Robertson Brothers Engineering Ltd of Haddington
East Lothian has a proud tradition of innovation in agriculture. This applies not only to the arable produce and development of husbandry on the county’s farms but also in the infrastructure and industries that developed in support. Agricutural steam engines were in use even before the opening of the 19th century and were being made at Dunbar. All over the county small engineering companies developed from earlier blacksmiths’ workshops. There were larger family-run firms in Haddington, Dunbar, North Berwick, and Tranent.
The Robertsons of Haddington have been in business for a century at their works in St Martin’s Gate. The firm provides fabrication, pipework, tanks and general engineering services to a wide range of industries. Today customers range from food production and the brewing, malting and distilling industries through water supplies and treatment works to quarrying and construction. But when the business began, steam was at the core of the business. They were blacksmith s and engineers to the agricultural industry in East Lothian. While many similar businesses in East Lothian have been swallowed up by larger concerns, Robertsons is still in family hands.
The present business has its roots in the 19th century. George Robertson, an Edinburgh born engine fitter, relocated to Haddington where their eldest son was born in 1879. By the census of 1891 George was described as a ‘turner, steam engine maker’. His fifth son, Adam, joined the family business, which had won a reputation for its inventiveness with steel products.
Adam Robertson (born 1887) made this working scale model traction engine. It was a showcase for the firm’s skills: it won a medal in October 1910 at the Edinburgh and Midlothian Home Workers Industrial Exhibition, which was held in the old Waverley Market. It continues to be a prized heritage piece and is a working reminder of the role that its full-sized cousins played in the agricultural development of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Engines were a once familiar sight in the landscape. Working in pairs they outperformed traditional horse-drawn ploughs. The pair of engines ran in parallel, on either side of a field and a hawser mounted plough was drawn from one side to the other between the engines; then, after inching forward, it was drawn back again until the field was done. Other engines worked from farm to farm on demand, driving threshing machines. In principle, this saved spending on manpower and horsepower. The accompanying photograph shows that a large team was required to keep up with the engine: the main saving was in time.