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The industrial/commercial Shawfield area of the Royal Burgh of Rutherglen in Scotland is located to the north of the town. It is bounded to the east by the River Clyde, to the north by the Glasgow district of Oatlands and the adjacent Richmond Park, and to the west and south by Polmadie and Toryglen in Glasgow, and Burnhill and the historic Main Street in Rutherglen, although it is separated from these areas by the West Coast Main Line railway tracks and the M74 motorway. A road bridge connects Shawfield to the Dalmarnock, Bridgeton and Glasgow Green areas.

In recent years Shawfield is a familiar name to Scottish sports fans, as the stadium of the same is the national venue for greyhound racing and the former home of Clyde FC.

Early History[edit]

Documentation states that in 1611 the estate of Shawfield was in the hands of the family of Claud Hamilton. His grandson James Hamilton was forced to sell the estate and it was later possessed by the Member of Parliament and tobacco lord Daniel Campbell in 1707. He built a mansion in the centre of Glasgow also named Shawfield, but this was destroyed in a tax-related riot in 1725.[1] Campbell received compensation from the Glasgow for the mansion as city officials were found to have encouraged the rioting mob. He used this money to buy the entire island of Islay which his family held for over a century.[2][3] Shawfield in Rutherglen also remained a possession of the Campbell family (including Walter Campbell of Shawfield) until 1788.

In 1821 Shawfield House was listed as the place of death of noted chemist Robert Cleghorn.

J & J White Chemicals[edit]

J & J White Chemicals, also referred to as Shawfield Chemical Works', was established in 1820 by James White I and John White I after a soap business on the same site, in which John White (I) was a partner from 1810, had failed. John White I had also purchased Shawfield estate and its policies including Shawfield House and Hayfield, and in the following years the business flourished, particularly in the manufacture of bichromate of potash,[4] with their premises expanding over the previously rural estate.

Subsequently John White I’s sons John White II and James White II took over. With the family’s homes in Rutherglen now part of the chemical processing facility, in 1859 James White(II) purchased land near Dumbarton for a grand new mansion far from the atmosphere of the works: Overtoun House was built in 1862. By the time of the death of James White II in 1884 the works employed 500 in Rutherglen and had an output similar to all other such businesses in Britain combined.[5]

The ownership thereafter passed to the son of James White II, John White III and his cousin William James Chrystal.

Lord Overtoun and Keir Hardie[edit]

John White III was strongly religious and involved in numerous philanthropic concerns. He also became involved in politics and in 1893 became a peer in the House of Lords as Baron Overtoun, alternatively "Lord Overtoun", taking the name from his family’s estate. However his reputation of godliness and upstanding generosity was tarnished in 1899 by the figurehead of the Labour Movement, Keir Hardie,[6] to whom the employees had turned for help regarding their situation after appeals to management and an attempted strike had proved unsuccessful.

Hardie produced a series of pamphlets entitled White Slaves: Chrome, Charity, Crystals and Cant describing in scathing terms the terrible working conditions and the demands on the workforce at Shawfield works – the pay was far lower than in comparable occupations of the time, and the owners demanded 12-hour shifts without a meal break and a seven-day working week (although in his other guise as a prominent churchman, Lord Overtoun campaigned for strict Sunday observance including the cessation of public transport for recreational purposes).[7]

However the most damning evidence was linked to the effects on the workers’ health. Safety regulations introduced in 1893 had been ignored, and ineffective protective equipment in unventilated sheds left the employees exposed to the harmful chemical dust at all times. In the short term this led to widespread perforation of the septum in their noses and ‘chrome holes’ (ulcerations burnt into the flesh), as well as lung cancer, digestive disorders and skin diseases over longer periods. The exact number of workers affected is unknown due to unreliable figures and reluctance among authorities of the time to acknowledge and document any direct link between the chrome dust and the health dangers. The exposure to the dust was such that the workers were referred to locally as ‘White’s Dead Men’ or ‘White’s Canaries’ due to their bleached faces and yellow chrome dust-covered clothing.[8] The pamphlets proved very popular and exposed the conditions at Whites works to the wider public. Another Glasgow tycoon of the day Thomas Lipton received similar treatment from Hardie in response to practices at his facilities.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: "There was no effective rebuttal of the charges and Overtoun stood accused of hypocrisy, not least because his passionate sabbatarianism did not extend to closing his chemical works on Sundays. While Overtoun was somewhat distanced from the daily running of the Rutherglen works, it was impossible for him to escape some of the odium for conditions in a third-generation family firm of which he was sole proprietor."

Soon afterwards, improvements in the works were introduced, including baths and recreational facilities on-site, although the sanitary issues were addressed to a satisfactory standard only after a further damning report into Whites by the Medical Inspector of Factories Thomas Morison Legge.

Twentieth century[edit]

Despite the criticism of the situation at his chemical works, in 1905 Lord Overtoun was made a freeman of Rutherglen after he donated land to the town for a public park. This was named Overtoun Park. Lord Overtoun/John Campbell White(III) died in 1908, by which time the Shawfield works were the largest of their kind in the world.[9]

William Chrystal took full control of the firm until his own death in 1921. By the mid-1920s the works, now controlled by another cousin in the White family, Hill Hamilton Barrett (died 1934), employed around 900 and the site had expanded further, to 30 acres.[8]

In 1953 the firm merged with Eaglescliffe Chemical Company from County Durham and became British Chrome and Chemicals. In 1958 the company was renamed Associated Chemical Companies. It was bought over by Albright and Wilson in 1965 and the Shawfield works closed down; the chain of companies producing chemicals (although no longer at any locations in Scotland) continues with Elementis.

Toxic Legacy[edit]

Although production of chemicals at Shawfield ceased in the 1960s, the impact on the Rutherglen area due to the activities of J & J White lasted for decades afterwards due to the presence of the carcinogenic by-product hexavalent chromium (Chromium VI) produced at the works. Its dangers were highlighted in the Hollywood movie Erin Brockovich.

The 12-acre (7 ha) area set aside within the confines of the Shawfield works for waste[10] (coincidentally the same as that bequeathed to the town by Lord Overtoun for the public park – giving some idea as to the size of the area in question) proved inadequate due to the output volume.

In the early 1990s, surveys carried out on blaes playing fields due to be built on for a nursing home revealed dangerously high levels of hexavalent chromium. Further investigations confirmed that J & J White Chemicals had been routinely discarding up to 2.5 million tonnes of their waste materials (Chromate Ore Processing Residue, COPR) at locations around Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Glasgow (such as Carmyle) for many years, and at the time this was permitted.[11] These sites were often old quarries or mines requiring suitable landfill for reuse.

Known sites[edit]

The most prominent dumping ground identified was an area of parkland and playing fields on a former quarry in the Eastfield district adjacent to two main roads, which was fenced off and lay abandoned for a decade before suitable decontamination could be carried out. This land was well known to locals and was casually referred to as 'The Toxic'. A new park and a housing development were laid out on the site,[12] but concerns in the community are such that the alarm was raised immediately when attempts were made to carry out test drilling for sewer works in 2014.[13] Other sites either confirmed or strongly rumoured to have been contaminated with COPR - all of which are now believed to have been sufficiently decontaminated - include:

  • the Eastfield burn to the south of The Toxic park at Dukes Road (now a small park area)
  • the playgrounds of the first incarnation of Trinity High School, also in Eastfield (once a quarry, now the site of the new school and sports facilities)
  • the playing fields at Overtoun Park in Rutherglen (now a nursing home)
  • the site of Rutherglen Maternity Hospital adjacent to the playing fields (once a mine, hospital from 1973—1996, now the local health centre)
  • open ground at the north of the Burnhill district across the railway lines from Shawfield (now the new stadium for Rutherglen Glencairn F.C.)
  • blaes playing fields on both sides of Prospecthill Road, Toryglen in Glasgow (once a brick works, now a supermarket and football training centre)
  • spectator banking at Lesser Hampden football ground [14]
  • Morriston Park estate in Cambuslang (now a supermarket and housing development)
  • Rosebery Park football ground in Oatlands (now the Glasgow East End Regeneration Route)
  • the former Phoenix Tube Works (latterly Stewarts & Lloyds, at Farme Cross) - it is thought the COPR material had been in another area and was then discarded at this derelict site when the issues became apparent (now a retail park)

The issue was highlighted in some detail by the then MP Tommy McAvoy during a debate in the House of Commons in 1995.[15] However, a study published in 1999 [16] and a further study in 2000 suggested there was little evidence that those living in areas contaminated with COPR suffered from poorer health than those in unaffected areas.[17]

Effects at Shawfield[edit]

Within Shawfield the contamination was at its worst. In the late 1960s all visible traces of the works - including Shawfield House which had survived the 150 years of intense industrial activity by serving as an administrative building within the complex - were removed and an industrial estate was constructed in its place. The tenants included factories concerned in food preparation such as the Scottish base of Greggs. However at that time the extent and the severity of the chromium contamination was not known.

The spectator bankings of Southcroft Park, the original ground of Glencairn FC, were formed with chromium waste to a significant extent.[18]

The waste ground to the rear of the stadium also had a very high level of contamination, which caused great concern as this land fell along the exact route due to be taken by the M74 motorway and would lead to the chemicals being disturbed.[19]

The COPR permeates the water table due to its prolonged existence in the soil, with polluted water entering Clyde tributaries the West Burn and the Malls Mire/Polmadie Burn (which run along the western side of the site, largely underground) and thereafter flowing into the river. This may also have led to vegetation at affected sites absorbing the contamination.[11]

Twenty-first century[edit]

Due to the contamination issues at Shawfield, an expensive and comprehensive cleanup operation - anticipated to last 20 years - is ongoing to allow the large site to be utilised safely in the future. Most of the abandoned warehouses have been dismantled.[20][21] Although Greggs bakers left the area in 2006, moving to new modern facilities in Cambuslang, other businesses remain including a sizeable car showroom/servicing centre. The project, operated by Clyde Gateway,[22] will allow high value business and industrial units to be installed,[23] with favourable road links to central and eastern Glasgow (via Rutherglen Bridge) and access to the motorway network. The agency came under scrutiny for its financial dealings relating to the site in 2013.[24]

The Clyde Gateway projects aims to reinvest in this region and create new business parks and make the River Clyde accessible in Rutherglen once again. The old port of Rutherglen is accessible where the railway line passes over the riverside path. This area is however overgrown. You can access Farme Cross from under the railway bridge via the undergrowth.

A new administrative headquarters for Police Scotland at Rutherglen Bridge is one of the most recognisable new buildings. Unfortunately the presence (since 1894) of a sewage treatment plant just across the river does not add to the aesthetic appeal of the area.

Further investigations found that the levels of Chromium VI at the zone to the west of Glasgow Road were five times greater than at the cleared east zone near to the new bridge, and will require more intensive remediation treatment to address.[25][26]

Shawfield Smartbridge[edit]

A new pedestrian bridge [27] with associated landscaping has been constructed between Shawfield and Dalmarnock (a project related to the 2014 Commonwealth Games) to encourage people working in the area to make use of the nearby Dalmarnock railway station; the bridge also carries communications and power connections over the river.[28]

T.B Seath & Co Shipbuilders[edit]

Another industry in the area was shipbuilding. In 1856 Thomas Bollen Seath (1820-1903) established a yard at the bend in the Clyde; his previous premises near Partick was taken over by A. & J. Inglis. For a time he operated a service taking passengers downriver to central Glasgow.[29] The company’s speciality was small iron-hulled steamboats and yachts including those used in the Clutha ferry service.[30]

The yard produced over 300 vessels, some of which have survived and are in service into the 21st century. Builds include MY Raven, MY Lady of the Lake, PS Brighton, MV Nelcebee and PS Lune. The Seath yard itself had to close in 1902 after a tidal weir was installed on the river east of Albert Bridge, blocking access to the ocean from Rutherglen. Seath is interred in a prominent tomb at the nearby Southern Necropolis.[31]


In the early 21st century the completion of the M74 motorway cut through the area resulting in the demolition of some industrial units and Southcroft Park, the historic home of Glencairn FC forcing the team to relocate its playing facilities to Burnhill although the social club was rebuilt at the original location.

There was also a Junior team named Shawfield F.C. however their stadium Rosebery Park (also contaminated with industrial waste and also demolished in the motorway construction) was in Oatlands.

A further football team Shawfield Amateurs competed in the Scottish Cup for several years. Details on this team are scarce but they may have been the works team of J & J White Chemicals as there were recreational facilities amidst the industrial buildings, and the team disbanded around the time the business left Rutherglen.

Shawfield Stadium (the former home of Clyde FC) is home to greyhound racing. Although not immediately noticeable, the building has Art Deco features. Shawfield is also home to the West Of Scotland Indoor Bowling Club situated across from the stadium.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "The Glasgow Story Shawfield Mansion". 
  2. ^ "Old Country Houses of Glasgow Shawfield House". 
  3. ^ "The Glasgow Story - Shawfield House". 
  4. ^ "The Glasgow Story - James White". 
  5. ^ "100 Glasgow Men – James White". 
  6. ^ Brown, Gordon (24 April 2015). "Overturning the vested interest". Church Times. Retrieved 16 June 2017. 
  7. ^ "100 years on – Keir Hardie, the journalist (quoting from White Slaves pamphlet)". LabourList. 26 September 2015. 
  8. ^ a b "(Effects of) Chrome Dust at J & J White of Rutherglen, 1893-1967 (Dr David Walker for Scottish Labour History Journal, 2005)" (PDF). 
  9. ^ "Index Of Glasgow Men 1909 - Baron Overtoun". 
  10. ^ "How Safe is Safe? (The Ecologist 1993)". 
  11. ^ a b "Chromium levels on rise in urban areas (The Scotsman, 2007)". 
  12. ^ "King’s Gait, Dukes Road (CRGP Architects)". 
  13. ^ "Workers attempt drilling work in chromium hot-spot (Daily Record, 2014)". 
  14. ^ "Lesser Hampden – living in the shadow (The Scotsman, 2005)". 
  15. ^ "Tommy McAvoy MP on contamination in Rutherglen, 1995". 
  16. ^ "A study of leukaemia in Glasgow in connection with chromium-contaminated land (Domingo Eizaguirre-García et al, Journal of Public Health Medicine, 1999)" (PDF). 
  17. ^ McCarron, P; Harvey, I; Brogan, R; Peters, TJ (2000). "Self reported health of people in an area contaminated by chromium waste". BMJ. 320: 11–5. PMC 27246Freely accessible. PMID 10617516. doi:10.1136/bmj.320.7226.11. 
  18. ^ "Beech Group: Remediation Trials Rutherglen". 
  19. ^ "Toxic fears over M74 extension (The Herald, 2003)". 
  20. ^ "Clean-up Plan For Chemicals Site (The Herald, 2013)". 
  21. ^ "Shawfield to finally be rid of toxic waste (Daily Record, 2013)". 
  22. ^ "Clyde Gateway - National Business District Shawfield". 
  23. ^ "Glasgow Remediation for Regeneration (VHE Construction, 2014)". 
  24. ^ "Glasgow's £2 million question … and several others (The Herald, 2013)". 
  25. ^ "£24m identified for second phase of chromium cleanup at Shawfield (Clyde Gateway news, 2016)". 
  26. ^ "Clean-up to cost £24m at Shawfield site (Daily Record, 2016". 
  27. ^ "Clyde Smartbridge readied for weeknd opening (Urban Realm, 2014)". 
  28. ^ "Holistic landscape design will be essential to successful regeneration (LUC Consultancy)". 
  29. ^ "Grace’s Guide - Thomas B. Seath". 
  30. ^ "The Glasgow Story - Clutha No 5". 
  31. ^ "Southern Necropolis Heritage - Thomas Seath". 

Coordinates: 55°50′00″N 4°13′25″W / 55.83326°N 4.223594°W / 55.83326; -4.223594