History of Coatbridge - Industrial Coatbridge

Industrial Coatbridge

By the time of the late 18th century Coatbridge was but a collection of hamlets between Glasgow and Airdrie. However the construction of the Monkland Canal to transport coal from deposits in Coatbridge to Glasgow proved to be the spark which set fire to the town's population explosion. The invention of the hot blast furnace in 1828 by James Beaumont Neilson meant that Coatbridge's rich ironstone deposits could be fully exploited by the canal link. By the mid-19th century there were numerous hot blast furnaces in operation in Coatbridge.

In this period fortunes could be quickly made “with a rapidity only equalled by the princely gains of some of the adventurers who accompanied Pizarro to Peru.” noted one observer. Amongst the most notable success stories at this time were the six sons of Coatbridge farmer Alexander Baird. The Bairds’ were a local farming family in the late 18th century. They became buccaneering capitalists when they leased a coalfield near Coatdyke. They then moved into iron production in late 1820s. Ruthlessly exploiting James Beaumont Neilson's invention of the furnace process to produce iron they were forced to pay substantial damages in a court action. It was reported that upon losing the court action they were able to simply write a cheque. They had used the patent without paying any royalties. After a nine-day trial they were forced to pay out around ten thousand pounds, it was estimated though they had however realised a profit of £250,000 by exploitation of the patent. The Baird family owned a number of the foundries that sprung up and gave the town its then nickname of 'the Iron Burgh'. Each of the sons was reputed to have become a millionaire. James Baird was responsible for erecting sixteen blast-furnaces in Coatbridge between 1830 and 1842. George "Squire Abingdon" Baird was a direct descedant of the Baird's.

The Baird family exerted a strong influence over Coatbridge in the 19th century. They were responsible for the lay out of present day central Coatbridge town centre. Land for the town hall and the land which later came to form Dunbeth Park were gifted to the town by the Bairds. Gartsherrie church was built by the Baird family for them and their employees.

At stage the population of Coatbridge grew by 600%. Cheap unskilled labour was in large demand and Coatbridge became a popular destination for vast numbers of laregly unskilled Irish workers arriving in Scotland.

There have been centuries of coal workings across the area. In 1791 there was disaster at Coats Pit when the canal burst and six miners were drowned. A large part of modern day Coatbridge has been undermined by underground coal workings. The modern day car parks skirting both sides of the South Circular Road are so undermined that no sizable buildings can be built. Dick’s Pond in Carnbroe consists of the hollow left by an ironstone working.

The Clyde Valley plan of 1949 described Coatbridge as "situated over a flooded coalfield" Tenements in Coatbridge were not built to same height as Glasgow tenements, due to danger of subsidence

There were serious cholera outbreaks in the town in 1832 and 1848. Population growth strained every natural resource in the town and the canal's stagnant waters were a breeding ground for disease. Andrew Miller noted that locals used the canal water for drinking and in times of dry weather even used the muddy dregs found at the bottom of the Monkland Canal. (In later years, during the 20th century, it was noted that the residents of Gartcosh did not suffer such problemsm, but that was attributed to the largely English immigrant population who preferred to drink beer rather than water!)

In 1885 Coatbridge was granted burgh status. Local industrialist's had put off burgh status to avoid falling foul of air pollution legislation. Special provisions were made in the burgh bill to allow the blast furnaces to continue polluting undisturbed.

Irish people began to come to arrive Coatbridge in the mid-19th century, many of them because of The Great Hunger in the mid-19th century. The 1851 census recorded that Irish people born in Coatbridge constituted 35.8% of the population. Although while a significant proportion of these emigrants were Protestant the majority were Catholic. Serious sectarian strife arose in Coatbridge throughout the 19th century. The New York Times reported on serious "riots" between local Catholics and Orangemen during 1883. Orangeism in Coatbridge (60% catholic) was said to have inflated the local conservative and unionist vote and representation on the council.

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