Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,138 pages of information and 245,599 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter XV

From Graces Guide



The Scottish iron-field extends over North Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Stirlingshire, and has for nearly a century and a half contributed great wealth to the West of Scotland. Down to 1859 it produced one-third of the output of these islands, and it remained a source of production so important to the United Kingdom that the chief iron market in the world has its centre in the city of Glasgow, where the process of bulling and bearing iron warrants for many years in the latter part of the last century engaged the attention of a very active body of speculators. Pig iron not immediately saleable was deposited by the makers in a central depot known as Connal's Store. The deposits were represented by warrants, which were accepted by banks and others as good security for cash advances, and on presentation at the store entitled the holder to delivery of the quantity and quality of iron specified on the warrant. Fluctuations of trade made this a useful channel of finance, but the iron market became the focus of wild speculation in which fortunes were made and lost. Today the course of trade has rendered the warrant market of small importance, and it never was made use of by Midland iron producers, although to some extent the North-east of England relied on similar accommodation. In the palmy days of the warrant market more than 1,000,000 tons of iron were occasionally deposited in the Stores.

The history of the Scottish iron-field has many points worthy of note. Coal-mining on a very small scale was carried on in the district of which Coatbridge is the centre early in the eighteenth century. The local coal trade was developed by a canal, surveyed by James Watt, known as the Monkland Canal, which connected the district with Glasgow; but it was not till 1805 that David Mushet of the Calder Iron Works, erected in 1795 by a company of stocking weavers from Glasgow, discovered the rich seam of black band ironstone lying some 40 yards beneath the seam known as splint coal. This ironstone was confined to a comparatively small area, and is now exhausted. It contained 35 per cent of iron and when calcined as much as 70 per cent. The proximity of this ore encouraged the sinking of more collieries and the establishment of iron works. The first of these was a small colliery at Rochsolloch, started by William Baird, the founder of the celebrated Gartsherrie Iron Works. A railway was made in 1824 to convey the coal and iron to Glasgow and, in 1830, iron production became the leading feature of the district. The hot blast which was discovered and applied by J. B. Neilson produced a large number of blast-furnace plants. The output, however, still remained small. But while cold blast furnaces of small size produced from 3 to 4 tons in a shift of 12 hours, by the hot blast this quantity was doubled. The production of iron, however, rapidly increased up to 1845, when the seven blast furnaces of 1830 had advanced to sixty. The production of pig iron rose from 10,000 tons a year to a maximum of 412,000 tons in 1863. The trade passed through every kind of crisis during that period. In 1857 there was a stock of 690,000 tons on the ground, but the advent of iron shipbuilding and the general demand for manufactured iron in America, as well as in Scotland, soon cleared that stock away. Foundry iron of the Scottish makers found a large and increasing market in the United States.

The Coatbridge district was soon covered with small iron works such as foundries and forges for the malleable iron which the local trades in the Clyde district required. The names of Baker, MacGilchrist, Lumsden, Martin, Jackson, Stewart, Henderson, Spencer, Colville and Ronald fairly represent those who founded these businesses, most of which have been absorbed by the larger steel and iron works of to-day. Iron has been replaced by steel in most industries which the Scottish blast furnaces supply. As the black band has gradually disappeared, supplies of hematite from the Cumberland coast, as well as Spanish and Mediterranean ores, have taken its place in the blast furnaces, producing an iron low in phosphorus.

The Bairds of Gartsherrie, seven brothers, sons of a farmer, established their works in 1830 and built up a great business with works in Ayrshire and Eglinton, Blair and Muirkirk. They made a large fortune as time went on. The Dundyvan Works were founded by Colin Dunlop and John Wilson, a partnership which later included Neilson of hot-blast fame. These works have, however, long ceased to exist. The Summerlee iron works were founded by the Neilson family. The father of this family, it may be noted, built the first iron steam-boat, the Fairy Queen, at his engine works at Rudbank, Glasgow. The Carnbroe Works were erected in 1838 by Alexander Alison, James Merry and Alexander Cunningham. This business increased rapidly in importance, and provided great wealth for the partners, one of whom, James Merry, became somewhat prominent in the sporting world as a winner of the Derby. He was also a Member of the House of Commons. Langloan Ironworks, erected in 1841, are connected with the names of Robert Addie, Robert Miller and Patrick Rankine, and now belong to the Langloan Iron Co.

The pig-iron trade in this district is now carried on by twelve different firms, owning sixteen plants, of which ten are situated in Lanarkshire, five in Ayrshire and one in Stirlingshire. Some are public limited companies, such as the Coltness Iron Co, the Shotts Iron Co, the Dalmellington Iron Co, and, in Stirlingshire, the Carron Co, which was founded as far back as 1759 and was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1773. These companies own not only blast-furnaces, but also modern by-product plants, collieries, iron ore mines abroad, steel works, foundries and forges. The dividends declared on the Ordinary capital of the public companies on the list in the last fifty years have been considerable, and in the early years of the present century 15 per cent, 20 per cent, 30 per cent, and even 60 per cent per annum have been paid by some of them. It is probable that the private firms earned fair profits during the same period. The largest makers of pig iron are William Baird and Co of Gartsherrie, and the Eglinton, Muirkirk and Lugar Works in Ayrshire, with extensive collieries in all three counties. The Coltness Iron Co own coal in Fifeshire as well as Lanarkshire, and are joint proprietors of the San Alquife Mines in Spain with the Millom and Askam Co in Cumberland. The Langloan Co are part owners of the Bacares Mines of Spain. These finer ores are necessary since open-hearth steel has been generally adopted, as hematite pig is requisite for the steel furnace. These changes took place in 1888, and probably more than half the furnaces now in blast are on hematite ores.

There are 101 furnaces in the Scottish districts, out of 475 in Great Britain. Their output in 1924 was 667,000 tons, from about thirty-four actually in blast. The firm of William Baird and Co owns twenty-six, the Carron Co four, the Coltness Iron Co nine, the Dalellington Co (which is, however, dismantling its plant) five, William Dixon thirteen, James Dunlop and Co five, Glengarnock Iron and Steel Co seven, the Langloan Iron and Chemical Co five, Merry and Cunningham ten, the Shotts Iron Co five, the Summerlee Iron Co seven, and the Wishaw Iron and Steel Co six. All these blast furnaces are fairly well up to date compared with similar plants in England. Much capital has been laid out in recent years in erecting modern stoves, pig-breaking and lifting machines, and other subsidiary appliances. Smaller furnaces have been pulled down and larger ones have been erected in their place. Some modern blowing engines have been erected, and by-product recovery plants are now the rule. In the Ayrshire Works (as was formerly the case in Derbyshire with "top hard" seam coal), "splint" coal produced in the Hamilton district has been used in the older furnaces with satisfactory results.

At the beginning of this century 240,000 tons of common iron were annually consumed in the Scottish foundries and 890,000 tons of hematite were used in local steel works, in addition to 655,000 tons of Cleveland iron and English West Coast hematite. About 300,000 tons of pig iron were exported. To produce this iron 7,000 men were employed in and about the furnaces. Wages were regulated by agreement. The figures for the period since the War vary according to the state of trade, but in an average year are probably about the same.


Amongst the firms in the West of Scotland using the pig iron of the district in the production of forged iron, such as merchant bars, about twenty survive in the Coatbridge, Motherwell and Wishaw districts. Besides one or two in Glasgow, three of these firms are public limited companies, namely, Smith McLean, Pather Iron and Steel Co, and Stewarts and Lloyds. These three firms, however, now devote themselves chiefly to steel. That of Stewarts and Lloyds owns the North Lincolnshire Iron Co and other English companies. As steel tube makers this firm is pre-eminent. Amongst the other firms are the Waverley Iron and Steel Co, Thomas Ellis, John Spencer, the Victoria Iron and Steel Co, the Coatbridge Tin Plate Co, the Woodside Steel and Iron Co, and the great firm of David Colville and Sons, which owns several collieries and a large part of whose capital is held by the shipbuilding firms of Harland and Wolff of Belfast and John Brown and Co of Sheffield. The others are private firms. Of these the oldest is Hugh Martin and Sons. Its raw material is Scottish and Middlesbrough forged iron, and its principal market is on the Clyde, where the shipyards, tube works, rivet works and engineering establishments absorb large quantities of bar iron. A good deal of its production goes abroad and to the Colonies. As in the case of the English iron trade, both production and price have dwindled greatly during the last twenty years. Mild steel is taking the place of bar iron in all directions, as less weight of metal in steel will do the same work as a heavier weight of iron.

The West of Scotland iron-makers have been fairly successful in regulating prices for British contracts, although this means a certain restriction of output, which has enabled the associated works to give fair employment and to absorb a large tonnage of pig iron. Few of these firms are interested directly either in blast furnaces or in collieries. They depend on the open market for all their materials. Labour and wages are regulated under an agreement between the owners and the workmen, in accordance with the average realised prices of bar iron at the works. This sliding-scale has been a continuous success.

Amongst the principal engineering works other than shipyards with marine engine plant in the Glasgow district are James Dunlop and Co, whose Ordinary share capital of £250,000 was bought by Lithgows of Port Glasgow in 1920, though the Preference Shares of £300,000 are retained by the public. The Glasgow Iron and Steel Co was purchased by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, Barclay, Curle and Co and William Beardmore and Co. It owns, besides blast furnaces and collieries, steel works at Wishaw, but the steel works have been recently sold for demolition. The Lanarkshire Steel Co, with a capital of £450,000, owning steel works and collieries in Lanark, has now been acquired by Workman Clarke and Co of Belfast, after passing through several intermediate hands, and the same firm has acquired the collieries of John Watson. The Steel Company of Scotland, with an authorised capital of £900,000, is one of the largest concerns in Scotland. Its entire Ordinary capital was bought recently by a syndicate including important shipbuilding firms, such as A. Stephen and Sons, Yarrow and Co, Hawthorn, Leslie and Co, Ardrossan Dockyard and Co, Greenock Dockyard Co (which is owned by the Clan Line), and the Ayrshire Dockyard Co. Other noted firms are the Mirrlees Watson Co, makers of sugar machinery, Sir W. D. Arrol and Co, structural steel-makers and bridge engineers, who have contracted for great undertakings all over the British Empire; Fullerton, Hodgart Barclay, makers of air compressors; Glenfield and Kennedy of Kilmarnock; W. E. Alley and MacLellan, makers of heavy machinery; G. and J. Weir (of which Lord Weir is Chairman), whose capital of £1,200,000 has been reduced to £600,000, makers of pumps; William Beardmore and Co of Parkhead (of which Lord Invernairn is Chairman), whose capital, including the shipyard, is £3,490,000 in shares; the North British Locomotive Co; J. Howden and Co, marine boiler specialists; Hurst Nelson and Co of Motherwell, makers of railway rolling-stock, and R. Y. Pickering and Co of Wishaw.


There is an understanding between North-east Coast plate- and angle-makers and the Scottish makers covering ordinary mild steel for shipbuilding, bridge-building, tanks, and general constructional work, whereby each district respects the other's territory. The North-east Coast makers do not normally sell in Scotland, and the Scottish makers do not normally sell on the North-east Coast. In other parts of the United Kingdom, the Barrow District, Midlands, South of England and Belfast, the makers are free to make sales where they can, subject to certain agreed minimum prices. For some time the South Durham and Cargo Fleet Companies on the East Coast have not been formally committed to these arrangements, though there is no reason to believe that they do not conform to them.

As regards wages, there is a sliding-scale arrangement in existence, binding on all makers of mild steel in England and Scotland, except the tin-plate makers, who have a scale of their own. The basis of this arrangement is the net realised price of steel plates sold by certain selected works, as ascertained by an accountant. Quarterly adjustments are made, and wages fluctuate by 1.25 per cent for each 2s. 6d. rise or fall in prices. The peak was reached in February 1921, when wages stood at 190 per cent above base rate. They now stand at 21.25 per cent above the base rate, but in the case of the lower paid men, further reductions have ceased at base rate plus 32.5 per cent.

During the last twenty-five years the increasing magnitude of iron and steel constructions has created a demand for machine tools of a size and power never needed, and perhaps never dreamt of, by the preceding generation. Ships of enormous capacity and high speed, fitted with heavy auxiliary machinery of every kind, increased docking accommodation with powerful hydraulic appliances, locomotive engines of great size, naval guns and their mountings, barbettes, armour plates and rams, electric power plants with dynamos driven by turbine machinery, rolled girders, channels and plates of heavy sections and large superficial area, steel bridges calculated for the heaviest strains and of extreme spans — all these have called for machinery of a class capable of dealing with masses and weights formerly unknown in the engineering trades. Some of the steel which these tools have to operate upon is of a specially hard type, and the demand of the engineer for the most accurate standardisation and the most exact precision of measurement is as great to-day with regard to heavy work as it ever was in relation to smaller products. New designs of machine tools have come to the front from year to year, many emanating from American or German workshops. But, while foreign designs are frequently copied and improved upon in this country, very few heavy machines made abroad are actually in use here. The United States have never given us really satisfactory appliances of this class, and may be said to be outside competition in Great Britain; though it is equally true that in the case of light machine tools large numbers are annually imported from America, where, though their reputation for durability is not high, they can be had in larger quantities and with quicker delivery than in these islands. Scottish and English makers do not always keep them in stock, and the larger firms prefer to devote their energies to the more expensive types, of which they frequently have exclusive rights of production.

Whether Glasgow or Manchester is the real centre of the trade is a disputed point. Probably Manchester produces more heavy machine tools than Glasgow for ordinary inland engineering establishments, and she certainly employs more men. In the Sheffield steel works, for instance, four-fifths of the machine tools in use are made in Manchester and a fair proportion in Leeds. But in the case of shipyards and marine engine works, the facts are the other way. The Glasgow district supplies by far the larger number of their requisites, and one-fourth of its output is destined for shipyard use. The productions of the great firms there which are at the head of the trade are to be found in all the important marine engineering and shipbuilding establishments in this country and in many of those abroad. Their machine tools for other purposes, too, are exported to nearly every part of the world where iron and steel are wrought. Of these firms (four of which are private limited companies), thirteen may be described as makers of engineering and shipbuilding machine tools. They are:

Besides these, there are two firms which confine themselves to woodworking machinery, viz.,

The work turned out by all these firms comprises lathes, sawing machines, screwing machines, grinding machines, presses, frame-bending plants, drilling, slotting and planing machines, and every kind of apparatus for finishing the castings, the forgings and the rolled materials used in shipyards, marine engine works and the heavy engineering trades. Besides these, there are many well-known firms engaged in turning out heavy machinery not so distinctively connected with marine work.

William Arrol and Co

The largest and in some respects the most interesting of the firms in this district is Sir William Arrol and Co, which was founded at Dalmarnock in the early seventies of the last century by the head of the firm, who afterwards sat in the House of Commons. These great works are a monument to his personal skill and industry. He began life as a working man, founded a small business as a boiler maker, and with saved money in a few years found himself the owner of a flourishing iron works, afterwards turned into a limited company. The firm built some of the principal Caledonian railway bridges. It built the Forth Cantilever Bridge, on which, from 1883 to 1890, between 3,000 and 5,000 men were constantly employed, and which is the greatest engineering work of the kind in existence. Forty-two thousand tons of steel were worked into the superstructure and 12,000 tons of iron were used in the foundations, at a total cost of £3,500,000. At the same time the firm was engaged upon the new Tay Bridge, which took the place of that blown down in the storm of 1881. The Tower Bridge over the Thames in London was constructed by the same firm.

North British Locomotive Co

More than half of the locomotives produced outside the railway companies' own works in these islands are made in or near Glasgow. The North British Locomotive Co, one of the two locomotive firms in the district, is the largest engine-building firm in this country, if not in Europe. It was a combination, formed in 1903 under a board of ten expert directors, of the three well-known firms of Neilson, Reid and Co, of Hyde Park Locomotive Works, Glasgow; Dubs and Co, of Glasgow Locomotive Works, and Sharp, Stewart and Co, of Atlas Works, Glasgow. The origin of Neilson, Reid and Co. has been referred to in another chapter. The capital of the combine is £2,000,000 in Preference and Ordinary Shares. The Company has been financially successful since its inception. The Chairman is Sir H. Reid, Bart., C.B.E.

Andrew Barclay, Sons and Co

The other leading Scottish firm is Andrew Barclay, Sons and Co, of Kilmarnock. There are some smaller firms near Glasgow in the Coatbridge district which make locomotives for other than main-line work. The Glasgow firms do a large trade with India, South America, Japan and Australia, in competition with German builders. Naturally the United States is the most formidable competitor for the South American trade, which has been usually the best for British markets. In one year the South American States took locomotives from this country to the value of £1,500,000 sterling. Canada takes few, as the cost of transport from the Clyde by sea, which involves stripping, packing and re-erecting on the other side, opens an easy door to United States makers, who simply run the locomotives across the frontier by rail. The following table gives the capital of some of the chief firms in the iron and steel trade of Scotland:

  Issued capital
Firms Ordinary Preference Debentures Total
David Colville and Sons £2,700,000 £969,320 - £3,669,320
James Dunlop and Co £250,000 £300,000 - £550,000
Scottish Iron and Steel Co £450,000 £300,000 £66,645 £816,645
Steel Company of Scotland £500,000 - £94,000 £594,000
Stewarts and Lloyds £4,865,462 £550,000 - £5,415,462
William Beardmore £2,050,000 £1,440,000 £1,338,200 £4,828,200
Lanarkshire Steel Co £185,000 £250,000 - £435,000
Motherwell Iron and Steel Co £65,810 £49,189 £94,186 £209,185
Totals: £11,066,272 £3,858,509 £1,593,031 £16,517,812

See Also


Sources of Information