Carron Dams – the power behind Falkirk’s industrial revolution

A drawing of the dams circa 1880 showing a planned redevelopment of the works
A drawing of the dams circa 1880 showing a planned redevelopment of the works

Last week Falkirk Local History Society heard an excellent presentation by Brian Watters on the famous Carron Dams which once occupied a huge area of land to the west of the works.

As a child I can remember peering over the wall in Stenhouse Road at these great man-made lakes which I later discovered were part of the power system which drove the greatest iron foundry in Europe. Although there is still a good deal of water in the dams, they are for the most part overgrown as part of a deliberate and laudable plan to create a tranquil wildlife sanctuary, where once the mighty blast furnaces lit up the skies and the forge hammers deafened all within earshot.

The founding partners Roebuck, Cadell and Garbett decided that the Carron site was “infinitely preferable to all others” for their new works in 1759 as water could be drawn from the nearby Carron that could power the forge.

The following year, after many a long legal argument with the landowners in Larbert, the lade was dug out by soldiers hired from Bo’ness. It was 14ft wide by about 5ft deep and today it is possible, thanks to the good work of the LASER group, to walk from the viaduct along its length past Carronvale to what remains of the great reservoirs. There is a very informative board which tells visitors about the lade and much more.

Back in the 1760s the lade builders helped lay the foundations of three reservoirs, the earliest of which, the Furnace Pool, was completed in 1761. A few years later the larger Forge Dam, known later as the ‘small dam’, was in use and the system was completed in 1775 with the filling of the great 30-acre Wester or Large Dam, which is the one we all remember seeing from the road.

It was shaped a bit like an ear and was relatively shallow at about three feet while the Forge Dam was three times deeper.

The dams were separated by raised paths which allowed some of the leading men of Carron over the years to stroll along from their fine houses like Carrongrange, Mount Carron or Carron Park to see what the workers were up to in their absence.

The public were discouraged from using the reservoirs for fishing or swimming. But that didn’t stop local people chancing their arms, or indeed prevent the manager for Carron, Eric Leaver, in the 1950s, sailing his little boat among the famous swans.

The arrival of steam power in the late 18th century might have removed the need for water wheels and reservoirs, but for a variety of reasons Carron continued to depend on water power and later utilised the supply for a number of other purposes within the works.

The original Furnace Pool was removed in stages but the other two survived right through until the company closed in 1980, mainly because the cost of removing them was prohibitive.

Thereafter nature was allowed to reclaim the space and today we must rely on a number of excellent photographs and our fading memories to recall the great days when water powered Falkirk’s industrial revolution.