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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part I.—Records and Traditions of Gairloch
Chapter XIX.—The Iron Ores used in Gairloch


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 miners."

The New 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 and Laide.
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."
6. In 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.
9. At 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 carboniferous system."

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 thence.
3. Clayband ironstone, possibly in two varieties. This was also imported either from the south of Scotland or elsewhere.


 


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