THE first question that most people ask, when they
hear of the ironworks in the parish of Gairloch, is,—Where did the iron
that was smelted come from ? The answer can only be supplied by an
examination of the remains of the ironworks now to be met with, and of
their neighbourhood. Of records bearing on the subject there are none.
There are but two incidental notices that help to throw light on the
question; both are comparatively modern.
The Bennetsfield MS. speaks of " the woods of
Letterewe, where there was an iron mine which they wrought by English
Statistical Account (Appendix E), in the account of Gairloch written by
the Rev. Donald MacRae in 1836, says, "Sir James Kay [Sir George Hay] sent
several people to work at veins of iron ore on the estate of Letterewe."
Let us discuss the questions of the ores used at the
ancient bloomeries and at the historic ironworks under separate heads.
I.—At the Ancient Bloomeries.
It has been already stated (Part I., chap, xvii.)
that bog iron was the source whence the ancient ironworkers of Gairloch
obtained their metal, so that the terms "iron mine" and "veins of iron
ore" quoted above must be considered as referring—unwittingly perhaps —to
it. The ingredients of ancient Gairloch iron slags, as ascertained by
Professor Ivison Macadam, shew that they have unquestionably resulted from
the smelting of bog iron. His analyses and conclusions will in due time be
made public; they will prove that the iron ore used at the ancient
ironworks in the parish of Gairloch was undoubtedly bog iron.
Mention has been made of ferruginous rocks, shales,
and earths existing in the vicinity of the old ironworks. Local tradition
affirms that these were the sources of the iron used in the old days. It
appears certain that bog iron was found in the vicinity of these
ferruginous strata,—probably derived from them,—but they cannot have been
the subjects of the ancient iron-smelting. Mr Macadam finds that the
richest samples of them do not yield more than 8 per cent, of metallic
iron, and that the sulphur they contain does not occur in the slags
produced at the furnaces, as would have been the case had they been used.
The most abundant and apparent of these rocks is the
large band of ferruginous stone that runs from Letterewe, in a
southeasterly direction, along the shores of Loch Maree to the ^further
end of the base of Slioch. It is so extensive, and so rusty in colour,
that it can be easily discerned from the county road on the opposite side
of the loch. Similar ferruginous rock appears in
several other places, as far at least as to the head
of Glen Dochartie, but not so abundantly, and therefore not so
conspicuously. It also occurs in other parts of Gairloch parish. Gairloch
people point out several places where they say this ferruginous rock was
quarried, viz.: (1) on the south side of the Furnace burn at Letterewe,
nearly a quarter of a mile above the site of the iron furnace; (2) on the
face of the ridge immediately behind and above the cultivated land at
Innis Ghlas ; (3) at Coppachy; and (4) in a gully, called Clais na Leac,
at the north-west end of the cultivated land at Smiorsair. At each of
these places there are exposed scaurs or escarpments of the ferruginous
rock, which are said to have been the results of quarrying, but which are
much more like natural fractures. We may therefore dismiss the tradition
that iron ore was obtained directly from these supposed quarries as not
only unreliable but impossible.
The absence of bog iron in the neighbourhoods of the
Gairloch iron furnaces or bloomeries is quite intelligible; it was no
doubt all consumed by the ironworkers. Considerable quantities of bog iron
are still to be seen in other parts of Gairloch, and their frequent
occurrence throughout the parish confirms the contention that this
description of ore formerly existed near the bloomeries, and was used at
them. Most bog iron is rich in the useful metal. Mr Macadam has analysed a
sample from Golspie, submitted by Dr Joass, and has found it to contain 54
per cent, of metallic iron. Some Gairloch samples are nearly as rich, as
will be seen from the results of Mr Macadam's analyses stated below.
The deposits of bog iron are locally called by the
descriptive name of " pans." The following is a list of places where these
deposits occur within the parish of Gairloch, as so far noticed by Mr
Macadam and myself:—
1. In the churchyard at Sand of Udrigil.
2. At the highest point on the road between Aultbea
3. In the
village of Cove; masses of bog iron are built into fence walls.
4. Near Meallan na Ghamhna.
5. Near the Inverasdale Board School, where there
are three "pans."
the township of Strath of Gairloch; the " pans " have been broken up; they
say there were several of them.
7. At the north-west end of the township of Lonmor;
here too the "pans" have been broken up, and lumps of bog iron are to be
seen in walls or dykes. Mr Macadam has found 51 per cent, of metallic iron
in a heavy sample from this place.
8. Among the sand hills at the easternmost corner of
the farm of Little Sand ; one " pan " is entire; another is partly broken
up. Mr Macadam's analysis shews 51 per cent, of metallic iron in a sample
from this place.
North Erradale; " pans " broken up. Mr Macadam states that a heavy sample
of bog iron from this place yields 49 per cent., and a sandy portion 38I
per cent, of metallic iron.
10. At South Erradale. There is a fence wall,
locally called Garadh Iaruinn, or the "iron dyke," entirely composed (for
fifty yards of its length) of masses of bog iron, varying from 3 to 13
inches in thickness, and some of them nearly a yard in length. The dyke
was erected in 1845, when the present system of crofts was being
established in Gairloch. Quantities of bog iron are also to be seen in
other dykes, and the soil of probably about two acres of the adjacent
cultivated land mainly consists of comminuted bog iron. There must have
been large deposits of it at this place; one or two unbroken masses still
remain in situ. Mr Macadam finds that the heavier kind yields, on
analysis, 50 per cent, of metallic iron, whilst a sandy portion contains
46 per cent.
11. On the farm of Point, Gairloch, near the house of Mr
MacClymont, farmer. The heavy bog iron analysed by Mr Macadam yields 50
per cent, of metallic iron, and some red sand from the same place contains
15 per cent.
II.—At the Historic Ironworks.
Mr Macadam is of opinion that bog iron was not only
used at the ancient bloomeries, but also at some of the historic furnaces
in Gairloch parish, particularly at Letterewe and Talladale. He gathers
this from the general character and composition of some of the slags found
at these places. It was in the early stage of Sir George Hay's career as a
manufacturer of iron that he used the native bog iron ore; later on he
began to import iron ores of a different kind from other parts of the
kingdom,—at first in order to mix them with the local bog iron, and
afterwards, perhaps, for separate use. The introduction of these imported
ores may have been primarily due to the failure of the supply of the bog
iron; it undoubtedly led to a vast improvement in the results obtained at
Sir George Hay's furnaces.
The evidence that Sir George imported what we may
term foreign ores is not far to seek.
At the Letterewe ironworks there are to be seen
fragments of two kinds of imported iron ore, scattered in the soil of the
field adjoining the furnace, or built into fence walls; they are red
hematite ore, and clayband ironstone.
Mr J. E. Marr, F.G.S., has described these foreign
ores as follows:—"Red hematite exactly the same as that in the Furness and
Whitehaven districts in England. Large masses of a brown clay ironstone;
one of these masses being a septarian nodule, with radiating crystals
along the cracks; the other being bedded, and containing numerous plant
and fish remains, but no shells; these fossils shew them to belong to the
Some small fragments of similar clay ironstone have
been found on the traditional site of the Talladale iron furnace.
On the bank above the ironworks on the river Ewe,
called the Red Smiddy, are fragments of clayband ironstone, which Mr Marr
has described as follows:—"Clay ironstone nodules, mostly blue inside, and
weathering red and yellow on the outside. Many of these were septarian;
and when fossils occurred they were of shells, and there were no traces of
plants or of fish remains. This ore, in fact, is entirely different from
either of the two kinds found at the Letterewe furnace. At the same time,
the fossils shew that it also belongs to the carboniferous system."
On the west bank of the pool at Poolewe, the
landing-place both for Letterewe and the Red Smiddy, is a considerable
heap of red hematite exactly similar to that found at Furnace, Letterewe.
At the same place are many masses of clay ironstone, which include all the
varieties found at Letterewe and the Red Smiddy. In the soil in the bank
below Poolewe church, where a jetty and storehouse were erected in 1885,
there are also large quantities of clay band ironstone, which were not
seen by Mr Marr.
Mr Macadam has examined and analysed samples of all
these foreign ores. He is unable to draw the same distinction as Mr Marr
between the apparent varieties of clayband ironstone, and thinks that they
were in all probability from the same place, and that most likely the
south of Scotland. He finds that the samples of hematite ore contain
metallic iron varying in quantity from 30 to 60 per cent. The samples of
clayband ironstone he finds to yield from 6 to 38 per cent, of metallic
iron; they also contain a considerable quantity of lime.
Mr Marr thinks that these foreign or imported ores
were mixed with local ore. The lime in the clayband ironstone would render
it a useful ingredient from its quality of acting as a flux. Mr Marr adds,
"The theory of intermixture of local and imported ores receives support
from a similar case in Wales which has come under my observation, where
somewhat impure ore containing quantities of phosphorus, occurring among
the old slaty rocks of North Wales, is carried to South Wales to mix with
the carboniferous ores."
For convenience of reference in our next chapter,
the several sources from whence iron was obtained for the
smelting-furnaces on Loch Maree, and in other parts of Gairloch, may be
classed as follows:—
1. Bog iron obtained locally.
2. Red hematite.
Same as found in Lancashire and Cumberland, and unquestionably imported
3. Clayband ironstone, possibly in two varieties. This was also
imported either from the south of Scotland or elsewhere.