Components : The Office

The size of the office and the number of staff depended upon the size and complexity of the foundry.  In small foundries this could be a one or two man operation, but in the larger ones many male accounting staff and female typists were employed.   The clerks sat on stools or stood beside tall lectern-style desks while the typists were seated at tables.  Occasionally, due to the way in which a foundry had grown over the years, there were different offices for keeping track of stock, invoices, pay, legal requirements, and so on. 

Falkirk Iron Works was typical of those foundries that had expanded over decades with the result that facilities were arranged in a somewhat ad hoc manner.  In 1937 the Company decided to integrate all of the office functions and the result was a smart office block fronting the main road designed by JG Callander.  The floor space of the office now covered 15,000 square feet and consisted of a general office, a secretary’s office, enquiries and mails department, an office and works’ telephone exchange, a letter filing and reference room, a pay office, a railway clerks’ office, a heating chamber, an inquiry hall, an entrance hall, a waiting hall, a cleaners’ store, a timekeeper’s office, a typists’ room, a costing department, an estimating and literature department, a principal typist’s room, management offices, four private rooms for the personal use of directors, a secretarial department, an order department, a large, ventilated strong room, and male and female lavatory accommodation. 

Illus: The office of Smith & Wellstood.  Note the partitioned cubicles for the more senior staff.  Serried ranks of boxes containing filing cards line the wall on the left.

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Grangemouth Foundry had a speaking tube between the offices and the warehouse in 1883.  The first telephone in Falkirk is said to have been installed between Cockburn’s two foundries at Gowanbank and Springfield c1900.  However, when William Graham, the managing partner of the Callendar Iron Company died after a long illness at home in Park Street in 1893, he had been in telephonic communication with his works for at least a year.   Orders could be placed by telegram, with a complex code system used to select goods from the catalogues.

Not all offices were so sophisticated.  When old Nellie, the steam engine at Broomside Foundry, failed there were no lights and the office could not be used.  The old Reekie wick lamps were brought out and a cast iron range back plate was placed on the top of two wooden boxes to act as a pay desk.  This is what they called Back Pay.

The office blocks became the public face of the firm and were often designed by gifted local architects, and sometimes by jobbing architects with little embellishment.  Some local examples include:

Carron Iron Works1880sScottish Baronial by Boucher, Glasgow.
Bo’ness Foundry1908Art Nouveau by Matt Steele, Bo’ness.
Denny Iron Works1914Industrial “Georgian” in red engineering brick with sandstone margins.
Falkirk Iron Works1936Modern Classical design by JG Callendar.
Columbian Stove Works1930sModern Art Deco 3-storey building on a prominent corner site with flat roof. The upper storey has a long run of metal-framed windows.
Grahamston Iron Works1960sModern Cubist style in brick with flat roof.

Illus: Some remaining examples of foundry offices:

Carron Iron Works
Grahamston Iron Works
Columbian Stove Works
Bo’ness Iron Works
Torwood Iron Works

Falkirk Iron Works

The larger firms, like Smith and Wellstood, were able to respond quickly to orders by having large stores of castings in warehouses.  The enormity of this operation may be judged by the following statement of 1885 regarding that company:

The firm keep an enormous stock of stoves and ranges of every variety of pattern and size on hand, sufficient, indeed, to enable them to dispatch as many as 100,000 of the various kinds of apparatus on the day of the receipt of the order.” 

The Larbert Range was introduced by Dobbie, Forbes & Co in 1882 and over the following ten years the company sent a quarter of million from their works.

In a very competitive market sensitive accounting and costing systems were essential.  The foundries were amongst the first to introduce comptometers and the women who operated them earned a bonus.  If the price of goods was set too high there was a good chance that an order would be lost, too low and the firm lost money.  In 1946 Jones & Campbell produced 24,000 Belle Portable ranges, 25,000 pipes and 40,000 gutters and connections, Superheat Combination grates, Jubilee boilers, Dover stoves, Slogan stoves and many other appliances.  In spite of this huge output, trading was unprofitable as the prices laid down by the Central Price Regulation Committee of the Ministry of Supply were too low.  It took longer than it should have done to realise this and an approach was eventually made to the Price Controller and new prices were agreed.

G.B. Bailey, 2021