Components : Raw Materials

The foundries of the Falkirk area can be divided into two major groups – those that produced iron from the ore and those that used this iron to produce castings.  These are often referred to as “ironworks” and “iron foundries”, but as both types often operated on one site this neat distinction has become blurred and was not adhered to in the past.  Carron, Kinneil, and Almond all provided pig iron.  The Bridgeness Foundry had a blast furnace, but this never operated with much success. 

Iron is the fourth most widely distributed element in the earth’s crust but is only found in a limited number of places in a form in which it can be used.  It is always found as iron ore, that is to say iron combined with other elements, one of which is usually oxygen for which it has a natural affinity (hence rust).  The ore is often mixed with clay or other materials and its appearance is very varied but is usually rust or purple in colour.  Iron making depends on removing the unwanted elements from the ore and controlling those that vary its properties.  Iron melts at about 1150 degrees Celsius, the exact point depending upon its form, and it is this that allows it to be separated from the other materials.

Iron can be combined with a large range of other elements to vary its properties.  The three major groups are wrought iron, cast iron and steel.  Nowadays steel is used extensively, but wrought iron is the oldest form, dating back at least four thousand years.  It has a fibrous structure making it strong in tension and can be shaped by hammering, squeezing, or rolling.  Cast iron, which dates back to the fifteenth century, is crystalline and relatively weak in tension.  It cannot be shaped by hammering, but it can be melted and poured into a mould, the shape of which it will take when it cools and solidifies.  Cast iron is an alloy of iron and up to five percent carbon.  Steel can be a similar composition but is usually combined with other elements to form a complex alloy with a range of properties.  Bulk manufacture of steel became possible after the invention of the Bessemer process in 1856 and today dominates this world.

Foreign imports kept the price of pig iron down and the Falkirk district was well positioned to receive imports at economic rates.  In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries pig iron was imported from Russia, but as production expanded so too did the sources.  Middlesbrough was an important source by the end of the nineteenth century.  In 1891, for example, it was noted that English pig iron could be supplied from Grangemouth to the Falkirk manufacturers at nearly 1s per ton cheaper than to the Glasgow foundries.  At that time there were two major Glasgow importers of pig iron operating from Grangemouth – James Watson & Co and William Jack & Co.  The former was the larger concern, until 1890.  Until then J & J Hay had carried iron through the Forth and Clyde Canal for Jacks & Co.  However in that year William Jack & Co took over the extensive plant and property of Burrell & Son in Grangemouth Docks and started to carry its own cargoes and the firm rapidly expanded.

The sources of iron ore were important, particularly in the manufacture of grey iron for cannons.  These have been dealt with elsewhere and so will be passed over here, as will coal and limestone.  As far as the small foundries were concerned these latter commodities were brought to site by barges or trains with road transport used sparingly for the final leg.

Sand was required for moulding.  Some of this was procured locally and the holes from which it was extracted have since been re-landscaped.  One of the most notable was at Crownest and after it was abandoned by the Carron Co it was made into Crownest Park – called appropriately “The Lido” by the public after Italian beaches!  Another hole by the same company at Goshen revealed an Iron Age cist burial, whilst one beside Stenhouse uncovered medieval pottery kilns.  However, the best moulding sand came from the London area and was imported.

The next section under the “Components” heading is Cupolas – the Melt. Click here to read.

G.B. Bailey, 2021