The second half of the 19th century has sometimes been called the “Foundry Age”. New technical processes and a better understanding of the properties of iron led to increased productivity. The Industrial Revolution gathered pace and its products changed the lives of everyone. Cast iron was finding its way into all sorts of traditional industries and giving rise to the creation of new ones. The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 featured iron more than any other material and even the building had a cast iron frame. The Falkirk Iron Co won a prize for the quality and design of its cast iron stoves displayed at the Exhibition. Crystal Palace helped to establish the quality of Scottish goods in the London market. Carron and Falkirk both benefited tremendously from renewed interest in their products. Smaller foundries, like Ballantine’s in Bo’ness were not slow to seize the opportunity. In the 1860s Ballantine’s provided almost seven miles of ornamental railings for Regents Park.
Some uses of cast iron were far from obvious. In the 1850s huge ornamental gates came into vogue and for the next four decades they were produced by the Falkirk Iron Co for export, chiefly to India. One contemporary commentator said of such structures: “The material is beginning to run away with the designer, but order is still preserved, though chaos is obviously not far off. They are a tribute to the technical ability of ironfounders.”
At the 1886 International Exhibition, which was opened by Queen Victoria in Edinburgh, the Carron Co, Cockburn and Co, Camelon Iron Co, Parkhouse Iron Co, and Grahamston Iron Co all exhibited. The largest item displayed was the gate made by the last of these firms.
Illus: The Grahamston Gateway consists of two massive panelled columns, with ornamental insets, 21ft high by 2ft 6ins wide at the base, weighing fully 4.5 tons each. A semi-circular arch stands on consoled corbels with an entablature of 16ft long, 2ft 3ins wide by 2ft 3ins deep, weighing over 2 tons. The whole is surmounted by massive terminal vases and a central scrolled top ornament with draped flags on either side behind tridents. In the spandrels are shields bearing castles, being the Edinburgh coat-of-arms, with an anchor above. In the centre, between the arch and the finial is a shield with the Royal arms of Scotland – the red lion rampant, with a crown of thistles. The gate was double-leaved and there were side gates and pillars at the exhibition.
By the mid 19th century the Falkirk Iron Co made castings ranging in size from that of a bridge to ornamental inkstands. Amongst other destinations, their bridge castings went to India, Italy, Spain and Ireland. The castings for the swivel bridge over the River Ross at Wexford in Ireland were made by the Falkirk Iron Co in 1869. Amongst the heaviest pieces were the columns for the Solway Viaduct. They were cast in 10 and 20 feet lengths to be bolted together. One of the most famous bridges with castings from the Falkirk Iron Works was the Crumlin Railway Viaduct in South Wales. It was hailed as “one of the most significant examples of technological achievement during the Industrial Revolution,” and was the highest railway viaduct in the Britain – the third highest in the world. It used an amended Warren truss and was designed in 1852 by the engineer Thomas W Kennard – the brother of the owner of the foundry. The piers were formed of tiers of hollow cast iron columns, each 17ft long by 1ft in diameter, which were shipped to Newport Docks from the Falkirk Ironworks. In all some 1,250 tons of cast iron was used. It opened in May 1857 and after many years of service was dismantled in 1967.
Other items made at the Falkirk Iron Works included a large number of water fountains for the Calcutta Water Company, bearing its coat-of-arms and the motto “Waste not, want not” in English and Hindustani, and tubular telegraph posts for South America.
Illus: Assembling a canopy inside Falkirk iron Works to ensure that it all fitted properly together before dispatching the parts to the customer.
Urbanisation was greatly promoted by the establishment of the industrial works, sucking in labourers from the country and the Highlands, and it in turn fed the demand for their products. Better sanitation demanded pipes, better lighting required lamp standards, better heating new stoves. As the building trade boomed, architectural castings were made in huge numbers. Structural components remained more individual and thus retained more attention. In the mid-nineteenth century it was common for some of the more unusual products to be fully covered in the pages of the Falkirk Herald. For example, in 1874 a large and elegant conservatory made at the Gowanbank Iron Works to a design by James Ritchie, a Glasgow architect, for a large house in Paisley, is given almost a whole column to itself. As a taste of the whole article here is a short extract:
“The plan of the building is cruciform, forming four wings, the longest of which butts against the dwelling, and is intended to communicate with the drawing room. Just before the wings meet, they project outwards and form elegant oriels, giving greater area within, and admitting of a large circular promenade being formed round the large ornamental fern case which is to occupy the centre of the floor immediately under the dome. The elevation shows the dome rising very effectively over the main roof, surmounted by a canopied casing, within which is placed one of Boyle’s patent ventilators, which communicates with the interior of the building. A weather vane, in the form of a peacock with full spread tail, rises over the whole… The inside of the conservatory is more elaborate, and the effect produced by the richly ornamented gratings which cover the whole floor must command the approbation of the most stoical…”
In 1890 the Falkirk Iron Co supplied the porch for Hawarden Castle in Cheshire.
Cast iron columns were ubiquitous in nineteenth century buildings. They allowed shop fronts to be more open, churches to contain lofts without obscuring views of the pulpit, warehouses to be of open-plan, railway stations to have covered platforms and so on. The latter appear as ornate porches and verandas on villas and public buildings such as town halls, theatres, and shops. They were widely adopted at seaside resorts where whole streets were fronted by arcades. Such resorts also had cast iron shelters for the typical British summers and band stands in parks.
Illus: Cast Iron Road Signs from the Falkirk Iron Co Catalogue.
These structures are sometimes counted as street furniture, though bus shelters, lamp posts, finger posts, bollards, drinking troughs, fountains and mile posts are more typical. The foundries kept pace with developments in this field. In 1888 the Falkirk Iron Co made enamel road signs for the Edinburgh City Council. However, it was Carron that received the subsequent order for that city’s police boxes. In the 21st century lottery funded projects gave a fillip to the casting of reproduction street furniture and here Ballantine’s foundry in Bo’ness was fortunate in having retained its patterns for these items. The most iconic items of street furniture were, and still are, the vermillion red telephone kiosks and letter boxes produced for the Post Office. The first production models of Gilbert Scott’s design came from Carron. It was Falkirk Iron Co who made the first oval pillar boxes. 25 were sent to Belfast and the master patterns were then handed over to the GPO as their property.
Iron was used for other structural components – such as iron stairs, balconies, finials, decorative panels.
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