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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter XVI. Grangemouth


Previous to 1790, Carronshore was the great centre of sea trade in Stirlingshire. In 1765, a shipping company was formed there, for the purpose of carrying goods to and from London, while various vessel regularly arrived with grain from the Baltic, and wood from Norway. Originally, the shipping accommodation of Grangemouth consisted alone of a tidal harbour of very limited dimensions. In 1843, a wet dock, however, was opened, capable of containing 20,000 tons, but even it, in the course of a very few years, was found altogether unequal to the demands of a rapidly increasing trade. In 1859, another large basin was built, with a width of 200 feet, while provision was made at the same time for taking vessels with timber cargoes through both docks into one of the ponds for delivery. Within the last thirty years, few seaport towns have advanced with more rapid strides than the ancient "Sea Lock." Taking an average of ten years, the number of vessels that entered the port prior to 1840 was 612, with a gross tonnage of 31,686. In 1874, the number of vessels was 1853, and the gross tonnage 393,463. In 1876, the total traffic in and out was 840,326 tons, and of that 524,526 tons were inwards – timber composing twenty per cent of the trade. Of the inward traffic, again, 335,519 tons went by canal, and 153,355 tons by railway; only 480 tons were carted away from and to Grangemouth, though about 2,673 tons were taken into the local sawmills from the docks. Year by year the port is largely increasing in business. At present, it ranks about sixth in point of importance among the seaport towns of Scotland; and when the new docks, now being constructed by Messrs. Charles Brand & Son, for the Caledonian Railway Company, are completed, a great stimulus cannot fair to be given the general trade of the once "Sleepy Hollow." Meantime, the Caledonian Raily Company give an open preference to steamers trading regularly between this and Middlesbro’, and also to Hamburg and Rotterdam, while, for a similar traffic reason, they likewise reserve berths for the Carron steamers which run to and from London. The Rotterdam and Amsterdam vessels are five in number, and belong to Messrs. James Rankine & Son, Glasgow. Their general cargoes outwards are, for the most part, pig iron and chemicals; and inward cargoes consisting of Dutch produce – sugar, fruit, &c., together with traffic from the Elberfeld district of the Rhine. A custom-house has been established here since 1st December, 1810, and extends over the out-stations of Alloa, Stirling, and Kincardine. Formerly, all vessels belonging to Grangemouth were registered at Borrowstouness.

Town, which dates from 1777, is situated at the confluence of the river Carron and Grange burn. Its population is limited, being under 3000. This is to be accounted for from the want of houses, hundreds of labourers on its quays and in its works having to reside in Falkirk and neighbouring villages there or four miles off. It was erected into a burgh under the Lindsay Act on a petition to the sheriff in 1872, and the first meeting of commissioners took place on the 31st December of that year. Lying on the level carse, the place was badly circumstanced for sewerage and drainage. From its damp and almost swampy soil, it used to be reckoned a perfect hot-bed of fever and ague; and although the drainage of the land has mitigated the evil, it has not entirely removed it; besides the town had, until late years, been supplied with water from the canal and basins much tainted with sewage. Diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, and other diseases were constantly prevalent, and deaths to frequently ensued. The medical men, knowing that the water was bad, denounced it as a predisposing cause, and they suspected imperfect cleansing and drainage as another, and they were right in both. The late Dr. Watson, who was medical officer of the local authority, was particularly earnest in pointing out these evils, and urgently pled that steps should at once be taken for having them remedied. The deceased gentleman was also the means of a comprehensive water scheme being introduced. The supply is derived form three sources, viz.: - Surface drainage, spring and bores (the latter of sand, sandstone, and clay, to depths varying from 150 to 300 feet), which combined yield a steady flow of 75,000 gallons daily, providing 25 gallons per head of the population. The spring water can, when required, be augmented to the extent of 40,000 gallons. Another source, may, in time, be taken advantage of, namely, the springs adjoining the Millhall Burn on the Earl of Zetland’s farm of Gilston. The head works, which are constructed in the Millhall Valley, near Polmont, are close to the sources of supply, and consist of collecting wells and their conduits, a settling pond, filter, and intervening regulator valve well, &c.

Mr. John S. Mackay, ex-senior magistrate, has also been prominent in his good works to the town. His efforts to repress the ravages of cholera in 1832 and 1848, are, from their earnestness and self-sacrifice, well worthy of being recorded. In 1834, at the suggestion of the Governor of the Forth and Clyde Canal, Mr. Mackay was asked to raise a company for the lighting of the town, and he was successful in forming the present Gas Company, so that in the following year the place was lighted in a manner very much to the satisfaction of the inhabitants. In recognition of his long and valuable services, he was in January, 1878, presented with a full-size oil painting of himself, along with a massive silver breakfast tray and handsome drawing-room clock, with ornaments to match, for Mrs. Mackay. The present senior magistrate of the port is Mr. Hugh Macpherson, a shrewd, sensible, and successful man, who carries with him in all his actions universal respect.

Of recent buildings, the Public Institute is the principal. It is of a very plain but substantial character, and consists of two flats. Its front elevation faces Bridge Street, where we have the main entrance. The ground flat is devoted chiefly to refreshments; while the second flat is used as a lecture room, and accommodates from 400 to 500 persons. Here there is also a room in which the young men’s meetings are held, and a smaller room for committee meetings. The estimates for the building amounted to 2,100 pounds, of which 150 pounds was subscribed by the Earl of Zetland, who also granted the site at a merely nominal feu duty. The foundation stone was laid in September, 1876.

Kerse house lies on the south side of the Forth and Clyde Canal. The avenue leading to the mansion is thoroughly open, with few trees to cast a shade when "the summer sun kings it o’er the land." Yet the soil of the grounds is exceedingly rich, and there is a fine free expanse of pasturage. The landscape, too, is one of rural wealth and beauty – a farm-dotted carse, with its noble cincture of hills now bathed in a flood of purple light. The earl’s residence is no pillared palace – a building, in fact, severely plain. But the whole demesne is of the most simple and ordinary character, and favoured only on rare occasions with the presence of the noble inheritor. The ancestors of Sir James Stuart Menteth, Bart., of Mansfield House, New Cumnock – the Menteths of Rashie and Alva – for more than three centuries held possession of this estate, together with that of Randiford and Newlands. Indeed, these same Menteths were, at one time, the largest proprietors of the district. In 1638, the lands of Kerse were purchased by Sir Thomas Hope, king’s advocate, from Sir William Livingstone of Kilsyth. Many years ago, they were bought by Mr. Lawrence Dundas, merchant, Edinburgh, who was created a baronet in 1762; and, in 1794, his son, Sir Thomas, was raised to the Peerage under the title of Lord Dundas. He died in 1820, and was succeeded by his son, Lawrence, who, in 1838, had conferred on him the title of Earl of Zetland. In consequence of his death the following year, the estate and honours fell to his son, Thomas, the present earl.

The project of a navigable communication through the isthmus, between the Forth and the Clyde, appears to have been entertained even in Charles II.’s reign, though not acted on. It was revived in 1723; when a survey of the scheme was made, under the auspices of government, by Mr. Gordon, author of the Itinerarium Septentrionale, who seems to have filled the double office of civil engineer, and military antiquary. In 1761, the late Lord Napier, at his own expense, employed Mr. Robert Mackell to survey anew and estimate. Mackell’s report was favourable; and being laid before the Board of Trustees for the encouragment of Fisheries and Manufactures in Scotland, led them to employ the celebrated Smeaton to make another survey, and to estimate for a canal 5 feet deep. His estimate amounted to 80,000 pounds. The Glasgow merchants declared for a canal 4 feet deep, the estimate for which, 30,000 pounds, they subscribed in two days. The Scottish nobility and gentry, differing from both classes of the canal patrons, obtained an Act of Parliament for one 7 feet deep, the estimate of which was 150,000 pounds. The subscribers were incorporated under the name of "the Company of Proprietors of the Forth and Clyde Navigation," their joint stock to consist of 1,500 shares of 100 pounds, with liberty to borrow 50,000 pounds; the holders of 5 shares to vote, by themselves or proxies, and be eligible as managers. No doubt the increase of trade between the east and west coasts of Scotland, together with the great expense of carriage by land, led to the project of thus uniting the eastern and western seas. The work, from the many difficulties which were encountered in the execution, was most appropriately called the "Great Canal." Rocks, quick-sands, roads, and rivulets had all to be overcome in the line of the navigation. Operations were commenced at the east end on 10th July, 1768, under the direction of Smeaton, when Sir Lawrence Dundas, of Kerse, performed the ceremony of cutting and removing the first spadeful of earth. There was, however, no such thing as a "silver trowel" in those days. On the anniversary, in 1775, the workmen engaged had completed the canal to Stockingfield, within 4 miles of Glasgow. In 1777, a side branch was finished to Hamilton Hill, where a basin was formed. By adding, afterwards, to the banks, the canal was in effect deepened to 8 feet. On 28th July, 1790, the navigation was opened from sea to sea, by the Chairman of the committee, accompanied by the Magistrates of Glasgow, pouring into the Clyde a hogshead of the Forth; the ceremony being witnessed by a vast concourse of people from all quarters. Eight acres were now purchased nearer Glasgow than Hamilton Hill, and a larger basin formed, called Port Dundas. A junction, for the supply of water, was hence effected with the Monkland Canal, which belongs to another company, and extends 12 miles eastward, into the Monkland parishes.

Some idea may be formed of the nature of the undertaking when it is stated that the canal, in its course of thirty-five miles, passes over forty aqueduct bridges, and is crossed by thirty-three drawbridges. The largest of the former is that over the Kelvin, which was begun in June, 1787, and finished in April, 1791, at a cost of 8,500 pounds. It consists of four arches, with a height of 83 feet – the valley spanned being upwards of 400 feet in breadth. Mr. Robert Whitworth was at that time engineer, and with great energy and skill conducted the whole work till its completion. The medium width of the surface of the canal is 56 feet, and of the bottom 27 feet. Between Grangemouth and Port Dundas there are twenty locks, and nineteen between the "great aqueduct" and Bowling Bay.

Although at one period the funds of the company were in such a depressed state that the stock frequently sold at fifty per cent below par, the navigation ultimately redeemed itself, and developed into one of the most remunerative and popular of traffic industries. In 1799, in consequence of an arrangement with Pitt, and Act was passed accumulating the whole principal sums and interest due to the proprietors into a capital of 421,525 pounds, and this amount, divided by 1,297, the number of the shares of stock, made each share 325 pounds, on which a dividend of ten per cent was paid at Martinmas of the following year, the company having previously paid off a debt of 70,000 pounds, which they had borrowed in virtue of one of their Acts. For the year 1800 the revenue was 21,607 pounds, 6s. 8d., and the total expenditure 9,497 pounds, 6s. 5d. In 1814, when the revenue amounted to 51,071 pounds, 8s. 10d., and the expenditure to 16,791 pounds, 9s. 8d., the company made a dividend of 15 pounds; in 1815 it ws increased to 20 pounds; and in 1816 to 25 pounds. Prior to 1808 they had two track boats on the canal, which were run three times a week, carrying passengers and goods. The tonnage dues from sea to sea were 5s. 10d.; from Grangemouth to Glasgow, 3s. 10d.; and from Bowling to Glasgow, 2s. But this system was found both in inconvenient and tedious; and the company got built, for passengers alone, the ‘Margaret,’ ‘Charlotte,’ and ‘Star.’ These boats were drawn by two horses, and left Lock 16 and Port Dundas every lawful day. The passage of thirty-five miles was performed in five and a-half hours, and was divided westwards into the following stages; - Castlecary, Auchinstary, Sherva, Kirkintilloch, Cadder, and Port Dundas. The cabin fare was 4s., and the steerage 2s. But, by and bye, can ‘The Rapid,’ the first of the swifts, which was built at Tophill. On the day of the launch, so high rose enthusiasm that the "bairns," who mustered numerously, carried the boat shoulder-high to the starting lock. The whole travelling arrangements were now complete and elegant. An exciting spot – gay, heartsome, and bustling – was the "16" of those days, and few hotels more stirring and comfortable than that of which the genial and gentlemanly Rankeillor was host. ‘The Rapid’ made the journey to Glasgow in three and a-half hours. "Prodigious!" will no doubt be the vehement exclamation of many an heir to the present flying locomotive age, when the same distance can be done in about thirty minutes. But with one or other of those jolly and courteous captains – Napier, Risk, and Hay – at the helm, the passage from beginning to end was replete with interest of the most stirring sort. Veterans who remember when six passenger boats plied daily on the Union and the Forth and Clyde Canals, and when horses, with their red-coated and cocked-hat riders, did the duty of steam, must heave a sigh for the "good old days," on seeing what remains of the water passenger traffic between the two great Scottish cities. The tiny screw vessel which, in the summer season, still plies between Port Dundas and Castelcary, is the last link in the history of the swifts; and there ca be no doubt that Kelvin Valley Railway, lately opened, will completely annihilate the old system. An afternoon, however, with the skipper, who is a genuine type of the old Scotchman, and the scenery of the sail, is thoroughly enjoyable.

The late Mr. Thomas Wilson, of Tophill, and latterly of Grangemouth, built the first iron boat for the canal company, which was launched at Fasken, on the 20th May, 1818, and christened the ‘Vulcan.’ This was the commencement of the use of iron in Scottish shipbuilding. Two small boats had previously been built of iron in England; but, with these exceptions, the ‘Vulcan’ was the first iron vessel constructed. Her builder had great difficulties to contend with. In an account of the same, which he wrote some years ago to a friend, he said: - "There was no angle iron in these days, nor any machinery, except an old-fashioned piercing machine, a cast-iron grooved block to form the ribs, a smith’s fire; and one foot, knick’d at a heat, was considered good work." The vessel was designed by the late Sir John Robinson, of Edinburgh, and was so substantially constructed, that she is still afloat and doing duty. From time to time iron inventors have some forward and patented what they fancied new improvements in the construction of iron ships; but, when the way to prosperity seemed clear before them, an examination of the old ‘Vulcan’ ever proved that they had been forestalled, and consequently the patents became null. In 1826, the ‘Cyclops’ followed from the same builder. She was, however, eventually altered into a paddle-wheel steamer by Mr. John Neilson, of Oakbank. So much for the Forth and Clyde Canal and its earlier history. It still continues to have a profitable trade in goods; and, since it has been managed by the Caledonian Railway Company, the shareholders have received a yearly dividend of from six to seven per cent. The chief carriers are Messrs. Burrell & Son, Messrs. J.& J. Hay, Messrs. Burrell & Son, Messrs. J. & J. Hay, Messrs. Burrell & Haig, Mr. James Duncan, of Auchindavie; Mr. Malcolm Maitland, and Mr. John Gillespie.

But there is another association connected with the canal that cannot be left unnoticed. The hull of the first steamboat, the ‘Charlotte Dundas,’ lay for many years in a creek between Locks 8 and 9. The vessel was built in 1801, for Symington, by Mr. Hart, of Grangemouth. She was 56 feet long, 18 feet beam, and 8 feet deep from deck to keel. Of his earlier experiments Symington thus writes: - "I proceeded to erect a steam engine upon the principle for which I had previously procured a patent, having two cylinders of 4 inches in diameter, each making an 18-inches stroke. This engine having been constructed by my direction and under my eye, I caused it to be fitted on board a double-keel vessel then lying upon a piece of water near the house of Dalswinton; and this being done, an experiment was made in the autumn of the year 1788, when the boat was propelled in a manner that gave such satisfaction, that it was immediately determined to commence another experiment upon a more extended scale, which was made on the Forth and Clyde Canal. The machine was executed at Carron ironworks under my direction, and was erected in a boat belonging to Mr. Miller, which had been previously built and fitted up with paddle-wheels for the purpose of making experiments as to the effect of these wheels turned by the labour of men already prescribed. I fitted into this boat a steam-engine with two cylinders, each 18 inches in diameter, and making a 3-feet stroke; and in October, 1789, in presence of hundreds of spectators, who lined the banks of the canal, the boat glided along, propelled at the rate of five miles an hour."

But though the "Charlotte Dundas’ was, some years ago, totally sundered, her timber, for the most part, has been respectfully preserved. A good deal of it, in fact, has already passed into appropriate models and articles of furniture; while Mr. Ralph Stark of Summerford still holds a considerable quantity of her "ribs."

It must, however, be borne in mind that one Jonathan Hulls of England, in 1736, obtained a patent for the propelling of boats by steam; but the engine of his vessel was so imperfect, as regarded the application of power, that the invention in his hands never came to aught. And the old ‘Comet’ has been spoke of as the first steamboat. But the credit of such a performance can neither be given Bell nor Fulton. The former, we know, long before the ‘Comet’ came out on the Clyde, was a close and frequent inspector of Symington’s vessel during the many years that she lay in the canal creek; and was likewise a spectator of the experiments in 1789. Fulton, too, in 1801, called purposely on Symington to see his boat; when he candidly remarked that such an invention would be of even greater importance in North America than Britain, on account of the many navigable rivers and lakes in the transatlantic country, and the ease with which timber, both for building and fuel, could everywhere be had. And need we add that it was 1806 before Fulton’s steam vessel made its appearance on the Hudson river. Symington assuredly would have made more of his invention in 1789, had the Forth and Clyde Canal Company not given him the cold shoulder. The reason for such discouragement on their part was the grievance thus stated: - "The undulation of the water from the paddle-wheel action would have the effect of washing away the banks of the canal."

Symington received but a miserable reward for his great and inestimable services. On two occasions he got from government paltry sums, amounting in all to 150 pounds – a poor recompense for his long and arduous labours, to which we owe our magnificent modern steam navigation; and which, while they have promoted the wealth and best interests of his country and the world, debarred him from rising to that position of affluence that, had he exercised his talents, in some paying department of his profession, he would certainly have attained. His last patent expired in 1812; and immediately thereafter sea and river began to teem with steamships – the direct fruit of his unconquerable perseverance and brilliant inventive genius. He now reposes in the humble churchyard of St. Botolph’s, London, without even a stone to mark his resting-place. Could national ingratitude further go?


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