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Blast from the pastIn 1753 a Cumbrian ironmaster opened a new works in Scotland, at Bonawe. The chief attraction was the extensive woodland of Argyll, guaranteeing him an almost endless supply of charcoal. Plenty of water for powering the huge bellows was an added advantage. The iron ore was imported from Cumbria.
The most complete charcoal-fired ironworks in BritainBonawe is the most complete charcoal-fired ironworks in Britain. (Running it a close second is Duddon, in south Cumbria, now cared for by the Lake District National Park.) The entire manufacturing process can be traced:
A split workforceMost of the workforce – numbering over 600 – worked in the woods as ‘coalers’, producing charcoal. They were mostly local, and Gaelic-speaking, and were employed in the summer months only.
A proud workforceThe furnace mostly produced pig iron for export. However, during the Napoleonic Wars it churned out cannonballs. The workforce was the first in Britain to erect a monument to Admiral Nelson’s memory after Trafalgar in 1805. The monument still stands on a hillock north of Muckairn churchyard, in Taynuilt, but the Cumbrian slate plaque is on display at Bonawe.