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FireClay and FireBricks
being mainly the story of the
Glenboig Union Fireclay Co  & G.R. Stein Refractories
(We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of
Chris Benard and Brian Thomson of 
North Lanarkshire Council)

Glenboig Glenboig Fireclay Co Garnkirk Bricks

Mining & Manufacturing Methods       Firebricks

The Glenboig Union Fireclay Co. Ltd was founded by James Dunnachie & partners by the amalgamation of the "Old Works" and the "Star Works" in Glenboig. The company specialised in the production of refractory ceramic goods (e.g. furnace lining bricks and pipework) for the iron and steel industry which was flourishing in the nearby industrial towns. By expansion and take-overs the company went on to operate several other works, viz.: Cumbernauld Fireclay Works & Mine (c. 1882); Gartcosh Works (1890); Castlecary Fireclay Co. Ltd (c1919); Faskine & Palacerigg Bricks & Coal Ltd (c1919); George Turnbull & Co. Ltd - Bonnymuir and Dykehead Works (c1919).

Palacerigg Mine 1884-1958 called the "Glen Cryan Mine" was first run by Glenboig Union Fireclay Company. Amalgamated with General Refractories of Sheffield (but continued to trade in Scotland under the Glenboig name). 

The Cumbernauld Fire-clay Company was founded, in 1874, by James Wallace and Matthew Goodwin. The Works are built beside the Caledonian Railway with fire-clay from Abronhill.  In 1882 the Works are sold for £4000 to the newly formed Glenboig Union Fire-Clay Company under James Dunnachie. The share holders are told that Cumbernauld "possesses a clay field practically inexhaustible of unapproachable quality".

The Glenboig Union Fireclay Co. Ltd was purchased by General Refractories Ltd of Sheffield in 1936, which in turn became G.R- Stein Refractories Ltd in 1967. The "Old Works" in Glenboig closed in 1958 and were demolished by 1965. The "Star Works" closed sometime after 1974.

The history of Fire Clay mining and manufacturing is best told by relating the stories of the two most prominent industrialists involved in the industry -  
James Dunnachie
and  John G Stein. 

James Dunnachie

Fire-clay brick manufacture began in the Scottish Central belt at Glenboig in the 1830's but its development to a major industry providing the world with firebricks of unequalled excellence must in large part be credited to the invention and organising ability of James Dunnachie at Glenboig, from 1860.

Born at Pollockshaws, son of a Renfrewshire bleacher, James Dunnachie came to Glenboig at 28 years old and soon became Manager of the existing small fire-clay company.
In 1865 he formed the Glenboig Fire-clay Company with John Hurll and John Young, themselves pioneer firebrick manufacturers, and when the partnership folded in 1872, Dunnachie built the Star-Works immediately adjacent to the old works and in competition with them.


His bricks at this time bore the legend J D and the title "Star Works, Glenboig" or "Glenboig" with a star imprinted below the word.  In the rescued brick above you can see the remnants of the Star below the letters NB.

In 1882 the two companies decided to amalgamate as the Glenboig Union Fireclay Company Ltd with Dunnachie as Managing Director.

Already at this time it had been proved that Glenboig bricks were superior to all others in Britain including the highly regarded Stourbridge and Newcastle bricks. James Dunnachie was to build on this reputation such that regular orders were received from as far as Russia, Canada, India, Australia and South America as well as over Europe. Medals and awards for Glenboig products were won all over the world. 

A noted American scientist in the 1880s, Professor Egleston described the Glenboig Works under James Dunnachie as not only the largest manufactory of fire-clay goods in the world but the model fire-clay work

Chapel Bank - Glenboig - The entrance to the Glenboig Fireclay is beyond the row of houses on the left.

Dunnachie's invention of a gas kiln for firing bricks was to earn him even greater praise and money. The gas kilns first proved themselves at the Company's works at Glenboig, Cumbernauld and Gartcosh, as they allowed greatly increased temperatures and considerable savings in fuel costs.

In 1901 the clay miners went on a strike, broken only after 10 long months when the management brought in blackleg labour.

Mining Tragedy

Much of the work was dirty, hard, and dangerous. One accident in 1909 resulted in four clay-miners being killed after an underground roof fall. They were Joseph Anderson, William Allen, William Taylor, and Patrick Cameron. Donald McLeod managed to escape with help from a Mr. Murdoch and a pit pony.

Although the company were famous for the awards and medals that they had received, this didn't stop Alexander Patterson, a farmer at Garnqueen, from taking the company to court in 1877 claiming that their noxious fumes had destroyed his crops.

Like many successful Victorian businessmen, James Dunnachie was a strict but paternal figure. He was noted for being a "Strong advocate of temperance principles". In his villa overlooking the works at: Glenboig he kept a fine collection of oil paintings. In 1921 the Company employees gave a reception for J D after 60 years of service to Glenboig. In his speech of thanks, the 88 year old Dunnachie recalled how Glenboig had been a hamlet of 120 inhabitants and how it had grown to a thriving community of 3000-4000 people with its own railway station, churches, shops and a world name for firebricks. 

10 days later James Dunnachie died and was succeeded by his son.

In 1936 the company sold out to General Refractories Ltd. The "Old Works" were demolished in 1958, and little now remains of a once great industrial giant, which, a hundred years ago, was receiving testimonials like the following:

"I have used many hundreds of your firebricks in the furnace at Her Majesty's Mint, Calcutta, and in my opinion they are the finest bricks I have seen".

By this time the Glenboig Union Fire-Clay Company had important local rivals in Peter and Mark Hurll at the Gartliston and Garnqueen Works, and John G. Stein at Bonnybridge and Castlecary. 

Garnqueen (Glenboig) Brickworks c1915

John G Stein

The contribution of John Stein to the development of the Scottish fire-clay industry is a considerable one and hardly less than that of James Dunnachie. Indeed Stein came to see himself as the archrival to Dunnachie. Born into a brick-making family, his father operated a brick and tile works at Clackmannan, John served his apprenticeship at Winchburgh, West Lothian, before joining the Glenboig Company at Cumbernauld. 
Stein is known to have bought shares in the Company but in 1886 he was suddenly dismissed. The story goes that he refused to tell the Cumbernauld Works' Manager the secret of the well-glazed fire-clay pipes he was producing, and was fired on the orders of James Dunnachie himself.   Stein said he would set up his own business and vowed to outperform Dunnachie's company. A considerable boast at the time. 

In November 1887 John Stein and 6 men starred boring a shaft at Milnquarter Farm near High Bonnybridge. From the first wages book we see that his employee friends worked 10 hours a day, 7 days a week for 3d to 6d an hour! 
3 months later they reached the fire-clay seam and started to sell loads of fire-clay, coal and ganister. In the autumn of 1888 the first kiln was built and John C Steinís company was in business. 

In 1888 Stein diversified the business by establishing a works at Denny, near the Anchor Inn, to produce building bricks.  Two years later he introduced to Bonnybridge the first machine to make firebricks in Scotland, the Scholefield stiff plastic brick-making machine.
In 1904 the Company started a new mine and Works between Castlecary and Bonnybridge at what is now known as Allandale, the miners rows named after John Stein's son, Allan. 

In 1906 Stein was to clash with Dunnachie again when the latter complained of  Stein's company advertising bricks made from "Glenboig Clay" which Stein claimed was technically correct, whereas Dunnachie saw it as an attempt to cash in on the proven reputation of his Glenboig bricks.
Soon after Stein was to complain bitterly, when the Government at the start of the First World War chose to allow Glenboig bricks from the Glenboig Union Fire-clay Company only, a special premium in price.

When Stein became first President of the newly formed "Scottish. Employers Council for the Clay Industries" in 1917, one of their first proposals was to call for uniformity in the prices charged for firebricks, upon which Dunnachie's Company immediately withdrew from the Council, recognising the attack on the privilege they enjoyed.

John G Stein died in 1927, 6 years after James Dunnachie. A year after his death, the John G Stein Company started a Mine and Works at Manuel, near Linlithgow    The Founder would have been delighted to know that these works were to grow into the largest fire-clay manufactory in Britain, and second in the world after a plant in USA.

Glenboig around 1955 - Click for bigger image

Considering the intense rivalry between these two fire-clay pioneers, the eventual outcome for their companies is ironic. General Refractories, the Sheffield company who had taken over the Glenboig Company in 1936, 30 years later was responsible for the demise of John C Stein as an independent company.        

Amalgamation in 1967 resulted in G R Stein Refractories Ltd, who operated Scotland's last and sole remaining interest in fire-clay at Manuel near Linlithgow. 

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Chris Benard and Brian Thomson of North Lanarkshire Council

Some useful links

Summerlee Heritage Park - Brick Collection  - Just a small part of the Summerlee Collection.

The International Brick Collectors Association in California  If you're a brick collector, you may be interested in the IBCA.   A good variety of bricks were imported or shipped into California. In the early days, foreign bricks were brought to California as ship ballasts. These were dumped on the shore, and the boats refilled with California wheat for the return trip home. Bricks came from England, Scotland, Japan, and Canada. In the piles were precious fire bricks, which were highly desired for ovens and furnaces. Some enterprising men took these bricks and sold them as imported fire bricks. As demand for foreign fire bricks grew, they became quite a source of revenue for the vessel owners, who could sell them at $5 to $10 less than the domestic product. Because these bricks were carted away for long distances, they may be found in nearly every corner of the State.

BRICKS, BRICKYARDS & Brick Collecting in Texas

Nothing's too humble to collect - even bricks Ohio man's array tells of industrial past




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