David Leask's Maddiston Pages

Muiravonside Parish, the way it was.

Ariel View of Manuel Works

By W. D. "Bill" Jarvis. First published in the "Refractories Engineer" in 1997, with some additions by George Risk

Manuel Works near Linlithgow is the last great refractory plant in Scotland although other smaller and more specialised companies still play an important part in the industry worldwide. It was opened in 1930 after having been under construction for almost 3 years. Thus 1997 was the 70th anniversary of the conception of the site. It takes it name from the now defunct railway station nearby which itself took its name from the ancient Nunnery of St Emmanuel on the banks of the River Avon.

 

It all began however before the Jurassic Age when a fold in the Earth’s crust formed what is now the Ochil Hills. These hills are the northern boundary of the valley of the River Forth and stretch from Gleneagles in the West to Perth on the River Tay in the East.

 

It was in the small village called Clackmannan lying at the foot of the Southern slopes of the Ochils that John Stein was born in 1795. John who was a weaver by trade married Isobel Morrison of Bankhead Farm in 1834 and the following year a son who was also called John was born. Young John became a brickmaker and eventually a partner in a small brickwork in Alva. He was a very ambitious young man however and before long emigrated to the United States where he did so well he sent home for his three brothers to join him in the brickmaking business which he had set up in Philadelphia. So well in fact did the business prosper that he soon sent home again for Alloa girl Janet Hunter daughter of the local harbourmaster and they were married on the 12th August 1859. Shortly after however as a result of the looming Civil War which broke out in April 1861 John Stein and his wife Janet returned to Clackmannan where their son also called John was born. John Senior became manager of Winchburgh Brickwork and started his son as an apprentice as soon as he was old enough to work. John Senior died on the 6th October 1882 and young John who was only 20 offered to take his father’s place. The owners however declined his offer and young John quickly moved to the pipeworks in Cumbernauld, which was bought by the Glenboig Union Fire Clay Company. Although he did not know at the time Glenboig Union Fire Clay was to become on of his main competitors during his business career and were also to become part of the General Refractories Company which would eventually buy his business from his successors many years later. Young John however did not last long with the Glenboig Union Fire Clay Company as he was fired for having the audacity to suggest that they gave him a small increase in wages to reflect his expertise in making, burning and glazing pipes. Undaunted John Stein married Ann Clelland in November 1882 the same year that Robert Louis Stevenson published Treasure Island. John was seeking his fortune in the world however and first obtained the position of sales representative with Bonnybridge Silica and Fire Clay Company. This allowed him to gain experience of the market place as well as to earn the princely sum of 27/6 per week so that after five years and with some help from his in-laws who were weavers and exporters of Paisley Shawls he scrapped together £300 and bought a mining lease on 2 acres of ground at Milnquarter High Bonnybridge.

 

In these days refractories factories were built on top of the clay seams which provided their raw materials and Bonnybridge straddled some of the richest clay in Europe.

 

Nature was indeed kind to Central Scotland and not only laid down some high alumina low iron fireclays of the finest quality but overlaid them with some rich coal seams. John Stein and six helpers set out to drive a drift mine into the clay seam which because of the geology of the area came to the surface in several places. Stein soon became a name which was recognised not only in Britain but throughout the Commonwealth and in many other emerging countries which needed firebrick for their industries such as iron making and the production of gas and steam. To celebrate his burgeoning success he awarded himself an increase of another half a crown a week in his wages.

 

The names of Stein, Glenboig, Douglas, Bonnybridge Silica and Dougalls became some of the best known names in heavy industry as they fuelled the growth of the nation in the early years of the twentieth century. At the same time John Stein diversified and opened the Anchor Brickwork on the banks of the Anchor Burn in Dunipace some ten miles from Bonnybridge. During this period production of building bricks peaked at about 150,000 per week although the outbreak of the First World War reduced this considerably. When production again increased after the war Stein obtained a massive order to supply all of the bricks to build the famous Gleneagles Hotel at Auchterader in Perthshire. Sadly the Dunipace plant is no longer in existence having been demolished and the ground landscaped. Its success in its heyday however and the appointment of Charles Taylor who played an important part in the plants development and running led to a large expansion of the business. This was in the form of a new refractory plant at Castlecary, which was built next to an old Roman Fort on the Antonine Wall.

 

The plant, which opened in 1903, was funded by the family, local banks and a number of local investors and grew to be on e of the foremost plants in the UK before John Stein died in 1927. The business however continued to expand under the management of the family and Manuel Works near Linlithgow was opened shortly after John G Steins death and supplemented the output from Castlecary. This plant saw its first gas fired kiln lit on the 10th April 1930 and the first bricks emerged on 11th May some five weeks later. The first three furnaces were American Harrap tunnel kilns the first of their kind in the UK. The third was built in 1938 in time for Steins to boost production during the Second World War At its height the new plant had eight tunnel kilns one of which could fire basic bricks at over 1700 degrees centigrade .The plant was second in size in the world only to the A P Green Refractories plant in Mexico Missouri USA with which John G Stein was very familiar as he had visited it several times as a guest of Allen Green between 1910 and 1927. John G Stein had in fact stayed in Mr Allen Green’s house which was some years later to host Mr Winston Churchill when he wrote his famous ‘ Iron Curtain ‘ speech. The house today serves as a guesthouse for visitors to A P Green and has preserved much as it was when visited by these other famous personages. Guests today can stay in the Mizzou Suite evoking memories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn on the banks of the Missouri River or the Clipper Suite, which is named after Greens flagship firebrick, which was and is a benchmark in refractories.

 

In April 1967 General Refractories acquired the shares of the John G Stein company and the company was renamed GR Stein Refractories and subsequently after another change in ownership Hepworth Refractories until the present time of writing in May 1997. The company has now recently been purchased in its entirety by another American holding company Alpine who are not only in the refractories business but also in non-ferrous metals. No doubt this will result in many changes and add another chapter to the company’s long and distinguished history.

 

 

Now owned by the Cookson Group plc, from 6th August 1999, Vesuvius Premier, as we are now known, is a part of a business which is the worlds largest supplier of flow control refractory products and systems to the steel industry, as well as a major international provider of refractory products to the foundry and glass industries.

THE END

Two words imprinted on one of the last bricks ever made at the former GR-Stein works in Whitecross.

But that simple memorial does not even begin to tell the story of a remarkable workplace renowned throughout the world and loved throughout Falkirk district.

Only a skeleton staff now remain at Manuel Works, near Whitecross there to see the once-grand site recede into shadow along with the memories of the people who worked there.

Their industry and toil made the brickworks famous. But in the end they were not enough to keep it open.

At its peak there were more than 1200 employed there almost everyone in the district had a relative who found their way to the works . . . some for a summer, others for a lifetime.

Its passing marks the end of one of the last great family employers. Generations of families worked at Manuel and helped make it a success.

Workers no longer throng in and out of the gates, but their voices and spirit still echo in the site.

It opened in 1928 and eventually rose to become a world-leader exporting to 120 countries.

Operations manager Robert McMeechan (56), of Stenhousemuir, will be the last to leave. He has overseen the shutdown since it was announced 15 months ago.

He told the Herald: ''Most of the people had worked here for 20 to 30 years they spent a lot of their lives here.

''The place was full of families. It was a great family place. It s good for your business to have families. They re all looking after each other, but they re also making sure they re all doing what they should be doing.

''It was a haven for people, to be honest. There were a lot of people from universities who came for the summer.

Around 240 people were employed at Manuel when the closure was announced, a far cry from the 1200 employed in the early 1970s.

But the effort from the workers who remained throughout the closure period never faltered as they completed orders to be sent to America and Chile.

Robert said: ''The workforce was excellent, they did brilliantly. They kept working right until the end.

''The quality was so great, they were coming here to get the last orders. People from the entire world wanted bricks from here before it shut down.

Manuel exported to 120 countries mostly through Grangemouth Docks. Raw materials came to Whitecross from across the globe.

In a good year around 100,000 tonnes of bricks were produced. Manuel Works won the Queen s Award for exports in 1987.

It produced refractory bricks, for furnaces, and monolithics concretes and cements to put the bricks together. Brick production has been shifted to Poland, while the monolthics have gone to Chesterfield.

Its products were used for the making of steel, cement, glass and aluminium.

 

Robert said: ''The Manuel quality is why we were the best in the world, but you reach a stage where you re not competitive. It doesn’t matter how efficient you are.

The works, which occupy a 122-acre site, were founded in 1928 by the legendary John G. Stein.

''John G. Stein had a lot of foresight, knowledge and skills, said Robert.

In the late 60s, the Stein family agreed a merger with General Refractories and became GR-Stein.

The Stein family left a short time later, but the name lives on and will continue to do so. Even though the brickworks have shifted to Poland, the products will continue to bear the famous Stein brand names.


Hepworth Refractories took over in the 1970s, Alpine made it Premier Refractories around 1997 and current owner Vesuvius took charge around three years ago.

Works at Castlecary, Glenboig and Chapelhall closed in the early 80s and everything was centred at Manuel Works.

''Now it s Manuel’s turn, mused Robert.

His grandfather, father, uncles and brother, William who was made redundant in the closure all worked at Manuel.

Roberts role is now to wind up Manuel and oversee the last couple of orders going out and equipment being shipped away.

He started in June 1961 as an apprentice electrician and remembers the many ''fantastic characters.

It was his task laterally to ensure the shutdown went as smoothly as possible. He said he was glad training took place to help workers find other employment.

Robert said: ''I’ve had to live with this for a long time. There has been a closure programme for 15 months. I just had to focus on the job.

Pre-cast operator John McLeish (51), from Falkirk, was one of the many made redundant. Fortunately he recently secured new employment after 22 years at Manuel.

''I made a lot of friends up there, he said. ''You really miss your workmates. I enjoyed the work I did. It was a good job.

He described the feeling of looking for a new job as ''soul-destroying and said it affected his whole family, however, he is looking forward to 2002.

''It was a strange feeling when I knew I wasn’t going to go back to that place, he recalled. ''I feel sorry for some of the guys who had been there since they left school. It s all they’ve ever done.

He said he had kept in touch with former workmates, some of whom had become like family.

Braes councillor David Speirs described the closure as a ''dreadful blow for the area.

''It s genuinely sad, he said. ''I know a lot of people who worked there. People with families and mortgages.

However, he expressed hope that new employment could be created in the area.

Ian Imrie (46), convener for the Transport and General Workers Union at Manuel, said it was a ''sombre atmosphere towards the end.

He paid tribute to the workforce for working through the difficult closure period.

''The workforce bent over backwards to help the company out in the last year, he said. ''If it wasn’t  for the workforce they would never have got out the orders.

Mr Imrie is now seeking employment. It is a plight he shares with many of his former workmates.

Slide show of the site of Mauel Brickworks and the surrounding area

Extracts from the newspapers at the time of Manuels closure

 

"Today (Friday) marks the end of an era when the lights go out for the last time at Manuel Brickworks in Whitecross.

The facility has employed thousands of villagers and many more from the Linlithgow, Bo’ ness, Bridgend and Maddiston areas for decades.

Its workforce has dwindled dangerously after changing ownership several times in recent years after a long period of stability under the GR Stein banner Now the works officially close today and electrician, Robert McMeechan has the unenviable task of shutting down the works where he has been employed since he was 16 year old

There has only been a skeleton staff working in recent weeks with hundreds departing over the past few months most of them knowing no other work than what they did at the brickworks plant."

Said local amateur historian Murdoch Kennedy this week: "I was reminded of the words of the late George Charleston in a poem about the closure of another local employer Lochmill  when he wrote:

 

The latest local victim of, the economic knife

Was to them, not just a workplace

But, far more, a way of life

 

Added Murdoch: "I have no doubt however that the sadness of Steins final closure will provoke many memories of happier times “

Mr. Kennedy also recalled a tribute in verse about Manuel Brickworks penned by the late David Patterson of Linlithgow Bridge

who died in 1977, it was entitled.

 

 "Jock Baillie’s Heavy Squad"

 

Big Jimmy said; Unload yer bricks

And mak yer wey tae  Number Six

Jock Bailie’s breaking up the road

He needs yer lorry to take the load

Big Jock’s squad they worked like deils 

Wi  picks an shovels and pneumatic dreels

When the digging-oot is aw complete

They’ll fill it up wi good concrete

 

Tam  Robertson and Jock McNee

Can dae a job like onie three

Wi’ oilskin coats and troosers tae

In lashin' rain they worked aw day

A’ at their side worked Jimmy Hume

A wiry lad frae Lithgy toun

An' frae Brigend wha' did they send

But stocky, hardy Paddy Muldoon

 

Jock Baillie telt me tae be wary

Because the road is awfie nairy

Roughriders, forklifts, lorries tae

Are passin by here aw the day

Wee Paddy wi' his rheumatic pains

Wis sent tae clear the chokit drains

He's pokin here and pokin there

Wi watter runnin everywhere

 

Tae set the job aw in line

Alan Steele is daein fine

 He's goat the pins and lines tae fix

Aw ready for the concrete mix

He'll dump doon every concrete load

Tae mak an even, level road

For heavy traffic every day

A tradesman job yeve goat tae hae

 

 

JockBaillie's goat a heavy squad

Among his workers, no a fraud

As honest as the day is long

They'll work until the whistle's gone

Big Jock's happy as onie Lord

Tae be in chairge o’ sic a squad

Says he: "Ah've nae Tam, Dick an Harry

Ah'll settle for Tam, Jock and Paddy”

 

 

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