Iron & Steelworks in 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.
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' 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 The firm, which had long been known as Wilsons and Co, ceased operation; 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 II carried on business on his own account.
1884 August 18
Death of Walter Neilson, ironmaster of Summerlee, 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.
The works closed in 1930 and were demolished in 1939.
The site was then backfilled to a depth of about 5m. The dumped overburden has been removed by machine and excavations to date have revealed a series of Lancashire boiler bases, the foundations of an engine house and a blast house, five heating stoves (for heating the air blast to the furnaces) and the remains of four furnaces.
These all show two phases of iron smelting. A network of underground flues and ducts has also been exposed as well as surface drainage channels leading to the nearby branch of the Monklands Canal.
During April 2000 small-scale excavations were undertaken on the site of Summerlee Ironworks following on from an earlier excavation at the site (as part of a Manpower Services Commission project) between 1985-87.
Four trenches were excavated, combined with archaeo-metallurgical sampling and analysis. The excavations were targeted around the secondary chemical processing area, the southern engine house, blast furnace no. 6, and in the area of the pig beds.
The results suggest that primary deposits at the site remain intact and have not been compromised by the earlier excavations. In all four trenches substantial material cultural remains were encountered, including pottery, bricks, iron fittings, timber members and glassware. Sampling and analysis of soil and archaeo-metallurgical waste was undertaken.