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History of Grangemouth
Grangemouth Past and Present


Charing Cross Grangemouth

Grangemouth lies on the estuary of the River Forth, on the south-east of Scotland. Its name comes from its location, where the Grange Burn joins the River Carron.

The land Grangemouth was eventually built on was farmland from early times. It was sparsely populated by Picts, a group of tribes called "Maeatae" by the Romans. The Maeatae fought battles against the Romans, Scots and Anglo-Saxons. The land was just north of Antonine's Wall, which was the northern frontier of the Roman Empire between 143 A.D. and 163 A.D. when it was abandoned. Later it was on the northern boundary of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria. In the Middle Ages part of the land of Grangemouth was owned by feudal lords and part of the Abbeys of Arbroath, Newbattle and Holyrood.  In 1298 the first battle of Falkirk was fought on this ground. Here the Scots led by William Wallace were defeated by the English led by Edward 1 of England.

One of the landowners in the area was the Dundas family, and they were instrumental in founding and developing Grangemouth. Sir Laurence Dundas was interested in the idea of a canal linking the east and west coasts of Scotland, and, in 1768 digging began on the Forth and Clyde Canal at the Grangemouth end, on land that belonged to him.  The canal was completed in 1790. The Forth and Clyde Canal, along with the Union Canal, linked the two main towns of Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and played a crucial part in the industrial development of Scotland.

To assist the development of the canal Sir Laurence Dundas built houses for workers and better-off families. Sir Laurence's son, Sir Thomas, continued the development of the town, supporting social services and new industries, altering water courses and building road.

The harbour was developed and Grangemouth became an important Scottish port and shipbuilding town for many years.  Early imports were wood from Norway, Russia and America, hemp, flax and iron ore from the Baltic, Norway and Sweden, grain, cotton, silk and manufactured goods from other parts of Britain and abroad. Much of the iron ore was smelted locally by Carron Company near Falkirk, and used to make goods for which they were famous, such as kitchen ranges, steam engines and Carronade cannons.

At a shipyard in Grangemouth two versions of a steamboat called the Charlotte Dundas were built in 1801 and 1803, with a steam engine made by Carron Company to a design by William Symington. Steam engines had been tried on boats before, but the Charlotte Dundas designed by William Symington, was the first practical steamboat in the world.

Early industries were pottery, brick-making, rope-making, sailmaking, fish-curing, whale-boiling, timber and grain trading and coal-mining. With the coming of the railway in 1860, industry expanded further.

Housing gradually increased and with it the amenities of town cleansing, water supply, drainage, gas and electricity, churches, schools, parks, a town-hall and a library. In 1871, the year before Grangemouth became a fully-fledged democratic local authority run by Grangemouth Town Council, the population was recorded as 6,354.

Grangemouth played a vital part in both world wars. In the First World Was soldiers from the Scottish Rifles, the Black Watch and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were at various times billited there.  The docks were closed and taken over by the Government as a depot to store coal, mines, food and oil for the fleet. 1655 Grangemouth men were on active service, and 281 of them were killed.

In May 1939 an airfield opened on the outskirts of Grangemouth. The intention was to use it as a Volunteer Reserve Training Centre and as a civil airport for central Scotland. At the time it was the largest airport in Scotland. North Eastern Airways started an east coast passenger service between London, Newcastle, Grangemouth, Aberdeen and Orkney using Dragon Rapides. However, when Britain declared war on Germany on 3rd September, the airport was taken over by the Air Ministry and all civil flights stopped immediately. The airfield came under the control of no. 13 Fighter Command, and Grangemouth was designated one of the Fighter Stations to protect central Scotland from the Luftwaffe.  This lasted till the late autumn of 1940, when the danger of daylight attack became remote, and the R.A.F. Grangemouth was removed from Fighter Command.

No. 58 Operational Unit was then formed to teach fighter pilots to fly Spitfires.  A great many pilots from all over the world were trained there.  Grangemouth became the principal base for Polish pilots before joining the R.A.F.'s Free Polish Spitfire Squadrons. Many of the Polish pilots returned to Grangemouth as instructors after their operational tours of duty. Through accidents in training 90 aircraft were lost and a number of pilots killed.  Many of those who had trained at Grangemouth gained distinguished war records and helped greatly in the war effort.   Pilot training ended in 1944.

Before the end of the war a Gliding School started there for Air Training Corps cadets, and continued some years after the war.  The airfield was finally closed in 1955.  The site was eventually acquired by Grangemouth Town Council, and used for housing and industrial development.

The Grangemouth Dockyard Company continued to build and repair ships during the war. Between 1939 and 1945, 31 ships were built there.  Of the ships taking part in the D-Day landings, 14 were built in Grangemouth and another 44 were repaired there.  The dry docks were also used as a repair and maintenance base for the submarines of the Royal Netherlands Navy. 138 Grangemouth servicemen were killed in the Second World War.

Trade through the port greatly increased in the inter-war years, especially with the arrival in Grangemouth of Scottish Oils in 1923, and the building of deep water oil jetties in 1924 and 1931.  An important development was the inauguration in 1966 of the first fully containerised deep-sea liner service from any British port.  This service ran between Rotterdam, Breman, Grangemouth and New York. Roll-on roll-off cargo transfer began in 1972. There are frequent sailings to Rotterdam, Brmerhaven and Hamburg, where the containers are transhipped to anywhere in the world.   Liners also trade regularly between Grangemouth and Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany and Paraguay. Many shipping companies and shipping agents have businesses in the port.

In 1968 Grangemouth became part of the Forth Ports Authority, the other ports being Leith, Granton, Methil, Burntisland and Kirkcaldy. Further developments included a new Entrance Lock which allowed larger tankers into the port and the expansion of BP's jetty facilities.  The Forest Products Terminal was opened in 1977, and container handling equipment upgraded. In 1992 the Forth Ports Authority became privatised as Forth Ports Plc. Traffic has continued to grow since the 1960's, reaching a record 9.1 million tonnes in 1983.

Today the main traffic is in oil, oil products and chemicals, wood and other forest products such as pulp, paper, newsprint and board. Bulk cargoes of softwood from Russia, Canada and Scandinavia make Grangemouth the main Scottish port for importing timber.  There is also substancial traffic in mineral ores and in beverages.

One of Grangemouth's main industries from early days was shipbuilding. There was a succession of different shipbuilders, the last and longest-lasting of which was the Grangemouth Dockyard Company, established in 1885. It was bought by Smith's Dockyard Company in 1965, but retained its own name and identity. Through its new ownership it became part of the Swan Hunter Group, and in 1977 it became part of British Shipbuilders. However, due to a lack of orders, in 1971 Grangemouth's long tradition of shipbuilding came to an end.

At the same time the ship repairing business expanded, as the Grangemouth Dockyard Company provided a ship repairing complex suitable for the hull, engine and outfit repairs of the small ships of the world.  Unfortunately businesses dclined in the 1980's, and it was forced to close in 1983.  However ship repaiors are still carried on in Grangemouth, now by MIdland Ship Repairs Ltd., which set up in Grangemouth Dockyard Company's old premises in 1986.

Grangemouth's modern petro-chemical industry began in 1906 with the storage of oil by the Anglo-American Oil Company. Scottish Oils opened a refinery in Grangemout in 1924 and began refining imported crude oils into motor spirit, kerosene and fuel oils.  Scottish Oils was then part of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the predecessor of BP. During the 1940's the plant expanded to cover an area of 400 acres.

Before the Second World War all the oil came by ship but, as the water was not deep enough for large tankers to dock, a deep water terminal was sought.  In 1951 the small village of Finnart on Loch Long was chosen, and a pipeline laid, through which oil was piped fifty-seven miles to storage tanks at Kinneil, near Grangemouth.

The political situation in Persia became unstable, and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company reduced its commitment there to explore other parts of the world. It became the British Petroleum Company in 1954 and continued to develop into a multinational group of companies. There has been considerable expansion and development at Grangemouth ever since.

In 1947 British Petroleum Chemicals Ltd., was established, owned partly by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company/BP and partly by Distillers Company. It was formed to produce chemicals from petroleum. (This company became British Hydro Chemicals Ltd in 1956, but reverted to its origional name in 1966).  Extensive plant was built and production strted in 1951.  Using a petroleum spirit from the refinery, the new plant produced two olefine gases, ethelyn and isopropyl alcohols. Forth Chemicals Ltd., was set up in 1950, owned partly by B.P.C. Ltd. and partly by Monsanto Chemicals Ltd. It produced monomeric styrene, a chemical used for making polystyrene and for other industrial uses. New plant was built and in operation by 1953, and a further expansion in 1956. In 1955 Grange Chemicals Ltd. was set up, owned partly by B.H.C. Ltd. and partly by Oronits Chemcial Company of California.  From plant inside the B.H.C. area they produced detergent alkylate, a chemical used in the manufacture of synthetic detergents. These three subsiduary companies eventually bacame wholly owned by BP as BP Chemicals.

Oil production continued to expand.  Further expansion of the Finnart system included a second pipeline in 1971, and a further distillation units which allowed the distribution of refined oil by rail. BP made the first commercial oil discovery in the British Sector of the North Sea, in the Forties Field, in 1970. In 1975 over 236 miles of pipe were laid to transport oil from the Forties system, which collects oil from several fields connected to the Forties Field, to the crude oil stabilisation and gas seperation plant at Kinneil.  The gas is either used in the refinery, the chemical plant or exported via Grangemouth Docks. The crude oil not required is stored and exported by tankers. In 1991 one of the Finnart pipelines was reversed to supply refined oil to the West of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In the 1990's, BP is the largest company in Britain, and one of the largest in the world, operating in over seventy countries. It is organised into four international businesses: 1) Exploration and production, 2) Refining and marketing, 3) Chemicals, and 4) Nutrition.  At Grangemouth the first three are well represented.

BP directly employs about 2,500 people in Grangemouth, and also provides for many more in support industries.  The company has contributed much financially to the social life of the town through it's community support programme.   BP has worked hard to reduce its pollution in Grangemouth, and has developed technology for recycling plastic in the town.

In 1921 dye manufacturing began in Grangemouth, when Scottish Dyes bought 80 acres in the town and built 6 chemical sheds. In 1926 the company amalgamated with British Dyestuffs Corporation. In 1928 B.D.C combined with three other companies to form Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. Shortly afterwards Scottish Dyes became I.C.C. Dyestuffs Division. I.C.I. in Grangemouth developed new permanent colours, and later also manufactured pharmaceuticals, such as new anti-malarial drugs and the popular antiseptic Cetavlon.  I.C.I. expanded in Grangemouth, and became a very successful multinational company. In 1993 it was split into two companies called I.C.I. and Zeneca. The Grangemouth complex became part of Zeneca, and retained the 1,200 workforce after the split. As well as dyes and pharmaceuticals the plant in Grangemouth now develop and manufacture agrichemicals and process resins. In a joint venture between Zeneca Specialities and Misui Toatsu Chemicals of Tokyo, the joint plant at Grangemouth, Image Polymers, has been in operation since 1997, and is the leading European supplier of toner resins and other chemicals to the printing market.

Other petro-chemical companies in Grangemouth include Bakelite Xylonite, which established a plant making polythene in 1958, and was taken over by BP Chemicals in 1978; Rhom and Haas, which has made plastics and modifiers for PVC since 1979; Borg-Warner Chemicals has been making ABC desins and plastic compounds since the 1970's, and was taken over by G.E. Plastics in 1988; Enichem Elastomers; Anglo Polymers; Nychem International and British Oxygen Company.  Other modern industries in Grangemouth are bookbinding, clothes manufacture and fishfeed manufacture.

This industrial complex has been responsible for a vast amount of pollution in the past, but recently all companies have greatly reduced disharges. In 1995 the air quality exceeded British and E.U. standards, and was far superior to that of British cities.

Grangemouth's industrial environment is offset by modern housing and public buildings, a number of parks, tree-lined Central Avenue, and since 1992, Jupiter Urban Wildlife Centre. Jupiter was developed in a collaboration between I.C.I./Zeneca and Scottish Wildlife Trust.  This former area of wasteland, 450m x 85m now contains a formal wildflower garden, a wildlife garden landscaped round two ponds, over 1000 planted trees and shrubs, various habitat features and an interpretation centre.   The Centre is run by a wildlife ranger who promotes an interest in wildlife conservation both with the schools and individual children.

Today Grangemouth has a population of over 20,000, and has been part of the new Falkirk Coucil since 1996. The Council crest has incorporated the two symbols of Grangemouth, the Charlotte Dundas steamboat, and the Stag, which was the crest of Holyrood Abbey.  Grangemouth is twinned with La Porte in Indiana, U.S.A.

Leisure facilities include a sports complex, a sports stadium, playing fields, sports clubs, a library, a chess club and youth clubs.

In the town are two Roman Catholic churches, five Church of Scotland churches, a Mission, and a congegations of Jehovah Witnesses and Plymouth Brethern and the Salvation Army.

There have been schools in Grangemouth since 1789. The staus of one of these schools, Grange, was raised to Higher Grade in 1901. A new High Schools was built in 1909 beside Grange School. Today there are four primary schools in Grangemout, and the present High School, which opened in Tinto Drive in 1974.

We'd like to thank Grangemouth Heritage Trust for supplying the above information.


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