James Douglas Howden Hume C.B.E LL.D
James Douglas Howden Hume was born in Melbourne, Australia, on 4th May 1928, to parents James (Jimmy) and Kathleen (Katie) (neé Macfarlane) Howden Hume. The family was to remain in Australia for two further years, whilst Jimmy completed the installation of fans and other equipment in Munmorah Power Station.
Douglas, as he was known, was named after his grandfather James Howden Hume and his father and also his great-great uncle James Howden, the renowned Glasgow engineer and inventor, who in 1854 formed the company James Howden & Co, as a specialist supplier of boilers and steam engines to the marine industry, and who is noted for his 1882 invention the Howden System of Forced Draught. During the 1880s more than 1000 boilers were converted to this specification or constructed to Howden's patent. Amongst the liners to use the Howden system in their boilers were the Lusitania and Mauretania, the fastest liners in the world when they were built.
Returning to Scotland in 1930, the family settled in Helensburgh, purchasing the house Cromalt, 148 East Clyde Street, from the executors of the estate of former owner, author Neil Munro.
Helensburgh was chosen as it provided an easy commute to the Scotland Street Offices of Howden & Co, in Glasgow’s Tradeston district. Douglas’ father Jimmy was to be appointed managing director in 1934.
During his childhood, Douglas attended Ardvreck Prep School in Crieff and Lorretto School in Musselburgh. In 1947, Douglas entered the family firm to serve his apprenticeship, eventually qualifying as a ‘"reliable craftsman in all aspects of general engineering" in 1955.
His apprenticeship years were certainly to prove an exciting period in Douglas’ life. He completed his national service as a subaltern in the Royal Artillery, represented his country at the Olympics, married his wife June, and graduated with an Honours B.Sc. degree in mechanical engineering in 1953 from Glasgow University.
The 1948 London Olympics sailing regatta was held during August in Torbay, and Douglas, the youngest British competitor at 20 years 92 days, not only carried the flag at the opening ceremony, but crewed on his father’s yacht ‘Johan’ which finished 5th in the 6 Metre class.
It was Douglas’ love of sailing that would lead him to meeting and marrying the woman who was to prove such an influence on the next 53 years of his life.
In January 1950, Douglas married June Katherine Spriggs, the younger daughter of Sir Frank Spriggs, managing director of the Hawker Siddeley Group. Sir Frank’s role in aviation history has been secured as the prime motivator behind the production of 1000 Hurricane fighter planes, in advance of any government contract. It was this foresight that led to significant numbers of Hurricanes being available to the RAF at the start of the Second World War and during the Battle of Britain in 1940.
Sir Frank was a keen sailor and June, with her sister Joy, often spent their summers crewing on his yacht ‘Caprice’ at Cowes and Burnham and it was here she met Douglas in 1947. After their marriage the couple returned to Helensburgh, with June turning down her place to study medicine at Imperial College, London to be with Douglas.
From 1950 until 1953, Douglas worked for David Nicholson's Production Engineering, and on returning to Howden, his first task was to modernise its production methods. The result was that Howden was able to announce a "no redundancy" policy at a time when over-manning had become endemic on Clydeside. A vital principle of this policy was that no skilled workers were shed from Howden. This was a revolutionary approach to industrial relations and was undoubtedly a key to the survival of the company in the prevailing economic conditions.
When his uncle Crawford W. Hume retired in 1963 as Chairman of the Board, after 50 years of service to the Company, his younger brother James Howden Hume took over the role, and Douglas was appointed Managing Director in 1964, a position he was to hold until 1987.
One of Douglas’ first initiatives was the amicable merger of Howden with Godfrey Engineering; this brought the latter's experience of the precision engineering of Lysholm rotary screw compressors to Howden, which their factory in Craigton, Glasgow, continues to manufacture for a world market in carbon capture and storage (CCS), petrochemical plants and the expansion of oil and gas production and refrigeration.
This was then followed by the Channel Tunnel project, which saw the Scotland Street factory making the two giant 600-ton machines which successfully completed the drilling of the main tunnels.
In the Business Herald on 18th October 1982, Eric Baird wrote: “This in one of Scotland’s major successes: Howden has recognised applications of its engineering skills across almost every frontier of technology - wherever there is a need to move air or gas, it has not missed out. Scots pride should glow at the fact that the business is still the same as when founded in 1854 by James Howden and energy saving has continued to be the main theme ever since.”
In June 1983 Douglas was awarded the CBE in the Queen’s birthday honour list for services to industry.
It is not widely known that the first two prototype wind turbines to generate electricity for the national grid in Britain were made and erected by Howden in the early 1980s, at Carmarthen in Wales and Burgar Hill, Orkney. Douglas was keen on this pioneering development, which was initially successful; however, after a catastrophic and expensive mechanical failure at what was then the largest wind farm in the world, at Altamont Pass in California, they were discontinued when new leadership took over at Howden in 1988.
Douglas retired from Howden in 1987 after serving as managing director for 23 years, during which time the annual turnover grew from £5m to £500m. He became chairman of the Industrial Committee of Glasgow Action, tasked with regenerating the Merchant City area, and chairman of Magnum Power plc between 1993 and 1996.
Throughout his time with Howden, Douglas was fully supported by June, who often accompanied him on his frequent trips around the globe. From their base of Drimard, 22 East Lennox Drive, the couple became much loved and vibrant additions to the Helensburgh community, with the couple playing active parts in local charitable and sporting events.
They proved to be a formidable team in the Clyde and International Regatta yachting scene, racing Flying Fifteens, and Dragons. In addition to sailing, June also played tennis throughout the year, enjoying success and comradeship as a member of the Helensburgh Lawn Tennis Club, whilst Douglas developed his passion, and expertise, for fly fishing and shooting.
With Douglas engaged in building Howden into one of Europe’s largest engineering companies, June concentrated on family life as mother to their children, Duncan, Evelyn and Clare. During this time she worked tirelessly for the Royal Scottish Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children, whilst Douglas, a lover of classical music, supported the visual arts.
Family holidays took the form of cruises on the west coast, which became Mediterranean voyages as the children grew older. It was not until 1974 when the children were independent that June resumed her academic interest and spent several years completing her arts degree with the Open University. At a time when June could have resumed these interests, circumstances altered with the tragic death from cancer of their eldest daughter, Evelyn, who died when her youngest child was only one-year-old.
On April 24th, 2004, June was to succumb to cancer and passed away at the age of 77. Douglas was deeply involved in his wife’s struggle, as they had decided that she should remain at home. They found that much of the equipment needed was not always available but could be purchased immediately on the internet. Douglas realised that many of those suffering from a terminal illness who wished to end their days with dignity in their own homes might not be able not afford what they needed. So he decided to set up a charitable trust in June’s name, aimed at supporting such people by providing immediate funds for any needed equipment and house alterations and care.
Following June’s passing, Douglas remained active within the local community. Frustrated by what he perceived as a lack of progress and investment in the area in which he had lived for over 70 years, he founded the Helensburgh and Lomond Area Development Trust. Its purpose was to seek funding for projects that would be of benefit to the whole community. Unfortunately, Douglas was to fall ill before the Trust could begin to deliver on its objectives and a decision was taken, given Douglas’ health, to dissolve it.
In 2004, a happier event had occurred, namely the 150th anniversary of the Howden Group, with its headquarters in Renfrew. Douglas felt that this remarkable anniversary was a fitting moment to write his memoirs and he asked his younger brother David to help with the research and editing and latterly as author.
The book is Douglas Hume - a personal story : The HOWDEN heritage by David H. Hume and is largely in Douglas’ own words, plus the history of the four generations of his family who ran the Company. It was published in 2008 and is obtainable from the author direct: firstname.lastname@example.org
Douglas died on 26th April 2009 and is survived by his son, Duncan, his younger daughter, Clare, and 10 grandchildren. On his death, his family re-named the charity he had created in memory of his wife the June and Douglas Hume Memorial Fund ,which is administered by the Scottish Community Foundation and has helped many people. All the proceeds from the distribution of the book have gone to this charity.