The Men

Illus: The Heads of the Departments at Falkirk Iron Works in 1888.  They stand in front of the smart main entrance, but on the left is a large mould on a trolley.  It is still less cluttered than the picture above.


As we have seen, many of the ironmasters were inter-related, but so too were many of the senior tradesmen.  When the Columbian Stove Works was set up by Ure & Co in 1860 it employed 11 moulders, of whom six were related and all were close friends.  Their pay in October that year, for a two week period, had risen to:

James Mitchell    £6.17.10½
Campbell Ferguson£6.1.
Dougal Ferguson £3.0.3
William Esplin£3.5.2½
Robert Dobbie£2.15.1
Robert Cruikshank£3.3.½
Alex Ferguson     £3.5.4½
David Sibbald     £1.14.2½
William Mitchell £4.-.
William & James Ure£12.-.4½

George Ure, the managing director, took a salary of £25 per month.  William and James Ure were his nephews.  Robert Dobbie had married Elizabeth Ure, making him George Ure’s son-in-law.  Campbell Ferguson had married Mary Ure and was the ironmaster’s brother-in-law.  James Mitchell was the brother of William Mitchell, the works foreman and George Ure’s lifelong friend.  In 1861 Jamie Ure, George Ure’s first cousin, joined the associated firm of Smith and Wellstood.  He started at the lowest level and only slowly rose through the ranks.  After nearly 30 years service he became manager of Smith and Wellstood’s foundry.

Columbian Stove Works1860/6111 employees (+ 6 at Smith & Wellstood)
186345-50 (+ 12 at Smith & Wellstood)
186554 (+18 ditto)

Smith & Wellstood was not alone in employing family members.  Carron Co. was infamous for it.  John Duncan regarded the Broomside Foundry, too, as a family works. 

At one time there were seven of the same family employed – five brothers, Danny, Martin, John, Peter, Edward, sister Stacia and brother-in-law Willie Doyle.  There were three brothers Willie, John and David Provan with about 140 years of service.  Three Donaldson brothers all with long service.  Even in my own family my wife, two brothers and my father.  My father-in-law served as night watchman.

As we saw above, many of the ironmasters started their working lives in low positions within other people’s foundries.  They learned on the job, as did most of those who rose through the ranks to take better paid supervisory roles.  Without professional training some of their methods might appear haphazard – but they worked for them.  At Broomside Foundry –

I will always remember Willie Roberts for his production planning.  Willie never used a notebook.  At that time when you bought ten woodbine cigarettes they came in a small cardboard packet.  That packet was Willie’s production schedule, along with a stub of pencil about three inches long that fitted comfortably behind his ear.”

It is hard to get firm figures for the numbers of men directly employed in the ironfounding industry, but the following section should provide a general idea.  In 1891 it was estimated that there was 8,600 men employed in the 25 foundries of the Falkirk district, at which time they manufactured about 7,880 tons of castings monthly.  The wages paid to these men amounted to roughly £32,000 monthly.

In 1911 a census was taken of the numbers of persons employed by the works in the Burgh of Falkirk:

The number of tradesmen varied from foundry to foundry.  G Paul & Co, of Denny was one of the smaller works and employed two patternmakers, a blacksmith, two iron dressers, three labourers, one crane man and about 20 moulders and their boys.  It had no carpenters, electricians, slaters, or engineers as had the larger firms such as the Falkirk Iron Co.

Adams Safe Works972
Blackadder Bros.1616
Crown Brass193112
Diamond100Transferred to Luton
Falkirk Brass & Sanitary Engineering Work4128
Falkirk & Castlelaurie11301260130
Forth & Clyde & Sunnyside56058020
Mungal & Engineering533905372
Murphy’s Wire Works10122
Parkhouse100Used as a store
Port Downie240240
Salton120-Transferred to England
Sharp & Sons  9123
Sunnyside Blacking Wks1212

The division of labour system is extensively applied in the works, and the result is that the men in the various departments display extraordinary expertness.  When a boy enters on his apprenticeship, he chooses or has chosen for him, the branch of work he is to follow, and to that he adheres.  Let us suppose that a boy selects pot-moulding.  After some preliminary training he is entrusted with the making of pots of the smallest size.  As he advances in years, so does the size of his pots increase; and by the time that grey hairs come, he finds his hands employed upon vessels so capacious that each might contain a dozen of those he made in his early days.” 

The time taken on the moulds of the various sizes of pot was similar, but the larger ones earned more money.  This was a privilege of age and hence rank.

The skill of the Falkirk moulder and the quality of his work are being well maintained, although the older men feel that pride of craftsmanship is not so strong as it once was.”

(Leslie – 3rd Statistical Account, p.334)
Illus: Tea Break at the Falkirk Iron Works.

G.B. Bailey, 2021