The beautiful and intricate wooden patterns of the Haworth brothers for Carron Company are well known. They illustrate classical scenes, birds, foliage, and flowers as well as elaborate geometrical arrangements. They set a trend for heavy decoration on cast iron products. There was an exuberant flowering of creative effort across a wide range of objects. However, the restrained taste of the regency gave way to a heavy and intricate style in which deep relief crept over large parts of the products. Fruit and foliage were prominent and geometric frames sprawled over the background, now and then coming forward as Gothic art. Elements were extracted almost randomly from previous architectural styles juxtaposing an Egyptian sphinx or obelisk with a Classical urn or column and an Arabic arch.
For the 1851 Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace the Falkirk Iron Co made, amongst other items, a “complete and perfect representation of the Royal Arms” 7ft tall and 8.5ft long. It demonstrated the huge achievements of the foundries in the use of iron as art. In the 1862 Exhibition the figure of a browsing stag was displayed by the same company. It showed the capabilities of the sand-moulding process. In order to cast it in one piece the mould had to be made in upwards of one hundred parts, each part being simply a clod of moist sand held together by compression. Alexander Sands is believed to have been the craftsman who produced the stag and in 1925 it was presented to the Burgh of Falkirk for display in the new museum in Dollar Park.
“In the manufacture of iron… we find it employed in the meanest purpose, and frequently in the roughest state, it is also found applied to the noblest uses, and moulded into the most fascinating and elaborate forms. Vases and statues, which at one time could not have been produced without years of great labour, are manufactured from this metal in a few hours, and thus copies of the works of the greatest masters in the art of sculpture become the property of a great many individuals at a cost comparatively trifling, and of a beauty almost equal to that of the originals. The demand for ornamental work in iron that has for some time existed, and which is daily on the increase, has given an impetus to the arts of design, which has resulted in patterns of the most chaste and beautiful description; and the Falkirk Iron Work has produced many specimens of iron manufacture of a beauty, both in design and execution, which probably has not been surpassed by any works of the kind in this country”(Falkirk Herald April 1854).
The timing of this article in the Falkirk Herald was not accidental. Before Castlelaurie was temporarily closed at the end of the Crimean War due to the loss of home markets, the Falkirk Works turned to the production of bronzed iron work. Some of this was purely decorative and figurines were produced. These included groups of deer, incidents of the chase, dogs, horses (single and in groups) and cattle in Les Animoux style. Birds and historic and classical subjects were also depicted. Francis H Sutton came up from the London works to act as the designer and modeller. Animals were particularly popular, and it is notable that Rosa Bonheur, the eminent animal painter, visited the Falkirk Tryst in 1856.
Illus: “L’Accolade” bronzed iron sculpture cast by Falkirk Iron Co. The Sculpture was originally modelled by the well-known French artist Pierre-Jules Mene and exhibited as a red wax with black patina at the Salon of 1852. The following year a bronze version was exhibited and it appeared in 1855 at the Exposition Universelle. It was originally named “Tachiani and Nedjebe, chevaux arabes.”
Cast iron plaques were also made to be hung like paintings in the homes of the middle classes. One of the favourite scenes was of the Last Supper and this plaque was copied by most of the local foundries and can be found in bronze and aluminium as well as iron.
Fireplaces were usually decorated and portrayed the taste and styles of the time. From Classical they transformed to heavy Gothic, to Art Nouveau and Art Deco and Moderne. Falkirk Iron Works also became famous for these later designs.
In the 1980s the Muirhall Foundry received a number of high status art commissions for specialist castings:
- Hamburgh Triptych at Bannerman’s Bar, Edinburgh.
- Maquette near Pimlico Station on the London Underground, by Eduardo Paolozzi, 1982.
- Piscator at Euston, by Eduardo Paolozzi, 1980.
- Anthony Gormley’s male statues now at Crosby Beach, Liverpool.