In 1895 George Johnston, a Glasgow locomotive engineer, built his first car. A couple of years later he formed a company with William Arrol, architect of the Forth Bridge, to build the petrol- engined Arrol Johnston car. Supported by William Beardmore, a giant of the Scottish engineering industry, the Paisley-based business was a pioneer of the motorcar industry within the decade, developing the world's first "off-road" vehicle for the Egyptian government, and another designed to travel on ice and snow for Ernest Shackleton's expedition to the South Pole. In 1913 Arrol Johnston bought land at Heathhall, just outside Dumfries, and commissioned an American firm to build a factory. Not only was the result the first factory in Britain to use concrete reinforced with metal in its construction, it was also reputed to be a copy of the Ford Factory at Highland Park, Michigan, where the Model T was produced.

When the First World War broke out car production at Heathhall ceased and Arrol Johnston joined forces with the Galloway Engineering Company at Tongland near Kirkcudbright to manufacture aero engines for Beardmores, building the only aero engine that could safely be used for long-distance raids into Germany. 

In another pioneering experiment the construction of the factory at Tongland began with the harnessing of the River Dee to provide hydroelectric power. The works were opened in 1917, recruiting only women who were apprenticed for three years. The Superintendent was Miss Rowbotham, a mathematics graduate from Newnham College, Cambridge. It was described as being a "fine technical college for women possessing a mechanical bent is not now, nor will it ever be, open to female labour of the usual factory class. (Lady's Pictorial, 10th November 1917) 

After the war Arrol Johnston returned to car manufacturing with the "Victory" model, whose potential was never realised because of the bad publicity generated when the Prince of Wales abandoned a tour of the West Country in it. 

Although the Tongland factory began producing a light car, the "Galloway", fulfilling its promise to provide its women workers with employment once the needs of the war were met, the Heathhall factory merely revived its pre-war models after the failure of the "Victory". Sales declined and in 1927 the company amalgamated with Aster of Wembley. Despite gaining the contract to rebuild the body of Sir Malcolm Campbell's "Bluebird" a year later, the company went into liquidation in 1929.

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