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British Industrial History

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Summerlee Iron Works

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Summerlee Iron Works of Monklands (1836-1930))

Summerlee was one of the first iron works built using the revolutionary 'hot blast' method of making iron invented by James Beaumont Neilson which transformed the iron industry in Scotland.

1836 The works were established by James' elder brother John Neilson, whose son, Walter Neilson, an all-round practical engineer, was called on to manage the new blast furnace. He was the junior partner in the firm formed to start the works; the other members of the firm were his father (John Neilson), and Messrs. George and John Wilson, of Dalmarnock and the Hurlet Alum Works and was long known as Wilsons and Co. At first the works had two blast furnaces, the blowing-engine for which was made at Oakbank Foundry.

As a result of using the improved blast process, Coatbridge became known as the 'Iron Burgh' of Scotland by the 1850s.

The iron was made at 1500 Celsius in 60 foot high furnaces before being cast as pig iron. The iron was used in engineering, shipbuilding and to make wrought iron and, later, steel. A bar of pig iron discovered during excavations on the site of Summerlee Iron Works was featured on the BBC site: History of the World[1]. Iron workers worked 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week and were considered old men by the age of 45 or 50

The works were gradually extended until they eventually had eight furnaces.

1868 Walter Neilson made experiments to use the waste gases from the blast-furnace. He adapted the Addenbrook system of collecting a portion of the combustible gas for heating the blast air and generating steam.

c.1870 Wilsons and Co ceased operation and the works were taken over by the Summerlee Iron Co, which consisted of Walter Neilson, his brother Hugh Neilson, and Messrs. John and William Neilson, sons of the former; the manager was Mr. George Neilson, another son, who had been in that position for several years.

Early 1880s: The Summerlee and Mossend works amalgamated, presumably as Summerlee and Mossend Iron and Steel Co. After this Walter Neilson (1842-1896) carried on business on his own account[2]

1884 August 18 Death of Walter Neilson, ironmaster of Summerlee[3], brother of Hugh Neilson.

By 1885 three furnaces had been adapted to the Addenbrook system, with open tops, and four had been closed in at the top and worked on the bell and cone system.

Late 19th century: Local reserves of ironstone were exhausted within 50 years. Soon coal had to be imported, too. The rise of the steel industry contributed to the decline of the iron works.

1921 Death of Walter Neilson (c.1849-1921), ironmaster, director of the Summerlee Iron and Coal Co[4].

1926 Summerlee's furnaces went out for the last time.

Late 1930s, the site was demolished and the remains of the ironworks were covered over.


See Lanarkshire Iron Works

  • The Summerlee Heritage Centre has been set up on the site

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. History of the World[1]
  2. Glasgow Herald 20 April 1896
  3. The Times 25 December 1884
  4. The Times 6 December 1921