John Park, 32 the Loaning, Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, Strathclyde, Scotland, U.K. ML1 3HE
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Wilsontown The first Ironworks in Lanarkshire. An Iron Community
The site of the first Ironworks in Lanarkshire. It is hard to believe that this quiet was once a noisy, smoky, industrial site, full of people. Can you imagine a cramped village of small houses surrounding a tight complex of furnaces, forge and rolling mills, churning out tonnes of iron each day? But from 1779 to 1842 that's what happened here, and it was to change the face of iron manufacture for ever. Are you one of the many people who have an ancestor who lived and worked at Wilsontown? Thousands of people worked here over the years and their relatives are now spread over the globe. Wilsontown Ironworks is an important place for many people who travel long distances to see where their ancestors lived and toiled. Believe it or not, this remote place is very important to Scotland's industrial heritage. This was the very first ironworks in Lanarkshire, a region that went on to dominate the Scottish Iron and Steel industry until relatively recently. As one of the earliest Ironworks in the Lowlands it became a model for other Ironworks that sprung up soon after. You would find the latest technology here as the owners were quick to invest heavily in new ideas.
An enterprising family
Robert Wilson had a small coal mine on his land here in the 1770's. But the idea of starting an Ironworks happened after he and his brother William found some ironstone in a burn while out a walk across the moor. They, and another brother John, set up the Ironworks despite the family being mainly merchants and Lawyers by trade. Even after a lot of money, effort and time, their ironworks was not to be a financial success. A combination of the economics of the time, disagreements between the brothers as to how the business should be run brought an end to the enterprise. After going bankrupt in 1811 and being put up for sale, the enterprise was bought in 1821 by William Dixon, whose company ran the ironworks until 1842. After this date the furnaces blown out for the final time, equipment sold off to Carron Ironworks and all the workers dismissed.
A happy accident
A water leak at Wilsontown in 1828 led to the accidental discovery that blowing hot air into the blast furnace was better than blowing cold air in. This discovery of 'hot blast' revolutionised iron manufacture for ever. A new design of nozzle was then developed here to use the hot blast, it was called Scotch tuyere. Both these inventions were born at Wilsontown and used in iron manufacture across the world.
What's cooking ?
People toiled at Wilsontown to make iron in the blast furnaces. Coke, limestone and ironstone were dropped into the top of the furnaces, air blown in by steam engines and the temperature raised to about 1200 -- 1300 Celcius. The mixture cooked and produced the basic type of iron, pig iron. This pig iron was then put through the fineries, the forge and the rolling mill to make all sorts of irn products for sale. They made nailrods, axles, boiler plates, pipes, cannon balls, rails for tram ways and ballast. 90 tonnes a week were made there. The terms sow and pigs (hence pig iron) comes from the idea that the rows of sand moulds resemble a row of suckling pigs.
Keep your eyes open.
Nature has reclaimed the industrial landscape and there's lots to discover if you look closely. Wildflowers have taken advantage of the spoil material on railway lines and mines. You'll find gentians, wild thyme and stag's horn clubmoss amongst the grasses and more common flowers there. This habitat attracts a great variety of insects in the summer. Watch out for day flying moths and butterflies such as the latticed heath, six spot burnet and small pearl bordered fritillary. Overhead, kestrels and buzzards visit regularly with ravens and crossbills passing through occasionally.
It's just off the main A706 road near the village of Forth. I intend to visit the site quite soon and add details of what I find to this site.
More to follow