There is no doubting the extremely important role that ironfounding has played in the development of the Falkirk district since 1750. It has shaped the landscape and the people to provide us with the rich legacy that we enjoy today. When the great iron works was sited at Carron in 1759 it set forth a train of events that was to touch everyone in the district for the next quarter of a millennium – no mean achievement.
Directly, the ironfounding industry was to employ huge numbers of people from the area. Within a decade of its establishment the Carron Co. had found productive work for over 1,000 people. Many of the first craftsmen at the works were from England, induced north by the promise of high wages if they agreed to transfer their skills to the local workforce. Indeed, there were so many southerners at one time that it became known locally as the “English Foundry”. Having so many English in the area in the 18th century led to inevitable strife. Many fights broke out. On the other hand, many of them married local women and settled in the area. The cultural impact was huge. Working practices changed, the Masonic movement was revived and the established Church of Scotland challenged.
Illus: An iconic image of a muscular bare-topped foundryman with a ladle next to a cupola as seen on a stained glass panel formerly in the offices of the Denny Iron Works and now in Falkirk Museum.
However, as time went on a large pool of talent was created within the restrictive confines of the works. When the restraints were rendered asunder in 1810 by the formation of the Falkirk Iron Co. it was evident that there was room for greater expansion. The bubble finally burst in the middle of that century and allowed a proliferation of foundries almost unrivalled anywhere else in Britain. To the rest of the world Falkirk was the centre of the light castings industry.
The English were followed by other outsiders. In the eighteenth century Highlanders formed the bulk of the much needed labouring class. By the second quarter of the 19th century their place had been taken by the Irish, who brought with them their Catholic religion. In Larbert the population grew from 1,800 at the time of the foundation of the Carron Co. to 4,000 just 30 years later. This growth, attributable to the activities of a single enterprise, pales by comparison with that brought about by the massive expansion of foundries in the second half of the nineteenth century. Between 1861 and 1911 the population of the Burgh of Falkirk grew from 9,000 to 35,374. This 270% increase should be compared with that of 50% for Scotland as a whole.
Carron Co. introduced more than people, it brought about a sea change in attitude and perception. It was the first large-scale integrated factory anywhere in the country and its spark fired the industrial revolution in Scotland. From here men and ideas percolated throughout the nation making it the crucible of industrialisation.
In 1886 ex-provost Cockburn estimated that within a 1.25 mile radius of Bainsford Bridge there were about 4,000 men employed in the ironfounding trade. Even as late as 1955 40% of the workforce of the burgh of Denny was employed in its five foundries. This represented some 800 men and women. By this time the district was losing jobs in the industry. In 1952 there had been some 8,000 people employed by the foundries. Just 12 years on this figure had declined by 3,000.
G.B. Bailey, 2021
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