Kincardine-on-Forth Bridge

Kincardine-on-Forth Bridge

Alexander Gibb

1872 – 1958

Alexander Gibb

Sir Alexander Gibb, Civil engineer: contractor for Rosyth Naval Dockyard. Later founded the UK's largest civil engineering consultancy.

Engineering Achievements

Alexander Gibb led Easton Gibb's construction of the Rosyth Naval Dockyard where he is credited with accelerating the programme so that it was brought into use during the First World War. 

In 1916, Gibb wanted to help the war effort and Sir Eric Geddes appointed him Chief Engineer of Ports Construction to the British Armies in France and Belgium, becoming Deputy-Director of Docks, British Expeditionary Force in France in 1917. During this time he prepared plans for the repairs of Belgian harbours, was responsible for the water supply for Belgium, and prepared special landing facilities for cross-channel ferries at Dieppe, Calais and Dunkirk.

Later that year he was appointed Civil Engineer-in-Chief to the Admiralty with responsibility for all naval civil engineering works, with projects including the Admiralty M-N Scheme - an anti-submarine boom across the English Channel, begun but not completed before the armistice. He became Director-General of Civil Engineering in the Ministry of Transport in 1919. 

Having served as a major contractor, volunteered as one of what Lloyd George termed "men of push and go" in WW1, and had leading roles in government, Gibb then set up as a consulting engineer in 1921 establishing Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners in 1922. Early commissions included Barking Power Station, the Galloway hydro-electric power scheme (both with Charles Hesterman Merz and William McLellan), the Kincardine-on-Forth Bridge, the refurbishment of Telford's Menai Bridge, a study at the port of Rangoon, the Captain Cook graving dock at Sydney, Singapore Naval Base and the Park Royal Guinness brewery. 

He was President of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (1927–29), the Institution of Civil Engineers (1936–37), the Institution of Engineers-in-Charge (four times), the Institute of Transport, the Junior Institution of Engineers, the Institute of Welding (three times) and the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry. He also served as chairman of the Association of Consulting Engineers and was the first civil engineer appointed to the Royal Fine Arts Commission.

His Life

  1. 1872 born on 12 February in Broughty Ferry, Forfarshire, the son of civil engineering contractor Alexander Easton Gibb and Hope Brown Paton
  2. 1882 Age: 10 Abbey School, Beckenham, Kent
  3. c 1884-90 Age: 12-18 Rugby School
  4. 1890 Age: 18 Studied at University College, London for one year tutored by distinguished academic engineers such as Thomas Hudson Beare and Vernon Harcourt
  5. 1891 Age: 19 Articled pupil to Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Marc Brunel
  6. 1892 Age: 20 Seconded to Formans & McCall, Glasgow. Surveyed the Lanarkshire & Dumbarton Railway
  7. 1894 Age: 22 Surveyed the Callander-Oban Railway for Barry
  8. 1896 Age: 24 Resident engineer on Wembley to Canfield Gardens on the Great Central Railway
  9. 1898 Age: 26 Resident engineer on the Metroplitan Extension between Whitechapel and Bow
  10. 1900 Age: 28 Married Norah Isobel Monteith, daughter of Fleet Surgeon, Lowry Monteith
  11. 1900 Age: 28 joined his father's contracting company building King Edward VII Bridge, Kew, London, becoming a partner in Easton Gibb
  12. 1903 Age: 31 Supervised the contract for Ipswich Quay
  13. 1904 Age: 32 Supervised the contract for Dunston-Gateshead Railway
  14. 1906 Age: 34 Supervised the contract for Newport Dock
  15. 1909 Age: 37 On 2 July, 1909, a propped trench excavation failed suddenly killing 39 men. Easton Gibb absolved of blame.
  16. 1909-16 Age: 37-44 Supervised the contract for Rosyth Naval Dockyard
  17. 1914 Age: 42 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, proposed by John MacKay Bernard, Sir Thomas Hudson Beare, Ernest Wedderburn, and William Archer Tait
  18. 1917 Age: 44 Gazetted Lieutenant-Colonel, Royal Engineers, serving as Chief Engineer, Ports Construction, planning the reconstruction of Belgian Ports
  19. 1918 Age: 46 Civil engineer-in-chief to the Admiralty
  20. 1918 Age: 46 Appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) and Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) for his war work.
  21. 1919 Age: 47 Director-General of Civil Engineering, Ministry of Transport
  22. 1920 Age: 48 Promoted to Knight Grand Cross (GBE) in the civilian war honours.
  23. 1922 Age: 50 established the firm of Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners at Queen Anne's Lodge, Westminster, London
  24. 1927 Age: 55 Non-executive Director of Dunlop Rubber Company until 1941
  25. 1927 Age: 55 Non-executive Director of Pease & Partners, colliery owners
  26. 1935 Age: 63 President at one time of six professional or charitable societies
  27. 1936 Age: 64 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society
  28. 1936 Age: 64 President of the Institution of Civil Engineers from November 1936 to November 1937
  29. 1958 Age: 85 Died on 21 January at his home, The Anchorage, Hartley Wintney, Hampshire. Buried in Hartley Wintney.

Legacy and Honours

Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners was the largest consulting civil engineering firm in the United Kingdom by 1939, and, through the 1950s and 1960s is believed to have been the largest in the world. It continued to grow until staff numbers peaked at around 1350 in 1980. Others had by then overtaken the firm but it was still the third largest British consultancy firm. Associates of Gibb, Ralph Freeman and Guy Maunsell went on to create substantial consultancies in their own right.  

Honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD), the University of Edinburgh.

American Naval Distinguished Service Medal, Commander of the Belgian Order of the Crown, Grand Officer of the Order of Boyaca, Colombia and Grand Cross (1st class) of the Order of the Three Stars, Latvia.

He was a prominent Freemason and became Provincial Grand Master of Ross and Cromarty and Past Substitute Grand Master of Scotland.

He wrote a biography of the Civil Engineer Thomas Telford, to whom his great-grandfather John Gibb had been a deputy.

His name is carved in stone in One Great George Street, the headquarters of the ICE.

His name is on one of 19 commemorative plaques to Civil Engineers (4 of them Scottish) fixed to the Dept of Civil Engineering Skempton Building of Imperial College, London.

Gibb's name is commemorated in the Arrol Gibb Innovation Campus opened in Rosyth in 2022 for the transformation of large-scale manufacturing through innovation and skills development. 

More Information

Alexander Gibb. The Story of Telford: The Rise of Civil Engineering. Maclehose, London, 1935

Alexander Gibb. Engineers and Empire Development. ICE Presidential Address. Journal of ICE. Vol 4. 1936-7. pp 4-17

Godfrey Harrison. Alexander Gibb, The Story of an Engineer, Geoffrey Bles, London, 1950

G.P. Harrison and A.J.S. Pippard, ‘Alexander Gibb, 1872-1958’, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal
Society, vol 5, 1959, pp. 75-86.

Pippard, A., & Haigh, I. (2004). Gibb, Sir Alexander (1872–1958), civil engineer. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Retrieved 23 Oct. 2023, (free to UK Library subscribers)

There are 14 photographic portraits of him in the National Portrait Gallery (from two sittings - 1920 and 1943)

Rosyth Naval Dockyard, one of the ICE 200 projects in "Shaping the World: Two Hundred Years of the Institution of Civil Engineers" Artifice Press Ltd, 2018, including an excellent YouTube video narrated by Michael Murray, Babcock International 

Cite Top