Housing & Welfare

In order to attract the right employees the foundries provided accommodation for many of their workers of all ranks.  The ironmasters were, naturally, best served.  In 1860 Ure & Co bought Greenbank Cottage with about an acre of ground adjacent to its new works for £350.  George Ure, the master, lived in the Cottage for nearly ten years.  A tenement was built in part of the grounds for the workers.  Some of the ironmasters’ houses were purpose-built villas with their own grounds but were still close to the works.  Good examples of these were Kersehill House adjacent to Falkirk Iron Works, Carron Grange House for Carron Iron Works, and Kilnside for Camelon Iron Works.  The latter was designed by the famous architect John Burnet who was commissioned by JC Jeffrey Smith, the manager of the Camelon Iron Company, in 1898.  It had its own private footbridge over the railway line to connect it to the works.

From those modest beginnings at Greenbank Cottage, the housing stock of Smith & Wellstood increased in line with its workforce, but occupation depended upon compliance.  In March 1878 George Ure ordered the eviction from the firm’s dwellings of those on strike:

James Bain          1 Albert Place
Archibald Sutherland2 Albert Place
Peter Taylor3 Albert Place
John Kemp4 Albert Place
William Houden6 Albert Place
Thomas Stirling8 Albert Place
Archibald Niven10 Albert Place
Robert Cunningham13 Albert Place
Alexander Sutherland3 Cowden Place
Thomas Adam5 Cowden Place
James McGrouther7 Cowden Place
James Buchanan9 Cowden Place
John Moffat10 Cowden Place
James Bain11 Cowden Place
Robert Ritchie12 Cowden Place
James Fisher2 Barley Hill
Alexander Murdoch8 Barley Hill
Alexander Abercrombie9 Barley Hill
Thomas Marshall               10 Barley Hill
James Hendrie12 Barley Hill
William Pender    2 Zetland Place

By 1954 Smith & Wellstood owned over 400 houses in Bonnybridge.

In 1877 the Etna Foundry had to build a row of houses at Dalderse Avenue when it established it works nearby and Etna Row became infamous for the riotous behaviour of some of its tenants.  There was a huge shortage of housing at that time and in the same year the nine year old Grahamston Iron Co hired a local architect to design and supervise the erection of superior workers’ houses near to its works:

“There are to be no outside stairs, and each house will possess every appliance for thorough ventilation.  Fresh air is admitted from the outside about six feet from the floor, and rises in a vertical column to the top of the window and disperses itself in the room without producing draught; the foul air is then drawn off the ceiling by means of a ventilator which is carried above the roof.  The aim of the Grahamston Iron Co has been to give the houses an architectural character without too great an expenditure, and altogether the whole work reflects considerable credit on the architect, G Deas Page, Falkirk.  The internal accommodation in the end houses, which are meant for some of the principal officials of the Grahamston Foundry, consists of three rooms and kitchen with staircase, napery closet, scullery, etc.  The centre houses have two rooms and kitchen and one room and kitchen, and, with the others, have ample closet and press accommodation.  Instead of the unsightly appliances for collecting rain-water in barrels outside the house, so general in this neighbourhood, there will be two large iron tanks built level with the ground, having pumps attached for the accommodation of the tenants.  To those intending to build workmen’s houses we strongly urge them to do their utmost to give the whole surroundings such a treatment as rather to add to the beauty of the place, and to give our artisan population an artistic interest in their dwellings.”

(Falkirk Herald 27 January 1877).

Unlike the coalmasters, the ironmasters did not operate shops under the “truck system”.  Indeed, in 1766 Samuel Garbett of the Carron Co only gave permission for his clerks at the Works to manage an official shop on the condition that they did not provide credit, which could have resulted in wages being stopped to pay debts (Watters 1998, 203).  By 1832 the Carron Victualling Society was in operation.  Each member had to lodge £5.10.0 with the Treasurer and dividends were paid twice a year.  Latterly this shop was at the north end of Carron Bridge, just opposite to the Works, and it became the Carron Co-operative Society.  Elsewhere foundry workers were leading members of local Co-operative Societies.

Carron Co was well ahead of the game when it came to the welfare of its employees.  In November 1762 the “Carron Friendly Society” was established for the benefit of members in distress and “for their families at death, also to promote friendship and charity upon all just occasions, to assist and support each other.”  It also provided a Christmas feast!  Although it experienced periods of dormancy in the mid-nineteenth century, the Society continued until 1912 when the advent of National Insurance meant that it was no longer required.  The friendly society set up at the Falkirk Iron Works likewise experienced problems in the 1840s.  In 1842 Graham Hardie, managing partner, told the Children Employment Commission: “Until last year a sick society existed and was managed by the workmen; it is now broken up by dissensions.”

In 1900 JC Jeffrey Smith established a Works Committee, two representatives from each department of the works being elected by the men themselves, and a smaller number being nominated by the directors, in order to assist in the guidance of the committee’s deliberations.  From among the members of this committee, sub-committees were appointed to watch over the welfare of the employees, especially with a view to the prevention of accidents.  One of these sub committees administered an Emergency Fund, sustained by annual subsidy from the company, for the alleviation of urgent cases of sickness and other distress among the workforce.  Later, this was converted into a Provident Fund Scheme, dependant to a large extent for its successful operation on the individual care and effort of the participants.

Falkirk Iron Co had a benevolent fund that paid out benefit to its members (£600 in 1923).  It also made liberal contributions to the Falkirk Infirmary and other local charities.  In June 1920 the Works Committee of Falkirk Iron Works bought Ashwood House in Ferntower Road, Crieff, for use as a rest home for the workers.  The men used ballot papers to vote on this decision.  It was seen as a war memorial to their work mates who had fallen in the First World War.  Over a thousand people voted in the decision to purchase the seven-bedroom house, which was near the Hydro and the golf course. 

Some time before 1786 the Carron Friendly Society erected a “Clubroom” on Carron Co property, which was a meeting place not only for its officers but also for social events.  It came to be used as a school and by the middle of the nineteenth century had accommodation for 85 pupils.  The teachers’ salaries were funded from pupils’ fees and donations from the Carron Co.  The head teacher in the 1830s was Robert Smith, who had been employed at the Works, but, following an accident there, took up teaching.  He was aided by an assistant, Mrs Williamson.  In 1868 a brand new school building took its place, provided through the generosity of the Carron Co.  It in turn was replaced by the School Board in 1899 and Carron Co used the old building for evening classes and dances.  Other ironworks took a keen interest in the education of their workers.  At Bonnybridge the small village school was supported by George Ure when he set up his new foundry there in 1860.  With the support of his partners, James Smith and Stephen Wellstood, he raised sufficient funds to enlarge the school and to secure the services of an able schoolmaster, William Gillespie.  More importantly, they provided an annual sum large enough to allow the school to attract government grants.

In 1846 the Falkirk Iron Works School was built in Grahamston on the north side of what became Dalderse Avenue.  The upkeep was paid by the proprietors of the foundry, but it was closed down in 1851.  A Subscription School opened in the building for a short time, but it too failed and it was then rented by the School Board.

To promote the learning and social life of its existing workforce in 1863 Ure & Co established the “Columbian Operative Literary Association.”  The idea for the Association came from Stephen Wellstood, probably prompted by his poet uncle Hew Ainslie.  A hall was erected next to the Columbian Stove Works and equipped not only with tables and chairs for meetings, but also a small library.  The building and its contents were then handed over to be used and run by the workmen themselves.  The meeting hall was replaced in 1924 and the Smith and Wellstood Club became the centre of social life in the village with a stage, concert hall, gymnasium, tennis courts, football ground and facilities for indoor games.  It was open to every pensioner in Bonnybridge, whether or not they had been employed at the works.

Illus: Billiard Room
and Concert Hall at the Wellstood Club.

Other large foundries followed suit.  In 1892, for example, Dobbie, Forbes and Co purchased the old school in Larbert and had it fitted up as a club for the villagers.  The club rooms were furnished with a billiard table, apparatus for games, and a collection of books and newspapers.  Coffee and “temperance refreshments” were supplied on the premises.

The importance of ironfounding in the local economy and its politics can be judged by the make-up of the marchers in the Franchise demonstration held on 27 September 1884.  6,000 men marched from Falkirk High Street to the Tryst ground in Stenhousemuir, a distance of about three miles.  It was the largest show of public anger the town had ever seen, and revived the events of 1820 (Battle of Bonnymuir) and 1832 (the Reform Act).  The order of march was:

Fire Brigade
The ’32 Veterans
Falkirk Liberal Association
Forth & Clyde & HC Fairley & Co. Chemical Works   100 men
The Bakers70
Etna Foundry30
Grangemouth Trades          400
The Printers18
Grahamston Iron Co.300
Walker’s File Works            40
Port Downie Ironworks70
The Sawyers90
Grangemouth Iron Works 40
Camelon Iron Works         150
Gowanbank & Springfield Iron Works100
North British Railway        60
Callendar Iron Works
Cabinetmakers, Joiners, Slaters, Plasterers & Plumbers150
Builders, Masons & Brickmakers60
Falkirk Foundry600
Parkhouse Iron Works       
Carron Co.1,800
The Redding, Callendar & Candie contingent
Abbots & Burnbank Iron Works     230
The Laurieston contingent75
Larbert Iron Works160
Association of Iron Moulders200
Skinflats contingent300
Curriers & Tanners              
Camelon contingent          

The foundry workers had the benefit of close organisation.  Of the 5,096 people attributed to a party, some 3,780 were from iron foundries.

In 1923 Falkirk Iron Co opened a canteen and recreation hall inside the entrance gate to the works.  It was formally opened by Provost Muirhead, the firm’s Welfare Supervisor, the kitchen, naturally, being equipped with cooking apparatus made in the works.  After hours the building was utilized as a hall for recreational and social purposes.  Here the members could take part in winter games, hold social events, concerts, and lectures.

Illus: Canteen at Smith & Wellstood.
and Ambulance Room

By the end of the Second World War most foundries had established Welfare Committees and many set aside rooms for employees to use as leisure facilities.  In 1946 Gowanbank Foundry claimed that they were opening the first foundry baths for workers in the district (but Smith and Wellstood also claimed that honour).  The facility had only eight showers and was soon extended.  It also included a first aid room where Nurse McGillivray doubled as the welfare supervisor for the girls.  Denny Ironworks set up a Welfare Committee in 1950 and soon after converted an old wing of the foundry into a club with a common room, ambulance room, canteen and a bathhouse.

Other essential facilities were improved.  The Sanitary Authorities used their powers in the 1920s to require firms to build toilets of a suitable standard.  At Broomside it was only after the new office had been built in 1934 that there were toilet facilities for the female staff.  They had to use the toilets at the railway station before that.  The girls from the shop floor used the office toilets, until a hut approximately 12ft by 9ft was built next to the office.  It had two toilets and bench seats and served as a rest room.  It was nicknamed the “Henhouse”.

Works outings were quite a complex social event and far more formal than a simple pleasure trip.  They reflected the pride of the workers and their families in being associated with a particular works or a particular section within a works.  From the management point of view the trips helped to bond the workforce into a cohesive identity.  As the Falkirk Herald put it:

Thanks to the liberal and enterprising firm of Messrs Kennard of the Falkirk Ironworks, their workmen are enabled to devote one day each mid-summer to unalloyed pleasure, and the outlet has hitherto been a pleasure trip.

(Falkirk Herald 11 July 1861).

“The morning had a quiet but pleasant air.  About 6 o’clock the workmen, and the instrumental band in uniform, assembled at the work, when a ballot was made for the order of arrangement.  Processional order was then formed.  The following will indicate the arrangement:

  •           The Flag of the “Lion Rampant”.
  •           Warehousemen
  •           The Flag of England
  •           Engineers
  •           The Flag of Ireland
  •           Labourers
  •           The Union Jack
  •           Smiths
  •           The Band

The banner of the works, exhibiting toiling artisans, viz the smith with his hammer and anvil – moulder with his ladle in front, furnace in full blast, showing cannon shot and shell – engine wheel and Corinthian column – there also being in the distance a ship bearing produce.  Below, enshrined amid Scotch thistles, the appropriate motto “Ferro non auro mollescens saecula” (By iron, not by gold, is the world being civilised).

  •           After this came a large banner
  •           Moulders
  •           Then came the French and Sardinian Flags and the Union Jack
  •           Patternmakers, Dressers & c, & c

The rear was brought up by Mr Binnie, the manager; Mr McLuckie the cashier, and Mr Marshall.

This will indicate the judgement and care with which the arrangements were made, and it will be at once, understood how very imposing and substantial the procession looked.  At a given signal the band struck up a spirited air, and, with martial precision, forth marched the procession through Grahamston (which was all astir, very many of the houses being dotted with branches of trees indicative of the pleasurable aspect of the day), passing through Bank Street, Silver Row, High Street, and Hope Street, towards Grahamston Station.  There was no bustle exhibited here, and all were comfortably seated in the carriages, thanks to the excellent arrangement of Mr Taylor.  The train, consisting of 26 carriages, started punctually at seven o’clock, amid the cheers of a large number of spectators.”

That same year the workers of Camelon Foundry met early one morning to take the vessel “Pet” from Grangemouth to Leith.  They set out from the foundry at 5.30am accompanied by the Camelon Band.  They had two new flags or banners, one bearing the inscription “Camelon Foundry: Punctual in Business”, and the other “Friendly to one another”.  The procession crossed over Lock 16 and halted at Camelon House, the proprietor’s residence, where the band played a selection of tunes as a sign of honour.  They then marched along the canal bank to Grangemouth.  As they passed the Falkirk Ironworks the band played “March of the Cameron [Camelon] Men“.

In 1870 the men of the Camelon Foundry marched to their new works behind a banner bearing the words “Look Forward”, which was used on numerous occasions until 1903 when it was replaced by a new one with the same motto.  By then the use of such banners was rare and it spent most of its life on display in the foundry office.  The banner of the Grahamston Iron Works was likewise left in the offices to languish.  Eventually it was demoted to a store near the moulding floor, where it was found in 1998 by the author and is now in the collections of Falkirk Museum.  It had been painted in 1875 by Falkirk’s first photographer, Stewart McWatters, for the annual trip in July to Callander.  It depicted the new cupola that had been opened the week before.

Falkirk Iron Company started its annual excursions in 1852.  Here are some of their destinations:

1870Edinburgh (1,300 people)
1876Perth & Dundee
1882Callander (800)
1885Edinburgh (1,300)
1891Edinburgh (1,200)
1897Aberdeen (1,000)
1889Dundee (1,200)
1892Ayr (SS Carrick – 1,000)
1866Falls of Clyde
1875Edinburgh & Portobello
1890Rothesay (800)
Illus: The children of West Carron Sunday School walk under the high railway bridge with the tall boundary wall of Carron Works in the background.

Sports were encouraged by the owners of the foundries, especially those in which they participated themselves, such as curling and bowling.  In numerous cases the ironmaster provided medals or cups for competition out of their own pockets – the trophy being named after them.

Curling tended to be a sport for the elite, though with their support it could, and did, trickle down to the ordinary worker.  It was not uncommon, for example, for the workforce to be given a day off if the ice was suitable (and at such low temperatures casting was not ideal).  On 18 July 1865 some of the leading members of Ure & Co formed the “Columbian Stove Works Curling Club.”  It was admitted to the membership of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club on 24 October that year.  The club started with 24 members and this number, with a few additions, carried on until 1875, when it was re-named the “Bonnybridge Curling Club.”

In June 1899 T. Alsop, the general manager of the Falkirk Iron Co, initiated a meeting at which a cricket club was established.  “Castings” being the trade-mark of the Company, was adopted as the club name.  The Kennard family acted as the club’s patrons.  At first the club rented a ground at Mungal Farm.  In 1920 it moved to a field behind Thornhill House, occupied by Mrs A Kennard and it became part of the Falkirk Iron Co Welfare Club, which had been founded the previous year.  In 1922 the Falkirk Iron Co provided a recreation ground off Etna Road, comprising a football park, cricket pitch, putting green, hockey pitch, tennis courts and a bowling green with pavilions.  The bowling green, laid down in 1924, was only closed in 2010.  When, in 1926, the cricket team had difficulty in getting to away matches due to the general strike, the foundry lorries were made available. 

Illus: Logo used by the Falkirk Iron Works Cricket Club.


The Allied Ironfounders’ Social and Sports Club took the place of the former Welfare in April 1946.  The Carron cricket team was always known as “the old enemy”.  Among the other activities of the workers were golf, angling, a male voice choir, and running a thrift shop.

G.B. Bailey, 2021