Industries in Camelon

Apart from nailmaking, the two principal types of industry which were carried on in the village towards the end of the nineteenth century were chemical work and ironfounding.

Camelon Chemical Works.

Cross's Chemical Company and the Hurlet Chemical Works all operated during the second half of the nineteenth century and generally located close to the Port Downie area, with the exception of Limewharf Chemical Works on the site of the present Scottish Tar Distillers Works.

Limewharf Chemical Works was founded in 1845 by Mr. ,lames Ross and changed ownership about 1865 when it was taken over by Messrs. Orr and Sutherland. Hurlet Chemical Works were opened in 1851 and in 1862 changed hands and became known as the Hurlet and Campsie Alum Company. It ceased work in 1901.

These works gave employment to over 600 men at the end of the century and among the products manufactured were sulphuric acid, oil of vitriol, pitch, creosote, sulphate of ammonia, benzine, carbolic, naphtha and Lucigen oils.

A shipbuilding business was founded at Lock 16 in 1886 which was at first associated with the Ross family who owned Limewharf Chemical Works but was later acquired by Mr. Gilbert Wilkie. A notable export of this yard was a ship which was built in three sections and exported to the River Plate.

The ironworks in the area included the Gael Foundry Company, Port Downie Iron Works. the Union Foundry, the Forth and Clyde Iron Company, Dorrator Iron Company, Carmuirs Iron Company, Grange Iron Company, Camelon Iron Works and Central Ironworks.

The earliest of these was the Port Downie Iron Works which was founded in the 184D's while the Union Foundry began in the 186D's. At the very end of the century between 1898 and 1899 no fewer than four works were opened in the village, namely R. & A. Main's Gothic Works, the Grange Iron Company just off Stirling Road next to the railway, Dorrator Iron Company on the other side of the railway, and Carmuirs Iron Company.

The only one of these tour companies still operating is the Dorrator.

These works gave Camelon a wide range of products including gas cookers and and fires, stoves, grates, and ranges, with kitchen ranges appearing to be the preponderant product. In addition to these there was Henderson's Canal Steel and File Works which was situated on the North bank of the Forth and Clyde Canal, to the west of Union Road.


Nailmaking came to Camelon as a result of the efforts of Mr Cadell of the Carron Company who brought nailmakers from England and established them in the village at the end of the eighteenth century.

These nailmakers taught others and the trade grew. The first shop is said to have been established in George Square which was situated close to the bank of the Forth and Clyde Canal in the region of the Canal Inn.

Fairbairn Square was also in this area and it owes its name to George Fairbairn another prominent man in this industry. James Stark established another shop in what became known as Gunn's Square after the man who succeeded Stark in ownership of the shop. Two other prominent ' nailmaking areas were in the Wee Square and the Old Square.

Nailrnaking was carried on by men getting nail rods from the masters and returning the metal to them as nails. The employers provided all the necessary tools and premises together with housing accommodation for the married men. In the early years the trade was no sinecure. Nailers worked very often from six in the morning until ten at night with breaks for meals.

Wages averaged less than 15/- per week out of which the nailer had to pay for the iron for making the nails and for coal for his fire in addition to rent for the premises in which he worked. Apprentices began work at nine years of age and were indentured for six years during which time they received no wages. Lodging, food and clothing were provided by the tradesmen to whom they were indentured.

The advent of machinery in the middle of the nineteenth century caused a decline in the hand-made nail industry and the only shop of any consequence operated at Lock 16 where Messrs. Forbes and Jones employed about fifty men in the manufacture of horse shoe nails.
Mr William Harrison of Thistle Street was the last active nailer in Camelon and he died in August, 1914.

When the Union Canal finally reached Camelon there started a regular passenger service between Edinburgh and Glasgow and passengers travelled by one boat on the Union Canal and transferred at Camelon to another boat on the Forth and Clyde. Fares on the Union were cabin three shillings and 9 pence and steerage two shillings 8 and a half pence. On the Forth and Clyde the charges were cabin three shillings and 3 pence and steerage two shillings three and a half pence. The Falkirk Almanack for 1836 gives the following information:

"Forth and Clyde Canal Company's Swift Passage Boats from Lock No. 16 to Port Dundas - Summer hours - 6, 8, 1D a.m., 12 noon, 2, 4, and 6 p.m. Thomas Stark, agent. Passengers going between Edinburgh and Glasgow are allowed 15 minutes for refreshment, etc. at Mr Rankeillor s Inn after the arrival of the boat.

Union Canal Swift Passage Boats, from head of locks to Port Hopetoun Summer hours - 6, 9.30, 11.30 a.m., 1.00 pm, 3.30, and 5.00 p.m. Winter hours - half hour before 12 noon, half hour before 3, and half hour before 6 p.m."

In February, 1842 a direct rail link between Edinburgh and Glasgow was opened and this caused a drop in the number of passengers using the canal service despite drastic fare reductions. It is reported that the tenant of the inn at Port Downie had suffered such a loss of trade that she had to sell her furniture to pay her rent arrears. Finally, in March, 1848, the unequal struggle with the railway was conceded and the passenger service was abandoned.

Commercial traffic continued on the canals and at the old canal bridge at Camelon was situated Gillespie's transit shed where Mr Giilespie, provided a variety of material transported by his three boats the "Annie", the "Nellie" and the "Afghan."