A & J Robertson

A & J Robertson (Granite) Ltd

Robertson Family – Alexander & son George – Alexander with his 1st Wife
GraniteWorks

After serving his Apprenticeship as a Monumental Mason in Aberdeen, followed by a period of Seasonal working in Barre, Vermont, in the USAAlexander Robertson returned home in 1876, and with the Savings he had earned from working in the States, joined forces with another Mason, James Gray, and set up their own Stone Cutters Business. The Robertson & Gray Partnership worked out of 5St Clair Street, which ran between King Street & West North Street.  In 1876 there were 37 different Granite Firms.  Most of these Firms were made from short-lived & ever-changing Partnerships. Like most other Partnerships, Robertson & Gray did not last.  In 1878 Alexander Robertson continued Business on his own, based at 259-King Street on the corner of St Clair Street (60-yrs later in 1936, when Alexander’s grandson Sandy entered the Business, the Firm still occupied this Site). By the end of this decade, the Firm had grown and Alexander rented a 2nd Yard in St Clair Street, employed a number of Operatives, and had Customers throughout Scotland & the North of England.

After only 10 successful years in Business, Alexander died suddenly in 1886, at the age of 45.  His son George, at the age of 25 took over the responsibility of running the Business, with his 2nd wife Jane inheriting Ownership of the other half.  The Company changed its name from Alex Robertson to Alex Robertson & Son. In 1893, George gave up the St Clair Street Site in favour of a new Site at 271 King Street, the opposite Corner from 259 King Street.  

In 1897, a consortium of Granite Merchants set up the Granite Supply Association Ltd Managed for 3-Generations by the Sutherland Family, its main purpose was to supplement the Local Supply of Granite by importing a wide variety of Granites from Abroad. This gave the Local Industry, now consisting of around 70 Firms, a consistently fair price for Imported Blocks, and a wider variety of coloured Granites to choose from. Granite Supply was an Organisation founded in 1897 by a number of Granite Manufacturers in Aberdeen. Its purpose was to Control & Supply Granite in the City & beyond. In effect it was a Cartel which set prices and tried to Control the Industry to ensure that competition was not a ‘Free-for-all’ which might damage Members. Granite was bought in from different parts of the Country & from Abroad, for example Norway, South Africa & Sweden. Through the 1950s to 1970s there was a significant decline in the City’s Granite Industry, many Yards closed or Amalgamated. This tended to diminish the importance of the Supply Association. In 1989 2 of the remaining Manufacturers in Aberdeen bid for control of the Association. The winner in this bidding war was John Fyfe & Co. The Yard on Urquhart Road was closed and effectively the Supply Association ceased to exist.

The 3 surviving sons of Alexander Robertson’s 2nd marriage, Norman, William & John, joined their stepbrother and learned about the Industry. They all served their time in the Family Business, and when they had completed their respective Apprenticeships, the Company name changed to Alex Robertson & Sons. Norman set up his own Business in Falkirk, Retailing Gravestones, using the Family Firm as his supplier. William & John remained with George. In 1905, George, like his father before him, died comparatively young. He left his share of the Business to his Stepmother Jane Robertson, who became its sole Owner. With her eldest son Norman already in Business by himself, she gave the responsibility of Managing the Business to her 2nd eldest son, William, aged 24. William had scarlet fever at the age of 27 and when WW1 broke out in 1914, he had been excused from Military Service on health grounds. His brother John continued to work as a letter cutter for the Family Firm on his return from War Service. William bought over the Business from his mother in 1928. The period between 1929 & 1931 saw many Granite Firms go out of Business. Competition was severe and by 1936, William had only 2-Employees, both Family. His brother John was the Lettercutter and Norman’s brother-in-law, Bill Burnett, was the Mason. They were one of the smallest of Aberdeen’s 68-Granite Firms and had considerable Debts.

William bought over the Business from his Mother in 1928. The Period between 1929 & 1931 saw many Granite Firms go out of Business.  The competition was severe and by 1936, William had only 2 Employees, both Family.  His brother John was the Letter Cutter and Norman’s brother-in-law, Bill Burnett, was the Mason. They were one of the smallest of Aberdeen’s 68 Granite Firms and had considerable Debts.  This was 1936 the year William’s eldest son Alexander (Sandy) joined the Family Firm. A high achiever at School, Sandy entered the Family Business against the wishes of his mother. She was sure he could make a better life for himself away from the failing Business, which appeared to have no Prospects for the future. He attended Evening Classes in Bookkeeping & related Subjects, and by April 1937 the Firm had its 1st proper Bookkeeping & Account System in place. Electricity & a Telephone were installed, and the following Financial Year saw the Firm’s turnover double. Sandy’s younger brother Bill left School and joined the Family Firm in 1938. In 1939 when Sandy was Drafted to serve in the Second World War, Bill took over Sandy’s job, until he too was called up in 1941. During the War William bought the Photographer’s Studio of W L Dunn & Co next door at 273 King Street. This was back-to-back with the Masons Shed at 271-King Street and would become the new Lettering Shed. Within a few years the Firm employed 3-Masons, 2-Lettercutters & 2-Apprentice Lettercutters. Since 1948 Robertson has never been without at least 1-Apprentice on their Books. By the end of 1950 the Firm had a healthy Bank balance and no Debts. Sandy Robertson commented “The Firm’s Cash was now kept entirely separate from our own and my father & I drew our Wages and nothing else.”

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On 1st February 1951, after some lengthy negotiations by Sandy, Alex Robertson & Sons bought over James Taggart & Son. At this time James Taggart & Son had a Workforce of about 12-men and a bigger Premises at 92-Great Western Road, which soon became Alex Robertson & Sons Head Office & Works, leaving 259-King Street as a Retail Branch. 271/3King Street was converted into a Petrol Filling Station and owned by Sandy’s wife, Nan Robertson. (This Filling Station, kept separate from the Granite Business & was sold to Ellis & McHardy Ltd in 1963).

William Robertson died in 1958 at the age of 77. Sandy had effectively been in charge of the day to day running of the Firm since his return home after the War, and was therefore well equipped to head the Family Business on his father’s death. He soon realised that in order to survive in the ever increasingly competitive International Granite Market, not only would they have to expand the Business, but also they would have to consider joining forces with other local Granite Firms. In 1960, the Company opened up their 1st Branch outwith Aberdeen in the small Town of Buckie. One of the main competitors in Aberdeen at that time was a Company called James Robertson & Son, of 393-Hardgate (no relation). The son, Bill Robertson, was keen to go into Partnership with Sandy over the Purchase of Buckie. Although Sandy preferred to embark on the Buckie venture by himself, 2-yrs later in 1962, both Firms began talks of Amalgamation again. On 1st March 1963, Alex Robertson & Sons merged with James Robertson & Son, and adopted the new name of A & J Robertson (Granite) Ltd.

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In May 1965 Robertson acquired the Share Capital of William Edwards & Son (Granite Merchants) Ltd, whose premises consisted of 2-Yards, No.s 3 & 4 Pittodrie Street. In August 1971 it acquired the share capital of Robert Crofts & Sons Ltd whose Yard in Pittodrie Street was adjacent to the former Edward’s Yard on the Southside of the Street. It was to this area on the Eastside of King Street, bounded by Merkland Road East to the South and occupied mainly by Granite firms since the 19thC, that Robertson would now relocate and Establish its Headquarters. Now Head Office & Manufacturing could be concentrated on one Site. In 1971, Robertson also acquired the Goodwill of William Taggart & Son, Allenvale Road, the remaining biggest competitor in Aberdeen, along with its business in Fraserburgh. In August 1971 it also acquired the Share Capital of Robert Crofts & Sons Ltd whose Yard was on Pittodrie Street and adjacent to the former William Edward’s Yard on the Southside of the Street.

TurningGranitePittodrie

Pittodrie Granite Turning Co
The turning of the large Granite Columns which are a feature of so many Public Buildings.  A Square Stone of the necessary dimensions is procured from the Quarry as already described, and in the Stone-cutting Yard, this is roughly hewn into a cylindrical form. It is then ready for Turning.  The Lathe is a powerful one, as Columns about 16ft in length and about 3ft in dia are by no means uncommon.  When the Cylinder of Stone begins to revolve on its axis, a series of Circular Steel Cutters come into action, and, striking the rounded surface obliquely, the graceful contour of the Classic Column is rapidly evolved, and a Surface is obtained which is ready for Polishing.

Robertson also acquired the Goodwill of William Taggart & SonAllenvale Road, the remaining biggest Competitor in Aberdeen, along with its Business in Fraserburgh.  After a Period of ill health, Bill Robertson took early retirement on 30th June 1978, leaving Sandy Robertson as sole Chairman & Managing Director. Sandy’s son Graeme had joined the Company in 1974 as a Trainee Manager and joined Frank FyfeEddie Masson & Ronald Rennie on the Board of Directors in 1978.

Starting off in a former Polishing Shed at the rear of No.9 Merkland Road East, its success soon warranted a larger Site.  In July 1983 the Stone Centre relocated to the newly acquired 15 Merkland Road EastGraeme Robertson, as well as sitting on the Board of Directors, personally managed the new Stone Centre until 1981, when a dedicated Manager was employed. Graeme assumed overall responsibility for Retail Sales.  Between 1978-1984 Robertson acquired 5 more Memorial Retail Outlets in Scotland. James M Lamb, Montrose, Robertson & Moncur, Dundee, James Tiernan & Son, Edinburgh, Brian Leggatt, Dunbar & Robert Donald, Arbroath.

PolishingGranite

When placed on the Polishing Carriage, as the Machine is called, the Granite passes through 3 distinct Stages before acquiring the beautiful gloss so much admired. The 1st medium used is the Shot but of a finer grain than that used for Sawing.  The Shot is rubbed over the surface of the Stone with Revolving Metal Rings until smoothness is obtained.  Emery Powder (corundite) is then applied, which produces a Dull Polish.  Last of all Putty Powder (stanic oxide) is rubbed on with Felt attached to the revolving Rings, and the Polishing Process is complete.  A Bed of Granite 23ft in length will be finished in 2-days To Polish Mouldings, Iron Plates are made to fit the Curves of the Stone, and the process is carried out with the mediums described, but applied to the Mouldings by a Machine called a Pendulum, the action of which is explained by its name.  Columns & Urns are made to revolve on Lathes, and the gritty substances being applied with the Irons & Felt, they, as it were, Polish themselves. When it is necessary to Polish work carved in relief, as is almost invariably the case with orders received from French Architects, men known as Hand-rubbers are employed. The hand-rubbing process is, of course, much slower than Polishing by Machinery, but the same methods are used.

At the end of 1983, the Aberdeen Granite Association was wound up. It had shrunk to just 2-Members, A & J Robertson (Granite) Ltd & John Fyfe Ltd. Robertson by then embraced 8-Firms, the 2-Robertsons, the 2-Taggarts, Edwards, Caie & Co, Kemp & Co & Crofts & Sons. Fyfe had acquired Chas McDonald Ltd, George M Stalker & Sons & William Mckay & Son Ltd. Others had quietly closed down. Ian McLaren’s Bower & Florence and their Partners, Stewart & Co, the Firms that had pioneered the idea of Amalgamation in the 1960s had Ceased Trading as long ago as 1970. As McLaren wrote: It was ‘a far cry from the heyday of an Industry consisting of 90-Yards employing 1881-men & boys, 1606-Journeymen, 275-Apprentices.

On 10th January 1984, Graeme was appointed Joint Managing Director with his father who remained Chairman. Sandy retired from full-time work in 1989 and Graeme was appointed Sole Managing Director. In 1999 when his father retired as non-Executive Chairman, Graeme became Chairman & Managing Director of the Firm.  Between 1985-1990, a further 12-Firms across the UK were acquired. Beattie & Co. LtdCarlisle, John Wilson & SonTweedmouth, Samuel McKnightAyr, Maybole & Prestwick, A RossForfar, Geo Carnegie & Sons LtdDundee, George StalkerWhitehaven, Hugh McLachlanAyr, F & S J TaylorCoventry, Ward of Oswaldtwistle, McDonough of Halifax, Braithwaite of Darwen & H Stevenson & Sons LtdBurnley & Colne.

In August 1987 Robertson acquired a 40% Interest in Harold Stevenson‘s long Established Family Firm in Burnley. His nephew Brent Stevenson became a Director of Robertson and, still based in Burnley, sat on the Board of Directors until a period of ill health in 1996Brent resigned from the Board of Directors and sold his Shares in the Company back to Robertson’s.  In return, Robertson sold 3-Branches to Brent, Blackburn, Colne & Oswaldtwistle. Brent Stevenson remains a Trade Customer of Robertson today.  In 1989 an open Yard at No.8 Pittodrie Street was purchased, which became a holding area for Granite Blocks. No.9 Merkland Road East now Houses the Memorial Show-yard, the Office Block and the Car Park, while the neighbouring Stockyard & Factory on the Pittodrie Street side are fitted out with up-to-date Equipment.

Between 1991-1995, 7-more Businesses were acquired. E M & F WillettCheltenham, N Jury LtdHuddersfield, B AstillLeamington Spa, plus E M Lander, Joslin Memorials, Cyril J Corden & Blake & Horlock, all in London.  Between 1996 – 2001, the expansion of Robertson’s Retail Outlets continued. They bought over 9-Branches from John Fyfe Ltd. Edinburgh, Wishaw, Cumnock, Arbroath, Dumbarton, Dalry, Dalkeith, and 2 in Motherwell. They also acquired Hulme, Stockport, Hulme, Hazelgrove, Nell Lane Memorials, Manchester, Twyford, Wilmslow, Clow Bros, Oldham, Border Memorials, Kelso & James Dowell & Son, Kirkwall. In June 2000 the Retail outlet in Montrose was relocated to a larger and higher profile Site which sells fires, stoves & Granite counter tops as well as Memorials.

This was a very busy Period for A & J Robertson (Granite) Ltd. Some weeding out among the new acquisitions was necessary for not all proved to be viable, particularly when a Group of Businesses were bought from a Single Seller.  Most of these Acquisitions required some sort of Property Upgrading, and much Investment of Time & Money was spent bringing them up to scratch.  During the next few years a further 4-Branches were acquired, Alfred Tomes & Son in London and J E Young in Whitchurch & Wellington during 2003 and Monkland Memorials in Coatbridge during 2004. Although in the intervening period, both the Whitchurch & Wellington Branches closed when the leases ended.

Frank Fyfe retired from the Board in April 1996. In January 1999, Raymond Garden was appointed Financial Director and Stewart Gibson was appointed Sales Director. The retirement of Eddie Masson in 2005 saw Alex Smith join the Board as the Production Director, until he too retired in 2009. Neil Robertson was appointed a Director in June 2017 and Ranald Rennie retired from the Business in December 2020 after over 40-yrs’ service.

Robertson now has 32-Branches in various parts of the UK. In autumn 2015 an Agreement was reached to sell the Pittodrie Yards owned by Robertson to be developed for Student Accommodation. The proceeds of this Sale allowed Robertson to acquire a 1.25 acre Site at Westhill, on the Outskirts of Aberdeen, and to construct a new Head Office, Factory with New Machinery & Equipment & Yard. The new Premises at Silvertrees were moved into on 15th May 2017. Robertson Memorials