Let us start with a general description of the external appearance of a works in 1869:
“On approaching the works by the long irregularly built street leading in an almost direct line from Grahamston, the visitor’s eye is first attracted by the flames of five blast furnaces, which stand on the south side of the works. The smaller flames issuing from the chimneys of the cupola and air-furnaces next draw the attention; and a nearer approach brings into view a whole forest of chimneys, shooting up from amid vast ranges of brick built workshops. On getting inside the boundaries of the establishment, the mere sightseer would probably be somewhat disappointed. The great extent of the place does not become apparent until the various departments are visited in succession; nor can it be said that externally the workshops present an inviting appearance. But within these ragged looking and smoke begrimed structures, processes go on which illustrate some of the grandest developments of human ingenuity; and in no individual establishment, in this country at least, can such a variety of operations, in the manufacture of iron, be seen. As one passes through the place, the roar of furnaces, the clash of machinery, and the clatter of anvils, come upon the ear from all sides; and this, combined with the irregular nature of the roadways, the immense and apparently confused piles of iron, old and new, and of finished and unfinished articles of every conceivable form, produces a most bewildering effect on persons unaccustomed to such sounds and scenes…“
This, of course, was Carron Ironworks, which was an exaggerated version of the smaller establishments.
The early works, like Carron, were located along the coast or on navigable rivers. The line of the Forth and Clyde Canal attracted the second wave of foundries, with a gradual migration westward. Thus we have the Dalderse Foundry at Bankside in 1804, Falkirk Ironworks on the opposite bank a little to the west at Grahamston in 1810, Camelon Ironworks near Tamfourhill in 1845, Castlelaurie Ironworks 1850s, the Union Foundry at Tamfourhill in 1854, Abbots at Bankside in 1856, Columbian Stove Works 1860; Burnbank Foundry 1860, Gowanbank Foundry 1864, Grahamston Foundry 1868, Forth & Clyde Ironworks 1870; Rosebank Foundry 1870, Gael Foundry 1875, Portdownie Ironworks 1875, Parkhouse Ironworks 1876 and the Etna Foundry 1877. The canal banks at Bainsford and Grahamston were particularly favoured because they were near to the port of Grangemouth and, unlike the land further east, free-draining. The landowner, Forbes of Callendar, was keen to promote the industrial development of the land because it raised cash at the point of sale and a steady revenue from the feu duty.
The concentration of works around Bainsford Bridge led to the urban development of the surrounding area and the growth in that direction of the burgh of Falkirk. At Bonnybridge too, the establishment of the Columbian Stove Works in 1860 transformed the hamlet. It provided the main source of employment in the village and in the 1950s directly engaged some 380 workers, with over 400 at its subsidiary, the Chatton Ironworks. It owned 400 houses in the village. The Caledonian Works employed a further 380.
Despite the arrival of the railways in the 1840s and 1850s, the Forth and Clyde Canal continued to dominate the transport of the heavy and brittle products of the ironfounding industry until it was forced to close in the First World War. By that date the quality of rolling stock on the railways and its vast network made it the preferred mode of distribution and the traffic slowly abandoned the inland waterways. By 1890 new foundries were located adjacent to the railway network with negotiated options for their own sidings. Between 1898 and 1902 five new foundries were built beside the railway on green-field sites at Camelon – Dorrator (1898), Grange (1899), Carmuirs (1899), Gothic (1899) and Central (1902).
Small foundries had operated at Denny since 1857 using the railway to get its goods to the market, which in this case was mostly on the Clyde to the shipbuilders. They seem to have thrived because of the specialist nature of the trade, which did not require much decoration.