Summerlee and the Hydrocon

Summerlee and the Hydrocon

Some memories by Bob McMillan

My memories of this area are scant as it was difficult for a "Sunnysider" to get there.  It meant a trip down to the Fountain, round by the Central station and up Corsewall Street, an area of unknown territory to me as a youngster.

Looking across from Gartsherrie Road the ground rose some thirty feet or so between the canal and the modern housing in Summerlee.  There on the plateau lay the remains of the old Summerlee iron works.  The remains of various brick structures could be seen there until the ground was cleared in the 1950,s for the Hydrocon crane works.  The name "Hydrocon" I believe came from the development and use of hydraulic controls in their machines. 

 Previously such equipment used purely mechanical drive systems, which made them bulky, expensive to maintain and gave them less finesse when in use.   The old Ruston Bucyrus dragline machines were typical of this system.

When the site was being cleared they discovered the substantial brick bases of the blast furnaces and other major structures.   These lay exposed for some time before being dug out and the holes in-filled.

The actual Hydrocon factory consisted of several large brick sheds with tin roofs.  I assume that they were mostly assembly areas and that most of the necessary parts were brought in pre-made.   The flash of welding torches made it an interesting sight to a young boy.

When built, the cranes were driven out in to the yard and the jibs assembled.  Huge weights were attached to the crane hook and the whole machine tested.  It was interesting to watch the stability testing (as I now know it to be) where they tested different weights and jib angles until the crane started to tip up or tilt sideways. 

We youngsters always hoped they would go too far and tip one right over.  Indeed, one day we were rewarded for our patience and a crane did indeed go right over on its side.  Sadly (Hmmmm) I didn't see it happen but the vehicle lay there for a couple of days with the sad, bent latticework of the jib overhanging the drop towards the canal.  It was with a sense of pride that I used to pass Hydrocon cranes in later years (after cursing them for slowing down the traffic) and always wondered if I had actually seen that one in the yard. 

Later in the life of the site I believe they used to repair cranes, as cranes of all shapes and sizes used to appear and were seen being worked on.

Hydrocon Lorry Mounted Crane SWL 8 Tonne
This photo was kindly supplied by structural Steel engineers - Rppin Ltd of Cowdenbeath in Fife  The crane is still in regular use use at their yard.

The Summerlee Heritage Centre now occupies the old Hydrocon site and the area bordering the canal.  The framework of their factory was stripped, repaired and reclad to form the Museum's Exhibition Hall.   I think it fitting that one of  Coatbridge's last industrial manufacturing sites should be used in this way.

Summerlee has been described as "Scotland's Noisiest Museum" and the exhibition hall houses a large collection of historic machinery Whenever possible, Summerlee  provides demonstrations of machinery and traditional skills.  Permanent exhibitions include reconstructed working environments such as a Tinsmiths Shop, a Brass Foundry, Spade Forge, .Brassfinishers Shop.    Other exhibits include an old Co-op Shop with some old products and equally old prices, a Bicycle and Radio Shop,  a display of Bricks - mostly firebricks from Glenboig and neighbouring areas.

The most interesting part of the Museum is outdoors.  It is the excavated "remains" of the Ironworks - and shows the foundations of the furnaces and the heating kilns. The Ironworks was demolished in the late 1930's and some six feet of soil had to be removed to find the old iron workings.


The other "wonder" in this vicinity was Lamberton's works.  Ah the excitement of a hot summer's day.   Why?  Well on such a day the huge steel sliding door at the Gartsherrie road end of their big red building lay open, with just a mesh-covered wooden frame to keep interlopers out.  This meant that we could see inside and gaze in awe at the huge milling machines, vertical borers and other unknown giants over which men in dark blue boilersuits crawled.  The overhead crane was to be seen moving anonymous shapes of metal about high overhead.

At the other end of the Lamberton's building a single railway track crossed Russell Colt Street at an angle.  This track came off the Airdrie bound track of the line through Sunnyside Station, close to the Red Bridge.  It climbed the northern embankment and exited the wooden sleeper fencing via a large wooden gate. 

A similar gate was set in to the wall of Lamberton's yard and it was the first gate I had ever seen with diagonal metal rods supporting its length and weight from a pivot at the top of the gatepost.   The loco was usually at the front of the wagons as the train had to go inside the big red building then shunt out in to the yard, leaving the wagons in the yard.   I assume the reverse was true if the wagons were going in to the shed but they always seemed to go into the yard. 

 The arrival of a train was not all that common a sight and it generated lots of interest when it did happen.  With the big gates closing the road off, Russell colt Street was effectively shut off and it gave school children, the boys at least, a great excuse for being late.even if you never actually needed to go by that route to get to school!

Lamberton's eventually made their mark also in the emerging world of robotics but I wonder where the huge anonymous bits of steel, I saw being machined, went to, and what they contributed to mankind?

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