Summerlee Iron Works
Summerlee Iron Works of Monklands, Coatbridge (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 (another family concern). The works were intended only for the making of pig iron,
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. 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.
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.
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.
The site is now home to the Summerlee Museum of Industrial Life (Summerlee Heritage Centre). In the 1980s part of the site was subjected to archaeolgical excavation. . Much of the excavated area remains exposed in the grounds of the museum. See photos.
In photo 1, the brickwork in the top left corner once supported a bank of Lancashire boilers, heated by blast furnace gas. Top right: large masonry base of the beam blowing engine, used for blowing the blast furnaces. Foreground: location of plant used for recovery of chemical by-products.
In photo 2, Blast Furnace No. 7 was located at the top left hand corner of the photo. It was flanked on the right by two hot blast stoves. The other stoves and blast furnaces were in a line off to the left.The waterway on the right was the Gartsherrie Cut, an offshoot of the Monkland Canal.
- For the number of furnaces in blast between the 1830s and 1951 see Lanarkshire Iron Works
Sources of Information
- Obituary of William Neilson
- Obituary of William Neilson
- History of the World
- Glasgow Herald 20 April 1896
- The Times 25 December 1884
- The Times 6 December 1921
- Excavations at Summerlee Ironworks, Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire', by John Lewis and Robin Murdoch, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 137 (2007), 501-530