• Garnock Connections

    Connecting people and places within the Landscape

The Dalry Connection to the Arrol Johnston

One of the founding members of the Women's Engineering Society, pioneering engineer and enthusiastic racing driver, Dorothée Pullinger (13 January 1894 – 28 January 1986) is perhaps best known for the development of the Galloway car, a "car made by ladies for others of their sex". In this fantastic blog by independent engineering historian, Nina Baker, we learn about Dorothée's connection to the town of Dalry. 
Image copyright: Dumfries And Galloway Standard

The Dalry Connection to the Arrol Johnston: “Car for ladies, built by others of their sex”

If you go to Glasgow’s Riverside Transport Museum and walk through almost to the very back, next to the ‘Car Wall’ you will find a special display of an Arrol Johnston Galloway car, complete with mannequins in costume from the 1920s when this unusual car was being built. At first glance it seems very similar to a number of other cars of that period, but there are subtle differences due to it being a car especially designed for lady drivers, who were then starting to become more numerous. 

Before the Great War, motoring was an expensive hobby mainly for the very rich – as even a secondhand car could cost as much as a house. During the War many women had gained new independence, including learning to drive – ambulances, buses, lorries etc. After the War many middle class families became able to afford to own a car and many women expected to be able to use one. The Arrol Johnston car factories at Heathhall, Dumfries and at Tongland, Kirkcudbright had of course been devoted to munitions work during the War: building aircraft, lorries and tractors. But as things got back to normal the managing director, Thomas Pullinger and his daughter, Dorothee, had the idea to design a low cost, lightweight car aimed at the market for lady drivers. Their design included such features as adjustable seating so different sized drivers could reach the controls, a rearview mirror so that lady drivers could see what was happening behind without having to bring a handmirror from their dressing tables with them. Normal now, but rare features then. During the War the factories had been largely staffed by women, many of whom stayed on to build the “Ladies’ cars”.
So, what is the connection between the cars built in the far southwest of Scotland and the Dalry area?

Well, the Arrol Johnston factories weren’t always in Dumfries and Galloway. The very first factory was in Camlachie, in Glasgow’s East End but when that burnt down, the firm moved to an old thread mill in Underwood Road, Paisley. This is the factory to which Thomas Pullinger was recruited, in 1908, to be the managing director, having previously been a designer in various French and English pioneering car factories. At that point, his daughter Dorothee (the oldest of 12!) was still at boarding school in Loughborough, and it isn't clear when the family moved up to Scotland to join Thomas, but probably in 1909/10.

Although Thomas Pullinger was brought up in London, he seems to have had a fancy to be a farmer as the house they lived in at this time was Swinlees farm, just outside Dalry [Canmore link: https://canmore.org.uk/site/169849/swinlees]. This was rather a long way from the car factory in Paisley but such a family obviously had a car (or maybe several) and could have either driven to Paisley or commuted there by train from the Dalry station.

The farm is still in operation, the house apparently little changed since then. How do we know this? Because Dorothee left a sketchbook of her drawings and simple paintings of the area, which is still in the possession of her daughter and granddaughter, who have kindly agreed that I can share these with you. These are the only artworks we have by her but, not long after they moved to Swinlees, she completed her education and browbeat her (somewhat socially conservative) father to allow her to train as an engineer in the Arrol Johnston factory, where she started out in the drawing office. This would have been a very usual way to start training as an engineer in those days, although she could have gone to university, as a few women did study engineering then.
Dorothee’s sketch of Swinlees

Swinlees farm has an important place in Ayrshire farming history as it is said that the “Swinlees Bull” was one of the forebears of the famous Ayrshire cattle breed. Whilst there is no record that Thomas found time to be actively engaged with the farm, what with working to revive the flagging fortunes of the Arrol Johnston factory in Paisley and get a new one built in Dumfries, he certainly took a great interest in cattle and sheep breeding at his subsequent homes in Dumfries and Tongland and in his retirement to Jersey.
Dorothee’s painting of the road past Swinlees, which seems not to be tarmac.

Dorothee’s sketch of the distinctive gateposts at Swinlees

Dorothee’s painting of waterfalls. I think these must be the Lynn Glen Falls.

The Lynn Glen Falls today.

Other sketches in the book seem to be of her younger siblings in the house. She was probably on holiday from school when she did these sketches and paintings, as she would have been too busy once she started work. Her family describe her later in her life, as totally focussed on her work with no time for social or recreational activities. So, in some ways, these pictures represent the last (visual) personal ‘voice’ of Dorothee before her professional life took over. In 1913 the new factory at Heathhall on the outskirts of Dumfries opened and eventually the whole family moved to another farm near there, as Dorothee progressed with her training, and the Great War loomed on the horizon.

Geared up to get involved?

Are you a woman who worked in local industry? Do you have memories of your mum, aunt, or gran going to work at places like ICI Ardeer? If so, our Working Voices project is for you. We're aiming to record your stories for future generations, so whether your experience is of dynamite production, textiles, furniture making, steelworks, construction, maritime industries, or something else, we would love to hear from you. Click here to head over to our project page or email denize.jacques@rspb.org.uk to find out more.

Thank you again to Nina Baker for her fascinating blog. If you want to learn more about the history of women in construction and engineering, head over to her website at womenengineerssite.wordpress.com