Sir John Aird (1833–1911)

Sir John Aird was the head of an engineering and building company that carried out numerous important works in the United Kingdom, in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Russia, and in Africa. It was founded in 1848 by his father John Aird (1806-76), superintendent of the Phoenix Gas Co works at Greenwich. The company’s initial focus was the laying of gas and water mains.

The younger man joined the firm in 1851 as its emphasis moved from the construction of gas supply systems into general civil engineering. His building projects, carried out in collaboration with his partners Charles Thomas Lucas (1820-95) and Thomas Lucas (1822-1902), included the removal of the Crystal Palace from Hyde Park to Sydenham completed in 1854, the construction of the Covent Garden Opera House in 1858, of the Royal Albert Hall in 1871 and Alexandra Palace in 1873. Aird’s company built the Blackfriars railway bridge in London opened in 1864, much of the gasworks at Beckton in east London, reckoned to be one of the world’s largest, reservoirs at Hampton and Staines in the Thames Valley west of London, and carried out substantial works at the Millwall, Royal Albert and Tilbury docks in London, the Trafalgar Graving Dock at Southampton, Millom Harbour in Cumbria and the Royal Edward Dock at Avonmouth, Bristol. Aird was responsible for numerous railway contracts including the cheaply-built and rural Northampton & Banbury Junction Railway, and parts of the spectacular West Highland Line in Scotland.  He built waterworks in Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen, and gas plants in Copenhagen and Moscow. In 1898-1902 Aird & Son constructed the Aswan Dam on the Nile, designed by Sir William Wilcocks (1852-1932). The year after it was finished  the company completed the Assiut Barrage, 250 miles south of  Cairo, also designed by Willcock, and also laid the railway from Sunkim to Berber in Sudan. After the death of Thomas Walker (1828-1889) Aird took over and completed the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894.

Aird was also a politician, Member of Parliament for the London constituency of Paddington North from 1887 until 1906, and the first Mayor of the Borough of Paddington in 1900.

Portrait of Sir John Aird