Fairhurst was born in Cheshire, but his family moved to Manchester when he was five, and he learned to play chess at the age of thirteen. He failed to get into a grammar school because his interests were purely technical: "Classics escaped me completely." Fairhurst attended Salford Technical College and Manchester Tech., where he gained a diploma in engineering. By the age of twenty, he had started the designing of bridges, which was to become his life's work.
Fairhurst came to Glasgow in 1931 to join the firm of F.A. Macdonald & Partners from British Reinforced Concrete Engineering Company Limited. He had been invited to apply to fill the vacancy of "chief assistant" by Arthur Legat, one of the two principals (along with George Dunn) of the firm at that time, and with whom he had earlier worked at B.R.C.E.Co. [History of W.A. Fairhurst & Partners - company web site.]
Fairhurst became a director in 1938, and Managing Director of F.A. Macdonald (Glasgow ) Ltd. in 1941. In 1946, the then directors moved their office premises to 11 Woodside Terrace, Glasgow.
Fairhurst's name is associated with several books relevant to his professional work. In 1945 there was published Arch Design Simplified, a text-book on the rapid and economical design of arch bridges. By 1946, at which time he was Chairman of the Scottish Branch of the Institution of Structural Engineers, he was also associated with the "Whitson-Fairhurst" housing system, which involved a special framework for a prefabricated house.
After World War Two the firm expanded into many areas of work, although designing bridges retained its importance following publication in 1948 of "Design and Construction of Reinforced Concrete Bridges", which was co-authored by Fairhurst, Legat and Dunn. [Incidentally, there are several references to Fairhurst playing chess with a G. Dunn in the years 1940-42.]
At the very end of 1959, it was announced that the firm had been appointed as engineers for the design of the Tay Road Bridge.
'This was a major commission at that time, attracting much public attention via the media, and one which was ultimately to be the catalyst for the change of the firm's name to W.A. Fairhurst and Partners.' [Company web site.]
Fairhurst incorporated chess motifs in the design of the Tay Road Bridge.
He was awarded the title C.B.E. in Queen's Birthday Honours List of 1961.
Fairhurst and Scottish Chess
After arriving in Glasgow in 1931, Fairhurst immediately involved himself in the chess life of the city. He became a member of Glasgow Chess Club
and Polytechnic CC, as well as involving himself at national level. He won every tournament that he entered in Scotland, as indicated above; 11 Scottish Championships; 16 West of Scotland titles; 18 times Glasgow Chess Club Champion.
But Fairhurst also has to be recognised as an outstanding force of motivation in Scottish chess. He guided and encouraged young players; organised a series of Scotland v England matches to give Scottish players exposure to higher levels of play; was involved in bringing internationally recognised players to the Glasgow International Tournament of 1953 and the Dundee Centenary Tournament of 1967, and brought visiting masters to Scotland to provide training opportunities.
He became the Chess Correspondent of the Glasgow Herald in 1959, after the resignation of D.M. MacIsaac.
Fairhurst, who was president of the Scottish Chess Association from 1956 to 1969 not only contributed a great amount of time and energy to the development of chess in Scotland, he also contributed generously to many events with his own finances.
After retiring from his professional life, Dr Fairhurst emigrated to New Zealand, where his son lived. He retained a connection to Scotland as he visited the country almost every year, and in 1981 the Glasgow Club presented him with a scroll on the occasion of his 50 years of membership.
Dr Fairhurst continued to play chess in New Zealand, taking part in several national championships, and representing the country on top board at the Nice Olympiad of 1974.
At the time of his death he was survived by his wife, Elizabeth (Jardine), whom he had married in 1937, as well as his son and a daughter.