Brown Brothers

Rosebank, Edinburgh




Jim (Jimmy) Little

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Thank you to Jim Little who wrote:

Apprentice Fitter

"As an apprentice fitter with Brown Bros (Rosebank), I went to technical school in Bristo Street, once a week for three years (1952-54).  I suppose it's long gone now."

Jim (Jimmy) Little, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada:  December 24, 2012




Jim (Jimmy) Little

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Thank you to Jim Little for writing again with some of his memories of working for Brown Bros. in Edinburgh, before emigrating to Canada.  He has lived in Winnipeg, Canada since 1969.

Jim wrote:

My Career with Brown Bros

"Brown Bros. has served me well in my working life.  Even in my interview at Canada National Railway, where I served for over 25 years, the Brown Bros name was recognised.

I left Trinity Academy July 1952.

- I joined Brown Bros, at Rosebank Ironworks, as a pre-apprentice - a message boy) - in September 1952, aged 15.

-  I started as apprentice fitter 16 March  1953, one day before my 16th birthday.

-  I finished apprenticeship on 16 March 1958 .  I was kept on as a journeyman  and remained till I left in April 1960.  Work in the ship building industry dropped considerably in the late-1950s and early-1960s.

The Premises

"On Google maps you’ll see a narrow lane between Rosebank Cemetery and the new flats, this was where the Brown Bros. entrance was, just off Broughton Road. The actual shop floor was over 20 feet below street level and when you walked down the east side aisle in the shops you there was actually just the thickness of the wall between you and the deid bodies next door.  It was quite eerie when you were on the midnight shift.

Message Boy

"A message boy was just a 'go-fer' doing some menial tasks such as:

-  cleaning parts

-  collecting blueprints from drawing office

-  getting parts and tools, like sky hooks, a bucket of steam, or asking for a long stand!


"Message boys had to go out and get the men’s supper if the men were working overtime, usually Tuesdays and Thursdays.  So at around 3-00pm, I had to take orders for the fish and chip suppers.  Then I and cycled up to a chip shop on Leith Walk.

'I want quantity not quality' was always the demand.

Sometimes, I had to go down to Bonnington Castings canteen to pick up sandwiches for lunch time. Some of the women there razzed us 15 year olds quite a lot. I can’t tell you some of the comments as this is a family site.


"We also had to boil the billy cans - converted Tate & Lyle syrup tins - for their tea.. In those days most guys had an oval tin can with two compartments with a lid on each end to carry their tea and sugar. Nae tea bags then!"

Equipment Manufactured

"Most of the work was powered by steam or hydraulics, such as ship stabilizers, steering gear and steam catapults for launching planes from aircraft carriers. The catapults were built under the direction of the Royal navy, I think  the patent was sold the U.S. navy around the late-1950s and early 1960s.

My last job at Brown Bros was working on torpedo tubes for the Polaris submarines.

Brown Bros steering gear was used on liners, navy ships and ferries. The brass steering wheel with the name 'Brown Bros Edinburgh' was recognized by many around the world.

Other Workers

"I remember serving with:

-  Charlie (Chick) Johnson, a good clarinet player who joined the Black Watch Band as a regular.

-  Bobby Johnson (Jack's brother), a boilermaker.

-   Davie Wright, a bit of an amateur wrestler

-  Ian Darcy

-  Ian Murdoch

- Johnny Main, known as 'Jango' because he played guitar

I remember others who returned from the Merchant Navy or from National service:

-  John McGill

-  Tam WelshI met him when I joined Bruce Peebles.

-  Jim Bertie.  I also  met him when I joined Bruce Peebles.

Most of the journeymen will have passed on now."

Forced Retirement

"For some strange reason, the event that I will never forget was when they brought in forced retirement around 1954-56. Men were told to retire within 6 months.

Some of the men were well into their 70s and some had served their country in two wars. They had spent most of their life working then suddenly they were told to stay at home.   Most of them passed away within a year."

Jim (Jimmy) Little, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada:  January 11, 2013




Patrick Lindsay

Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Thank you to Patrick Lindsay who wrote:

Stabiliser Controls

"I enjoyed Jim Little's comments above on working at Brown Bros, Rosebank. I worked there from 1971 to 1975 on the Stabiliser Controls contract through Finday Irvine Ltd.

I worked in the Mezzanine mostly, using the stabiliser experimental 'rolling table'.  Three names from those days come to mind.  They may have been at Brown's in the 1960s or before.  They are Sam Coward, Alec Macdonald Tom ...? who ran the Mezzanine calibration lab."

The Shop Floor

"I remember walking down the long 'leg' of the shop floor, past the 'carousel' (vertical borer I think set into the floor) and the big lathe where the machinist travelled up and down the work piece in a chair along with the tool.

When you got to the bottom of the shop floor, you had to turn left into the erection area where, at the end, there were the doors to the lane mentioned by Jim Little above.  The lane was Pilrig Street Lane.  Now it is Pilrig Gdns.

I think Brown's also had a railway siding somewhere around there, off the line that ran close to Macdonald Road."

Ship's Wheel

"I bought a relatively modern brass Brown Bros ship's wheel at a local auction here for old times sake some years ago.  I think it would have been built in the1950s.

Here are a couple of photos of it:

Ship's Wheel built by Brown Bros., possibly in the 1950s  -  zoom-out ©       Ship's Wheel built by Brown Bros., possibly in the 1950s  -  zoom-out ©

I wonder if Jim or anyone else knows anything about it."

Patrick Lindsay, Perth, Western Australia, Australia:  January 24, 2013




Bill (Willie) Malcolm

Thank you to Bill (Willie) Malcolm who wrote:


"Like Jim Little above, I also served my apprenticeship as a Fitter in Brown Brothers.  My experience there was  identical to his  from 1955 till 1965."

Sent to Barrow

"In 1959 I was sent by the company to Vickers Armstrong in Barrow in Furnace to work on HMS Hermes.  It was there that I met who I think is the same Jim Little.

If he is the same person, he was my journeyman on our stay down there, we also worked on:

DD Almirante Williams, a Chilean Navy Destroyer and

-  P & O Liner, Oriana.

I'd like to get in touch with Jim if he recognises any of these memories."

Bill (Willie) Malcolm:  January 14, 2013

Contact with Jim Little

I've passed on Jim Little's email address to Bill Malcolm.  I hope they will be able to get in touch with each other.

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  January 28, 2013




Brian Speedie

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Thank you to Brian Speedie who wrote:

The Speedie Family

"I wonder if Jim Little knew my father, Jimmy Speedie, who worked for many years at Brown Brothers until his retirement.

My older brother, Jim Speedie, also served his apprenticeship at Browns, probably around the same time as Jim Little."

Brian Speedie, Toronto, Ontario, Canada  January 14, 2013

Contact with Jim Little

I've passed on Jim Little's email address to Brian Speedie.  I hope they will be able to get in touch with each other if Brian decides to send a message to Jim..

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  January 28, 2013




Donald Graham

Basel, Switzerland

Thank you to Donald Graham who wrote:


"I lived off Broughton Road, and remember a big fire breaking out at the Brown Bros. factory.

As soon as the news broke, all the kids from the area rushed up to McDonald Road to watch.  I recall it was quiet furious, as the flames were lapping over the roof.

Maybe Jim can remember the fire.  It would have been mid-1960s."

Donald Graham, Basel, Switzerland:  January 17, 2013




Innes McOwan

Thank you to Innes McOwan for responding to this photo of Brown Bros.' workers, taken at Earls Court, London in 1973,  that I added to the EdinPhoto web site in July 2011.

    Brown Brothers Team at Earls Court, 1973 ©

Innes wrote:


"I was Contracts Manager at the time this photograph was taken.

    Brown Brothers Team at Earls Court, 1973 ©

Reading the picture from left to right, of the Brown Brothers personnel, we have (with the positions they held at the time).

-  Derek P Muir

Willie Inglis (Sales Engineer

Bill Inglis (Sales Manager) ***

Agnes Reed (Secretary)

Jim McNeill (Sales Engineer).

Also these who have since died:

-  Sam Coward

-  John Watt

Eddie Johnston.

There is some dispute amongst my colleagues about this - but I am convinced this is Bill Inglis.  (Bill, can you shed any light on this?)

***  Not Bill.  Please see 'Recollections 7, Update 1' below.

Rolls Royce

"The rump of the company in now part of Rolls-Royce, based near Dunfermline in Fife.  They continue to supply stabilisers and steering gears.

For the record there was no stabiliser on the old Ark Royal - catapults yes. They have however provided the stabilisers for the new carriers that are currently being built."


"We are holding our 4th Reunion Lunch on April 22nd when quite a few of us 'oldies' will be getting together. Vic Carter (Stabiliser Design), who some may remember, is still to the fore as are Jack McArthur & Peter Tracey. We are expecting about 80 at the Lunch.

If any of the foregoing is incorrect, no doubt my colleagues will do the necessary!"

Innes McOwan:  January 27, 2013






Innes McOwan

Thank you to Innes McOwan sending more messages about this photo of Brown Bros.' workers, taken at Earls Court, London in 1973.

After further discussion with others, Innes wrote:


    Brown Brothers Team at Earls Court, 1973 ©

"For the avoidance of doubt, the people in this picture, reading from left to right are:

-  Derek P Muir

-  Sam Coward   -  since died

Willie Inglis (Sales Engineer} 


Agnes Reed (Secretary)

Jim McNeill (Sales Engineer)

-  John Watt (Sales Engineer)   -  since died

-  Patrick Lindsay (Findlay Irvine)   [I assume]

Eddie Johnston (Sales Engineer)  -  since died

Innes McOwan:  January 29 2013 (3 emails)




Lars Grimstad

Narvik, Norway

Lars Grimstad has contacted me with his with the request below.

If you feel that you may be able to give him any advice, please email me, then I'll pass on his email address to you.

Lars wrote:



"I am part of a ship restoration group in Narvik, Norway.  We have an old coastal bus wich have a steering machine from Brown Bros Ltd, Rosebank Ironworks, Edinburgh.

Our boat was built in 1953. The steering column and wheel is long gone, and we need help finding these parts.  We want to get in touch with people who know the manufacturer and might be interested in helping us in our restoration."

Lars Grimstad, Narvik, Norway:  September 4, 2012




Sandi Bravo

Thousand Oaks, Southern California, USA

After reading the question in Recollections 8 above, Sandi Bravo wrote with a similar question.

Sandi wrote:


Ship's Wheel

"I, too, am doing research on one of the Brown Bros. products sold in the early 1950's. We just bought a ship's wheel - 8 spokes, all brass with wood handles.

We're looking for anyone who knows something about this."

Sand Bravo, Thousand Oaks, Southern California, USA:  December 8, 2013


Thank you to Patrick Lindsay (Australia) for letting me see a photo of three Brown Bros wheels being worked on. 

This photo was published in the Edinburgh Evening News on 4 September 1999, at the time when Brown Bros were moving from Rosebank, Edinburgh to Fife.  The former Brown Bros site at Rosebank has now been redeveloped as housing.

I've now forwarded Patrick's email to Sandi (USA) and Lars (Norway).

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  January 2, 2014




Sandi Bravo

Thousand Oaks, Southern California, USA

After receiving my email yesterday in which I forwarded the photo of the Brown Bros ships' wheels, Sandi Bravo replied:

Ship's Wheel

"Very interesting! That is the ship's wheel we purchased in Monterey, California at an antique shop!

Thanks for sharing.  I'd love to see those articles in full."

Sand Bravo, Thousand Oaks, Southern California, USA:  January 3, 2014




Colin Mountford


Thank you to Colin Ford who wrote:


"I've just read with interest recollections above, and can relate a similar experience to that of Jimmy Little above.  In fact I believe I know Jimmy when I worked with him in the drawing office in 1957-8. prior to my joining the Merchant Navy.

I also was a pre-apprentice fitter, working in the steering gear fitting shop (Jan-Aug 1952) when I started my apprenticeship. I can recall similar stories to Jimmy, like when I was given a requisition to take to the store for 1. A long stand. and 2. A pressurized bucket."


"Bobby McNair was the foreman, a small man who did not particularly like me - an opinion he formed, strangely, soon after I started my time.  He did have a liking to any lady staff members though who had occasion to pass through the fitting shop from time to time.

I worked under Bobby for two years, fitting and erecting all types of hydraulic steering gears, and steam catapult driving gear, and control stations for RN aircraft carriers. The next two years was spent in the ship stabilizer erecting shop, working for the foreman Jimmy Ovensen"

Drawing Office

"I then transferred to the drawing office, where I met Jimmy Little. We worked for two designers, Jimmy Grieve and Jimmy Sinclair. There was an apprentice working with us, called John Grey.  He had a liking for a lady tracer who walked through the drawing office every day, to and from her work.

Like Jimmy, I also attended Bristo Technical college, one day a week, and night school at the Heriot Watt College, all the years I was serving my time.  Jimmy Little lived in Fountainbridge, where I occasionally visited him.

Drawing Office

"I left Brown Brothers in 1958 to join the merchant navy as a junior engineer, working all ranks up to and including 2nd Engineer, on cargo ships, tankers and passenger liners.  I never returned to 'Auld Reekie' moving on to Australia where I have lived for over 50 years."


"I know that Brown Brothers no longer exists at Rosebank, but it is remembered with great affection.  My experience gained at Browns stood me in good stead later in life, working in many industries like railways, power generating, auxite mining. cement manufacturing, ship repair industry, and many others."

Colin Mountford, Australia:  April 16, 2015




Jim Little

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Jim Little contacted me after reading Colin Mountford's Recollections 11 above, about the time when he worked for Brown Bros. 

I passed on Colin's email address to Jim, who has now replied:

Colin Mountford

"I remember Colin.  We were message boys at Brown Brothers in 1952.  He started his apprenticeship about 7 months before I did.

Colin seems to have got his Jimmys mixed up, as I never worked in the drawing office.  I could never get my head around trigonometry."

Hibs FC and Brown Bros.

"A few months ago, i was at a massed pipe band rehearsal here in Winnipeg.  I was wearing a Hibs shirt when a lady told me her dad used to follow Hibs.

I asked where in Leith he lived.  She said he lived in Sighthill.  I said:  "That's Hearts' territory" and she said: "But he worked in Leith, in a firm called Brown Brothers."

It's a small world, indeed.  I've known her for few years now, but the subject never came up till she saw the Hibs shirt."

Jim (Jimmy) Little, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada:  April/May 2015




Ian Alex Urquhart

Thank you to Ian Alex Urquhart who wrote:

Halifax Class Ships

"I remember visiting Browns for a familiarization of the steering system for Halifax class ships for the Royal Canadian Navy. This was in the early 90’s. I was employed by Saint John Naval Systems in Halifax NS at the time.

After two days' studying electrical drawings, I requested to see the hydraulic system drawings for our new steering system. I was taken to a large room with very large drawing tables and introduced to the gentlemen present. “You wish to see drawings of the steering system for Canadian ships, here you are” and a large drawing was unrolled across a table.

I looked down only a few moments and replied, “If you build it like this it will never work”!!! Gasps and startled looks my way .

I explained.   (I've edited Alex's comments here:  Peter Stubbs:  May 18, 2015)
I was taken out for a lovely lunch and I hope I saved them a few pounds."

Ian Alex Urquhart:  May 5, 2015




Donald Fisher

London, England

Thank you to Donald Fisher who wrote:


Donald Alexander Fisher

"Do you remember my grandfather, Donald Alexander Fisher?  Did you, perhaps, work with him at Brown Bros?  It's possible that he started off at a junior level and worked his way up through the company.

I don't know much about him.  He died soon after my parents got married and a few years before I was born, and my own father died when I was quite young."

Donald Alexander Fisher

Donald Alexander Fisher, an employee of Brown Brothers for several years until his death in 1984.

©  Reproduced with acknowledgement to Donald Fisher

"Here is a photo of my grandfather.  It may jog somebody's memory.  I'm assuming that it was taken when he was away on business for Brown Bros.  A note on the back of it states that he was in South Africa.  I'd estimate the date of the photo to be 1970s or early-1980s.

He  lived in the Wardie Road area of Edinburgh and worked for Brown Bros for some time.  I'm not sure when he started, but I know that he was still working there at the time of his sudden death in December 1984

I assume that he must have had a fairly senior role in the company, as he traveled the world quite regularly."

Overseas Travel

"We have a large collection of letters and postcards which he sent home from the various places.  A few of them are on 'Brown Brothers' headed paper.  The fact he travelled without my grandmother also suggests to me that his travel was all 'business'.

I'm led to believe he was flown overseas to work on ships that Brown Bros had provided parts for, and that had broken down at various cities, but I don't know anything else.

I know that in October 1978 he travelled to Gdansk and worked in the shipyards there, although what he did I'm not sure.  I have his ID from the shipyard.  I don't have exact dates to hand, but I know that during the 1970s, he also travelled to Japan, East Germany, Australia and Kenya for work."


  "I also have:

-  various notebooks full of technical notes, but I am unable to place a date on them.

-   books at home detailing the overhaul of the engines and fitting of stabilisers for the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.  Maybe he was involved in that project, or perhaps these books might have just been promotional material."

Donald Fisher, London, England:  12+16 November 2015

Reply to Donald

If you remember Donald Alexander Fisher, or know anything about him, and would like to send a message to his grandson, Donald Fisher, please email me to let me know, then I'll pass on Donald Fisher's email address to you.

Thank you.

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh: November 17, 2015






Innes McOwan

Thank you to Innes McOwan for writing again, this time in response to Donald Fisher's notes above about his grandfather.

Innes wrote:

Donald Fisher

"I worked closely with Donald Fisher at Brown Brothers in the 1960s/1970s.  It is a bit difficult to pin down exact dates.

Donald served his apprenticeship in Browns and went into the Drawing Office.  Donald would be about 5 years older than me which would have put him in his early-90s now,  had he survived  -  so he probably went into the Drawing Office in the early-1940s.

In the Drawing Office, he worked on the Steering Gear Section becoming Section Leader.  The fire (mentioned elsewhere) was in 1964 and Donald played a major part in the recovery process.

Shortly after that, he was promoted to Chief Draughtsman and I was his 'Deputy'. Later in the 1960s there was another reorganization and Donald moved to become Senior Engineer on Steering Gear development where his career ended with his untimely death.

Donald's Grandson is correct. Donald travelled all over the world on company business. He took me on my first ship trials for a Steering Gear to a very small shipyard on the River Tyne.

He also spent quite a bit of time in La Ciota in the South of France where Brown Bros. had a licensee with whom Donald liaised.  Donald was a good engineer and was 'Brown' through and through!

I hope that helps his grandson fill in some of the details 

Innes McOwan:  5 April 2017




Bryan Gourlay

Biggar, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Thank you to Bryan Gourlay for replying, after reading the comments about drinks at Brown Bros. posted by Jim Little in his Recollections 2 above.

Bryan wrote:

Tea and Sugar Tin

"I enjoyed reading Jim Little's recollections of his time at Brown Brothers - in particular his comments about the 'tin can with two compartments with a lid on each end to carry tea and sugar'.

Funnily enough, I have one of these.  It was my dad's.  Here is a photo of it:

  Buttercup |Dairy  -  Free Pen with every Book ©  Reproduced with acknowledgement to Bryan Gourlay, Biggar, Lanarkshire, Scotland.

My dad used to take sugar, tea and a flask of hot water with him so he could make himself a cup of tea in his lorry cab waiting his turn to get loaded in the freezing cold at Granton docks.

As you can see from the photo, tea went in one end and sugar in the other - quite an ingenious invention really.  I'm not sure that today's clever guys could come up with something quite this good!

The tin is still air-tight and well capable of keeping the sugar and tea secure and in pristine condition. I don't think anyone bothered with a few tea leaves floating around the top of the syrup tin or whether there was any milk to hand.

The tin is quite small - just 2" high and less than 1" deep.

Bryan Gourlay, Biggar, Lanarkshire, Scotland:  18 January 2013




Jim Little

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Jim Little replied to Bryan Gourlay's Recollections 15 above:

Sugar/Tea Tin

    Buttercup |Dairy  -  Free Pen with every Book ©

"That's a fancy sugar/tea tin that Bryan has.  It must have been bought at Binns, not the Leith Provy.  Maybe Brian has a collectors' item!"

Jim (Jimmy) Little, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: 11 February 2016

Jim Little added:

Keeping in Touch

"I still keep in touch with Bill Malcolm, who wrote Recollections 4 above."

Jim (Jimmy) Little, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: 11 February 2016




Allan Jones

Hull, East Yorkshire, England

Allan Jones wrote:

Ship's Wheel

"I've been researching a vintage brass ships wheel with wooden handles which recently came into my possession.

It is exactly the same as the quality ones made at  Brown Bros, Rosebank,  Edinburgh - but it is marked to the centre with: 'Nauticalia, London, England'.

Can anyone confirm whether or not  Brown Bros made these for others with their own mark, rather than that of Brown Bros?

Thank you."

Allan Jones: Hullo, East Yorkshire, England  23 June 2016

Reply to Alan

If you know the answer to the question that Allan asks above, please email me to let me know, then I'll send his email address to you, so that you can contact him direct.

Thank you.

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  1 September 2016




Alan Johnson

Coneyhatch, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Thank you to Alan Johnson who wrote:

From 1955

"I joined Brown Brothers at the age of 15,  straight from school in 1955.  I began on the phones and as a message boy. 


"In 1956, I started my apprenticeship in the Tool Room, then moved to the Catapult shop, then moved to the best 'squad'.  It was the 'Voith Sneider Propellor Department'.  Everybody wanted to be on that squad."

Other Workers

"I was lucky working with Willie Harkess  and Joe Gibb.  All the rest were good guys too.  I remember 'Mc Nair' next door in the 'Stabilizer Fabrication Shop.  He was a  wee man who always stood on something, a box or similar, to make himself bigger when speaking to you."


"Brown Bros was really good experience for me.  I am still, at it at 74 yrs young, owning and running a marine company at Coneyhatch, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire,

Kind Regards

"Kind regards to all.  It would be nice to hear from anybody from my era."

Alan Johnston ('A Wee Man'),  Coneyhatch, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland:  23 February 2016

Reply to  Alan?

If you were at Brown Brothers in Alan  Johnston's era and would like to send a message to him, please email me to let me know, then I'll pass on his email address to you.

Thank you:

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  5 January 2016




Alex Dow

Fife, Scotland

Thank you to Alex Dow who wrote:

From 1955

"Noting the various contributions about Brown Brothers, above, I wonder if anyone remembers their two contributions to the Exhibition held in McDonald Road Church Hall, about 1948 or 1949.

This brought together items etc from various industries within the parish, although strictly I think the Rosebank Works was 'on the far side of the tracks'.

Brown Brothers' contributions were a working model of their Hydraulic Steering Gear and a non-working(!) model of a seaplane launcher, complete with a Walrus Flying Boat, if I remember correctly.

I was fascinated by both; and seeing the various parts of the Steering Gear moving."

Alex Dow, Fife, Scotland

Reply to  Alan?

If you were at Brown Brothers in Alan  Johnston's era and would like to send a message to him, please email me to let me know, then I'll pass on his email address to you.

Thank you:

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  5 January 2016


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