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The Carron Company was an ironworks established in 1759 on the banks of the River Carron near Falkirk, in Stirlingshire, Scotland. After initial problems, the company was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom. The company prospered through its development and production of a new short-range and short-barrelled naval cannon, the carronade. The company was one of the largest iron works in Europe through the 19th century. After 223 years, the company became insolvent in 1982 and was later acquired by the Franke Corporation, being rebranded Carron Phoenix.
The company was founded as a partnership by three men, two Englishmen, Dr John Roebuck, a chemist, Samuel Garbett, a merchant, and a wealthy Scottish shipowner, William Caddell. The factory of "Roebucks, Garbett and Cadells" was established on the north bank of Carron Water, two miles north of Falkirk. Taking iron ore from Bo'ness and water from the Carron, they decided to use the new method pioneered by Abraham Darby at Coalbrookdale, using coke from coal mines in the vicinity as fuel rather than the usual charcoal. The works helped to push other less technologically advanced ironworks, such as the Wealden iron industry based in the Weald, out of business.
Caddell's young son, also William, was appointed manager, and the company's financial position was precarious in its first few years. It took time and a considerable investment to create the necessary infrastructure and for the largely unskilled workforce to develop the techniques of iron working. The first blast furnace became operational on 26 December 1760, producing pig iron. However, when the factory started to produce cast iron goods, they were of a generally poor quality. Nevertheless, in 1764, the Board of Ordnance granted the company a lucrative contract to supply armaments to the British armed forces. The company also cast parts for James Watt's steam engine in 1765.
The company's fortunes had begun to improve as a result of Charles Gascoigne becoming a partner in 1765. Gascoigne was a grandson of Charles Elphinstone, 9th Lord Elphinstone and had married Samuel Garbett's daughter in 1759. Gascoigne introduced many improvements in the company's techniques of production, and devoted considerable effort to increasing the quality of its work, and he took over the management of the works from William Cadell, Jr, in 1769.
The company received a royal charter to incorporate as the Carron Company in 1773. However, despite Gascoigne's efforts, the quality of company's products had remained low, and the company's contracts to supply the Royal Navy were cancelled in 1773, with the company's cannon being removed from all naval vessels.
A carronade was shorter and therefore much lighter than a long gun of the same calibre, meaning that more could be carried, and it was also quicker to load and required a smaller crew. On the debit side, carronades had a short range.
Some warships - mainly small ones - were equipped with carronades as their main or only armament, but such vessels were vulnerable to opponents armed with long guns. The carronade's principal use was on the upper decks of warships, where batteries of carronades replaced smaller numbers of long guns. This greatly increased firepower at the close ranges at which contemporary naval battles were usually fought, without impairing stability or sailing qualities.
The carronade was a considerable success, and remained in production from 1778 through to the 1850s. The company established such a reputation for quality that the Duke of Wellington remarked in a letter to Admiral Berkley in 1812 that he only wanted cannon manufactured by the Carron Company in his army. The company also made ammunition, including some invented by Henry Shrapnel.
The company also supplied armaments to governments outside the UK, including weapons supplied to the embryonic United States which were used against Britain in the War of 1812. The British government tried to prevent the company from supplying plans and equipment to the Russian Empire, intended to improve Catherine the Great's weapons foundry at Petrozavodsk; nonetheless, Gascoigne delivered the Russian's orders, and travelled to Russia in May 1786 to supervise the works. He remained in Russia for 20 years, dying in July 1806 in Kolpino near St. Petersburg as Actual State Councillor Karl Karlovich Gaskoin.
Prosperity and fall
By 1814, the Carron Company was the largest iron works in Europe, employing over 2,000 workers, and it attracted many innovators. William Symington was an engineer for the Carron Company in the early 19th century, and the company made engines for his steamboats, the Experiment and the Charlotte Dundas. John Smeaton was a consultant for the company. Henry Cort experimented on methods to produce malleable iron, anticipating the puddling process. Benjamin Franklin visited the factory, leaving works and is said to have left a design for a stove- 'Dr Franklin's stove or the Philadelphia stove'
The company continued to produce pig iron through the 19th century, together with cast-iron products such as balustrades, fire grates, and the Carron bathtub. It ran its own shipping line, and produced munitions in both World Wars. It later became one of several foundries producing pillar boxes and was one of five foundries casting Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's classic Red telephone boxes. In the 1960s, it produced cast-iron rings to line the Tyne Tunnel under the River Tyne from Jarrow to Howdon and the Clyde Tunnel under the River Clyde from Whiteinch to Govan near Glasgow.
The company was bought over and still operates today under the name of Carron Phoenix, part of the Franke corporation. Like its predecessor, The Carron Company, Carron Phoenix's headquarters are at the Carron Works in Falkirk.
- A legacy of the worldwide influence of the Carron Company, based in Falkirk, is a popular cast-iron cooking pot brand called "Falkirk" found in South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Falkirk pots are used for Potjie cooking and are still manufactured to this day in Africa.
- An isolated beach on the west coast of the island of Zakynthos, Greece, has the shell of the MV Panagiotis, a ship built in 1937 as MV Saint Beden at Scott's Yard in Bowling, Scotland. The vessel still bears a plate marked "Carron Company Stirlingshire". It is one of the island's most famous tourist attractions. The most widely accepted story locally is that it was run aground after an intense chase from the Greek Navy as it smuggled wine and tobacco onto the mainland in 1980.
- Where Iron Runs Like Water! A new history of Carron Iron Works 1759-1982, Brian Watters, John Donald, 1998.
Campbell, R.H. Carron Company (1961) Oliver and Boyd
- Carron Official Website
- Charles Gascoigne - The Darling of Carron Works
- Carron Collieries
- Falkirk Local History Society
- Flags of the shipping line
- Falkirk Council currently hold the largest amount of objects and material associated with Carron
- Lines by Robert Burns on the Carron Ironworks