The Boys

At the beginning of the 20th century boys usually left school at 14 years of age and went straight into the foundry where their male relatives already worked.  They started at the bottom – as tea boys, office boys sorting mail, moulders helpers preparing the sand, and so on.  After the Second World War the leaving age gradually rose to 16.  Moulders served a six year apprenticeship.  After this period their pay increased, but it was common for some to be laid off at this time and a new boy taken on.  Moulders were usually employed on piece work.  It was not unusual for their apprentices to break into the works by climbing over the boundary walls to get in early enough to prepare the work for the day.  3am has occasionally been given for their start.

When John Duncan joined the Broomside Foundry Co in May 1931 his first job was to move the castings from the dressing shop and store them in the racks.  This job, he later considered, had been extremely valuable, as it meant that he became familiar with all the products of the foundry.  After decades of service he eventually became the works foreman.

A century earlier the boys often started much younger.  In 1842 the Children Employment Commission (East Scotland) included a number of local boys in its report and here are examples:

John Sutherland, 14 years old, moulder at Carron Iron Works:

“Father brought me to the foundry when I was eight years of age; was first at the dressing, am now at the moulding and bound to the company for 12 years; am turned over to father for 5 years.  I do not dislike the work; we have enough of it, both brother and I start together at 5, and sometimes 6, in the morning and lay by at 5 and 6 at night, whiles later.  Get porridge brought in the morning at 8 o’clock; am not long eating it, as work will not admit; dines at 1, on tatoes and herring, or kail; does not rest long, perhaps 20 minutes or so.”  [Reads badly and very deficient; says he goes to night school at times.]

William Sutherland, 9 years old, moulder at Carron Iron Works:

“I work in same shop as brother John and father; I work at the wee boxes [moulds], and have done so nine months; can’t say I dislike it, though I often get burned.  Don’t know that I ever staid awa with sores.  I go sometimes to the night school to get some reading.”  [Reads badly.]

Peter Brown, about 14 years old, smith at Carron Iron Works:

“Have always wrought at smith’s work; did so in father’s life, with two brothers, who work with me at Carron.  Work 12 hours, as most boys do; can get 5s a week; has been able to earn as much since.  Father lost his life by explosion of the blast furnace, in November 1839.”  [Reads and writes very well.  Most of the boys whose fathers lost their lives by the above accident have been well placed.]

James Thompson, 11 years old, dresser at Falkirk Iron Works:

“I have been 3 years at work, 18 months in this foundry; am 12 and 14 hours at work; I get 3s 6d a week when my work is approved.  Work for Richard Kidster.  Dressing is no hard work but we get enough of it; should like less work if could gang to school but mother cannot afford to pay, as father is dead and she has 13 children; 3 work here, 1 is at service.  Was at reading 3 years ago; forgot all.  Does not go kirk for want of clothes.”  [Can scarcely make out the letters.  Lives in Grahamston; 1 small room contains 2 beds; 5 boys sleep in one bed; mother, witness, and 3 sisters sleep in second bed.]

Robert Fotherington, 12 years old, moulder at Falkirk Iron Works:

“Began work 3 years ago; does not mind it now, did when first at as the metal sore burned me and threw me idle.  I get 3s.6d. a week from my master, Richard Glen, to whom I was bound a year since by father.  We work very long hours, whiles 14 and 15.  I go to night-school when home and change myself on those nights, not otherwise.  I go twice a week, rarely more.” [Reads very badly; obliged to spell each word.]

Graham Hardie, Esq, managing partner of the Falkirk Iron Company:

“We employ about the works near 400 men and boys, sometimes we exceed the number; their occupations are those common to foundries, as moulding, casting, dressing, & c, has been a practice to pay by the piece for casting and it is ours to do so by contract with our men, who pay the boys employed by them set wages while they are learning to mould.  The boys are taken very young to the work, many not reaching the age of seven and eight years and many do neither read nor write, nor are they likely, after beginning to work, ever to learn to read or write.  Our workmen need nothing so much as education, they are becoming more and more ignorant; those above 25 years of age who read and write are the best workmen; in fact, the best educated are the best workmen, and most easily managed.

A limitation of age would be desirable for boys working; if education were given and if not allowed to work till 12 to 14 years old, a superior class of workmen would be formed.  We have no school in connection with the foundry but there are schools, libraries and societies in the immediate neighbourhood.”

The trades entered into included work in the office.  When the Callendar Iron Works was established in 1876 the office staff consisted of Andrew Hay and a boy, Sandy Turnbull, who later became Falkirk’s famous goalkeeper.

Burnbank Foundry Training School was set up after the Second World War.  In addition to a formally agreed programme of training for each trainee, provision was made for compulsory day-release, one day per week.  L Hunter, J Liddell and R Gardner were prominent in these arrangements.  The school developed and was eventually merged into the Falkirk Technical College.

After the Industrial Training Act of 1964 foundry employees in the area were instigators in setting up a Foundry Training Centre at Bankside, Falkirk.  The employers contributed £50,000 to fund the centre, which opened in 1966 for the training of 40 moulder/coremakers.  The success of this led to its extension into patternmaker and craft-engineer training and subsequently to the training of foundry and engineering technicians.  The Centre was transferred to larger premises at the Earl’s Gates, Grangemouth, in 1976.  Other similar developments occurred in central Scotland, but by the 1980s most foundry training in Scotland was carried out at the Grangemouth Training Centre, managed by the National Foundry and Engineering Training Association (NFETA), part of the Metcon organisation.

G.B. Bailey, 2021