Argyll Motor Works
The Argyll Motor Works, also known as the Torpedo Factory and
more recently Loch Lomond Outlets and now Lomond Galleries, has
dominated the north end of Alexandria for the past century.
The building behind the impressive and palatial 540-foot
frontage built of red sandstone from Dumfries, Aberdeen granite,
and Italian marble, with its clock tower surmounted by a golden
dome that could be seen for miles, began life in 1905 as offices
and workshops for the flourishing Argyll Motors Limited. It took
fourteen months to build and equip at a cost of £220,000 and was
the largest car factory outside the United States.
Argyll Motors Limited started in Bridgeton, Glasgow, first as a
private concern, then as the Hozier Engineering Company. Its
chairman, W. A. Smith, and its managing director, Alexander Govan,
had joined forces in 1889 after Govan had spent several years
experimenting with the internal combustion engine. Both were
convinced of the great future of the motor car
Competition from foreign cars was fierce, but at the Glasgow
International Exhibition of 1901 their Argyll car went through a
five-day trial without losing a mark and achieved the distinction
of being the only car in its class to do so. The car went from
strength to strength, winning many awards and accolades in the next
few years, including the John o' Groats to Land's End record of 42
hours and 5 minutes.
Between 1901 and 1906 the Company's business expanded
thirty-fold. Extension of the Bridgeton works made the production
of 25 cars a week possible, but such was the public demand for
Argyll cars that a new company had to be formed.
A new site of 53 acres was found in Alexandria, an area with an
abundance of skilled male labour, most of whom were obliged to
travel to Clydebank or Dumbarton for their work, and Argyll Motors
Limited was born. At the time of moving to Alexandria the company
was in very sound financial shape. They had built up reserves to
make their stock a good solid investment. The works were planned on
a large scale to enable them to expand their operations at any
time. They had previously had to turn down orders of work,
including building motor launches, ploughs, motor buses, taxi cabs
and vans. Perhaps their greatest achievement was in building safe
and reliable cars at reasonable cost suited to the average man who
enjoyed motoring. The Scottish motor industry had come into its
The Building of the Argyll Works
The site was acquired in April 1905 and work began immediately.
A railway siding with 3 branches to all parts of the site was laid
from the Dumbarton and Balloch Joint Railway. This enabled building
materials to be brought in quickly, and was later used to ship cars
to all parts of the world. Govan designed the works himself, having
visited factories throughout Europe and America. The architect was
Charles James Halley of Clydebank, the builder J. Anderson and the
contractor G. L. Allen. All spoke highly of the 1,000 workmen
employed in the building of the factory. 5,000 tons of finished
material and 11,000 tons of other material arrived at the company's
siding on time. The bricklayers laid 30,000 bricks in one day; two
roofs, 200 feet by 33 feet, were erected in another day. Half the
frontage was built in one week. The painting shop, coach building
shop and chassis shop were put up in the space of 6 weeks. At the
opening ceremony one of the guests said that the works would stand
as a monument to the genius of Alexander Govan.
The finished plant covered 12 acres, and was designed to be
extended at any time. Surplus land was feued or sold so that the
cost of the building and land could be recovered. Several streets
of houses were built for the workers, many of whom had transferred
Many of these streets, such as Argyll Street and Govan Drive,
had names associated with the company and its founders.
Lay-out of the Works
The building on Main Street consists of two wings. Over the
central entrance is a carving of a nymph on an Argyll car
surrounded by artisans and cherubs. At the top of the marble
staircase a grand corridor extends almost 100 yards each way. The
North Wing housed the offices, board room, drawing office etc, the
South Wing, the dining rooms, kitchen, recreation rooms, ambulance
room, reading room and a hall seating 500.
Museum Marble Staircase
All had large windows or skylights, and most had telephones.
Below this corridor the store extended the entire length of the
building, giving quick access to all the workshops. These were laid
out at right angles to the main building, so they could be added to
at any time without disrupting production.
Many recreations were encouraged and the works soon had its own
orchestra, choir, ambulance class, cycling club, a football club so
large it had 35 five-aside teams, a rifle club, and a magazine.
The Argyll Works were declared open by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
on Tuesday 26th June 1906. In his speech he said that the Argyll
Works were the best equipped in the world and would attract a good
class of workmen, and lead to the turning out of a first class
article. He was confident in the future of automobilism, and he
felt that the establishing of works such as these at Alexandria
ensured to our nation the claim to be the great engineering home of
By 1907 Argyll Motors were producing over 800 cars a year, more
than any other manufacturer in Europe. The company employed at
least 1,300 people, and at times as many as 2,700. Sadly, Alexander
Govan died in 1907 at the age of only 38. He was succeeded as
Managing Director by Colonel J. S. Matthew, and the cars continued
to excel. Successful models included the Torpedo, of streamlined
design, the double Phaeton and the Landaulette, a favourite with
women drivers. Again the cars were innovative and good value for
Argylls Ltd and the Single-Sleeve Valve Engine
In 1909 Colonel Matthew became interested in developing the
single-sleeve valve which had been demonstrated to him by its
inventor, a Glasgow engineer called Peter Burt. This was superior
to the poppet valve in general use, but it proved difficult and
costly to produce. Unfortunately the idea was ahead of its time,
and this is where the company began to founder. A Canadian engineer
had patented a similar design of valve just ahead of Burt, but the
two men were able to meet and thrash out a design between them that
was patented in 1909 as the Burt-McCollum single-sleeve valve
engine. Around the same time, Daimler had adopted the Knight patent
for a sleeve-valve engine. It took 2 years of development by
Argyll's Henri Perrot before the first cars appeared with the new
engines, which were judged to be very sound and practical. From
1911 to 1914 all new Argyll cars had the new engine plus many other
refinements, and continued to set new records for performance.
In 1913 an Argyll 15/30 ran for 14 hours at Brooklands at an
average speed of 76 miles per hour.
In 1911 Daimler took legal action against Argyll Motors Limited
over patent infringements. Argyll contested and won the subsequent
appeal, but the litigation cost them over £50,000. In 1914 they
went into liquidation, and production ceased early in the summer.
The French car manufacturers Darracq tried to take them over as a
going concern, but the Bank of Scotland acting for the debenture
holders refused the offer.
In 1915 J.D.Brimlow, Argyll's sales manager, took over the old
Argyll Works in Bridgeton, and after the war introduced some new
cars under the Argyll name. They could not compete for price with
other cars then being produced in the English Midlands. Production
ended in 1928, and the last Argyll Company was wound up in 1932.
However, the Burt-McCollum principle in which Colonel Matthew had
such faith was finally adopted by the Bristol Aeroplane Company and
was a great success in both commercial and military aircraft until
the coming of the jet.
Subsequent History of the building
When war broke out in August 1914, the Admiralty took over the
former Argyll Works in Alexandria as a munitions factory, employing
many of the car workers. Although industrial relations at Argyll's
had been good, some of the men had become very militant. They were
sacked by the Admiralty and some found employment on Clydeside. The
Munitions Works became known locally as the Gun Works and to the
north a building was erected for processing Lyddite for shells.
This made the workers come out canary yellow. The munitions were
run out of the Works on bogies and stored in Argyll Park.
During the depression a silk factory occupied the Works for a
short time, but for many years the buildings stood empty.
Unemployment in the Vale rose to 68 per cent.
Then, in 1935, with the rearmament programme the Royal Navy
returned and the Works became a torpedo factory until 1969. It is
often still called the Torpedo Factory although production ceased
almost 4 decades ago
Plessey and the Alexandria Industrial Estate
Hopes were raised in the Vale when in 1971, Plessey bought the
factory for £650,000 for an electronic production unit. They closed
within a year, intending to move the equipment to Ilford in Essex.
The workers occupied the factory and released machinery only on the
understanding that the site would be used as an industrial estate.
Lyon-Plessey Developments tried to attract new industries to the
estate with little success. The factory was sold to a company that
called itself Alexandria Industrial Estates, in reality three
brothers, Messrs Gruscot, who had a jeweller's business in London.
James Parr & Sons of Glasgow managed it for them but the
building lay empty and in a state of disrepair for many years.
Modern Non-Industrial Development
The then Dumbarton District Council, concerned about the serious
deterioration of this listed building, served a repairs notice on
the owners in 1985, asking them to carry out eight major repairs at
a cost of £7,000 to keep the building wind and watertight. Nothing
was done, and although the council was empowered to carry out the
repairs itself and charge the owners, or to put a compulsory
purchase order on the building, it was unable to afford to do
either, even though the building was raised from B to A listed,
which could generate more governmental subsidy.
In 1986 the Argyll Group Plc expressed an interest in developing
the site, converting the offices to luxury flats, renovating the
central part for use as a museum and building a supermarket to the
rear. Again nothing happened, and time and the weather continued to
take their toll. What had once been the pride of the Vale was now
an eyesore as it rapidly deteriorated. A local group was formed in
the hope of coming up with a plan to save the Argyll building, many
believing an industrial museum would be an ideal solution, but it
was to be another long wait before a rescue plan became
In the late nineties a company called Gilpro took over the
restoration of the building and after a considerable amount of work
and money had been spent on the project, Loch Lomond Factory
Outlets was officially opened to the public in 1997 by HRH the
The building only consists of the front-facing part of the
building now, with the rear buildings having been demolished some
years ago; the copper dome gleams once again and the marble
staircase has been completely replaced
The basement housed a motoring museum until 2007, exhibiting
many original Argyll Motors and telling the full history of this
once booming industry.
The ground and upper floors now consist of factory outlets and
have also at various points housed a creche, a bar and a
restaurant, although many of the shops, the creche and the bar have
Many locals fear for the fortunes of the building as many of the
outlets have only been filled for short periods at a time and many
feel it would be a great pity to see this great example of
architecture fall once again into disrepair after such a
Page last update:
28 October 2013