Built on the site of the 19th century Summerlee Ironworks, and incorporates the main workshop of the former Hydrocon Crane factory. The site covers 22 acres and has many attractions for all the family, including Scotland's only operational heritage tramway and recreated mine, with guided tours, miners' cottages, a great all-ages playpark and lots lots more.
- Souvenir Shop
- Part disabled access
Heritage Way Coatbridge Lanarkshire ML5 1QD
Daily Apr-Oct 1000-1700, Nov-Mar closes 1600. Also Santa in Dec. (Closed 25-26 Dec 1-2 Jan 2020.)
By Bus: various
By Rail: Coatbridge Sunnyside / 0.5 miles
A note on the industrial background of the site.
Steam, coal and iron were the very basis of the industrial revolution, and of the three some of the finest coal and iron were rarely more cheaply to be found than in Scotland's central industrial belt, a large part of which now comprises the area known as North Lanarkshire.
Iron was the principal material of the industrialisation which swept Great Britain from c.1760 to 1860 – iron bars and plates were the building blocks of the machinery, the bridges, the ships and the railways that made the country the workshop of the world.
Iron-making needed coke for the blast furnaces and coke needed coal. To be viable, both coal and iron needed to be capable of inexpensive extraction, processing and shipment. North Lanarkshire possessed all these ingredients, with the finest coals and blackband ironstone in abundance, plus limestone, oil-shale and fireclay and, initially by canal and then by railway, the means by which to transport both it and the resulting products. Soon, the area's canals and railways formed a veritable 'spaghetti junction' of transport networks serving the local mining, iron and, latterly, steel industries.
There was also a rich source of labour as a result of the 'clearances' in the Scottish Highlands and the famines in Ireland. In 1800 the landscape of North Lanarkshire was essentially rural, but within a generation it had been transformed into a scene of blazing furnaces and pounding steam hammers. Developments all made possible by the readily and cheaply available supplies of iron and coal in its back yard.
The workforce, which had flooded into the towns forming the newly-industrialised North Lanarkshire, lived for the most part in 'workers rows' of single room terraced cottages such as were once common in Coatbridge. The results of industrialisation were dramatic. For example the population of Coatbridge rose from 740 people in 1831 (a year before the introduction of the 'hot blast' iron-founding process) to 36,900 70 years later.
In 1869, David Bremner for the Scotsman newspaper described Coatbridge thus: "Dense clouds of smoke roll over it incessantly, and impart to all buildings a peculiarly dingy aspect. A coat of black dust overlies everything, and in a few hours the visitor finds his complexion considerably deteriorated by the flakes of soot which fill the air and settle on his face".
He continued: "To experience Coatbridge it must be visited at night, when it presents a most extraordinary spectacle… from the steeple of the parish church the flames of no fewer than fifty blast furnaces may be seen… the flames have a positively fascinating effect. Now they shoot upwards and, breaking off short, expire among the smoke; again spreading outward, they curl over the lips of the furnace and dart through doorways, as if determined to annihilate the bounds within which they are confined". It is said that at night in Coatbridge, newspapers could be read by the light of the flames as they blazed forth from the furnaces.
The site for the Summerlee Ironworks was purchased in 1836, by John Neilson of Glasgow's Oakbank Engine Works. He was closely connected with the early history of the marine engine and the use of iron in shipbuilding and he built the first iron steamship to sail on the river Clyde. John was the father of James Beaumont Neilson, the inventor of iron-making's 'hot blast process'. He discovered that by blowing heated air into the blast-furnace to help smelt the iron, the result was increased output and reduced production costs. This, allied to the particular advantages of both Central Scotland's coal and ironstone, gave the area a formidable industrial advantage.
By 1839, Summerlee had four furnaces in blast and by 1842, a time of general depression in the West of Scotland economy, this had risen to six. In the ensuing years, Summerlee iron was used to make everything from ships and trains through armaments and munitions to gutters, drainpipes, ornamental railings and even bandstands! The ironworks continued successfully until after the First World War, when following a brief boom period after the Armistice, increasingly scarce resources allied to industrial disputes at the mines, led to the furnaces being blown out in 1929. The ironworks were then demolished in 1938, although the workshops continued to be used for the maintenance of colliery machinery until 1950.
In the 1960s, a new factory was built on the site to make hydraulic cranes and the main bays of this works form the present Exhibition Hall of the Park. Summerlee Heritage Park was itself established in 1985, following the closure of the crane works, to preserve and display the industrial and social heritage of West Central Scotland.
Also in Summerlee is a re-created addit mine that aims to give visitors a realistic impression of the working conditions of a miner. This provides plenty of thrills - and chills - to visitors, especially those who have never been underground before. An addit mine is one that is cut into the ground, without the need for a vertical shaft, so (led by guides) visitors can walk down the slope to the 'working face' and experience the dark and cramped working conditions suffered by the men-folk, as they battled to win a day's pay for their families.
In conjunction with the mine is a row of miners' cottages, which show how miners' families lived from the 1840s up to the relative comforts of the 1960s.
In the 19th Century, it was normal for families of 8 to 10 to live in these one-roomed cottages, with only a stand-pump in the lane for water and a communal earth closet for sanitation. Washing was done in a tin bath in front of the fire - father first and the rest followed, by order of seniority!
So make your way to Summerlee and take a look at our proud engineering heritage, the living conditions of the day and enjoy a ride in one of our trams. And remember – admission is free at Summerlee!