Bo'ness Foreshore, Carriden

How potteries were once a smash hit in Bo’ness

From posh plates to wally dugs, the potteries of Bo’ness made it all.

At different sites, over nearly 200 years, eye-catching collectables were manufactured.

Today, the potteries are long gone – but you can still pick up fragments of pots on the beach at Bridgeness (just beside Anderson’s woodyard).

And for those looking for more complete pieces, Bo’ness pottery can still be found in antique shops and on eBay.

There’s also an excellent website – www.bonesspottery.co.uk – keeping the memories alive.

The Bridgeness Brownware Pottery was first local pottery to arrive in 1766, occupying a site now home to the Bridgeness Slab Roman replica on Harbour Road. It operated until 1802.

Next up was Bo’ness Pottery – the town pottery – launching in 1784. It has a number of owners, including John Roebuck, one-time business partner of the inventor James Watt. The pottery was run over sites in Main Street until 1898. The town’s modern-day Tesco store now sits on part of the site.

The Grange Pottery in Grangepans came next – setting up in 1879. Sadly, it’s operations were short-lived. It lasted just ten years.

C.W. McNay’s Bridgeness Pottery then joined the ranks of local potteries, officially opening in 1888. The pottery stayed in the ownership of the McNay family until 1958. It was sited on land now occupied by Anderson’s woodyard, just off the John Muir Way.

McNay’s produced a wide range of goods, from the aforementioned wally dugs and other animals, as well as fancy plates and jugs.

A pair of pottery lions, produced in Bo’ness.

The year 1892 saw the opening of the Industrial Co-operative Pottery in Grangepans. It traded for just two years and closed in 1894. The site later became home to the West Lothian Pottery – operating from 1896 until 1929.

So why all the potteries?

One theory is that suitable clay was available locally – although more industrial processes called for finer clays from Devon and Cornwall.

Luckily, Bo’ness had a port to important raw materials. Historians also believe the long-established trading connections with Holland brought Dutch potters to the area.

Then there was an abundance of coal and salt locally, which were used in the production process.

LISTEN: Robert Jardine talks about Bo’ness Pottery in the town centre, in a free audio guide on the izi app.

“The indefatigable Dr Robebuck, in the year 1784, established the pottery in which, for the next century, was conducted one of the most important local industries. This gave Bo’ness a very wide reputation for the manufacture of many useful kinds of pottery ware.”

Historian TJ Salmon, writing in 1913.

Where were the Potteries? Check out this interactive Google Map

This content was produced in association with Sustrans Scotland as part of the Scottish Greenways Programmein association with Falkirk Council and Great Place Falkirk.

Sustrans is a registered charity in England and Wales (number 326550) and Scotland (SC039263) and a company limited by guarantee registered in England No 1797726 at 2 Cathedral Square, Bristol, BS1 5DD.

Bo'ness Foreshore, Kinneil Nature Reserve, Nature reserve

Just off the Kinneil foreshore – once home to a large distillery

Today it’s occupied by flats, a field and some foliage.

But 100 years ago, this site at Corbiehall in Bo’ness was a hive of activity – and home to Bo’ness Distillery.

The Distillery occupied ground just below the Old Kirk in Bo’ness.

The distillery was founded in the early 1800s by Messrs Tod, Padon and Vannan. Originally it produced malt whisky – but later went into the production of grain whisky, which is used for blending.

Old pictures show the main distillery building (on the south side of Corbiehall in front of the Panbraes) and substantial warehouses and outbuildings, linked to the local railway line (on the north side). Barley came in by rail as did vast quantities of coal.

Reports say the plant also became one of Britain’s main yeast factories, producing supplies for baking and brewing.

The distillery was bought by James Calder and Company in 1873 – and then sold to John Dewar in 1921. It was subsequently passed to DCL (Distillers Company Limited) in 1925 and closed down. Warehouses on the Bo’ness foreshore were destroyed by a massive fire and demolished in the 1980s.

Today’s there’s nothing left to indicate the existence of the distillery – apart from plans and photographs showing a substantial industrial complex.

Many residents also recall the “Stell Steps” – iron steps which linked Deanfield and the Calder Park area to the south to the distillery complex on the foreshore.

Historians have debated whether this distillery was the only one in the town. One report says that a more modest operation was run in South Street, Bo’ness, from 1817 to 1842.

“We learn from recent figures that there is a weekly output of 50 tons of yeast, 25,000 gallons of spirits, and 300 tons of grans for cattle feeding – also that the duty last year on the firm’s production amounted to £1,000,000.”

TJ Salmon, writing in 1913 about the Bo’ness Distillery

DID YOU KNOW?

Bo’ness Distillery played a part in the foundations of the Japenese whisky industry. Masataka Taketsuru – a chemist and businessesman credited with founding the Asian country’s first whisky industry – worked as an apprentice at Bo’ness Distillery in 1919. https://www.nikkawhisky.eu/nikka-story/

A number of websites show images of the old distillery. For copyright reasons we can’t reproduce them here. But please visit the Canmore site and the Falkirk Archive here and here.

This content was produced in association with Sustrans Scotland as part of the Scottish Greenways Programmein association with Falkirk Council and Great Place Falkirk.

Sustrans is a registered charity in England and Wales (number 326550) and Scotland (SC039263) and a company limited by guarantee registered in England No 1797726 at 2 Cathedral Square, Bristol, BS1 5DD.

Bo'ness Foreshore, Kinneil Colliery, Kinneil Nature Reserve, Nature reserve, walking

Kinneil’s feathered appeal is no flight of fancy

“Kinneil Nature Reserve is an amazing place to visit.”David Anderson, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland

The Kinneil foreshore welcomes thousands of walkers and cyclists each year. But the area is also an important destination for visitors of the feathered variety.

David Anderson, from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in Scotland is impressed by the site, now a designated local nature reserve. He says: “One of the most exciting aspects of it is the fact that it sits right next to an internationally-important protected area – an area where you can see a huge variety of species of birds. It really comes alive during the winter months when thousands of waders and ducks come down from the artic breeding grounds to feed on the mudflats that sit next to the Kinneil Nature Reserve. It’s quite a stunning spectacle.”

AUDIO: Listen to Dave and others talk about the Foreshore in a free audio guide.

Here’s some of the birds to look out for:

  • SHELDUCK – This colourful duck is bigger than a mallard and is usually found in coastal locations. The Shelduck has been adopted as the logo for the Kinneil Nature Reserve.
  • KNOT – A dumpy wading bird.
  • REDSHANK – A wading bird with red legs, hence the name. They hunt for insects by putting their bills into soil and mud.
  • DUNLIN – One of the most common wading birds found along our coasts.
  • WIGEON – A colourful, medium-sized duck.
  • TEAL – The males have distinctive chestnut coloured heads, with green stripes around their eyes.
  • MALLARD – The males have a stunning green head and yellow bill.
  • GREAT CRESTED GREBE – A colourful bird with some ornate head gear.
  • GOLDENEYE – Not a Bond film but a green headed duck.
  • PINTAIL – A duck with a tapering tail.
  • OYSTERCATCHER – A black and white wading bird, with orange bill and reddish legs.
  • RINGER PLOVER – A brown and white wading bird.
  • LAPWING – A black and white bird, also known as a Peewit.
A shelduck has become the logo for Kinneil Nature Reserve.

Native tree species like Alder, Willow, Scots Pine and Birch have been planted over the site – as they are tolerant of poor soils and the harsh, coastal conditions. Bramble and Sea Buckthorn have also been established. The meadow areas are also being encouraged and managed.

Falkirk Council works with groups across the local area to improve nature sites. If you’re interested, email: biodiversity@falkirk.gov.uk

SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT

Popular residents along the Bo’ness foreshore are flocks of Carrion Crows. The RSPB describes them as “one of the cleverest, most adaptable of our birds”. Crows are known as Craws or Corbies in Scotland and they feature in two place names near the foreshore: Corbiehall (just along from the Harbour) and the Craw Yett (the northern entrance to Kinneil Estate). Bo’ness is also said to be the inspiration for the fictional work “The Hill of the Crows”, by Frederick Sleath, published in 1921.

A picture of a Carrion Crow. Picture by Ian Kirk. CC BY 2.0

This content was produced in association with Sustrans Scotland as part of the Scottish Greenways Programmein association with Falkirk Council and Great Place Falkirk.

Sustrans is a registered charity in England and Wales (number 326550) and Scotland (SC039263) and a company limited by guarantee registered in England No 1797726 at 2 Cathedral Square, Bristol, BS1 5DD.

Antonine Wall, Bo'ness Foreshore, Carriden, romans

Carriden’s Roman roots

“Carriden is the site of the eastern terminal fort of the Antonine Wall, although there is, as yet, no evidence to demonstrate that it was physically part of the frontier.”Historic Environment Scotland

Did you know the Carriden area of Bo’ness was once called Velunia?

The name was given to the local Roman fort, serving the Antonine Wall. It was located in what’s now an empty field, on land looking down on Carriden Beach and the John Muir Way.

There’s a public right way from the foreshore path up to the field, just east of the 16th century Carriden House. Sadly, there’s nothing to see above ground these days.

Carriden’s Latin name came to light in a Roman altar found in the field in 1956. It’s now on show in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The altar was dedicated to the father of Roman gods, Jupiter.

The translation of the inscription says: “To Jupiter Best and Greatest, villagers residing at the fort of Velunia gladly, willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow; Aelius Mansuetus saw that the job was carried out.”

Carriden – or Velunia – is significant because it’s the only site along the Antonine Wall where we know its Roman name. (We know other Roman names along the Wall – but don’t know which areas they relate to.)

Historical investigations reveal there was a significant fort and annexe here, housing around 500 Roman soldiers, with a village beside it. In 2008, the remains of a Roman bath house were found in the grounds of Carriden House.

The site has also yielded Roman coins and pottery – and apparently a centurion’s stone … reportedly built into Carriden House itself.

You can find out more about the Romans at an impressive replica of the Roman Bridgeness Slab off Harbour Road in Bo’ness. Further west, you’ll find Roman artefacts on show in Kinneil Museum and the remains of a fortlet in the grounds of Kinneil House. There’s also a striking modern sculpture at the entrance to the Kinneil Estate – inspired by a Roman horse harness fitting found nearby.

To find out more about the Romans in Scotland, visit the Antonine Wall website – https://www.antoninewall.org/ – and check out a number of ancient sites on/near the route of the John Muir Way.

The site of the Roman Fort at Carriden is now a field. You can walk up to the site from a track off the main John Muir Way along the coastline.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Roman Antonine Wall was once the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. It was built around 142 AD on the orders of Emperor Antoninus Pius to replace Hadrian’s Wall further south.

The Scottish wall was built of turf on a stone base (like parts of Hadrian’s Wall in Cumbria). However, its role as an important Roman frontier was short-lived. After just a generation, the Romans retreated back to Hadrian’s Wall.

In 2008, the Antonine Wall became part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site, joining Hadrian’s Wall and the Limes in Germany as part of this transnational World Heritage Site.

A Roman altar from Carriden is on show in the lower-ground displays at the National Museum in Edinburgh.

This content was produced in association with Sustrans Scotland as part of the Scottish Greenways Programmein association with Falkirk Council and Great Place Falkirk.

Sustrans is a registered charity in England and Wales (number 326550) and Scotland (SC039263) and a company limited by guarantee registered in England No 1797726 at 2 Cathedral Square, Bristol, BS1 5DD.

Bo'ness Docks, Bo'ness Foreshore, Bo'ness Harbour, Kinneil Nature Reserve

End of an era: the closure of Bo’ness Docks

It was the end of an era. On Tuesday, June 30, 1959, Bo’ness Docks were closed to commercial trade.

A large crowd turned out to see the final vessel – a Dutch ship – sail out of the dock the next evening.

The closure brought to an end a two-year fight between local people and the Government-owned British Transport Commission (BTC), which latterly owned the site.

A report in the West Lothian Courier said dredging operations would cease in July 1959 and the dock lights were being switched off.

One local councillor said: “I think we are being made to suffer as Grangemouth progresses. The Transport Commission closed our passenger railway station two years ago, and now it is the dock’s turn.”

Bo’ness Docks from an old picture postcard.

Plans to close the docks were first mooted in 1957.

In Parliament, the local MP, John Taylor, spoke out passionately against the plans.

“The reason given for such a drastic proposal was that the dock had never paid its way during the ten years that it had been under the ownership of the Commission,” he told the House of Commons. “It was stated in the letter that the total loss to the Commission during the ten years was almost £292,000.”

Mr Taylor said the proposal to close the docks had caused “astonishment, dismay and alarm among the townspeople, tradesmen and shipping interests of Bo’ness”.

He also claimed the dock had been “neglected” … “A strong volume of local opinion has grown up to the effect that this dock has been deliberately written down and neglected, and, some go as far as to say, sabotaged. There is a feeling that there is a strong managerial prejudice against the dock.”

The docks – once incredibly busy with trade from across Europe – went into decline into the 20th century. The site was used by the Navy during both World Wars, with trade slow to recover afterwards. In World War II the harbour was requisitioned and known as HMS Stopford.

 The docks also suffered competition from the nearby Port of Grangemouth. Then there was the dredging needed to keep the Bo’ness site operational. Some said Bo’ness Docks were not large enough for modern commercial traffic.

Mr Taylor told the House of Commons: “So far as I can ascertain, no allowance is made for the fact that the dredging and other costs of bringing the dock into usable condition after the war, when it was used by the Royal Navy as a training depot, were charged to Bo’ness Dock, or that any contribution to those costs was made by the Admiralty or by the L.N.E.R., who previously controlled the dock.”

He continued: “It is my belief that with adequate dredging, reasonable encouragement and more general trade, this dock could be brought out of the red and could become a valuable asset to the Commission.”

Sadly, his calls fell on deaf ears.

The then Joint Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation – Airey Neave MP – said:  “The hon. Gentleman has suggested that the Commission has consistently neglected the dock and has not given it essential equipment; and that the dredging has been quite inadequate. I think that when I send him the figures he will probably agree that expenditure has been maintained at a consistently high level since 1948.

“It is perfectly true that the coal industry was once the mainstay of the port, but the Board regrets that it cannot see its way to produce the traffic for it, nor do shipowners and merchants seem able to help.”

In recent years there have been efforts to bring new life to the docks and outer harbour.

Plans were mooted in the 1980s to locate heritage craft on the site, to complement the steam railway. However, the plans were never realised.

Then in 2007, the banking giant ING was given the go-ahead for an £175 million plan to revamp the waterfront, including the docks.

Sadly, the 2008 financial crash led to the firm pulling out of Bo’ness and abandoning their plans.

Falkirk Council now maintains the site, with a “cofferdam” enclosing the decaying dock gates – and maintaining water levels over the silted up Docks. From time to time, pleasure craft arrive to use the outer harbour. But the era of big ships calling into Bo’ness has long gone.

PROUD MARITIME HERITAGE

Bo’ness’s roots as a port stretch back to the 16th century. Two of the ships involved in the failed expedition to Darien (now part of Panama) were fitted out in the town in the 1690s. In the 18th century whale fishing started, but results were mixed. At one time seven whaling ships were sailing from the harbour. And by the 19th century, the town became a massive importer of pit props from Scandinavia. It led the area being nicknamed Pitpropolis.


“A strong volume of local opinion has grown up to the effect that this dock has been deliberately written down and neglected, and, some go as far as to say, sabotaged.”

John Taylor MP

This content was produced in association with Sustrans Scotland as part of the Scottish Greenways Programme, in association with Falkirk Council and Great Place Falkirk.

Sustrans is a registered charity in England and Wales (number 326550) and Scotland (SC039263) and a company limited by guarantee registered in England No 1797726 at 2 Cathedral Square, Bristol, BS1 5DD.

Bo'ness Foreshore, Kinneil Nature Reserve

Going full steam ahead to Bo’ness

Seaview Place car park in Bo’ness was once home to the town’s original railway station.

Work started on creating a branch line – an extension of the Slamannan Railway – in the 1840s, with the first revenue-earning train running in 1851.

Initially the track was used to carry goods from the busy industrial complexes around Bo’ness.  But locals quickly demanded passenger services.

The first passenger train is thought to have run from Bo’ness in 1856. One hundred years later – in 1956 – passenger services ended (although the route continued to be used by coal trains).

Bo’ness resident Nancy Findlay grew up near the old station.

She has happy memories of playing around the site and going on trips to Glasgow (changing trains at Polmont) – as well as services being cancelled when the line was flooded.

“The station’s most famous claim to fame was that there was a big sign that said ‘High Tide No Train’,” she said.

Rail enthusiast Hamish Stevenson says: “The station closed to passengers on Saturday, May 5, 1956. However, I believe a few special football trains ran for a bit after that.

“I moved to live here in 2002 and then the coping stones off the platform edge were still visible opposite Corvi’s in the car park. But they’ve not been there for some years now.”

Parts of the original Bo’ness line continued to operate into the 1970s serving Kinneil Colliery.

The 1970s also saw the route taken over – restored and re-built – by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society. Short passenger journeys were started by the SRPS in 1979, with Birkhill Station opening in 1987.

Over the past 40 years, volunteers have developed a popular heritage steam railway on the Bo’ness branch line, with trains running from a “new” station – actually a collection of vintage buildings – east of Bo’ness Docks.

AUDIO: Listen to Nancy Findlay talk about the original Bo’ness Station.

The remains of the original Bo’ness Station in 1961. The site is now occupied by Seaview Place Car Park. Picture by Ben Brooksbank. Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0. More here.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway is a popular location for film-makers. The TV series “Outlander” has been Kinneil shot at Bo’ness. The whisky drama “The Angels’ Share” was shot at Birkhill Station, south of the town. And Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman made their 2013 movie “The Railway Man” at the current Bo’ness Station.

This content was produced in association with Sustrans Scotland as part of the Scottish Greenways Programme, in association with Falkirk Council and Great Place Falkirk.

Sustrans is a registered charity in England and Wales (number 326550) and Scotland (SC039263) and a company limited by guarantee registered in England No 1797726 at 2 Cathedral Square, Bristol, BS1 5DD.

Bo'ness Foreshore, Kinneil Nature Reserve, Nature reserve

When witches were burned at the stake

“Although witchcraft has been legally abolished, the cult of the witch is so dear to humanity that it is, in some aspects, prevalent today as it was some centuries ago.”TJ Salmon, 1913

December 23, 1679: five women and one man were burned at the stake at the glebe of Corbiehall (west of the current Corbie Inn pub).

The six had been found guilty of the “abominable cryme of witchcraft”.

The court ordered that they were to be “wirried at a steak till they be dead … and thereafter to have their bodies burned to ashes”.

The six – Annaple Thomsone, Margaret Pringle, Margaret Hamilton, Bessie Vickar, another Margaret Hamilton and William Craw – had been held and tried in the town’s tolbooth in South Street. A building still stands there to this day, and is now run as a café.

Local historian TJ Salmon said the 1679 indictment made “painful, and in some places, revolting reading”.

The court papers accused the six of giving their “souls and bodies to the devil”, having “several meetings with the devil and with sundrie witches in diverse places” and eating and drinking with Lucifer himself.

From the mid-16th to the early 18th century, an estimated 4,000 people in Scotland—overwhelmingly women—were tried for witchcraft. Often the accused had simply upset those in power or looked a bit different.

Academics from the University of Edinburgh found records relating to 51 people accused of witchcraft in the Bo’ness area. You can see their interactive map here: https://witches.is.ed.ac.uk/

Historian Ian Scott, from Falkirk Local History Society, turned the 1679 Bo’ness witch case into a community play.

“We don’t have any evidence to suggest they were tortured, but that would have been the normal procedure,” he said. “It’s a pretty gruesome story altogether. They were strangled with wire before they were burned. So they were dead before they went to the fire. It shows a smidgeon of mercy.”

AUDIO: Listen to Ian Scott talk about the Bo’ness witches here

DID YOU KNOW?

A stone marked “The Witches Stone” still exists in the woods at Carriden – a short walk south of the John Muir Way.

This content was produced in association with Sustrans Scotland as part of the Scottish Greenways Programmein association with Falkirk Council and Great Place Falkirk.

Sustrans is a registered charity in England and Wales (number 326550) and Scotland (SC039263) and a company limited by guarantee registered in England No 1797726 at 2 Cathedral Square, Bristol, BS1 5DD.

Bo'ness Foreshore, Kinneil Nature Reserve, Nature reserve

Bo’ness and the search for ‘white gold’

“During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, both shores of the Firth of Forth were studded with salt pans, and a big export trade was developed.”Historian TJ Salmon

It was once called “white gold”.

Sea salt was harvested in Scotland for hundreds of years – with the first salt pans being developed in the 12th century.

By the 1790s, salt was Scotland’s third-largest export after wool and fish.

Towns like Bo’ness set up pools close to coastlines to extract the commodity.

The pans worked like this: sea water would be pumped into troughs, which were then heated by coal (although peat and wood was originally used). The water was allowed to evaporate, in time leaving the salt.

Maps make references to salt pans at Kinneil (around Corbiehall); at Thirlestane and Grangepans (east of Bo’ness town centre); and at Bonhard pans and Caris pans (around Carriden). There has also been evidence of salt workings on the site of Dymock’s Buildings in the town centre.

Sadly, there’s no sign of these works to see today. However, buildings associated with salt production still exist at Preston Island, by Culross, on the opposite side of the Firth of Forth.

Old salt pan buildings at Preston Island, by Culross – opposite Bo’ness.

Historian TJ Salmon, writing in 1913, said: “During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, both shores of the Firth of Forth were studded with salt pans, and a big export trade was developed.”

He notes the foreign demand was once so high that the price of salt was “ridiculously high” for local people to afford. Residents complained to the Privy Council, the executive body of the Scots Parliament.

“An order was pronounced prohibiting the export of salt for three years,” he said. “The panmasters then complained that they could not live if the export were altogether stopped, and they offered to supply the natives what pan masters salt they required … if liberty was granted them to export the rest. This was agreed by the council.”

Mr Salmon said saltmaking in the area continued to around 1889.

The industry was killed off in Scotland due to a change in tax regime and a move to extract rock-salt from underground sites in Cheshire.

SALT PRODUCTION IN THE GRANGEPANS AREA

“Saltmaking was an important industry in Grangepans . . . . There were at one time thirteen pans in full swing. The sea water was originally pumped up to the pans by large pumps handled by several men or women, often with young people helping them, and it was a sight to see the pumps at work.

“As the sea water was found too fresh, rock salt was, in later times, brought from Liverpool and Carrickfergus to strengthen the Grange salt.

“A ton of salt was carted regularly to Falkirk every week to supply the inhabitants of that town . . . People came from far and near to the Grange saltpans, as the local product was considered particularly good. The Government duty was heavy, and a Revenue officer was stationed at the pans. In consequence of the duty smuggling was very prevalent.

“The salt was stored in large cellars or ‘girnels’ barred by strong doors, sealed up by a Custom-house officer, just as the bonded stores of the present day are sealed.

“It was not allowed to be taken out again until the duty was paid. The sea water and raw rock salt were full of mud and other impurities, and these were extracted by the additions of evil-smelling clotted blood to the boiling liquor. The albumen in the blood coagulated in the hot water, and floated up in a thick scum, which was skimmed off, leaving the solution perfectly clear. It was an interesting sight to watch the red blood spreading through the seething water, and coming to the surface in dirty brown or grey froth. The pans becoming unremunerative, gradually diminished in number in course of time, and the year 1889 saw the last of the saltmaking in this part of the Forth.”

“The sea water and raw rock salt were full of mud and other impurities, and these were extracted by the additions of evil-smelling clotted blood to the boiling liquor.”

TJ Salmon, Borrowstounness and District, published in 1913.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

This content was produced in association with Sustrans Scotland as part of the Scottish Greenways Programmein association with Falkirk Council and Great Place Falkirk.

Sustrans is a registered charity in England and Wales (number 326550) and Scotland (SC039263) and a company limited by guarantee registered in England No 1797726 at 2 Cathedral Square, Bristol, BS1 5DD.

Bo'ness Foreshore

A harbour for coal – and eggs!

A pier at Bridgeness first appeared on a map of 1775. Its small harbour, shown in the picture here, was used by vessels employed in the coal trade. It also welcomed boats carrying eggs from the Orkney Islands.

Later Bridgeness and (further east along the shoreline) Carriden became a centre for shipbreaking. Nearby was a pottery business.

In the foreground of the picture is a chimney belonging to the old Victoria Sawmills. The business’s offices – designed by Hippodrome Cinema architect Matt Steele – were demolished in 2020. The lintel – bearing the name of the sawmills – has been retained to be shown on the foreshore.

Today, the harbour has been filled in. Remains of concrete blocks, rubble and large stones (which may have formed part of the harbour walls) still exist.

In recent years, new paths have been developed along the coastline as part of the John Muir Way. The scrubland near the shore has also become a haven for wildlife.

Shipbreaking at Bridgeness

The first ship to be broken up at Bridgeness was Chongar in 1893.

Local historian Christine Simm has been researching the history of the shipbreaking operations. She said: “The company operating the business was John S. Turnbull, Glasgow. They broke up a further six ships before the company’s name was changed name to the Forth Shipbreaking Company which continued until 1920.

“After the First World War, various other companies also worked along the shore either at Bridgeness or Carriden, mainly on German torpedo boats and similar small craft.

“From around 1922, the Forth Shipbreaking Company became P & W MacLellan and they continued to break ships up to 1978, when Daltons took over until the business finally closed in 1985.

Christine added: “In just over 100 years more than 400 ships ended their days on the mud of the Forth at Bridgeness or Carriden. Everything from submarines and trawlers to destroyers and cruise liners. The largest ship to come to Bo’ness was in 1936, the 27,000 ton Columbia which had been the largest ship afloat in the world when she was launched as the Belgenland in 1917.

“The metal and other materials retrieved during the breaking was mainly sold for scrap, but a lot of the furnishings and odd bits and pieces ended up gracing houses throughout the town.”

BENCHES AND THE EINSTEIN CONNECTION

Around the Bridgeness and Carriden area today are iron benches, based on seats which once graced the Belgenland liner. The ship – used by Albert Einstein – was broken up here in Bo’ness.

As part of a community art project, Ballantine’s foundry in Bo’ness made copies of the Belgenland benches and added in plaques developed by local community groups. The benches now offer great views across the Forth. (Change layout as otherwise it reads as if you can see the film from the benches!)

You can watch a film about the project here:

https://vimeo.com/183014461

“In just over 100 years over 400 ships ended their days on the mud of the Forth at Bridgeness or Carriden. Everything from submarines and trawlers to destroyers and cruise liners.”

Christine Simm
One of the benches inspired by Einstein’s liner – broken up at Bridgeness. The benches are dotted along the shoreline from Grangepans through Bridgeness to Carriden.