|Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill|
The first settlement of the area stretches back to the Stone Age era. Foundations of the town can be traced back to the 12th century when a Royal Charter was granted to the Monks of Newbattle Abbey by Malcolm IV. Coatbridge, along with its neighbour Airdrie, forms the area known as the Monklands. It was during the last years of the 18th century that the area developed from a loose collection of hamlets into the town of Coatbridge. The town's development and growth have been intimately connected with the technological advances of the industrial revolution, and in particular with the hot blast process. Coatbridge was a major centre for iron works and coal mining during the 19th century and in this period Coatbridge was described as "the industrial heartland of Scotland" and the "Iron Burgh". Coatbridge also had a notorious reputation for air pollution and the worst excesses of industry. By the time of the 1920s however coal seams were exhausted and the iron industry in Coatbridge was in rapid terminal decline. After the Great Depression the Gartsherrie ironwork was the last remaining iron works in the town. One publication has commented that in modern-day Coatbridge "coal, iron and steel have all been consigned to the heritage scrap heap".
- 1 Name of the town
- 2 History
- 3 Geography
- 4 Culture
- 5 Economy
- 6 Landmarks
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 Outside links
Name of the town
There are various explanations for the origin of the town's name. The place name Coatbridge first appears on a number of 19th century maps, although William Roy’s 1750 map notes "Cottbrig" as a hamlet in the Old Monkland area. One source states “Coatbridge” is either derived from the Middle English "cote" (cottage) or from the Old Welsh "coed" meaning "wood".
An alternate explanation is that from around the 13th century the local area was owned by the Colt family, sometimes known as Coats, and their estate generated place-names such as Coatbridge, Coatdyke, Coathill and Coatbank. Drummond and Smith suggest the name derives from the granting of land to Ranulphus le Colt around the time of the 12th century.
Early history: from Bronze Age to Middle Ages
Settlement of the Coatbridge area dates back 3,000 years to the Middle Stone Age. A circle of Bronze Age stone coffins was found on the Drumpellier estate in 1852. A number of other Bronze Age urns and relics have been found in Coatbridge. An Iron Age wood and thatch crannog dwelling was sited in the Loch at the present day Drumpellier Country Park. Dependent upon the water level in the loch, the remains can still be seen today.
Middle Ages to late 18th century
The “Monklands” area inherited its name after the area was granted to the Cistercian monks of Newbattle Abbey by Malcolm IV in 1162. 1n 1323 the Monklands name appeared for the first time on Stewards’ charter. The Monks mined coal and farmed the land until the time of the reformation when the land was taken from them and given to private landowners. In 1641 the parish of Monklands was divided between New Monkland (present day Airdrie) and Old Monkland (present day Coatbridge).
In 1745 the Young Pretender’s Jacobite army seized Coatbridge from government troops on their march to Edinburgh in an action described as the "Canter of Coatbridge". Coatbridge was described in the 1799 Statistical Account as an "immense garden" with "extensive orchards", "luxurious crops" where "rivers abound with salmon".
The Monkland Canal was constructed at the end of the 18th century initially to transport coal to Glasgow from the rich local deposits. The invention of the hot blast furnace process in 1828 meant that Coatbridge's ironstone deposits could be exploited to the maximum by the canal link and hot blast process. The new advances meant that iron could be produced with two thirds less fuel. By the mid 19th century there were numerous hot blast furnaces in operation in Coatbridge.
The prosperous industry which had sprung up around the new iron industry required vast numbers of largely unskilled workers to mine ironstone and work in the blast furnace plants. Coatbridge therefore became a popular destination for vast numbers of Irishmen arriving in Scotland. The iron bars and plates produced in Coatbridge iron works were the raw materials needed throughout the British Empire for railways, construction, bridge building and shipbuilding. One example of uses Coatbridge’ iron was put to included armour plating for British ships fighting in the Crimean war.
Over the course of the following forty years the population of Coatbridge grew by 600%. The character of the Coatbridge area changed from a rural landscape of small hamlets and farmhouses into a crowded, polluted industrial town. In 1840 Rev. William Park wrote that:
|“||"The population of this parish is at present advancing at an amazing rate, and this propensity is entirely owing to the local coal and iron trade, stimulated by the discovery of the black band of ironstone and the method of fusing iron by hot blast. New villages are springing up almost every month, and it is impossible to keep place with the march of prosperity and the increase of the population."||”|
One contemporary observer at this time noted that Coatbridge is “not famous for its sylvan beauties of its charming scenery” and "offers the visitor no inducements to loiter long”. However “a visit to the large Gartsherrie works is one of the sights of a lifetime”.
Most of the town's population lived in tight rows of terraced houses built under the shadow of the iron works. These homes were often owned by their employers. Living conditions for most were appalling, tuberculosis was rife.
For a fortunate few though fortunes could be won “with a rapidity only equalled by the princely gains of some of the adventurers who accompanied Pizarro to Peru.” noted one observer. Among the most notable success stories were the six sons of Coatbridge farmer Alexander Baird. The Baird family had become involved in coal mining but opened an iron foundry in order to exploit the new hot blast process of iron smelting invented by James Beaumont Neilson. The Baird's subsequently constructed numerous iron foundries in Coatbridge including the famous Gartsherrie iron works. The waste heap or "bing" from the Baird's Gartsherrie works was said to be as large as the great pyramid in Egypt. One son, James Baird, was responsible for erecting sixteen blast-furnaces in Coatbridge between 1830 and 1842. Each of the six sons of Alexander Baird was reputed to have become a millionaire.
The town was vividly described by Robert Baird in 1845:
|“||"There is no worse place out of hell than that neighbourhood. At night the groups of blast furnaces on all sides might be imagined to be blazing volcanoes at most of which smelting is continued on Sundays and weekdays, day and night, without intermission. From the town comes a continual row of heavy machinery: this and the pounding of many steam hammers seemed to make even the very ground vibrate under ones feet. Fire, smoke and soot with the roar and rattle of machinery are its leading characteristics; the flames of its furnaces cast on the midnight sky a glow as if of some vast conflagration. Dense clouds of black smoke roll over it incessantly and impart to all buildings a peculiarly dingy aspect. A coat of black dust overlies everything"||”|
In the 19th century, the Baird family had great influence over Coatbridge. They were responsible for the design of the lay out of present-day Coatbridge town centre. The land for the town hall and the land which later came to form Dunbeth Park was gifted to the town by the Bairds. Gartsherrie church was built by the Baird family. The Bairds donated the site on Main Street for the erection of St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. However, they also used patronage of the Orange Order to try and undermine the local trade union movement.
By the end of the 19th century the once plentiful Monklands ironstone deposits had been largely exhausted by 1885. It became increasing expensive to produce iron in Coatbridge as raw materials had to be imported from as far afield as Spain. The growth of the steel industry (in nearby Motherwell) had also led to a start of a decline in demand for the pig iron Coatbridge produced. Living conditions remained grim. In the 1920s Lloyd George's 'Coal and Power' report described the living conditions in the Rosehall area of Coatbridge:
|“||"...on the outskirts of Coatbridge, I found nearly the worst of all. In each of these single rooms lives a miners’ family. There is no pantry. The coal is kept under the bed. Water has to be obtained from a standpipe outside, used by a number of houses. Conspicuously huddled together in the yards are filthy huts for sanitary purposes."||”|
George Orwell's book The Road to Wigan Pier was illustrated by a photograph of homes in the Rosehall area of Coatbridge. In 1934 there was an exodus to Corby in Northamptonshire when the local Union Plant relocated. This had the effect of a hammer blow impact on the town’s iron industry and ushered in the end of serious iron production. The decline of Clydeside shipbuilding industry in the 1950s meant the demand for iron finally collapsed. A legacy of "devastating" unemployment, appalling housing conditions and some of the worst overcrowding in Scotland left its stamp on the Coatbridge of the early 1930s. As late as 1936 Coatbridge was the most overcrowded place in Scotland.
In the 1930s and 1950s, massive programmes of state-sponsored house building saw thousands of new homes built in Coatbridge and some of the worst examples of slum housing were cleared away. By the early 1980s 85% of homes in Coatbridge were part of local authority housing stock. The last of the blast furnaces, William Baird’s famous Gartsherrie works, closed in 1967.
Since the 1970s there have been various initiatives to attempt to regenerate Coatbridge. Urban Aid grants, European Union grants and, more recently, Social Inclusion Partnership's have attempted to breathe new life into Coatbridge. Despite these efforts the town's population has continued to fall and in recent years the town has been dubbed the "most dismal in Scotland".
It was noted in the early 20th century that “The cross at Coatbridge ranks among the most unique...one may pass through it in any form of locomotion. One can not only walk, ride or drive past it, but may train over it or sail under it by means of the canal”
Although Coatbridge has no major river running through it, the North Calder Water runs east-west to the south and the now closed Monkland Canal used to run straight through the centre of the town toward Glasgow: the canal route through Coatbridge can still be seen today. There are also several smaller burns which run through Coatbridge, most of which drain to the North Calder Water. Coatbridge has four significant public parks. Dunbeth Park, West End Park, Whifflet Park and Drumpellier Country Park. Woodend and Witchwood Loch are situated on the north-west edge of Coatbridge.
The topography of Coatbridge was an important feature in the town’s development during the industrial revolution. Coatbridge rests some 200 feet below the ‘Slamannan plateau’ which neighbouring Airdrie sits on the edge of. The low-lying flat ground of Coatbridge was a vital factor in the siting of the towns’ blast furnaces and the Monkland Canal route. Although Airdrie was an already established town and had local supplies of ironstone, the Monkland Canal link did not extend into Airdrie because of its higher elevation. The Clyde Valley plan of 1949 described Coatbridge as "situated over a flooded coalfield”. Tenement buildings in Coatbridge were not built to same level as Glasgow tenements due to danger of local subsidence from centuries of local mining.
Dunbeth hill where the present local authority municipal buildings stand is a wedge of rock which was probably squeezed upwards by the force of two (now-extinct) fault lines. There are the remains of spreads of glacial sands along the crest of Drumpellier, the west bank of Gartsherrie Burn and along modern day Bank Street. Kirkwood, Kirkshaws and Shawhead sit on a sandstone capped ridge looking south over the Clyde Valley. The vital Coatbridge black band coal field extended from Langloan to beyond the eastern edge of the town.
Coatbridge is the home of "Scotland's Noisiest Museum", Summerlee Heritage Park, which contains an insight into the life in industrial Coatbridge. A row of 1900-1960's cottages, a working tram line and a real coal mine can all be experienced on site. The park is situated on the remains of one of Coatbridge's historic blast furnaces. In recent years there has been something of a cultural renaissance in the town rooted in the St Patrick's Day festival.
Coatbridge and Ireland
Coatbridge has been noted for its historical Irish links due to large scale emigration from Ulster in the 19th century and has been called "little Ireland". Within the town there are a number of Irish dance schools, Irish language classes, a Gaelic football team (Sands McSwiney), Gaelic Football Summer School, a branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (Music and Musicians of Ireland) and an Irish genealogy project.
The most obvious manifestation of these links can be seen in the annual St Patrick's Day festival Coatbridge. The festival is sponsored by the Irish government and Guinness. The festival currently runs for over two weeks and includes lectures, film shows, dance/Gaelic football competitions and music performances. The festival is the largest Irish celebration in Scotland.
The Irish influence has given Coatbridge an accent unique in Lanarkshire.
Present day Coatbridge is the site of a major inland container base. Coatbridge was chosen as the site in part due to the proximity of various rail and motorway networks. Makers of PA systems and loudspeakers Tannoy Ltd. are headquartered in Coatbridge. Lees Foods Plc is a local confectionery and bakery products company and are the manufacturers of the Lees macaroon bar. William Lawson’s Scotch Whisky distillery has been located in Coatbridge since 1967. Coatbridge was home to one of the first B&Q Depots, which was closed in 2006 and moved to the new retail park.
The built environment around Coatbridge's town centre is characterised by its mixture of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century sandstone buildings and late twentieth-century precast concrete shops. The leafy Blairhill and Dunbeth conservation areas to the west and north of the town centre comprise detached, semi-detached and terraced sandstone residential buildings. The bulk of the remaining surrounding areas consist of various twentieth-century local authority housing buildings. Several high rise flats dominate the skyline. Due to the decline of industries, several private housing estates have been built on reclaimed land.
In 2007 Coatbridge was awarded Prospect architecture magazine’s carbuncle award for being the ‘most dismal town in Scotland’. The town was also recently described by the comedian Frankie Boyle as "like Bladerunner... without the special effects”.
Drumpellier Country Park is set around Woodend Loch. There are extensive woodlands, a visitor centre and a butterfly house. Monkland Canal runs through a section of the park. The Time Capsule is a multi-purpose leisure centre containing a swimming pool, an adventure pool set in a prehistoric environment, an ice skating facility, suana/steam room and a sports complex with gym halls and other facilities. The Showcase Leisure Park contains a 12-screen cinema, a 10-pin bowling complex and numerous restaurants.
Architecturally noteworthy landmarks in Coatbridge include:
- Coatbridge Leisure Centre – Peter Womersley 1970's brutalist, modernist cantilevered building sited on the main road into Coatbridge.
- Coatbridge library – Andrew Carnegie sponsored 1905 pink sandstone construction. Imposing B-listed structure sited on Academy Street.
- St Augustine's church and buildings - Built in 1873 and located in the Dundyvan area. A red sandstone B listed Rowand Anderson Gothic church.
- The Quadrant shopping centre - Has been described in one article; "...from the set of Camberwick Green. A new clock tower, which looks as if it was designed on the back of a beer mat, marks the town centre, a throwaway gesture compounded by the addition of some appalling public art-cum street furniture".
- St Andrew’s Church - 1839 early Victorian Gothic church by Scott Stephen & Gale in the Whitelaw hill area. Its steeple towers over the town centre.
- Coatbridge railway bridges - The B-listed 1898 bridges span Bank Street, West Canal Street and the former Monkland Canal. The bridges are currently undergoing specialist restoration.
- St Mary’s Church - B listed Gothic church in Whifflet designed by Pugin and Pugin in 1896. Contains an elaborate and ornate interior ceiling.
- the former Cattle Market Building - Erected in 1896, B listed façade of the sandstone cattle market building within the Blairhill and Dunbeth conservation area. Now part of a modern housing development.
- Summerlee Heritage Park 2008 Extension - Spaceship style glass and metal addition to existing building by North Lanarkshire Council's in-house Design Services Team. Part of a two-year £5 million renovation project.
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