards in 1963, the only time he had been inside this particular building:
Jim Barr was an apprentice Winder with Anderson Boyes for five years from January 1958. Here he describes the start of his apprenticeship.
In this audio clip Jim Barr describes the time he had to go underground to repair a coal cutter at Kingshill No.3 Colliery during his apprenticeship with Anderson Boyes.
Staff recreation wasn’t all organised as in the tournament above. In this short video former apprentice Jim Barr recalls playing football on a field at the back of the factory:
Here Jim Barr recalls being called to the Manager's office at the end of his apprenticeship in January 1963.
Merger & Changing Names
In 1966 Anderson Boyes merged with Scotland’s other large mining machinery manufacturer, Mavor and Coulson. This was an older firm than Anderson Boyes and in fact, in the 1920s Charles Rennie MacIntosh had designed graphics for their company magazine.
Mavor and Coulson were based in the Bridgeton area of Glasgow. They had originally specialised in the manufacture of electrical supply equipment and had in fact provided Glasgow’s first (private) electricity supply infrastructure. In the 1900s they increasingly concentrated on supplying the mining industry. From 1931 they made switchgear in Kirkintilloch and later opened a factory in East Kilbride.
The new company was called Anderson Mavor until in 1974 it changed its name to Anderson Strathclyde. The business was successful in exporting mining machinery around the world. Production peaked in the 1970s when 2,500 employees worked at Flemington.
The opening up of the Chinese market at the end of the 1970s proved useful to Anderson Strathclyde. However, because the UK’s National Coal Board was a leader in longwall mining they were also able to export the most advanced mining equipment to countries such as Australia and the USA which were moving over to the longwall technique. The latter two countries were able to produce more cheaply than the UK owing to more favourable geological conditions so, as the UK coal industry declined Anderson Strathclyde increasingly turned to these big export markets to fill the gap.
The 1980s saw the UK coal industry all but disappear and with it the home market for Anderson Strathclyde products. However, the decade did see the company take on its first female apprentices, mainly working in winding copper on electric motors.
After being sold again in 1996 the firm changed its name to Long Airdox Ltd. The manufacture of coal mining equipment was relocated to a factory in Yorkshire. After another sale the firm became part of DBT GB Ltd and all but the design staff were moved away from Motherwell and more staff were soon relocated to Eurocentral in 2004. The Motherwell site was eventually vacated completely in 2010. Most of the factory still stands as Flemington Industrial Park. However, significant parts have been demolished and the castellated office building came down in 2019.
Where to See Anderson Boyes Machines Today
A number of AB coal cutters have been preserved in museum collections, along with other equipment by the company. Besides the items in the North Lanarkshire collection, machinery can be seen at:
National Mining Museum for Scotland, Newtongrange
The museum collections include a disk cutter and at least two Fifteen’ coal cutters, while a large road-header can be seen in the car park.
The Big Pit Museum, Blaenavon, Wales
This former colliery has an Anderson Mavor trepanner.
National Coal Mining Museum for England, near Wakefield
An Anderson Strathclyde trepanner can be seen at this museum at the former Highhouse Colliery near Wakefield.
City of Leicester Museums
A “Fifteen” coal cutter was previously on display at the now-closed Snibston Discovery Park, Coalville and is now in storage. You can see images of this machine on the Graces Guide website.
If you know of any other surviving examples of Anderson Boyes products please let us know! firstname.lastname@example.org