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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part I.—Records and Traditions of Gairloch
Chapter XX.—Remains of Ironworks in the Parish of Gairloch


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 historic set.

The slags found in and about the various remains are broadly divided by Mr Macadam into two classes, which he describes as follows:—

(1.) 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 is iron.

(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.
2. Fasagh.
3. Furnace, Letterewe.
4. Talladale.
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.

2. Fasagh.

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 landed.

The 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.

4. Talladale.

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 Lochend.

There 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 seventeenth century.

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 iron-smelting.

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 arbeyt."

The 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.

The 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?


 


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