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Sir Robert Douglas








Sir Robert Douglas, born February 2, 1899, died December 1996 was a construction engineer and Midlands industrialist of Scottish background.

He was the Chairman of the company Robert M. Douglas.


The son of a Scottish farmer, Sir Robert was born in Durisdeer, near Dumfries, in 1899 and was educated at Dumfries Academy. He joined the army at 17, and during the First World War served with the Highland Light Infantry and the Cameron Highlanders, surviving being wounded on the Western Front to become a sergeant.

After his marriage to Millicent Irene Morgan in 1927 (his wife died in 1980) he moved to Birmingham to join the contracting business of a Dumfries associate. There, as company secretary, Douglas discovered he had a talent for estimating and there in 1930, with a initial capital outlay of #3000, he struck out on his own to found the Douglas Group which eventually developed into an international operation with more than 30 companies.

Like many of his contemporaries in the construction business, Douglas started in a small way, by sub-contracting to build small stretches of road for local authorities or developers. His breakthrough came in 1936 when Lord Beaverbrook, who had taken an early realistically black view of the Nazi menace, persuaded the Austin company, with government funding, to build a large shadow factory at Longbridge, Birmingham, to produce Fairey Aviation fighter bombers.

Douglas was given the contract for all the groundworks to floor level and by working 24 hours a day earned a substantial bonus on completing the work. The following year, when Lord Nuffield agreed to build a second shadow factory at Castle Bromwich to produce Spitfires, Douglas was again awarded the groundworks contract.

The Second World War saw a great burgeoning of the construction industry through projects connected with the war effort. Although large profits were not allowed, companies could grow quickly. Douglas's did with contracts to build airfields.

After the war his company made South Wales a major centre of activity and two large tinplate works - then the largest in Europe - were built at Trostre and Felindre. It was then that he started his own steel formwork company, after his client, the Steel Company of Wales, became frustrated at delays with formwork because of timber shortages. Without engineering training, but drawing on the practicality of his farming background, Douglas went on to make his formwork company a world leader in solving shuttering and shoring problems.

His civil engineering company was one of the first to take advantage of the motorway programme of the late 1950s, but is best known for the two large developments in Birmingham - the National Exhibition Centre and the International Convention Centre, incorporating the Symphony Hall.

In a reflection of his rural background, Sir Robert bought the Dunstall estate near Burton upon Trent in 1952. Here he assumed the responsibilities of a village squire and introduced many improvements in the local infrastructure. A keen farmer on his 500-acre estate, he was a former president and patron of the Staffordshire Agricultural Society.

A member of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works Midland Regional Advisory Committee from 1940-46, he chaired the Midland Section of the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors in 1942 and 1947, and then became its national president in 1958.

He was awarded the OBE in 1956 and was knighted in 1976.

An Honorary Doctor of Science of Aston University and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building, Sir Robert was chairman of the Douglas Group till 1977 and continued as president after its merger with Tilbury in 1991 to form Tilbury Douglas plc. He remained president until his death.

Sir Robert's son John, himself a former chairman of Tilbury Douglas plc, said of him: ``My father was a great personality in Birmingham industry and brought the caution of a Scottish farming background to what is an overextended industry. He will be greatly missed.'' Sir Robert is survived by his son, his daughter, Juliet, seven grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.



R M Douglas Charitable Trust - purposes:
1) Relief of poverty amongst present or past employees (and their families) of Tilbury Douglas plc (formerly Robert M Douglas (Contractors) Ltd, whose name was changed to Robert M Douglas Holdings plc), and its subsidiaries and associated Companies.
2) augmentation of pensions for the same persons.
3) general charitable purposes in the ecclesiastical parish of St Mary, Dunstall, Staffordshire.
4) general charitable purposes at trustees' discretion


Mr John Robert Tomkys Douglas, OBE, died 13 Jun 2010 aged 79 years, was a trustee in R M Douglas Charitable Trust, as was Mr Jonathon MCCallum Douglas.  John was Robert's son; it is assumed that Jonathon was his grandson.  We would welcome confirmation.




Any contributions will be gratefully accepted



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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024