The Carron Cuts at Dalderse and Abbotshaugh

From its foundation in 1759 the Carron Company had aspirations of being one of the largest industrial complexes in Europe with a massive iron foundry at the centre of a communications network bringing raw materials in and sending pig iron and finished cast iron products out.  Using English sites as the model they set about constructing waggonways and inland navigations.  The latter consisted of the River Carron, whose transport usage was slowly improved; the Carron lade to several mills at Larbert; and the promotion of a canal between the Forth and the Clyde.

The initial scheme for the Forth and Clyde Canal was for a waterway only 4ft deep from Carronshore to the River Clyde near Glasgow.  This would have entered the River Carron opposite to the Pitch House immediately to the east of Carronshore and the vessels would have then tracked along the straightened river to the Forth Estuary.  The advantages to the Carron Company were self-evident.  It could get its castings on small lighters to the west coast for sale in Glasgow and then by transhipment onto larger vessels at Port Glasgow to the wider markets in the north-west of England and Ireland.  Graded iron ore could be brought in along the same route.  As shoals on the Clyde meant that the small lighters (gaboats) were the largest vessels that could get to Glasgow, the small size of the canal did not matter.  The small size of the canal meant that less investment was needed than for a larger one and consequently there was more chance of it being completed in a reasonable timescale – set at four years.  The scheme was led by the merchants in Glasgow who were accustomed to the arduous cross-country journey made by wagons to Bo’ness, from where goods such as tobacco were dispatched to northern Europe.  An independent shipping company had been set up at Carronshore by one of Carron Company’s founding partners, Samuel Garbett, to take the Carron Company’s freight.  It was initially known as Samuel Garbett and Company, and, after his son took over in 1767, as Francis Garbett and Company.  It would have been the main beneficiary of the Carronshore terminus and undoubtedly had its eye on the lucrative tobacco trade.

Samuel Garbett was a strong advocate for the eastern leg of the Forth and Clyde Canal being by way of the River Carron and used his powerful contacts in England to good effect.  A Bill was introduced in Parliament by the Glasgow businessmen in March 1767 and Carron Company signed up for 15 shares in the navigation.  The Council in Glasgow noted this and empowered the Provost to invest £1,000 in “the canal betwixt Glasgow and Carron,” in the name of the community.

However, the small canal proposed was criticised by many in the east of the country and in April Smeaton’s Report advised a canal 7ft deep which would enter the Clyde well to the west of Glasgow and allow vessels to continue along the coasts.  Garbett was clearly alarmed and wrote to William Cadell junior at the Carron Works explaining his position.  On 15 May 1767 Cadell wrote back: “I hope the Canal has before this passed the House in the way you wish.  From your spirited conduct a canal must certainly be executed and unless you had roused them to action, this Century would probably have expired without anything being done.”

After much argument over the economic and civic merits of the great canal over the small one, Glasgow was persuaded to drop its Bill in return for certain promises, including the guarantee that a cut would be made from the new canal to the city.  A payment of £1,200 was also made to its representatives as compensation for the Parliamentary and other costs that they had incurred.  A similar arrangement with the merchants of Bo’ness and £300 compensation allowed a new Bill to be introduced without opposition. 

Carron Company had been concerned that the small canal would interfere with the water supply used to turn its mills and so the 1767 Bill for the small canal had had clauses in it stating that the navigation was not permitted to turn water away from any mill along or near its course.  Normally water was not a problem at Carron but in times of drought the works had to cease manufacturing at great financial loss.  A light shower of rain during a prolonged dry spell could make a huge difference.  With the larger canal water supply was going to be more of a problem.  Again the Company was given the necessary assurances.

Smeaton’s new estimate for the deeper canal and the additional cuts to Glasgow, Bo’ness, Stenhouse Miln Dam and Carron, was £147,337; much greater than the promoters had anticipated.  Nevertheless, the Bill was introduced into Parliament on 14 May 1767.  The Committee for the Proprietors for the Forth and Clyde Canal Navigation needed to find cuts to cut – and the obvious one was that to the Carron Works.

Despite its best endeavours to persuade the backers of the Forth and Clyde Canal that the proposed navigation should end near Carronshore, there were compelling reasons for taking it further down the river.  At the last moment, on 11 December 1767, Carron Company agreed to withdraw its opposition to the requisite Parliamentary Bill if the proprietors of the Forth and Clyde Canal permitted a single link with their canal to the Carron Works.  After further blustering, Gascoigne, the new managing director of Carron Company, got an agreement in February 1768 from Sir Alexander Gilmour and Lawrence Dundas in the lobby of the House of Commons for two cuts – to Stenhouse dam and to Carronshore according to a plan by Alexander Shepherd of Bo’ness – in order not to oppose their Bill (D on the above map). At the Bill stage Carron Company was assured that its cut had merely been over­looked, and that the clause allowing landowners to make side cuts would be sufficient for their purposes.  Gascoigne noted that this clause did not allow for lockage water and would be insufficient.  It was pointed out that any vessel using the east end of the canal would need a lockful of water whether they went through the canal or the proposed cut.

Illus 2: Charles Gascoigne.

That same year, 1767, the lands of Abbotshaugh were disponed by James Goodlatt Campbell to Francis Garbett and Charles Gascoigne.  Francis Garbett and Company pressed on with its improvements to the River Carronto allow vessels of the burden that usually go between Bo’ness and London, to come to Fulderhaugh.”  Fulderhaugh was another name for Carron Wharf at Carronshore.  By the beginning of November the large loop to the east of Carronshore had been cut and work was well advanced on cutting the next loop to the east.   Carron Company contributed £50 to the costs.  It was claimed that the result was 12ft of water in spring-tides and 8ft in neap-tides.  As shareholders, the Carron Company attended general meetings of the Forth and Clyde Canal Navigation and in October presented a report suggesting that the Canal Company should cut the two large river loops near Grangemouth. 

At the same time Francis Garbett and Company made the Canal Company an offer of 8, 10, or 12 acres of their lands of Abbotshaugh, at the proposed Carronshore entrance to the canal for the purposes of building docks, wharfs, warehouses and so on for the public – thus countering claims that Francis Garbett and Company was intending to make a monopoly of such structures.  Oddly enough, few of those making such claims realised that the entry at Grangemouth created an even tighter monopoly there for the Forth and Clyde Canal Company.

The Bill received Royal Assent on 8 March 1768.  The route was designed as:

from the Firth or River of Forth, at or near the mouth of the River Carron, in the county of Stirling to the Firth or River of Clyde, at or near a place called Dalmuir Burnfoot in the County of Dumbarton and also a collateral Cut from the same to the city of Glasgow”. 

Again there were clauses to prevent water from being taken from the mills, but the side cut to Carronshore was not mentioned.  The first General Meeting of the Canal Proprietors was held at St Alban’s Tavern in London on 14 March 1768 with Lord Queensberry in the chair.  Amongst other business the agreement with Gascoigne for a forked cut to Carron and Carronshore was confirmed.

Preparations for the construction work began and now the engineers for the Forth and Clyde Canal refused to ratify the agreement for collateral cuts to Carronshore.  Furthermore, the Forth and Clyde Canal Company said they were unable to apply any money raised for the Great Canal on side cuts by virtue of the Bill.  Glasgow, however, was happy with the resulting Act as it safeguarded its interests.    Garbett, Gascoigne and the Carron Company realised that they had been duped! 

Carron Company had invested heavily in the area in general and in the potential presented by the canal terminus at Carronshore.  It was not disposed to accept the Act and Garbett commissioned James Brindley, Thomas Yeoman and John Golborne to make yet another survey to determine if there was a cheaper alternative route.  Brindley was probably chosen because he was the engineer for the Birmingham Canal on whose committee Samuel Garbett and Charles Gascoigne sat.  The Act for Birmingham had been passed just a few days before that for the Forth and Clyde.

On 10 June 1768 Sir Lawrence Dundas cut the first sod for the construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal near Grangemouth.  Robert McKell, from whom Carron Company leased Guildfield Mill, was appointed as the resident engineer.  It was only in September 1768 that Brindley’s report came out advising a small canal and  indicating that marginal savings might be made by slight alteration of the western end of the Canal, but that Smeaton’s line was the best available.  For the large canal its main recommendation was the removal of ‘Reay’s Ford’ on the River Carron at Grangemouth.  Smeaton replied that the latter would be hugely expensive and the Proprietors of the Forth and Clyde Canal authorised him to carry on regardless.  The broad loop in the river next to the ford was to be retained as a convenient and sheltered harbour.  Carron Company was not prepared to give up and used its shares in the Canal to exert pressure for the completion of the Carron collateral branch.  As construction work had begun, calls were made on the shareholders for their investment and Carron Company assiduously refused to heed them.

At the end of August 1768 Carron Company and Francis Garbett and Company, the latter also appearing under the name of the Carron Wharf Company, offered to build the collateral cut to their Works from the Forth & Clyde Canal at their own expense, if they were relieved of lock dues which they calculated at 5-6% per annum on the money laid out.   Smeaton was to lay out the line.  It would require two locks of water per vessel passing westwards.  In discussion Smeaton insisted that in the event of a water shortage the main line would get priority.

Gascoigne was keen to make the public aware of the benefits of the work already completed:

“That when we settled in this country in the year 1760, there was but little commerce passing on the river Carron, which was at that time an inconvenient navigation.  That we have considerably improved the river at our own expence.  That we have built large and convenient wharfs and warehouses for the accommodation of trade; and, in consequence of these improvements, there hath, for several years past, been a great resort of business.  The last year there were upwards of 12,000 cargoes, amounting to 40,000 tuns, upon our own account, and about 153 cargoes, or 450 tuns, upon that of other people.  That we have expended considerably above 100,000 l. Sterling upon establishments on the banks of the river, and employ many more than a thousand people in this country”

(Scots Magazine 1 November 1768).

Illus 3: Granary at Carron Wharf erected in 1768.

For a couple of years things went quiet on the political front as the work of digging the channel of the Forth and Clyde Canal and constructing the locks progressed westward. In March 1769 work began on the first “land” lock (No. 3) using direct labour rather than contractors. John Gwyn came down from Perth to superintend the carpentry and lay a strong platform of timber and piles as a foundation.

It was also at this time that the “Temporary Cut” was dug by the Canal Company between Lock 3 and the River Carron.

Illus 4: The Temporary Cut looking north to the River Carron with the timber posts of the lock chamber visible.

There has been a lot of misleading information in recent years suggesting that the cut had been made by Carron Company – but this was not the case. These modern sources refer to it as the “Carron Cut,” but it was never known by that name until the 20th century. The Temporary Cut was dug in order to allow the stones for the lock chambers of the Forth and Clyde Canal to be shipped directly to the work sites. The stone was quarried near Longannet on the other side of the Forth and from Kinnaird.

A temporary lock was built at the river end of the cut using timber rather than stone for the retaining walls. It was claimed that this was the first proper lock to be built in Scotland and it was seen as a large working model of the great locks to come. When the first stone of Lock 3 was laid on the timber foundation in August by Sir James Dunbar, one of the Canal Committee, the gentlemen attending were shown the passing of lighters through the temporary lock and expressed great satisfaction at the novelty.

Illus 5: Plan of 1771 showing the Temporary Cut with the Lock at the north end.

Work progressed well and in November 1771 it was announced to the public that the Forth and Clyde Canal would be rendered navigable as far as Kilsyth on or before the month of August 1772. Carron Company had already become aware of the advanced nature of the canal and this revived its interest in the collateral cuts to its works. On 17 April 1771 the General Committee for the Forth and Clyde Canal in London had appeared to agree to carrying out the work. Surveys were conducted in July 1771 over the land between the Carron Works and the course of the Forth and Clyde Canal at Bainsford and John Laurie produced a plan. It was found that the water upriver from the dam at Carron was 24ft 6ins below what it was intended to be in the Forth and Clyde Canal at Bainsford and that therefore the one mile of collateral cut between these places would require three locks. If, however, the collateral cut went to the east of Bainsford it would be 1.5 miles long and would only require two locks. As the depth of the Forth and Clyde Canal was to be increased from 7ft to 8ft the collateral cut would be of the same dimensions.

In September 1771 John Smeaton and Robert Mackell produced a more detailed report with cost estimates:

Stenhouse DamTail of Bainsford Lock 51900yds£5,4072
Stenhouse DamDalderse Lock 42650yds£5,7251
Stenhouse DamTemporary Cut from tail of Lock 3£6332A Stop Lock

Illus 6: 1771 Plan of the Projected Cuts from Bainsford to Carron Works and Carronshore.


Gascoigne seems to have preferred the collateral cut to link with the fourth lock at Dalderse but the Canal Company pointed out that the only route authorised by the Act of parliament was to the fifth lock at Bainsford. It also stated that it could not commence the link until the main canal was more or less complete.

On 19 October 1771 Gascoigne wrote to the Forth and Clyde Canal Company from Carron House:

Prompted by the manifest advantages of  water carriage from our works to the east and west seas joined  to  private emolument by serving the country we did about three years ago bring a Bill into parliament for powers to make a Navigable communication on a small scale in the nearest  practical line and immediately leading to our works, the Nobility  and Gentry took it up on a plan more extensive and magnificent and in the execution were diverted from the line of the utmost importance to us but lest we might be deprived  of our material advantages of situation they did as  subscribers  and afterwards as proprietors pledge their good faith for our accommodation.” 

The Carron Company offered to pay £10,594 towards the construction of the link canal.   At the General Meeting the proposal was supported by the Earl of Rosebery and Lord Elibank, but the motion was defeated and delays instituted.  Carron Company placed the blame for the lack of progress on the canal link on Thomas Dundas of Carronhall and Lawrence Dundas of Kerse.  The Dundas family undoubtedly knew from rumours that there were problems for Gascoigne lurking in the background which the delays would bring to the fore.  Gascoigne threatened the Canal Company with legal action for breach of contract and Carron Company continued to refuse to meet the calls for subscriptions from its 15 shares.

Next, Carron Company considered making the collateral cut themselves and in January 1772 advertised for a surveyor:

CARRON WORKS.  WANTED, a person who understands perfectly surveying, planning, and delineating lands, and the ad-measurement and computation by the piece, of all mason, brick, carpenter, and smith works, levelling, ditching, banking, and wagon-roads making.  His time to be filled up in a counting-house, when not otherwise employed.

(Caledonian Mercury 15 January 1772, 3).

The decision was ratified at the Carron Company’s April Committee Meeting:

“Mr Gascoigne acquainted the committee that Mr Adam and he had attended the proprietors of the Great Canal in London upon the business of making navigable communications between Carron Works, the River Carron and the Canal.  That after Eight general Meetings & Committees nothing had been concluded upon.  The committee taking into consideration these Delays and the Expediency of making a Navigable Cutt on the line proposed to the proprietors of the Canal between the works and River Carron as essential to the good conduct of their business.”

“Resolved to empower Mr Gascoigne to stake out the said line.  To prepare estimate of the expense & receive proposals for executing the same…”

(GD58/2/3/1 Committee Minute Book 1768-1785, Resolution 420).

By June Gascoigne was able to report

that in pursuance of Res 420 of the Committee of April 1772, he had staked out the Line of a navigable Communication between Stenhouse Damhead and the River Carron opposite the Pitch House… John Easton’s proposal for the work was the lowest at 2¼d per cubic yard.” 

Resolution 546 authorised the operation to begin.

However, the clouds looming in the background now burst, putting into question the whole viability of the project.  The intention had been for the ground in the lands of Abbotshaugh that had been staked out for the collateral cut to be transferred from the accounts of Charles Gascoigne and Francis Garbett to the Carron Company at £3.7.6 per acre.  On 17 August the Carron Company received a memorial stating that this ground had not been transferred before the estates of Gascoigne had been sequestered as a result of his financial debts and the land had been granted to the Trustees of Messrs Adam and Fairholme who were one of the principal creditors. 

The moment had slipped away, or so it seemed.  In September 1772 the phased opening of the Forth and Clyde Canal began and at the end of the month a vessel passed through Lock 3.  By the end of October the Canal was open as far as Bainsford.  Then on 20 January 1773 the Caledonian Mercury triumphantly announced:

“We have the pleasure of acquainting the public, that part of  the great canal between the Forth and Clyde is now opened, and lighters are passing through twenty locks as far as Kilsyth, which is about twelve miles from the sea, and a good way beyond the greatest height  of the country; and that in a few weeks hence the navigation will be completed the length of Kirkintilloch, which is nineteen miles in all, and within six miles of Glasgow: That these locks upon repeated trials answer extremely well, the vessels passing a lock in four minutes.”

In February 1773 Carron Company tried a new approach.  It now needed the powers given to the Forth and Clyde Canal Company to re-acquire the land for the collateral cut and so it presented the Canal Company with three options.  Firstly, it was willing to pay the same toll dues for the use of collateral canal cut from the pitch house to Forth and Clyde Canal Company as it would if it were using the  whole of the east end of the Forth and Clyde Canal, even though it was willing to make said cut at its own expense.  Alternatively, Carron Company could make the cut at its own expense, but not join it physi­cally to the River Carron.  This would necessitate a transhipment wharf at the point oppo­site to the pitch house.  With this option the cut would stay the property of the Carron Company which would still be entitled to all the tolls.  Furthermore, this option would require it to cut the neck of land above Grange Burn to improve navigation of the river.  The third and final option was for the Canal Company to cut the neck of land near the Grange Burn at its expense and for Carron Company to cut the link canal to the pitch house.  In this scenario the Canal Company would be permitted to collect the tolls from the Grange Burn mouth to the pitch house and along the new canal cut, except on goods to and from the Carron Works.  These proposals were considered at a Special Meeting of the Proprietors of the Forth and Clyde Canal Navigation held in the Goldsmiths’ Hall in Edinburgh on 2 March 1773.  All of the options were rejected. 

Even though the Forth and Clyde Canal had been open to Kilsyth for several months the revenue was still quite small and the Canal Company repeated its claim that the parliamentary Act did not allow it to spend any money on side cuts.  Just what happened next is uncertain but it seems that the Carron Company started to use the Temporary Cut to enter goods from the river to the Forth and Clyde Canal and thence to Kilsyth.  It saved the Carron lighters the long and arduous trip around the loop at Newton.  In 1771 Sir James Livingstone of Bantaskine had a right of servitude on the Temporary Cut and it had evidently not been physically decommissioned. 

Illus 7: Aerial Photograph showing the line of the Temporary Cut between the River Carron at the top and the Forth and Clyde Canal at the bottom. C1950.

Relations between the two companies worsened and matters came to a head in 1775 when Mackell closed the Temporary Cut.  The Carron Company had diverted some of the water from the Banton Burn near Kilsyth into the River Carron to make up for that taken further up the valley by the Canal Company.  Mackell complained and Gascoigne, according to Mackell, threatened to “blow out the brains” of anyone attempting to restore the water to the canal feeder.  Mackell took matters into his own hands and personally supervised the restoration of the water supply to the Canal.

In January 1776 Ludovic Grant was appointed as the Trustee of Abbotshaugh estate with power to sell parts thereof to raise funds and gradually the collateral cut seemed to be a possibility again.  385 acres of the lands of Abbotshaugh, Nether Mungal, Fulderhaugh, Gairdoch and Westerton, along with Carron Wharf, were advertised for sale in April 1776.  The developmental potential of the land was stressed by pointing out that

Towards the west side of the lands of Abbotshaugh and Nether Mungall, Carron Company propose a cut of communication betwixt the river Carron and the Great Canal; and on each side of that cut, small portions of ground for building upon, gardens, and other uses, may be disposed of to great account.”

(Caledonian Mercury 27 April 1776, 4).

The Carron Company was optimistic and placed the following advert:

Carron Office, October 1776.  PERSONS willing to undertake for the digging a Navigable Canal, and building the locks, dams, and bridges, of the dimensions of the Great Canal, from Carron Works to the River Carron, opposite the Pitch house, to be completed before November 1777, will please to deliver in their proposals at this Office, on or before the 27th of this month.” 

(Caledonian Mercury 9 October 1776, 4).

In March 1777 Carron Company agreed that if permission was given to construct the link canal across the lands of Abbotshaugh it would maintain the bridges and give free usage of them and the canal to the owners of Abbotshaugh.  The link canal was to be a private canal for their use only.  It was to be 1782 before the estate finally found a buyer and it was John Ogilive who was opposed to any form of navigation on his lands.  He even tried unsuccessfully to stop the tracking of vessels on the river.

Long before the sale of Abbotshaugh, the Carron Company seems to have abandoned the idea of the collateral cuts.  It now focused its attention on the promises made by Sir Lawrence Dundas back in 1773 to cut the large loops in the River Carron at Holemerrie.  At the beginning of 1773 the London Council of the Canal Company had appointed the Duke of Queensberry to negotiate a compromise with the Carron Company and this had been his solution to the problem.  The timing, however, had been unfortunate as the Forth and Clyde Canal Company was running into its own difficulties with finance as engineering problems mounted at the west end of the canal.  In 1775 construction work on the Great Canal ceased.

Illus 8: Map showing the lost loops of the River Carron.

Unable to advance the Forth and Clyde canal westward, Sir Lawrence Dundas now decided to make the promised cuts on the river in order to improve access to the canal from the Forth.  The work had to be done largely at his own expense.  The eastern loop took priority as it lay between the sea-lock and the Forth.  Conducting the project obviously meant disruption to the passage to the canal and during the work it was decided to close the sea-lock and reopen the Temporary Cut.  On the 6 November 1781 John Smeaton surveyed the closed cut and found it and the lock in much better condition than he had expected.  To restore it, he recommended strengthening and raising the height of the banks, equivalent to those of the main canal.  It re-opened in 1782 whilst the river was straightened.  Once this had been achieved it made the Temporary Cut redundant and the collateral cuts to Carron unnecessary.  Carron vessels could now navigate down the river to the entrance of the Forth and Clyde Canal without having to negotiate any loops.

Robert Porteous viewed the cutting of the loops at Holemerrie as the birth of the town of Grangemouth (Porteous 1994, 2).  He quotes the following letter from the newspaper to show the activities associated with the town’s establishment:

June 1783 – A letter from Sea-Lock, at the east end of the great canal, says, that the new cut from Holmerie to that place is going on very fast, and will be navigable before Martinmas.  The workmen, in cutting about the middle, found the bones and horns of two large deers, seven feet below the surface of the earth.  The other improvements going on about Sea-Lock, is building basons, harbours, quays, wharfs, cranes, etc. surpass the most sanguine expectations, and which, taken together, will render it one of the most elegant, useful and convenient undertakings this kingdom ever produced.”

In the economic, commercial and political manoeuvring Dundas had won over the Carron Company and the now defunct shipping line of Francis Garbett and Co.  As part of its protracted campaign the Carron Company had refused to make the payments on its shares in the Canal Company and as a result the latter, in 1781, exercised its powers conferred by the Act of 1771 to force the forfeiture of the shares.  Grangemouth rapidly grew into a prosperous town.  Carron Company also prospered.

For the next 225 years the Temporary Cut languished as a field drain and slowly silted up.  In the 1980s the Forth and Clyde Canal Society pushed for it to be re-opened to provide an eastern access to the Canal which had been filled in to the east of Lock 3.  Finally, a new length of canal was formed in 2000 running almost parallel to the Temporary Cut and between it and the M9.  A lock chamber was constructed to take boats from the canal to the river, to operate at high tides. Behind this a marina was formed. A second new lock was placed just to the north of the old canal to take the waterway down to the level of the surrounding land. The old Lock 3 was removed.

Illus 9: The Millennium Link Canal looking north. 2002 – before the Kelpies were erected.

Subsequently the Kelpies were constructed next to the basin, transforming the landscape.

Sites & Monuments Records

Carron CutSMR 882NS 9055 8225 to 9058 8163
Abbotshaugh CutSMR 2215NS 8790 8228 to 8910 8142
River Carron canalisationSMR 2102
Forth & Clyde Canal Millennium ExtensionSMR 1670NS 9059 82100


Bailey, G.B1992‘Along and Across the River Carron: a history of communications on the lower reaches of the River Carron,’ Calatria 2, 49-85.
Campbell, R.H1961Carron Company
Dowds, T.J.2003The Forth and Clyde Canal: A History.
Forth and Clyde Canal Society1991The Forth and Clyde Canal
Lindsay, J.1968The Canals of Scotland.
Porteous, R.1994Grangemouth’s Modern History, 2nd ed.
Watters, B.2010Carron: Where Iron Runs like Water.
Thanks to Brian Watters for copies of the resolutions of the Carron Company.

Geoff B. Bailey (2021)