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Mackenzie Brothers > History

Mackenzie Bros
Balcarres Street


Mackenzie And Moncur columns and brackets on an Edinburgh bridge fitted with Philips Precinct lanterns Mackenzie Brothers, later Mackenzie & Moncur, were a firm of Edinburgh ironfounders and heating engineers. The firm was apparently founded in or around 1850. Their main works was in Balcarres Street in Morningside, and was developed at some time after 1883; they also had premises in Slateford Road. Some of their products described them as being based in "Edinburgh, Glasgow and London". Between the 1850s and the 1970s they manufactured glasshouses, conservatories, gates, fountains, cisterns, gratings, iron stairs and similar products. Customers in Edinburgh included the University, the Botanic Gardens, the Royal Infirmary, the Royal Observatory, St Giles Cathedral and Edinburgh Academy. Many of these contracts were probably for central heating equipment. Elsewhere they supplied glasshouses to Sefton Park in Liverpool and various stately homes.

From the mid 1890s onwards Mackenzies' output included electric street lighting equipment. Their standard design of column, originally intended for arc lamps, was very long lasting: so much so that some of them are still in use, many in their original positions, in Edinburgh, Southport, the London Borough of Westminster and Weymouth. In recent years a replica version has been produced by Suggs, to supplement their range of period gas lamps.

The Mackenzie lamp standard was - and is - quite imposing in appearance. It seems to have been manufactured in two sections: a hexagonal column, with rather severe angular lines apart from a floral ring half way up, and a heavily ornamented inverted L shaped bracket on the top. The size of the columns could have presented delivery problems, but the Balcarres Street premises adjoined the North British Railway's Edinburgh South Side Suburban line, and were served by sidings off it. It would have been easy to load them on to a railway wagon provided that it was long enough.

In Scotland Mackenzie lamp standards were also used in Dundee and Oban. Like the Edinburgh ones these were decorated with thistles. The various English versions featured roses and shamrocks as well. On the basis of photographic evidence they were supplied to Aston (Birmingham), Barrow-in-Furness, Carlisle and Worthing as well as in Southport, Westminster and Weymouth where they are still to be found. In London they were also found south of the river, in Battersea. There were minor differences in the designs used. The Aston ones had slightly longer arms, while the Barrow and Worthing examples, and at least some in Aston, were fitted with low level incandescent repeater lamps.

One of the Aston examples was acquired by the National Tramway Museum at Crich, in Derbyshire and was on display there until quite recently. A second hand column from Edinburgh, with some of its tracery missing, has been erected in the car park outside Perth railway station. Dundee has used some of its stock of Mackenzie columns to light the road out to the castle at Broughty Ferry, which until 1975 was outside the city boundary.

When first installed all the Mackenzie columns carried arc lamps of various kinds, housed in a globe at the bottom of a cylindrical tube. A version of this arrangement can be seen on the replicas installed on Edinburgh's North Bridge. But in the years after the First World War, when arc lamps were replaced by incandescant ones, they acquired a variety of different lanterns. The London ones retained what seemed to be the arc lamp cylinder, with a 1920s style electric lamp with a refractor inserted in the bottom. Dundee and Oban on the other hand dispensed with the cylinder and fitted small size lanterns, also with refractors. Directional lamps were used in Carlisle and Weymouth, and "goldfish tank" lanterns in Birmingham.

Much later the Southport examples were fitted with side entry sodium lamps. This was a poor choice as it involved alterations to the brackets which were quite unsympathetic to the character of the original design.

In recent years both Southport and Westminster have fitted replica versions of Sugg Rochesters to their Mackenzie street lamps. This is not an entirely convincing combination; after all the Rochester is really a gas lantern! But with the increased availability of other more suitable fittings this may change.


Mackenzie - Falkirk columns in Infirmary Street

Edinburgh probably had more Mackenzie lamps than anywhere else. They first appeared around 1895. The earliest pictures of them in Princes Street show it with horse drawn tramcars, and the trams are an important part of the story. As in many other big cities, the kind of street lighting used on main roads was closely related to the development of the public transport system.

The tramways in the Scottish capital had an unusual history. As elsewhere, horse trams made their appearance in the 1870s but they were unsuitable for the very steep streets on the north side of the city. This problem was resolved in 1888/89 when cable trams on the lines of those still running in San Francisco, but with double deck cars, were introduced. They were an immediate success, and had the additional attraction to Edinburgh's citizens that they did not disfigure their surroundings with overhead wires. So in the late 1890s, when most other big cities were replacing horse trams with electric ones, Edinburgh invested heavily in cable cars. This gave it the fourth largest cable tram system in the world, with just over 25 route miles. There were a few other examples of cable tramways in Britain, but they were relatively small single route systems. It is however worth noting that one of them served Handsworth in Aston (Birmingham), another place where Mackenzie lamps were used. Perhaps Dick, Kerr & Co of Kilmarnock, the firm responsible for marketing cable tram equipment in the UK, recommended them.

As there were no traction poles from which to hang lighting equipment the main streets, including all the tram routes, were equipped with Mackenzie's arc lamp columns. Their bases carried an illustration of a castle from the city's coat of arms together with the maker's name.

Mackenzie column in Jeffrey Street

In addition to the standard design of column there were some interesting variants. Down the middle of Leith Walk, and in a few other places, centre poles were used with a single lamp mounted in a vertical frame. A two-thirds size version of the standard column was used in St James Street and St James Square (at the east end of the New Town, demolished in the 1970s to make way for a new shopping centre) and on Waverley Bridge, where two survive at the time of writing. There was also a mini-Mackenzie column for use with a gas lamp, an example of which was to be found at the bottom of Arboretum Avenue until around 1960. This may have represented an unsuccessful attempt by the company to break into the market for gas lighting as well. Another curiosity was found in South St David Street where a standard Mackenzie column was flanked by a pair of small size sewer vent pipes of similar design. This column was still in position, though unused, in November 2009.

Not all Edinburgh’s Mackenzie columns were made by Mackenzie Brothers or Mackenzie & Moncur. A number of survivors indicate on the base that they are products of the Falkirk Iron Company. There are some minor differences of detail, but the design is essentially the same. Were some of the Dundee and Oban columns also Falkirk products? Photographs of them are not sufficiently detailed to answer this question.

Replica Mackenzie columns, North Bridge

By 1910 it was apparent even in Edinburgh that cable trams were obsolete. When in that year a new branch tramway was built in the south west of the city, from Ardmillan Terrace to Slateford, it was electrically powered. To light this route Mackenzies produced a special version of their standard thistle encrusted bracket, which could be mounted on top of a traction pole. The result was distinctly ungainly, and was not adopted elsewhere when Edinburgh Corporation took over the cable tramways from the private company operating them and converted them to electricity in 1919-23. This coincided with Edinburgh absorbing the neighbouring burgh of Leith, which already had a well run electric tram system - so in effect, the Leith Corporation tramways were extended over the cable car tracks to serve the rest of the city.

Following electrification of the tramways most of the main roads were relit, with lamps attached to crossbars on the newly erected traction poles. In some areas the overhead wires for the trams were supported from buildings, in which case the Mackenzie columns could be left alone, but a large proportion of them became redundant, including the long line of them on the north side of Princes Street which features in many Edwardian photographs. They were reused in streets that did not have tram routes, in various places in Leith (providing a contrast with the McDowell Steven & Co design favoured by the old Leith Burgh Council), and in the suburbs. This led to archetypal turn of the century lamp standards appearing in very surprising places, like Telford Road in the north west of the city, which was a new road opened in 1929.

The centre pole design was not perpetuated, but a "long arm" bracket, still with plenty of thistles, made its appearance at around this time. It was found mainly on the north side of Queen Street, but there were examples in the Lawnmarket and the Grassmarket. A simplified double arm version was used in a few places. Some of these, at least, must have been mounted on the recycled lower sections of former centre poles. In the 1930s slimline steel columns using both long and short arm brackets decorated with thistles made their appearance. Those in Palmerston Place had non-standard stepped bases which suggests that like the Falkirk columns, they may have been supplied to the City Council by another manufacturer.

Small size Mackenzie, Waverley Bridge

The arc lamp lanterns were replaced initially by small enclosed ones, and then by the 1920s type of GEC Wembley, which Edinburgh adopted as standard. Although it was about half the size of the original arc lamp it suited the proportions of the Mackenzie column quite well. The same cannot be said of the larger 1950s versions of the Wembley, which appeared later, and looked clumsy and out of place.

After an experiment on Queensferry Road adapting Wembley lamps for mercury lighting, and a few trials with fluorescent fittings, Edinburgh opted for wholesale conversion to sodium, from about 1959 onwards. A top entry lantern was used. It was possible to fit these to Mackenzie lamps, but initially it involved removing the outer layer of thistle decoration, which rather spoiled their appearance. Later a more satisfactory solution was found, using a short extension tube between the bracket and the lantern.

Wholesale modernisation of Edinburgh's lighting from the late 1960s onwards meant the disappearance of the Mackenzies from main roads, but even after a hundred years around 50 remain in service, particularly in places like Harrison Road and Infirmary Street. Their reintroduction on the North Bridge, complete with a modern version of the original pattern of lantern, indicates that they are now recognised as part of the city's architectural heritage.

This (below) shows Mackenzie columns in Queen Street in 1960. Those on the left are probably in the original locations where they were installed c. 1900, though the original arc lamps were replaced in the 1920s by GEC Wembleys. On the opposite side of the street is a long row of Mackenzies with long arm brackets, probably installed in the 1920s. These weren't particularly common but they were also found in some places in the Royal Mile and in the Grassmarket.

Queen Street in 1960

This photo (below) was taken at Blackhall and shows a rare example of a Mackenzie with a double bracket. Telford Road is on the left; it was only constructed in the 1920s, so all the Mackenzie columns there would have been transferred there from elsewhere in the city. Queensferry Road, where many of the columns were probably in their original positions, is seen on the right. The GLS lighting there had been replaced with mercury on Queensferry Road, as part of an experiment carried out c. 1955, but in Telford Road the programme of wholesale conversion to sodium had just started. The resulting butchery of some of the tracery on the lamps is just visible in the distance.

Telford Road, Blackhall


Lighting in Oban

This shows Oban at some point between the late 1930s and the early 1950s - perhaps somebody who knows a lot about motor vehicles of that era can be more precise? There are three Mackenzie columns in the picture, but the second is largely concealed behind the one in the foreground. The GLS lanterns appear to have been placed inside mountings originally designed for arc lamps. In the town centre they were replaced by fluorescents in the early 1960s, though a couple of the Mackenzies survived near the pier.


These pictures come from several different sources. For anywhere which had trams, the collection of postcards and photos held by the National Tramway Museum is invaluable. It includes views of most of the towns known to have had Mackenzie lighting columns. The Frith collection of photographs taken for commercial postcards is also useful. Finally in the case of Edinburgh, mention should be made of the excellent photographic web site managed by Peter Stubbs.
Mackenzie & Moncur catalogue of 1900, indicating the range of their business, and accompanied by a brief summary of the firm’s history. It does not however mention their lighting columns. © National Tramway Museum
Aston/Birmingham: Mackenzie lamps in their early days, on the cable tram route to Handsworth and New Inns. The track gauge is 3’6” rather than 4’8 ½“ but the scene could almost be Edwardian Edinburgh. © National Tramway Museum
Aston/Birmingham: a view of the same area in the 1930s. More modern lanterns have been fitted, and the tramway has been electrified. Unknown copyright
Aston/Birmingham: a later view with a “goldfish tank” lantern, widely used in the city until the 1960s. © National Tramway Museum
Barrow: a typical example of a Mackenzie arc lamp. This one has a pair of tungsten lanterns at a lower level; arc lamps were prone to cut out suddenly, so this would have been a useful backup. © National Tramway Museum
Barrow: this one is on Walney Island. The low level lamps are clearly visible. © National Tramway Museum
Battersea: Not a very good picture, but the Mackenzie detailing on the column on the far left is clearly visible. Unknown copyright
Battersea: this photograph is frustratingly blurred, but it is of considerable interest as it shows a reduced size Mackenzie column with a directional lantern. A full size example is visible in the distance. © National Tramway Museum
Barrow: a much later view (1930s?) with a more modern lantern. © National Tramway Museum
Carlisle: an example in the city centre. Note the mechanism for lowering the lantern to street level. © Nat Tramway Museum
Dundee: a Mackenzie column as supplied to the city. © Frith colleaction.
Southport: Frith’s say this photo dates from 1896. Southport must have been very early customers of Mackenzies. © National Tramway Museum
Southport: the column visible here has an extension to increase the height of the lantern above the street.,dorset/photos/perambulator-1904_52858x © Frith collection
Weymouth: this column is apparently newly erected as the gas lamp it replaces can be seen alongside. The photo is dated 1904.,dorset/photos/the-promenade-c1955_w76240 © Frith collection
Weymouth: by 1955 these columns had directional lanterns. © 2009 sotonsteve
Weymouth: a later view, showing the tracery in detail. The sodium lantern is a Revo Silvergold.,west-sussex/photos/the-broadway-1919_68989 © Frith collection.
Worthing, like Barrow, fitted repeater lamps lower down its Mackenzie columns. © Nat Tramway Museum
Edinburgh: the eastern end of Princes Street during the cable car era. © Peter Stubbs
Edinburgh: Mackenzie arc lamps in Morningside, probably just before the First World War. The one on the right appears to be one of those carrying a marker indicating its distance from the GPO. © Nat Tramway Museum
Edinburgh: Relighting the streets following electrification of the tramways took some time. Here is a view of Morningside in the early 1920s, with arc lamps still in use. © Nat Tramway Museum
Edinburgh: the hybrid bracket for use on top of Slateford tram route traction poles, c.1910 © National Tramway Museum
Edinburgh: one of these hybrid lamps, at least, was still around in 1952 – see the right hand side of the photo. (The interlaced tram track at this point was to provide a loading area for brewery lorries). © National Tramway Museum
Edinburgh: one of the Mackenzie lamps which migrated to the suburbs. This one is opposite the Zoo. © National Tramway Museum
Edinburgh: a Mackenzie column with a 1920s Wembley lantern, seen on the Mound in 1956. © National Tramway Museum
Edinburgh: an example of one of the later “slimline” lamps of the 1930s. © Can Stock Photo Inc., 2009
Edinburgh: one of the restored Mackenzies on the North Bridge.

Article: Peter Rivet
Photographs: Peter Rivet and Chris Hill