Gartsherrie Iron Works
by Andrew Miller - Rise and
Progress of Coatbridge
written in 1864
Gartsherrie Iron Works, the proprietors of which are the Messrs Baird, are the next in order, and their career has been without a parallel for success in the West of Scotland, and who, as iron masters, are second to none in the kingdom.
Their ancestors for several generations belonged to this parish (Old Monkland); and their father, Alexander Baird, who died at an advanced age in the winter of 1833, was an industrious farmer, being a tenant on both Drumpeller and Rosehall estates of the farms of Kirkwood, Newmains, and High Cross. The family consisted of two daughters and eight sons. The three eldest were born at Woodhead, the next five at Kirkwood, and the two youngest at High Cross.
The elder sons aided their father in the work on the farms, and he lived to aid by his counsel and pecuniary assistance to establish the Gartsherrie Works, with two blast furnaces. Seven of the brothers were ultimately partners in the works, John, the second son, being the only one that followed his sire's occupation of a farmer.
The place and year of birth of the respective members of the family:
The most, of them received their
education at the parish school,
under the late Mr Cowan, parochial
teacher. Several of the younger
members attended the schools in
Glasgow; and David, the youngest of
the family, had the advantage of
receiving a first-class education,
which was finished under the best
tutors that Edinburgh, Glasgow, and
Paris could provide.
When the Messrs Baird commenced to erect their first furnace at Gartsherrie they had difficulties in a financial way that would have proved a serious obstacle to men of less determination, but they manfully wrought away until success crowned their efforts. In 1830, the manufacture of iron in the district was but in its infancy; the Bairds, shrewd business men, prepared for the future by securing leases for extensive supplies of both ironstone and coal. At that time there was little or no opposition, and such leases could be and were secured on very reasonable terms, which may be considered the most important acquisition towards the future prosperity of an iron work. But the great secret of their success could also be attributed to another source, and that was their indomitable energy, attention, and strict personal surveillance over all the various departments connected with their business.
This appears to have been their mode of conducting whatever undertaking they engaged in, whether as farmers, coalmasters, or ironmasters, and is traceable from their first starting-point as coalmasters, when they became lessees of the small portion of the coal-field on the estate of Rochsolloch in 1816, and on from one point to another, up till the present time, their career has been one of patience, toil, and industry; and now, in the autumn of their days, those who have been spared are reaping their reward in the possession and enjoyment of those comforts and luxuries which wealth can sometimes bestow. In developing mineral resources, they have been equally successful in other districts, for, in addition to the works at Gartsherrie, they have four iron works in Ayrshire.
In 1846 they started the Eglinton
Iron Works, at which there are eight
blast furnaces; in 1852, they
acquired the Blair Iron Works, with
five blast furnaces; and in 1856,
both the Lugar and Muirkirk Iron
Works, at which there are seven
blast furnaces, and at the latter a
malleable work - thus, taking in
Gartsherrie along with these other
works, they have a total of
thirty-six blast furnaces,
twenty-six of which are at present
working. The produce of iron from
these, taking an average, cannot be
less than 650 tons daily.
The Messrs Baird, as landed proprietors, are represented in eight counties in Scotland, viz.:- Lanark, Ayr, Fife, Dumfries, Kincardine, Inverness, Aberdeen, and Roxburgh.
Taking the brothers in their respective order of seniority, we find William was proprietor of the estates of Rosemount, in Ayrshire, and Elie, in Fifeshire, the former purchased in 1853, for 47,000, and, the latter in the same year for 153,000 [William died in March of the present year, 1864].John is proprietor of the estates of Loch wood, in Lanarkshire, and Ury in Kincardineshire, the former being a gift from William, who inherited it from his father, the father having purchased it in 1825, and Ury was bequeathed him by his brother, Alexander, who died in 1862. The latter estate was purchased in 1854, for the sum of 120,000.
James is proprietor of the estates of Cambusdoon, in Ayrshire, and Knoydart, in Inverness-shire, the former purchased in 1853, for the sum of 22,000, and the latter in 1857, for 90,000. Muirkirk estate, also purchased in 1863, for the sum of 17,500. The estate of Auchmedden, in Aberdeenshire, which was purchased in 1853 for the sum of 60,000, was bequeathed to him by his brother, Robert, late of Auchmedden, who died in 1856.
Douglas was proprietor of the estate of Closeburn, in Dumfriesshire, which was purchased in 1850 for the sum of 225,000, At his death, which took place in 1856, it became the property of his two children, twin daughters.
George is proprietor of the estate of Stricken in Aberdeenshire, and Stichell in Roxburghshire, the former purchased in 1855, for the sum of 145,000, and the latter he inherited by his brother, David, who died in 1860. Stichell was purchased in 1858, for the sum of 160,000. All these estates represent in round numbers upwards of a million and a half of capital thus invested, independent of what is held by them as a company, such as the estates of Palacecraig, Faskine, Cliftonhill, High Coats, Gartcloss, Dunbeith, &c., and for the first two of which, the sum of 90,000 was paid in 1841. The extents of the respective estates are as follows:- Rosemount, about 1000 acres; Elie, 3000 acres; Ury, 6000 acres; Cambusdoon, 100 acres; Knoydart, 67,000 acres; Auchmedden, 6000 acres; Muirkirk, 17,500 acres, Closeburn, 13,000acres; Strichen, 11,000 acres; Stichell, 4000 acres; and to several of these estates considerable additions have lately been made, by the purchase of farms adjoining. From these facts it is evident that iron manufacture has been a very lucrative business, when conducted on the energetic principles applied by the firm of Gartsherrie Iron Works.
By 1869, rationalisation of the industry had started, and the Gartsherrie Ironworks had become the largest in Coatbridge and in Scotland, employing 3200 men and boys; operating 6 steam engines on 50 miles of railway track; and consuming over 1000 tonnes of coal each day, most of it mined in the immediate locality. More difficult was sourcing the ironstone, which was having to come from further afield; and the waste from the process was steadily mounting - by 1869 the waste bing or heap for the ironworks was said to be as large as the Great Pyramid in Egypt.