Lit learns of Rothesay’s iron work history

Jim Mitchell spoke to members of North Bute Literary Society on the history of Rothesay's iron work.
Jim Mitchell spoke to members of North Bute Literary Society on the history of Rothesay's iron work.

Jim Mitchell was the final speaker of the 2014 - 15 session at North Bute Literary Society, writes Isabel Sharp.

He brought his detailed knowledge and great enthusiasm for his topic to a fascinating talk on the history and uses of iron work. From the mid 18th century the use of iron began to become the ‘new stone’ for both decorative and structural purposes. The Carron Foundry at Falkirk had its first blast furnace in 1760 and with the flood of innovations and new technologies of the Industrial Revolution there were 290 foundries registered in the Central belt by 1890.

The other well known foundries were the Clyde Iron Works from 1786, the Sun Foundry from 1858 and the Saracen Foundry from 1850. It was this latter, which has the strongest connections to some of the remaining ironwork of Rothesay.

The founder, Walter Macfarlane, married Maggie Russell and shortly afterwards went into business with her brother Thomas.

Jim explained that all the foundries were in competition with each other for the lucrative business of architectural ironwork, and produced lavish catalogues to promote their goods. He used lovely illustrations from these catalogues along with both old and new photographs of some of the more famous works to illustrate his talk.

Thomas Russell lived in Rothesay and built Russell Street as a commercial development, adorning it with the well known barley twist down pipes. He also provided the Bandstand for the town in return for the Council building the Esplanade. Jim showed many other examples of iron work from all the foundries still in situ locally – Glendale House, Glenfaulds (both the Sun Foundry) the Victoria Hotel and the Winter Gardens (Saracen) and the dozens of private houses, gas brackets, lamp posts and railings, etc.

Further afield throughout Britain and worldwide there were examples such as Wemyss Bay station, Westminster Bridge (London), Central Station and the C’a’Dora building (Glasgow), a railway station in Brazil, and many, many buildings in India.

Finally Jim discussed his concerns over conservation work on the wonderful and beautiful iron work still remaining, some more appropriate and successful than others, and also gave some maintenance tips. He also explained the difference between cast iron and wrought iron.

The last photographs brought gasps of admiration from the audience. Few of us knew of the Fountain Garden in Paisley where the fountain donated by the Coats family in 1868 has recently been restored to its original magnificent working order and bright colours. The sight of four enormous life size walruses spouting water is surely worth a visit but in the meantime Jim urged us to look up at the ironwork on the buildings of Rothesay.