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Coatbridge
(Cotts Brig)

The BAIRDS OF GARTSHERRIE

An outline by Robert D. Corrins

(see also William Baird & co)
 

William Baird & Company was formally established in 1830 when Alexander Baird made over to five of his eight sons the non-agricultural leases he held in the rapidly developing Monklands iron and coalfield.

Alexander sprang from a long line of small tenant farmers in the Monklands who by 1815 had built up a flourishing farming interest and held 250 acres and a mill at an annual rental of £250.

Coalmining, following the opening of the Monkland canal, had begun rapidly to transform the district, and offered an opportunity for his eight sons. In 1816 Alexander leased the coalfield at Rochsolloch in neighbouring New Monkland, giving management of the pit to William aged 20, while Alexander junior then only 16 years old, went to the canal basin at Port Dundas to act as selling agent. This approach was guaranteed to show whether or not the brothers had ability. A lease at Merryston was taken in 1822 but when the boom of 1825 tempted the landlord, Buchanan, to reclaim the colliery the outraged brothers acted immediately to open a new pit on the estate of Gartsherrie.

So began an association which was to last for almost the next century and a half.

In 1828 J B Neilson patented the Hot-blast process which proved such a stimulus to the exploitation of the Lanarkshire blackband ironstone and the brothers began the erection of the first Gartsherrie furnace which commenced production on 4th May 1830.

Development continued at a frantic pace and by 1843 the works had 16 furnaces and a capacity of 100,000 tons per annum, making them the largest single pig-iron producing unit in the world. They had also acquired control of the lion’s share of the vital splint coal and blackband ore needed to feed these furnaces. With Lanarkshire at saturation point the Bairds turned to Ayrshire. A new works was begun at Eglinton in 1845, and over the next twenty years extensive mineral leases were acquired and the ironworks at Blair, Muirkirk, Lugar, and Portland were purchased and operated as the Eglinton Iron Company. In just forty years they built up what was reputed to be the world's leading pig-iron producer with 42 furnaces and a capacity of 300,000 tons per annum, and profit reaching £1,000,000 in 1870

Gartsherrie Ironworks


In the very difficult trading conditions of the closing decades of the century the company invested heavily in new plant and in new products. While other Scottish pig-iron makers slid towards extinction, Bairds modernised. Between 1878 and 1896 all sixteen Gartsherrie furnaces, some dating back to the early years of the original brothers, were replaced and by-product recovery plant was installed. This latter was the invention of John Alexander and A K McCosh the Gartsherrie managers who were two of the new management team which had taken over following the deaths of the original brothers.
Investment at the works was matched by large and imaginative investment to secure the necessary raw materials. Mines were purchased in Santander and in 1893 the company became the first foreign firm to become involved in southern Spain when it purchased the Monte de Hierro (mountain of iron) mineral field.
The development of their coal interests was an even more significant departure, as the company expanded its sales, instead of restricting itself to supplying its own furnaces. Lanarkshire output reached a pre-war peak of 1,737,584 tons in 1910, while estimates for Ayrshire are 1,640,000 tons in 1913. The manufacture of coke also became a significant feature of the firm. In 1878 some 50,000 tons were converted to coke in the Gartsherrie region and by 1910 this had risen to 415,315 tons.
In the harsh trading conditions of the inter-war period Colvilles rose to dominance as steel took over from iron. Only the Bairds, thanks to their financial strength, were able to hold out.

In 1931, the company’s Ayrshire coal interests were combined with those of the Dalmellington Iron Co in Ayrshire, to form Bairds & Dalmellington Ltd. The new company, 75 percent owned by William Baird & Co Ltd, controlled 70 percent of the Ayrshire coalfields.
In Ayrshire they abandoned iron production to concentrate on coal. In around 1938, the company underwent reorganisation and entered voluntary liquidation. William Baird & Co Ltd was reconstituted, and the company’s Lanarkshire interests merged with the Scottish Iron & Steel Co Ltd, Glasgow, founded in 1912, to form Bairds & Scottish Steel Ltd, pig iron and steel manufacturers.

Bairds and Scottish Steel linked their Gartsherrie works, the sole surviving pig-iron producer in the ‘Iron Burgh’, with the Northburn steel works in 1939. Redevelopment was postponed because of the war and then by the drawn out nationalisation process. Between 1946 and 1951, the whole of William Baird’s coal, iron and steel interests were nationalised and the company began to diversify into other areas of business, including the textile industry. In 1961, the company merged with Northern Mercantile out of which the groups engineering division was formed.
The nationalised enterprise, still under McCosh management, finally began rebuilding but only one furnace was constructed. William Baird & Company declined the chance to buy the works back on denationalisation and when a consortium bought it in 1963 the old Baird management withdrew. It was no longer viable and the new owners closed it in 1967.

The company continued to diversify and acquired the raincoat manufacturing company, Dannimac Ltd, London, England, in 1981 and in 1988 acquired the Windsmoor Group. Between 1992 and 1994, the company disposed of it engineering and building services but in 1994 acquired the Melka and Tenson menswear brands. The company acquired the Lowe Alpine sportswear brand in 1999.

GARTSHERRIE, lately a quoad sacra parish, in the parish of Old Monkland, county of Lanark; containing, with the villages of Coatbridge, Coatdyke, Gartcloss, Merrystone, and Summerlee, 5906 inhabitants, of whom 1499 are in the village of Gartsherrie, 2 miles (W.) from Airdrie. This is a considerable mining district, in the works connected with which the chief of the population are employed: the iron-works are of great magnitude, and include a number of blast-furnaces for the smelting of the ore. The coal-mine here is also worked on a very extensive scale; there are five strata of coal, between each of which is a stratum of sandstone and shale: the seams of coal vary in thickness from one foot four inches to four feet. The Glasgow and Garnkirk railway, which starts from St. Rollox, in the north-east quarter of the city, joins the Monkland and Kirkintilloch railway at this place. The ecclesiastical affairs are under the presbytery of Hamilton and synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and the patronage is vested in the subscribers to the church: the stipend of the minister is £150, secured by bond. The church, erected at a cost of £3300, is an elegant structure, with a tower rising to the height of 136 feet, and contains 1500 sittings. Near it is the Academy, erected in 1844, at a cost of £2300; and there is a large Sabbath school in connexion with the Establishment. From:  A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846),http://www.british-history.ac.uk

north.jpg (14933 bytes)

Northburn Works around 1965

 

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