THE following descriptions will include all the
remains of ironworks so far noticed within the parish of Gairloch, whether
belonging to what we have called the ancient class, or to the more modern
The slags found in and about the various remains are
broadly divided by Mr Macadam into two classes, which he describes as
A dark black slag, compact and heavy, in some cases slightly porous ; the
percentage of iron in this slag is high ; in many samples-more than half
(2.) A gray light porous mass, resembling the slags formed in
blast furnaces at the present day; this slag contains a large proportion
of lime, and a comparatively small proportion of iron.
The descriptions of iron ores found at the different
places are indicated by numbers referring to the list of ores at the end
of the last chapter.
It appears certain that there were ironworks in the
following different places in Gairloch parish,—
1. Glen Dochartie; three places.
3. Furnace, Letterewe.
5. Garavaig, on Slatadale farm.
6. Red Smiddy, near Poole we.
1. Glen Dochartie.
The traveller proceeding from Loch Maree to
Achnasheen may notice, to the right of the road, about four hundred yards
before the head of Glen Dochartie is gained, and on the seven hundred feet
contour line of the ordnance survey, a scattered heap of small pieces of
the slag No. 1. The burn runs past not many yards below. No site of a
furnace can be identified. On the other side of the road, about three
hundred yards up the hill, on the thousand feet contour, are more
extensive similar remains, with the same kind of slag. Mr Macadam finds
that this slag contains 66 per cent, of metallic iron, and no lime as
silicate. There is red earth in the neighbourhood resembling what is found
with "pans" of bog iron. The burn runs past, but is now in a deep gully.
At the foot of the glen, more than a mile nearer Kenlochewe, and a little
to the west of the bridge over the burn, are fragments of similar slag,
and traces of charcoal
burnings. The place is on the ancient beach, about twenty feet above the
level of the road. No doubt all these remains are of considerable
antiquity; they may perhaps have been parts of the same undertaking.
The most extensive remains of
ironworks on Loch Maree are on the south side of the Fasagh burn, close to
where it runs into the loch. This burn comes from Loch Fa.da, a
considerable sheet of water to the north of Slioch. There are remains of a
sluice or dam where the burn leaves Loch Fada, evidently used long ago to
regulate the water supply. The burn flows into Loch Maree at its
south-east corner, close to the head of the loch. There are indications of
a large artificial bank, probably the remains of a dam, formed at right
angles to the burn, near the site of the ironworks ; but the burn has of
late years been subject to great floods, that have to some extent varied
its course, and altered the surrounding features.
There are two places which seem
to have been the sites of furnaces or bloomeries; at each of these spots,
which are near each other, and have a small watercourse (now dry) running
alongside, there is a mass of slaggy material surrounding a root or stump
of a tree. In the same part is a quantity of blackish material, weathering
red and splitting on exposure like quicklime, and on all sides are heaps
and scattered masses of dark heavy slag No. i. The tuyere (see
illustration) of a furnace was in 1882 removed from a cottage close by,
where it had been for a long time; it is now in the possession of Mr
Macadam, and is to be placed in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries
of Scotland. I have obtained from an old man at Kenlochewe, an ancestor of
whose brought it from the Fasagh ironworks,. a curious article (see
illustration); it is of cast-iron, and seems to have formed part of the
apparatus for working a large forge-hammer. In examining the furnaces with
Mr Macadam in April 1886, we found a portion of a thin bar, which appeared
to be of iron. They say that a massive hammer head brought from Fasagh was
long at Culinellan,. and that an anvil at the Kenlochewe smithy was formed
from part of it. Not far from the sites of the furnaces is a mound of
rust-coloured earth like that found with bog iron (ore No. 1). There are
evidences of extensive charcoal burnings on the other side of the burn, to
the west of the ironworks.
Mr Macadam has supplied the following results of his
analyses of samples of substances obtained at Fasagh:—The slaggy material
from tree roots contains 66 per cent, the blackish material 73 per cent.,
and the dark slag 68 per cent, of metallic iron; the slag also contains 11
per cent, of silica; the bar of iron contains 63 per cent. of metallic
iron, and a large quantity of carbon.
About half a mile to the east of the Fasagh works,
at the foot of the crag called Bonaid Donn, is a small circular pond, or
rather a large hole in the middle of a circular marsh. It is called Lochan
Cul na Cathrach. There is a perpetual flow of spring water from this hole,
and the surrounding marsh prevents close approach to it. It is the common
tradition, accepted with the fullest credence, that into this hole the
last ironworkers at Fasagh threw all their implements when the furnaces
were discontinued. Possibly a drag might bring something to light, or the
hole might be drained. The tradition is so firmly believed, that it
produces on one's mind a strong impulse to search the hole, and try to
find something bearing on the nature and history of the Fasagh ironworks.
From the character of the slags,
the comparatively complete state of the remains, and from the tuyere and
other things having been discovered, it seems probable that the Fasagh
works, whilst belonging to the ancient class of ironworks, were amongst
the most recent of that class; and Mr Macadam thinks it possible that Sir
George Hay may have commenced his operations at this place in
continuation, no doubt, of older ironworks.
3. Furnace, Letterewe.
The remains of the ironworks at
the hamlet of Furnace, a mile south-east of Letterewe, are perhaps the
most generally interesting in Gairloch, as being especially identified
with Sir George Hay. The furnace which gives its name to the hamlet is on
the north-west bank of the " Furnace burn," about one hundred yards from
its confluence with Loch Maree. The remains of the furnace are tolerably
complete, and a hole in its lower part looks as if it had been the
aperture ibr the blast. On the banks of the burn are masses of sandstone,
which formed part of the furnace. Some fragments of vitrified bricks are
also to be seen. In the soil of the adjoining field, and in its fence
walls, are quantities of the ores 2 and 3. In places the soil is quite red
with fragments of hematite. In other places it is stained black with
charcoal burnings, and many fragments of charcoal are to be found. No
doubt the water-power of the burn was utilised, and Loch Maree afforded an
easy means of transport of imported ores from Poolewe, where they were
slags found about this furnace are of both classes. May we not conclude
from this fact, that Sir George Hay commenced the manufacture of iron on
the old methods anciently in, vogue, and that it was at Letterewe that he
began the improved processes which were afterwards carried to still
greater perfection at the Red Smiddy ? This furnace belongs of course to
the historic class.
A strong local tradition places the Talladale
furnace on the bank of a small burn about one hundred and fifty yards
south-east of the Talladale river; it stood in the corner of the field
nearest to, and to the west of, the road. They say that when this field
was reclaimed and trenched, large quantities of slag were turned^ up, and
were buried in the land and in drains. The few specimens of slag found on
the surface in 1883 are of both kinds. Some small fragments of ore
discovered are No. 3. It seems pretty certain, therefore, that the
Talladale furnace was carried on by Sir George Hay, and that it belongs to
the historic class of ironworks.
5. Garavaig, on Slatadale Farm.
The Garavaig furnace stood in a
slight hollow in the east corner of what is now the easternmost field of
the Slatadale farm, close to where the Garavaig burn (on which are the
Victoria Falls) runs into Loch Maree. They say the water-power of the burn
was anciently increased by artificial means. When I first examined the
field where the furnace stood it was newly ploughed, and part of it was
stained black with fragments of charcoal, indicating exterisive burnings.
The farmer stated that he had buried immense quantities of slag in the
drains and soil of this recently reclaimed field. There are still numerous
fragments of No. 1 slag on the surface, so that the furnace belonged to
the ancient class. The farmer said that he had noticed indications of
there having been a furnace in the slight hollow already mentioned, and
the fragments of slag are thickest there. The agricultural operations have
reduced the place almost to a dead level. No kind of iron ore is found,
but the locality is just the place where one would have expected "pans" of
bog iron might have occurred.
6. Red Smiddy, near Poolewe.
The remains of the iron furnace
on the river Ewe are still called A Cheardach Ruadh, or "the Red Smiddy."
They are more perfect, and therefore to some extent more attractive to one
studying the subject, than any of the others. Unquestionably they are also
more recent. That the Red Smiddy was part of Sir George Hay's undertaking
appears certain; but it was very likely under his manager or factor that
it was established, and probably a number of years later than the
Letterewe furnace. The slags are exclusively of class No. 2, and closely
resemble those formed in blast-furnaces at the present day, thus
demonstrating the progress Sir George made in the art of the manufacture
of iron after his commencement at Letterewe. Mr Macadam finds that this
light slag is completely soluble in acids, and that it contains 16 per
cent, of oxide of calcium, and only 23 per cent, of metallic iron. The ore
found on the bank above the Red Smiddy and elsewhere near its remains are
of the No. 3 class. Many of the fragments of ore have been roasted. This
process does not seem to have been adopted at any of the other furnaces.
It is another indication of the more recent date of the Red Smiddy, and of
the improvements in the methods pursued there. The Letterewe and Talladale
furnaces appear to have been originally established solely for the
smelting of bog iron (No. 1). Gradually the paucity of that ore, the
advantage of mixing imported ores with it, and their superior quality, led
to the introduction of the latter; and then the convenience | of having a
furnace near the place where these imported ores were landed, led to the
establishment of the Red Smiddy. No doubt timber for charcoal burning was
at first obtainable in every direction, and afterwards, if there were not
a sufficient quantity standing near the Red Smiddy, it could easily be
floated down to it from Letterewe or other places on Loch Maree.
The Red Smiddy is on the
north-east bank of the river Ewe, •immediately below the termination of
its navigable part, which also bears the name of the "Narrows of Loch
Maree," so that this furnace may properly be said to stand at the foot, as
the Fasagh works stand at the head, of the loch. The furnace is about half
a mile from Poolewe, and is said to have been approached from the other
side of the river by means of a weir or dam, which was long afterwards
converted into a cruive dyke. This weir served also to maintain the
water-power used for working the hammers. It spanned the river in a
transverse direction from east to west, and the line of •the old road is
still visible leading down to its west end. Leaving the navigable part of
the Ewe at the east end of the weir was a race or cut, more or less
artificial, the channel of which still runs past the ' furnace which it
formerly insulated. It was not till some time prior | to 1830 that the old
weir was restored, and used for salmon cruives. They were removed about
1852 in order to lower the level of the water above, and so drain land at
the head of Loch Maree.
The furnace is still tolerably complete. It is about
six feet square, and stands on a mound red with its remains. It is built
of sandstone. The chimney stalk was standing to the height of eight or ten
feet at the time the cruives were removed. Several men in the
neighbourhood speak to this fact, and identify numerous pieces of
sandstone lying about as having formed portions of it. They are all
vitrified along the cracks. Some bricks or pieces of brick are also ft
found ; they are formed of rough clay. Mr Marr thought they contained
rushes, that had been mixed with the clay to bind it. There is a large
heap of the slag No. 2 near the furnace. A flat space to the north of the
furnace appears to have been artificially formed fqr the purpose of
moulding the iron; here I have found two small masses or pigs of cast
iron. Mr Macadam has found that one of these masses •contains 98*8 per
cent, of metallic iron, very little carbon, and only *8 per cent, of
silicon. A pig of iron which Dr Arthur Mitchell found here in 1859, and
deposited in the museum of Scottish Antiquities at Edinburgh, is of cast
iron. Besides these pigs of iron several other -iron articles have at
different times been taken from the Red Smiddy. Pennant was told by the
Rev. Mr Dounie in 1772, that he (Mr Dounie) had seen the back of a grate
marked S. G. Hay. Mr Alexander Mackenzie of Lochend informed Mr Knox in
1786, that his grandfather had got from these works "an old grate and some
hammers." Sir G. S. Mackenzie of Coul mentions in his "General Survey," in
1810, "the breech of a cannon he had found among the rubbish, which
appeared to have been spoiled in casting." Old men state that they
remember to have seen, about 1840, in front of the inn at Aultbea, a large
iron hammer head which had been brought from the Red Smiddy; it required
two men to lift it, and to raise it from the ground was a common test of
strength; it was removed from Aultbea by Donald Macdonald, fishcurer at
Lochinver. It may have been one of the hammers mentioned by Mackenzie of
are evidences of extensive charcoal burnings on several flat places along
the east bank of the Narrows of Loch Maree for a space of nearly half a
mile above the Red Smiddy, and much of the bank immediately above it is
black with charcoal and the remains of fires where ore was roasted.
There is a tradition that Sir
George Hay or his manager projected a canal, to connect the navigable part
of the Ewe with the sea at a place called Cuil an Scardain, at the
south-west corner of Loch Ewe. Two large circular holes at this place, now
nearly filled up with stones cleared from the adjoining arable land, are
said to have been borings made to test the feasibility of the project.
They give some probability to the tradition.
In chronological order the Glen
Dochartie and Garavaig bloom-•eries were probably the earliest of the
Gairloch ironworks. The Fasagh works seem to have been intermediate
between those and the historic series, which includes Furnace (Letterewe),
Talladale, and the Red Smiddy. These last belong, as we have seen, to the
Old inhabitants have a tradition that there was a
bloomery in Tollie bay on Loch Maree. They say that after it was
discontinued the business of tar boiling was carried on at the same place.
If this were so, it must have been long ago, for no vestiges of old fir
trees are now to be seen in the neighbourhood. Some small fragments of
slag are found among the shingle in Tollie bay. Mr Macadam has analysed a
sample of this slag, and is of opinion that it is lime-kiln slag; it
contains 33 per cent, of carbonate of lime, and 64 per cent. of insoluble
silicates, which include only 13 per cent, of metallic iron.
There are a few masses of slag
near the entrance to the Gairloch churchyard. Owing to the crowded state
of the graves within, some interments have recently taken place outside
the churchyard, and this slag has been dug up. Mr Macadam finds that it
contains 29J per cent, of metallic iron, and 8 1/4 per cent, of insoluble
silicates. He does not think this slag has been the result of
Two notices not already quoted referring to iron mines or the manufacture
of iron in the neighbourhood of Loch Maree or Loch Ewe ought to be
mentioned before concluding this part of our subject.
The following is an extract from
the letterpress (written in 1660) on the back of Blaeu's map of the north
of Scotland—the old Dutch map previously referred to in these pages. It
seems to speak of an outer and inner Loch Ewe, the latter (Loch Maree)
surrounded by thick woods where in past years there had been iron mines (yser-mijnen).
After describing Kintail, and
then Lochcarron, it goes on to say (proceeding northwards): — "Dus
voort-tredende komt men aen eenige onbekende zeeboesems, en den volght de
zeeboesem Ew, en duysent schreden daer boven de binnenzee Ew, van alle
zijden met dichte bosschen beslotten, daer in de voorgaende jaren
ysermijnen gevonden zijn, en ick weet niet of men noch heden daer aen
other notice occurs in the "Present State of Great Britain and Ireland"
printed by J. Brotherton, London, 1742, where we read that "further on the
same coast lies Loch Ewe with thick woods on all sides, where a great deal
of iron was formerly made."
This brings to a close my remarks on the old
ironworks of Gairloch. The dense forests of timber that yielded the
charcoal used by the iron-smelters of old have disappeared, and coal,
which is not found in Gairloch, is now the usual fuel for smelting. The
local bog iron does not occur in such quantities as would be required for
profitable working in the present day. It is therefore unlikely that the
iron industry will again find a footing in Gairloch; but it must ever be
interesting to recall what we know of the ironworks, both those commenced
by the illustrious Earl of Kinnoull, and the others of more ancient date.
ON THE EWE.
existing remains almost go to prove that the parish of Gairloch has been
in bygone days the "Black Country" of the west coast. Whilst admiring the
energy and skill of the former ironworkers, may we not be allowed to
express the hope that charcoal burnings and iron furnaces may never
again—at least in our time-be set agoing to mar with their smoke and
refuse the beautiful shores of Loch Maree and the river Ewe?