Historical Background

Time Line:

1759Carron Ironworksblast1981
1804Dalderse Foundry1810
1810Falkirk Ironworks1981
1828JB Neilson introduces the hot blast process.
1836Bo’ness Ironworks1936
1843Kinneil Ironworksblast1873
1845Camelon Ironworks1953
1850sCastlelaurie Ironworks1958
1854Union Foundry1882
1855Almond Ironworksblast1879
1856Abbots Ironworks;
/ New Grange Foundry
1939;
/still operational
1857Carronbank Foundry1982
1860Columbian Stove Works;
/ Burnbank Foundry
1998?;
/ 1939
1861Seaview Ironworks1999?
1863Bridgeness Foundry;
/ Denny Ironworks
Blast1873 ;
/ 1985
1864Gowanbank Foundry1977
1865Rosebank Foundry?
1868Grahamston Foundry1990
1869Forthbank Foundry1905
1870sVictoria Foundry1880s
1870Bonnybridge Foundry;
/ Forth & Clyde Ironworks;
/ Larbert Ironworks;
/Rosebank Foundry
1890;
/ 1963;
/ 1999?
/ 1875
1875Gael Foundry; Portdownie Ironworks1982
1876Callendar Iron Works;
/Parkhouse Ironworks;
/Springfield Foundry
1933;
/c1910;
/ 1907
1877Etna Foundry;
/Broomhill Foundry
1964;
/ 1960
1886Bonnymuir Foundry1928
1888Colonial Ironworks; Torwood Foundry2003?
1890Linlithgow Ironworks; West End Foundry
1894Salton Ironworks
1896Comelybank Foundry;
/ Sunnyside Foundry
1982;
/ 1963
1897Banknock Foundry1958
1898Dorrator Foundry;
/ Snab Foundry
1994;
/ ?
1899Dock Foundry;
/ Gothic Ironworks;
/ Carmuirs Ironworks;
/ Laurieston Foundry;
/ Mungal Foundry
1987;
/ 1964;
/ 1968;
/ 1934;
/ 1976
1901Duncarron Foundry;
/ Woodlea Foundry
1978;
/ 1911
1902Central Foundry1947
1903Boghead Foundry;
/ Summerford Foundry;
/ Stirlingshire Stove Works
1904;
/ 1946;
/ 1922
1904Stirlingshire Stove Works1977
1907Dunipace Foundry1998
1910sDundas Ironworks
1911Merchiston Foundry1985
1914Chattan Foundry1959
1920Muirhall Foundry2004
1922Broomside Foundry1995
1940sPeeweep Foundry
1947Broomridge Foundry1976
1970sTayforth Foundry2000?

When the Carron Ironworks was established in 1759 it faced a number of major problems.  Technology, expertise, capital and manpower all had to be imported from England.  Carron Company had to develop its own infrastructure from supplies, to production, to delivery.  It mined its own coal, limestone and ironstone by leasing mineral rights and sinking and working its own pits.  It had to do this not simply because the existing supplies were inadequate, but also because the local extraction methods were well behind those in England and hence more expensive.  The transport network was also poor.  It was said that there was only a handful of carters in the town of Falkirk prior to the firm’s arrival.  This soon multiplied and a new shipping line was set up with additional capital from Samuel Garbett.  Despite this it quickly became apparent that Carron Company was under-capitalised and it may well have been the shady dealings of Charles Gascoigne that saved it from collapse.  At times it even resorted to printing its own promissory banknotes.

A major part of Carron Company’s transport plans was to have a cross-country canal to Glasgow and it did much to promote such a venture.  Unfortunately for the Company when the Great Canal came, its engineer, John Smeaton, placed its eastern end at Grangemouth in order to bypass the already congested navigation on the River Carron.  There followed a long legal dispute between the Carron Company and the Forth and Clyde Canal Company which did not resolve the issue and Carron Company ended up constructed two lengths of private canal before resorting to a waggonway from its works to the Forth and Clyde Canal at Bainsford.

The local people had not only to be trained in the skills required to work the new foundry, but also in the working practices of the factory system.  Timekeeping suddenly became important.  Extra labour had to be imported from outside of the area and housing had to be provided for them.  This led to the planting of company villages at West and East Carron and to ribbon development between the works and the town of Falkirk, as well as the emergence of a settlement on the neighbouring muir of Stenhouse.  All of this took time.

There is no need here to detail the history of the Carron Company and its preeminent role in establishing the modern ironfounding industry in Scotland as this has been very well covered by Watters (2010).  Many of its employees travelled abroad and helped to germinate similar industries there (Bailey 2002).  One even returned to Falkirk having made his fortune at the Royal Mint in Russia.  This was George Sherriff, a native of Larbert, and in 1804 he founded the Dalderse Foundry on the Forth and Clyde Canal.  Unlike Carron the foundry did not produce pig iron from ironstone but used the iron produced elsewhere as its raw material to cast finished products.  This meant that there was no need for the costly investment in a blast furnace.  However, the local market was still relatively undeveloped and the margins were too low.  Dalderse Foundry did not thrive and in 1810 Sherriff gave up the business and returned to Russia.   Its only too brief existence had shown the possibilities and the economics of the time were changing in favour of such ventures.

The collapse of Dalderse Foundry was a blow to the skilled artisans that had left Carron and they were not welcomed back.  To remedy this situation a joint stock company called the Falkirk Foundry Co was formed around about 1810, the date is hotly debated, by “some gentlemen of the area.”  In this way each owner contributed a share of capital to the common pool and shared the profits or losses in proportion to that ownership.  These workers then had an interest in the fate of the company, but the bulk of the capital came from local businessmen, with John Hardy as the leading proprietor.  In 1819 it would appear that this was formalised into a co-partnery which laid down rules under which the company was to be regulated.  This set the conditions of investment and defined the board of management.  The business prospered and was helped by a sustained drop in pig iron prices in 1815.  An appropriate coat of arms was designed for the company in 1823.  In 1830 R.W. Kennard became a co-partner and together with James Ashwell they ran the business.   They were both iron merchants based in Upper Thames Street, London.  In 1837 their co-partnery was dissolved.  Eight years later Kennard bought most of the shares entitling him to a say in the running and profits, but the works were still in Hardy’s hands.  It was only in 1849 that Kennard bought him out and took over the business completely, ending the co-partnery.

Illus: The Falkirk Iron Co coat-of-arms.

Watt’s patents for steam engines ran out in the 1820s and this provided a fillip for small enterprises needing a convenient and economic source of power.  Then, in 1828, JB Neilson of Glasgow started to pre-heat the air blown into the blast furnace instead of using it at atmospheric temperature and so achieved a considerable saving in fuel and an increase in output.  The introduction of the hot blast process encouraged the use of black-band ironstone and entrepreneurs set about exploiting this resource.  One of the first, in 1843, was the very powerful businessman and banker, John Wilson of Dundyvan, who built four blast furnaces at Kinneil. 

Among the advantages of the Kinneil site was the ability to dump furnace waste on the foreshore. Not only did this conveniently dispose of the material but it also reclaimed land for the expansion of the works. Slag had been a problem in the eighteenth century until it was found that it could be sold as “danders” for use in construction projects or as road metalling.  The turnpike roads of the early nineteenth century created a demand for higher quality material and the use of danders on roads was on the wane.  The Kinneil Ironworks was well capitalised and was soon producing huge quantities of iron.  The works were immense and the flames from the blast furnaces famously illuminated the night sky for huge distances along the coast.  The coastline was transformed.

Already, about 1836, Steele & Miller had established a small casting foundry in Bo’ness. Steele was a traveller for the Shotts Iron Co and realised the advantages of the location at Bo’ness. Coal was readily and cheaply available and pig iron could be imported from abroad through the port, which could also be used to ship products to the London market. Labour was abundant and skilled men were available from the two existing large ironworks. Around 80% of the capital investment, other than the furnaces, went on land acquisition, collieries, mines, mineral leases, foundries, forges, limekilns, coke ovens, steam engines and the like. Most of this was not necessary for a small foundry and it is possible that the Duke of Hamilton was a sleeping partner.

The addition of a large number of new blast furnaces at this time radically reduced the price of pig iron. This enabled a number of small foundries to be established to specialise in castings, which in turn produced an increased demand for pig iron. Camelon Iron Works on the Forth and Clyde Canal at Tamfourhill was part of this first wave in 1845, followed in 1854 by the Union Foundry on an adjacent site.

Illus: The date on the keystone of the blast furnace at Almond

Kinneil was connected to the railway in 1851. The coming of the railway opened up inland mineral fields. The Slamannan plateau which had hitherto been described as “hermetically sealed,” was exploited for coal. Further east in Muiravonside parish the conjunction of coal, limestone and ironstone prompted the Falkirk writer James Russel to establish the Almond Iron Works in 1854. The location was ideal being beside the Union Canal and the Slamannan Railway. The works entered a short but very profitable period of trading. The timing was fortuitous as pig iron prices were rising. To tap into these profits Henry Cadell of Grange half-heartedly purchased second-hand machinery to equip two new blast furnaces at Bridgeness.

Work on the structures began in 1863 but it was July 1865 before the first of these was ready to be put into blast. Unfortunately, this coincided with a downturn in prices and only one of the furnaces was ever fired and it only ran for six months. Kinneil and Almond weathered the spell of bad trading and in 1871 the end of the Franco-German war saw prices rise. This prompted Cadell to re-kindle his furnace and trade with varying results until May 1874 when it was irrevocably closed. The depression of the mid-1870s was worse.

RW Kennard had contacts in the government in London and during the Crimean War 1854-56, the Falkirk Iron Works was largely given over to the manufacture of munitions, heating and cooking stoves and other equipment for the Amy.  It was probably at this time that the company set up the Castlelaurie Foundry on the other side of the Forth and Clyde Canal, and it too was dedicated to the war contracts.  The consequence of this was that at the end of hostilities the Castlelaurie Works was closed for a period and even the Auld Foundry struggled to regain its former customers.  It did, and in 1869 the Falkirk Iron Works was described in “The Industries of Scotland” as the second largest foundry in the country, with Carron being the largest.  At that time it was turning out 300 tons of castings a week and covered over eight acres of ground.  It employed 900 men and boys.

In 1854 James Smith and Stephen Wellstood formed a partnership in Glasgow to sell stoves using stolen American designs.  These they had manufactured at the Falkirk Iron Works and at the Union Foundry in Camelon.  Both of these works were on the Forth and Clyde Canal for ease of transport.  No single stove was made in its entirety at either of the two foundries, so neither was able to reproduce the designs for themselves.  However, this also meant that any delays between Smith and Wellstood placing orders and the firm receiving all the parts were exacerbated.  Consequently, Smith and Wellstood found it difficult to supply its own customers.  During the winter months, when demand for heating stoves was at its highest, the two foundries gave priority to producing their own designs.  There were also problems with the quality of the products.  These were not solely the result of sub-contracting, though direct control would have eased them.  So, in 1860, Smith and Wellstood entered into negotiations with George Ure, a partner in the Union Foundry, to start a new works further west along the canal at Bonnybridge.  At that time the demand for Smith and Wellstood’s stoves was not sufficient to keep the foundry fully employed and so they took a 50% share in it, with George Ure owning the other 50%.  The foundry made general castings to take up the slack.  Consequently, the firm was known as Ure & Co; the works was called the Columbian Stove Works because that was the name of the American foundry from which most of Smith and Wellstood’s designs had originated.

The end of this first wave of small foundries saw the construction of Abbot’s Foundry and Grange Foundry in 1856 and Carronbank in the following year.  Each was the creation of an industrious and ambitious employee of one of the existing works and for this period it will be useful to see the section on the ironmasters.

In the 1870s and 1880s there was a major slump in the price of pig iron.  At first local iron producing companies reduced their output by closing a proportion of their capacity.

State of Blast Furnaces on 13th March 1874:

Carron4 furnaces3 in blast
Bridgeness2 furnaces2 in blast
Almond3 furnaces0 in blast
Kinneil4 furnaces3 in blast
Rest of Scotland141112

However, as the low prices continued the furnaces were reluctantly closed for ever and demolished.  Even the sales of calcined iron ore were unable to make good the loss.  Carron was able to get through such periods by its manager, William Dawson, stock piling pig iron when the price was low and selling it when it rose – spreading the profit over many years.

By the middle of the 19th century a number of factors had come together to favour the founders.  Steam power was improving in efficiency in leaps and bounds.  Coal was plentiful and mass production had brought its relative price down.  There was a massive building boom requiring fittings.  Ships were now made of steel and the shipbuilding trade in Scotland had expanded exponentially.  The ships required innumerable parts from the foundries, from anchor chains, portholes to cooking equipment.  More ships meant greater export opportunities, and links to ports were further improved by the expanding network of railways.  This virtuous circle was almost unending.  The railways required not only grates in their waiting rooms, but engineering and architectural components for their lines, rolling stock, bridges, and station buildings.

Falkirk Iron Works rather than Carron Works was seen as the father of the Falkirk foundries.  Many places spawned secondary foundries of their own, often specialising in different aspects of the same area.  At Denny, for example, the three foundries of the 1880s all produced heavy castings for the Clyde shipbuilders.  In the following decades they met with keen competition from the better situated Glasgow foundries and had to diversify into general castings and machine castings – Cruikshank’s eventually concentrating upon agricultural equipment.

The nineteenth century saw an enormous range of new inventions made in cast iron.  The individuals and firms responsible for designing, patenting, marketing and selling these items needed to test the market before setting up production in their own right and initially contracted out this work.  The case of Smith & Wellstood has already been noted.  Likewise the Singer Sewing Machine Company contracted their castings to the Columbian Stove Works until George Ure set up yet another foundry – the Bonnybridge Foundry.  Here he received another large order from Davidsons of Belfast for making fans.  However, in its turn the Singer Company set up its own foundry in Kilbowie, and then Messrs Davidson decided to follow suit.  Consequently, the Bonnybridge Foundry amalgamated with the Columbian Stove Works again.

Parallel with the developments in industry were changes in the banking and commercial sectors.  In the beginning the iron industry had depended upon English enterprise and capital.  As time went on Scots who had earned money abroad invested it at home.  The joint stock company evolved out of canal mania and railway mania.  This spread the load and the risk.  Partnerships between landowners and merchants were common.  By the 1880s limited liability had increased the ease with which new companies were formed and most of those already in existence took up the opportunity to register, often using the chance to invest additional capital in the works to improve performance and efficiency.

Advertising of individual products was pretty basic and there was a great reliance upon the company’s sales agents selling to ironmongers.  Few firms could afford large, illustrated catalogues.  In 1890 the Grahamston Iron Co introduced a new design of umbrella stand depicting William Wallace.  The Wallace sword had just been taken from Dumbarton to the Wallace Monument on the Abbey Craig near Stirling and so the moment was opportune to capitalise on the associated publicity.  William Mitchell presented stands to several prominent gentlemen in Dumbarton to make up for that town’s loss – and to get into the national newspapers of the day.

There were many new businesses setting up and the building trade was booming.  While this presented many opportunities, it also created problems for the foundries.  Many of the new concerns were financially unstable.  In 1892, for example, the Springfield Foundry ended up suing John Beet, contractor in Polmont, and his two partners in H Darwin & Co, gas engineers, when their newly formed limited liability company went into liquidation owing it money for castings.  The Foundry had been cautious about its dealings with such a new company and had received information from them concerning its economic situation, which it turned out had been falsified.

In general the successful firms did not raise their rates of dividends; instead, they increased their capital size and maintained dividends on a large capital.  The results were very much the same so far as partners were concerned, for greater profits were made and greater amounts paid in dividends.  However, future profitability was safeguarded, as old plant was replaced and generous provision made for depreciation.

The very end of the nineteenth century was a particularly profitable time for the local foundries.  In the year 1899 five new foundries were built and one relocated.  Three were created on a green field site at Camelon – Carmuirs, Dorrator, Gothic and the Grange Foundry relocated from Grangemouth.  In Bo’ness the Dock Foundry was formed.  McKillop built his foundry between Grangemouth and Falkirk.  However, this was the tail end of a massive expansion in the light castings trade and led to a considerable over capacity.  The result was keen competition on prices and smaller profit margins.

Established firms like the Forth & Clyde & Sunnyside Iron Company saw profit margins plummet.  In March 1903 its directors concluded that they were unable to pay ordinary share holders any dividend:

The directors, in view of the intense competition during the last 12 months, do not think it wise to take anything from the amount carried forward from the previous year to pay a dividend on the ordinary shares.  They consider it wise to retain the money in the business, as from the number of new foundries erected during the last few years, and those in course of erection, they are convinced that competition will be even keener in the future.”

Some of the smaller long-established local engineering firms that had tried to cash in on quick sales by expanding into the foundry trade found themselves under-capitalised and went into liquidation.  David Gillies & Sons Ltd, for example, had been running a successful agricultural implement makers business in Bonnybridge for decades when they decided to invest in a large new moulding shop in 1903.  By the end of the year the firm was up for sale.

Some of the new foundries failed to find a market for their goods and changed hands several times before closing.  Woodlea Foundry at High Bonnybridge was typical.  Set up in 1901 by investors from Glasgow it cost £1,550 to establish with the intention of producing ranges and stoves.  By 1903 it was up for sale at £1,000.  Two years later it was renamed the Lochview Foundry.  The new company failed in 1909 and the foundry became the property of the Heritable Creditors.  It was tenanted and occupied by the Casting Co Ltd, ironfounders, who left in 1911 and the premises stood empty for several years before being demolished.

The 1914-18 war brought large orders to many of the foundries and once again the Falkirk Iron Works benefited.

Mills grenades2,199,870
Ball grenades281.400
TW grenades120,000
Egg grenades90,000
6in chemical shell89,500
6in Newton shell68,500
50 lb aerial bomb57,000
2in howitzer bomb22,100
3in Stokes shell16,860
4in Stokes shell13,220
Allways fuse100,000
Sutton fuse27,600
Fuse plugs356,760
Transit caps204,000
6in Newton shell adaptor21,700
Fuse plug castings26,300
Weight of Metal9,991 18cwts
Table showing the production of the Falkirk Iron Works during the First World War.

However, like most wars, it accelerated the technical processes of machine industry, which when peace returned were put to work for the new civilian market.  Mechanisation entered the moulding shop with powered sand hoppers, rammers and moulding machines.  Technical developments and mechanisation lengthened the odds against the small foundries succeeding.  There was a need to retain the skill levels and employment offered by these businesses, which meant integration with their larger competitors.  This process of “rationalisation” was viewed with distrust.  It meant reduced competition and therefore higher prices for the consumer.  It meant the closure of traditional foundries and the loss of some jobs as well as the reduction of wage levels for those still in work.  This situation was exacerbated by the general economic climate.  There was a worldwide slump in confidence leading to reduced demand for the products of the foundries and further unemployment.  It was a deep depression and in reaction 1926 produced a general strike.

Illus: The production of shells in the Second World War at Castlelaurie Foundry showing the level of mechanisation – pulleys, chains, belt driven machinery and a horse.
Illus: Examples of company emblems – the Callendar Iron Co Ltd logo comes from the fact that the foundry was built in the Old Orchard of Callendar Estate; Falkirk Iron Co Ltd; Jones of Larbert; the dolphin of Smith & Wellstood probably referred to Wellstood’s epic sea journey when he was shipwrecked in the Atlantic.

Illus: Smith & Wellstood Advertisement for the AGA Range.

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To battle their way out of the depression firms began to advertise more aggressively and skilfully. Glossy and not so glossy catalogues of products were printed. Newspaper adverts started to include images. Long established firms built upon their reputations for quality, reliability, and price level. The brand image was developed. ESSE and AGA cooking ranges became the epitome of class and quality. This was a concept that could be fitted into rationalisation in a novel and innovative way, by taking the best from each of several well-known foundries and developing it as a line under an umbrella name. Mass production of individual items could be concentrated in a few sites, or even just one site, and marketed nationally. This produced cost savings from the beginning to the end of the process. In 1922 four of Britain’s leading foundries did just that. The Coalbrookdale Co Ltd, the Planet Foundry Co Ltd of Manchester, M Cockburn & Co Ltd of Falkirk and McDowell Steven & of Co Ltd Falkirk came together under the name of Light Castings Ltd. All the firms preserved their own names and specialities, but their production and future policy were placed in tandem.

Illus: The Allied Industries logo made up of three letters – and what it stood for.

Elaborate symbols of the firms like the Falkirk Iron Company’s coat-of-arms were replaced by more easily reproduced logos. These were pared-down even further in the 20th century.

Mechanisation and mass production brought with them the need for standardisation.  Pipe sizes, threads on nuts, safety valves on gas equipment and much more had to be brought in line.  Goods were distributed nationwide.  Good working practices were also brought in wherever they were found.  Wastage of material and labour were minimised.  Redundant designs, even famous and affectionately regarded names, were dropped.  Patterns that had been in use for 50 years had more than repaid their initial investments and were discarded.

As the Depression deepened more companies joined the Light castings group and in 1929 Allied Ironfounders was created from 22 firms.  In our area this included Callendar Abbots Foundry Cos Ltd, Dobbie Forbes & Co Ltd, the Falkirk Iron Co Ltd, the Forth & Clyde & Sunnyside Cos Ltd and HE Hoole & Co Ltd.

Amalgamations occurred at a local level.  In 1937 some of the foundries joined a second combine called Federated Foundries.

Firms with large reserves invested in their own infrastructure whilst material and labour prices were low.  Smith and Wellstood rebuilt and enlarged the Columbian Stoveworks, investing in research and in new enamelling plant.

The Government helped to alleviate the situation by subsidising council house building, which required all manner of cast iron products from fire grates to rhones and down spouts.  However, by the start of the Second World War much of the industry was still in the doldrums.  Many of the moulders enlisted in the armed services during the first wave of recruitment.  At some foundries, such as the Denny Iron Works, many of the men had previously joined the Territorials and were subsequently captured at St Valery in France.  The main weapons of the war were made of steel and few foundries had steelmaking capacity.  Ironically, Denny was one of them.  Carron, Grange, and a handful of others introduced steel furnaces.  Only slowly did the Government orders come through for items made of cast iron, such as hand grenades and practice bombs.  The fall of France saw a frantic drive to construct new air force bases and then army camps and with these the demand for iron rose.  Suddenly the foundries found themselves working flat out again.  To meet the new demands unskilled labour had to be brought in – a process known as “dilution.”  Many of the new workers were women.

After the war the market expanded to the civilian sector.  Gradually bans on the production of domestic equipment were lifted and exports heavily promoted.  The latter caused numerous problems.  In 1947 production at the Gothic Foundry was severely curtailed by a lack of coal for fuel.  Most coal was being exported and several sections within the foundry were closed for weeks.  Grahamston Iron Co introduced two more fuel efficient cupolas of new designs, but installation was delayed by 6 months owing to lack of parts due to the export of the available parts.

Solid fuel appliances had provided the backbone of the domestic market for decades but the extensive use of coal by the nation was to come to a slow demise.  The old open grates had gradually given way to more efficient stoves, but the smogs of the 1950s led to the introduction of legislation.  The Great Smog in London in 1952 is believed to have killed 4,000 people in four days with a larger number dying subsequently.  The Clean Air Act was passed in 1956 and its strictures were soon extended.  Oil, then gas and then renewable energy sources replaced coal for domestic heating.

Houses were built without fireplaces or flues/chimneys.

Mechanisation meant greater efficiency and the more economic use of plant.  Statements such as “Improved production methods allow manpower and output to be transferred to other works” were used to justify rationalisation and that meant the closure of some foundries with reinvestment at others.  It also reduced the heavy work involved in moulding.  The proportion of unskilled labour increased, and, but for this development, the supply of skilled workers would have proved inadequate in the busy periods.  A Trades School was opened in Falkirk.  In the 1960s some moulders were attracted away from their arduous trade to the well-paid, semi-skilled work offered by the British Aluminium Company.  However, conditions in the foundries improved and the drain of labour was stemmed.  Baths and canteens were provided.  Training schemes and apprenticeships were linked to formal education.

In the mid 1930s Denny Ironworks had started to manufacture steel from iron in Bessemer converters.  In 1955 a visitor to the works recorded that:

The molten iron is brought from a cupola in a ladle carried by an overhead crane, and poured into two cocoon-shaped chambers.  When placed in the Bessemer converters, the molten cast iron is weighed and thereafter its temperature is increased from 1400 degrees to 1800 degrees centigrade.  During the additional heating process the convectors are placed at about 20 degrees from the perpendicular to allow the dirt and alien materials to be thrown clear during the processing.  The sight of the Bessemers in full blast is most impressive and in the space of a few seconds the dingy interior of this section is lit up as if it was bathed in sunlight.  As soon as the conversion is complete, the moulders hasten to the cupola to charge their crucibles and complete the moulding for in steel, moulding speed is the acme, because as soon as cooling sets in the metal is more difficult to work.”

Many of the local ironfounding companies established new foundries abroad:

Springs Foundry, Johannesburg  Smith & Wellstood           1950
Durban Foundry Falkirk Iron Co.

Often key personnel were shipped out to run these.  The Esse cooker Company (Canada) was established by Smith & Wellstood just before the Second World War.  It was heavily hit by export restrictions and after protracted negotiations (due to communication being by post or cable) a Canadian firm, Belanger, was given license to make Esse ranges.  Patterns were sent across the Atlantic for this purpose.  The Springs Foundry was established after the war in order to get round import permits there.

By 1961 the organisation and methods had changed radically.  Eleven or so foundries had gone out of business or had been taken over by Allied Ironfounders in 1929 and by Federated Foundries in 1935.  Both of these groups had head offices and most of their constituent companies outside Falkirk.  There was a considerable shift of the industry to the south and Falkirk men founded businesses in London, Leeds, Manchester and elsewhere near the great centres of population.  One of the great aims in the formation of the combines was to increase manufacturing efficiency by specialisation.  Each works concentrated on one or two products, and continued under the same individual management, with only major policy controlled from above.

Some foundries moved to England in order to be nearer the main markets.  Salton Foundry and Gothic Foundry both moved south.  In the 1920s Cockburn’s was the largest bath producer in Britain, but as the main market was in London, the Light castings Board decided to build a completely new foundry for baths at Greenford in Middlesex.  It was entirely mechanised, used sand slingers, and operated entirely with unskilled labour.  Technicians, foremen and managers were moved from Gowanbank.

In the 1930s engineers called for higher quality irons and in 1938 Robert Taylor & Co started to produce low nickel alloy castings with the crudest of equipment and no laboratory.  Learning in this specialisation was by empirical methods, but by 1939 the company had a laboratory and was making steady progress.  This was put to good use during the war.  After the war alloy irons were specified for a range of purposes, covering resistance to corrosion, impact, and wear.  The techniques necessary to produce a quality product could not be applied alongside low grade iron production lines and a section of Muirhall Foundry was cordoned off for this purpose.  Through the British Cast Iron Research Association, the firm was involved in the practical manufacture of the first ductile irons, and in 1948 became the first company in Europe to be awarded a licence for its production.  In 1976 it set up the world’s first foundry dedicated to the production of Ni-resist castings at Lochlands, known as the Tayforth Foundry.  In the mid 1980s the firm developed a “technical roadshow” to enhance their contacts with customers.  This was successful for a period.  However, demand for these products never reached the levels predicted and the works closed in 2000.  Muirhall Foundry continued their production until competition from abroad led to its closure in 2004.

Demand for cast iron products had always been cyclical, but now these cycles were competing with new materials and modes of manufacture.  Local firms adapted as best they could.  In the 1950s the building restrictions on leisure centres were finally lifted and cast iron chair legs, which had been in great demand before the war, were once again sought after.  Broomside Foundry set up a new paint spraying booth for these and once again received a contract from Cardiff Arms Park.  Before long, however, the market collapsed.  Prefabricated steel seats took over and fitters were re-trained in welding techniques.

By the early 1960s there was keen competition from other industries making items in new materials.  Pipes were being made from asbestos and plastic at greatly reduced prices.  PVC was used for rainwater and soil goods and became the preferred material for most new build.  Jones & Campbell had ordered a new mechanised pipe plant from Acme Conveyors in 1955 when the market was still buoyant and it went into production in 1957.  From 1958 to 1964 pipes, gutters and connections became the Company’s main line and the plant produced up to 2,000 rainwater pipes each shift.  Then the market collapsed and in September 1967 the plant was closed.  In its place a new mechanised production was put in to produce engineering castings, spurred by the establishment of BMC at Bathgate.  It closed in 1986.

In the 1980s production became more specialist with diversity of alloy as well as casting.  Plain carbon and stainless steel and Ni-hard, spheroidal-graphite.  Falcon Catering at Larbert introduced high-chromium irons.  A far greater percentage of the various foundries’ outputs went into engineering components.  Mechanisation increased.  At the Torwood Foundry high-volume production became the order of the day.  In 1981 the Muirhall Foundry had a new semi-mechanised plant installed at a cost of £260,000 to meet the demands of s-g iron components up to 100kg weight for commercial vehicle, marine power, turbine, earthmoving and other industries.

The sharp contraction of Britain’s industrial base in the early 1980s led to a number of collapses, notably Carron Co.  The rump of the industry was fitter and leaner but had lost its critical mass.  In 1981 Robert Taylor & Co had sales of over one million pounds, but two thirds of this was to only fourteen customers.  British Leyland was the most important with around 20% of total sales.  The fourteen companies were: Leyland Preston, Drum, Ruston, John Brown, Hamworthy, Baldt, Hastie, Leyland Bathgate, Wallacetown, Barlow Chidlaw, Rockwell, Harry Neal, Ranfurly, Sandbach and GN Axles.  Broken down by industrial sector:

Commercial vehicles25.3%
Compressors13.1%
Turbine12.7%
Marine8.0%
Valves5.4%
Switchgear4.9%
Gear2.6%
Pumps2.2%
Earth moving1.5%
Hydraulic1.3%
Diesel engine0.4%

As well as those employed directly in the foundries there were many businesses reliant on the foundries for work in various ways. Some local examples include:

Falkirk Galvanising Works.

William Sharp & Sons of Camelon. Established in 1884 as foundry engineers, they also produced parts for woodworking machines, steam and gas engines, electric motors, power and transmission appliances.

Blackadder Brothers of McFarlane Crescent in Falkirk had a similar role to Sharp’s. They provided patterns and core boxes for every kind of pipe, furnace pan and similar items, drilling and emery grinding machines, rumbling or fettling machines, grindstone spindles and buffing or polishing machines. The firm made ladles for carrying molten iron. These varied from the hand carried, to two and four-wheeled bogies and large ones for crane use. They also erected cranes and hoists for cupolas. Steam engines were supplied to the Commonwealth.

Donald & Crawford of Grangemouth also erected steam hoists for foundries.

Symons and Bennet – enamellers, Japanners, and Berlin blackers set up business in 1881 in Springfield Place, Falkirk. The firm re-finished castings such as umbrella stands.

Chromium plating in the 1950s by Charles Carpenter, Drysdale’s brass foundry.

Scottish Enamel Co provided an enamelling, galvanising, chroming service to other foundries as well as undertaking engineering work during the war. See following pages about The Works.

Arthur Dickson was a printing blockmaker for the local foundry industry catalogues in the 1930s.

Alexander Adam was a safemaker in Falkirk’s Howgate using castings produced at the local foundries such as Carron.

William Cummings of Dunblane had two blacking mills at Sunnyside, Camelon, and one at Custonhall, Denny. The latter exploded in February 1917.

WB Henderson, filemaker, Canal Steel & File Works, Camelon. Manufactured and reworked steel files of all sizes for finishing work at the foundries.

Thomas Laurie & Co were electrical engineers. They converted the lighting in most of the foundries from gas to electric lighting in the late 1890s through to the First World War.

James Murphy & Co had a wireworks in Bank Street. The foundries sub-contracted much work to the firm. For example, it made grills for locally produced cookers, baskets for inside letter boxes, fronts for electric fires, safety cages for machinery, and so on.

G.B. Bailey, 2021