If you are heading north out of Falkirk along the B902 through Carron towards Stenhousemuir, it's hard to spot where one settlement ends and the next begins. For a short distance in Carron, either side of where the two roads bridge the River Carron, the B902 is paralleled by Stenhouse Road, which joins it at both ends. North of the river, Stenhouse Road has seen new housing development on its eastern side, while its western side is home to the sort of industry that is still fairly common in west central Scotland.
One thing does stand out as very unusual, however. The strikingly-designed clocktower shown in the images on this page is well worth stopping to explore more closely. That's because it is all that remains (except, perhaps, for some old stone walls a little further north along the same side of the road?) of the ironworks established here by the Carron Company in 1759. Using locally-mined iron ore and coke made from locally-mined coal, it took the company a few years to get into its stride, but by the mid 1760s it was at the forefront of the industrial revolution and would grow to become one of the largest ironworks in the world.
It was to the Carron Company that James Watt turned in 1766 when he needed parts cast for his first steam engine, and part of a cylinder from that engine, showing the year of manufacture, can be seen built into the wall of the clocktower. Rather more significant in terms of the future health of the company (and wealth of its founders) had been the contract awarded to the Carron Company in 1764 by the Board of Ordnance to supply armaments to the British army and navy. Many of the cannons were of conventional design, and two that were used by Wellington's troops at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 are on show in the gated enclosure under the clocktower.
The company particularly made its name by producing a new type of naval cannon that was smaller and quicker to load than conventional guns. These became known after their manufacturer as carronades. Two of these are also on display under the clocktower. By 1814, the Carron Company was the largest ironworks in Europe, with 2,000 workers. Over the next century and a half it produced pig iron for use by others, as well as cast iron products as diverse as balustrades, fire grates, lining rings for road tunnels, and the Carron iron bathtub. It was also one of a number of foundries commissioned to produce the classic circular letterboxes, and one of five foundries that produced Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's iconic red telephone boxes.
The Carron Company went into receivership in 1982. It was later sold to the Swiss-based Franke corporation, operating as Carron Phoenix on the same site, producing stainless steel, ceramic and granite moulded sinks. Press reports suggest that manufacturing ceased on the site in 2017, with the loss of 200 jobs, as production was centralised by the owners at their plant in Slovakia.
The clocktower is a reminder of a world that is now long gone. The cannons and carronades are fascinating, as is the piece of Watt's steam engine and part of an iron a lintel from the first blast furnace at Carron, dated 1760. Another plaque on the wall of the clocktower records a visit to Carron made by the poet Robert Burns on Sunday 26 August 1787. Burns and his companion, Willie Nicol, were refused entry and went instead to the Carron Inn, where Burns scratched an angry poem on a window. He returned a month later, and was allowed to tour the works.
We cam na here to view your works,
In hopes to be mair wise,
But only, lest we gang to hell,
It may be nae surprise:
But when we tirl'd at your door,
Your porter dought na hear us;
Sae may, shou'd we to hell's yetts come,
Your billy Sattan sair us!
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Grid Ref: NS 882 825