Manuel Fire Brick and Refractory Works, Whitecross, Linlithgow, Stirlingshire

Manuel Works, Whitecross, Linlithgow, Stirlingshire.

  • Stein, Castlecary Fireclay Works, Castlecary, Stirlingshire.
  • Stein, Manuel Firebrick and Refractory Works, Whitecross, Stirlingshire.
  • Stein & Co, Anchor Brickworks, Denny, Stirlingshire.
  • Milnquarter Fireclay & Gannister Works, Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire.

Below – Brick sign at the entrance to the works.

Canmore

Information by David Leask

Information – Falkirk Community Trust.

02/1928 – Work begins on draining the site.

Below – 23/02/1929  – Falkirk Herald – John G Stein annual social outing.

Below – 22/03/1930  – Falkirk Herald – The Manuel Works open.

10/04/1930 – The gas was lit in No 1 kiln and gas producer plant.

11/05/1930 – The first Nettle firebricks at Manuel are produced.

Below – 04/04/1931 – Falkirk Herald – Employee’s reunion  – Annual gathering of employee’s of Messrs John G Stein & Co – Col Stein and the trade outlook.

Dinner over and the tables cleared, Colonel Stein rose to address the employees, from whom he received a hearty ovation. In his opening words of welcome, he expressed his regret that it had not been possible to have the employees of the Manuel Works present, as the accommodation the hall was already taxed to its utmost. They, however, had a successful social evening of their own in Polmont a week ago. Continuing, the Chairman said:—We are passing through a very depressing time, and while we have been very successful in the past in providing regular work to steadily increasing numbers, we have had to slightly curtail our output during the last six months. Notwithstanding this, we have as many employees as we had last year but since then we have started our new works at Manuel, and but for the depression, our numbers would have been much greater in consequence. I would like to say a few words first on the general situation. We are all naturally much concerned about the serious and persistent unemployment, and it is important to try, if possible, to have a clear idea of the cause. I was once told by a distinguished research worker that a problem well defined is half solved. There are important factors such as the state of affairs in Russia, India and China, and the world depression in trade, but I believe our main problem is that we must get our costs of production reduced. We have failed in this country to adjust our costs to world costs, and we are getting a much smaller share of the export trade in consequence. I have mentioned this before, but “ facts are chiels that winna ding,” and I think this fact becomes more and more apparent as we struggle painfully along. We are handicapped with high wages in many of the sheltered trades. By this, I mean those trades competing for export. The municipal street cleaner gets a higher wage than the skilled engineer. I think, however, there are two principal ways by which we can reduce costs, leaving aside an extension of piecework, for which there appears room, especially in the building trade. First, expenditure of more capital on improved plant and equipment to get greater production per head; second, reduction in rates of wages. The first way, in my opinion, is the desirable method, but apart from lack of confidence in the future, in this country, we are using up our capital in excessive taxation, and it is not available for new equipment and new construction. The provision of new equipment in itself provides considerable employment. For example, we have been spending capital for two years building new works at Manuel, and roughly speaking, gave employment directly or indirectly to 350 men during those two years, and now when complete we are giving regular employment to others. This sort of thing should be done more in all trades, and all the time, and it would be done, I am sure if conditions permitted. Failing reduction in costs on these lines, I think nothing can prevent a fall in wages, although the solution may come partly one way and partly the other. I believe the ultimate interests of both capital and labour run more on parallel lines than is generally believed, and a proper realisation of economic laws would help us to recover more quickly from the present depression. I turn now to our own affairs. I am glad to report there has been an increased attendance at evening classes our employees last winter. Under the scheme whereby we give a bonus to those who complete the course and gain certificates, 18 of our employees earned bonuses totalling £41 4s last winter. The same scale bonus will be given to employees at Manuel in future. I hope there will be a still greater increase in the attendance at evening classes. I need hardly emphasise the importance of good education, and for those who wish to get on in life, it is quite essential that they should make every effort to improve their education. If we are to maintain a higher standard of living than our competitors we must make the fullest use of the brains as well as the brawn! We had a series of technical lectures at Castlecary Works during the winter. There were nine lectures altogether covering chemistry, physics, and clay technology. The average attendance was 35, and I consider this highly satisfactory. These lectures were given by members of our staff, Messrs Hyslop, Biggs and Malcolm, and I believe they are willing to continue in the same way next winter if they find there is a demand from the employees for them. The idea originated with these gentlemen themselves, and I am sure we are much indebted to them for the trouble they have taken, I have been very pleased to note the improvement in the gardens at Castlecary. This is no doubt the result of the garden competition instituted by Miss Annie Stein two years ago. Other various social activities are going along well. The Scouts, under Scoutmaster Muir, are going strong and had a very successful camp at Arran last year. The Sunday School, under Mr Crawford, continues its good work, and we now have a successful juvenile choir under Mr Benson. The Recreation Club is more popular than ever. The Bowling Club have also had a successful season and the winner of the green championship (bowl presented by Mrs John G. Stein) was Mr Robert Clelland. The works football shield was won this year by the stove department. Since our last social meeting the two most important events for us were the starting of our new works at Manuel eleven months ago, and the opening of our new Research Laboratory eight months ago. The new works are turning out excellent bricks, and we are finding steadily increasing demand for them. We are doing our very best to capture markets overseas previously held by foreign competitors. The new research laboratory will help us to keep abreast of the times, and we have an excellent staff there, under Mr Hyslop. The heavy industries of this country have been the most badly hit by the depression, and this affects the demand for firebricks and silica bricks in which we are most interested. We have, however, had a good share of the business that is available. I would like very much to have been able to tell those who are on short time, or were suspended, that there were signs of the tide turning, but I really cannot do so. We have an excellent team spirit throughout our whole organisation, and I am sure that, especially in these times, you will do your very best that we deserve to get more business. I have confidence in the future of this country. I think we have been too slow to appreciate the greater competition we have now to face for a share of the world trade, but we have excellent workmen and I have every confidence that we will sooner or later face the hard facts, and that we will then see a return to prosperity. At the close of his address. Colonel Stein had to wait for the prolonged applause to subside before he could announce the commencement of the concert. The programme was sustained by a party from Messrs Paterson’s musical agency, Glasgow, and it is safe to say that it equalled, if it did not excel, the high standard attained on previous occasions. In his opening number, “The Stockrider’s Song” (W. A. James) Mr Frank Gordon, bass-baritone, caught the mood of this Australian bush song to perfection, and fully merited the applause he received from the appreciative audience. Later, in “The Trumpeter” (Airlie Dix), and again in that popular old Cornish folk-song “The Floral Dance,” Mr Gordon had full scope for his interpretative powers and established himself in favour from the beginning. In her first solo, “Hungarian Dance” (Drdla) Miss Margaret Smart, violinist, exhibited fine tonal quality and a dexterous bow hand, while in her later numbers, “Two Russian Solk Songs” arranged by Kreisler, and the Weber-Burmester “Waltz,” her technique was admirable, and occasionally when the music demanded, she gave glimpses of clever left-hand work also and proved herself a young artiste of much acceptance and considerable promise. Miss Nettie Sclanders is a young soprano with a fresh unspoiled voice and a useful range. In “The Waltz Song” (Edward German) Miss Sclanders showed clear diction and a sweetness of tone that was in harmony with her charming stage presence. In her later songs, “Ave Maria,” and Eric Coates’ “Bird Songs at Eventide,” this young singer earned whole-hearted applause from her hearers. The “magic” of Mr Claud Williams was at times as mystifying as it was clever, his running patter being a source of continuous merriment, and completing a programme that was thoroughly enjoyed by all present. Miss Barbara Laing at the piano, accompanied the soloists with commendable skill and sympathy. At the conclusion of the concert, Dr Young proposed a vote of thanks to the committee and artistes. He said there had always been two outstanding features connected with the firm of Messrs John G. Stein & Company. The one was the power of organisation, and the other was efficiency. With regard to the former, he asked the employees to accord to the committee who had organised so successful a function, their heartiest thanks. (Applause.) The second outstanding feature was efficiency. They had heard Colonel Stein talking about unemployment and cost of production, and he would like to suggest to Colonel Stein that he should secure the services of Mr Claud Williams, and then he could make bricks out of nothing! (Laughter.)  Mr John McConnachie, on behalf of the employees, returned sincere thanks for the generosity of the firm. They were very much indebted, he said, to Colonel Stein for the address he had given them, and also for his resume of the firm’s activities during the past year, which they must consider very satisfactory despite the depression which was so prevalent all over the world. They all hoped and trusted that it would soon pass away and that the firm of John G. Stein & Company would continue to hold the position it had held for many years; that is “second to none.” (Loud applause.) He also asked the audience to accord Mrs John G. Stein a special vote of thanks and to ask their worthy chairman to convey to his respected mother their kindest regards, and the hope that she may long be spared to come amongst them. Mr Norman Stein, although he, unfortunately, could not be with them this evening, was nevertheless an important factor in the firm’s progress, and it gives him pleasure to join his name with those of Colonel Allan and Mrs John G. Stein, He asked them to accord to their employers a very hearty vote of thanks for the excellent way in which they had been entertained tonight. (Prolonged applause.) The call, having received a response, and having been duly acknowledged by Colonel Stein, the first half of the programme came to end. The hall was then cleared for dancing which was carried through to the sprightly music of Mr David Mitchell’s Carron Orchestra, the members of which are to be complimented on their rhythmic melodies and the readiness of their response to encores. The onerous duties of M.C. were jointly and ably fulfilled by Messrs W. Miller, P. Duff and A. Cooper …

10/1931 – A second Harrop, USA kiln was started.

07/11/1931 – Falkirk Herald – Industry in Falkirk … The manufacture of firebricks, which in past years has been numbered among the “hardest hit’’ of all local industries, is giving indications of a return to better times. Messrs J. G. Stein are hoping that with the revival in the steel trade their opportunity will arrive, and the firm is at present engaged in extending their works at Manuel. A number of extra workmen have been engaged. English buyers have discovered that the quality of firebrick manufactured across the border is much lower than that of the Scottish product, and as a result, there is a brisker demand to be met by the local manufacturers …

19/11/1931 – The Research Director, Dr Hyslop took out a patent (361, 166) with regard to the process of oxidising the carbon in the Nettle clay at under 750 deg C to produce a low temperature calcine as the high carbon content of the clay limited the rate of burning the bricks. This process resulted in a greater density brick-branded NETTLE D.

06/1932 – The second Harrop, USA kiln was completed but due to lack of orders, it was never lit until 10/1934.

1933 – 1943 – Dr Hyslop took out a further 4 patents covering different processes involved with the extraction of alumina from fireclay.

16/02/1938 – Falkirk Herald – Large article regarding the firms annual gathering. 800 people present.

08/04/1938 – A 3rd Harrop, USA kiln was completed and the first ‘Stein Glasgow’ fire bricks were manufactured.

Below – 1944 – 1967 – Manuel Works.

01/07/1948 -No 4 kiln starts producing bricks.

Below – 24/07/1948 – Falkirk Herald – Government visit to Manuel Works. (Fourth biggest in the world?).

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17/11/1951 – Falkirk Herald – Clay Miners required. Wages for 5 3/4 days – £7 13s. This can be further increased by piece work. 12 days paid holidays per year at 27s per day. Experience not necessary. Hostel accommodation is available. Apply Manager, John G Stein & Co Ltd, Manuel Mine nr Linlithgow.

06/1954 – Large scale production of Nettle D was started. (According to Mr K. W. Sanderson).

13/05/1956 – First ‘Nettle D’ bricks are manufactured in the ‘new plant’.

09/1956 – No 5 kiln was started and came into production the following year. It was used to fire high alumina or basic brick as required by the market. Bricks such as the high alumina brand Stein 73 were fired in this kiln. (According to Mr K. W. Sanderson).

03/10/1958 – West Lothian Courier – Fatal accident. When at work in Messrs Stein’s Brickworks (Manuel Works?) on Monday morning, Gilbert Hassel, 5 Avontoun Crescent. Whitecross was crushed by a mechanical shovel, death being due to chest and spinal injuries. Mr Hassel, who was 40 years of age, is survived by his wife and two children. aged 18 and 15.

1963 – No 6 kiln was built.

1965 – No 7 kiln was built.

1967 – Hepworth Ceramic Holdings plc (HCH) purchases John G Stein & Co Ltd. and merges it with its refractory subsidiary General Refractories Group.

28/11/1969 – GR-Stein became a subsidiary of Hepworth Ceramic Holdings Ltd.

1970 – Hepworth Ceramic Holdings Plc renames the merged refractories group ad GR-Stein Refractories Ltd.

1985 – HCH comes to an agreement with British Steel Corporation (BSC) to merge its refractory subsidiary, GR-Stein Refractories with the BSC Refractories Group. HCH would own 78% and BSC 22% of the enlarged refractories group.

1987 – HCH purchases Thos. Marshall (Loxley) group and Belref Group, both are major refractories producers.

1988 – Hepworth Ceramic Holdings Plc is renamed as Hepworth Plc. Hepworth  renames the combined GR-Stein (including the former BSC Refractories works), Marshall and Belref refractories group as Hepworth Refractories Ltd. with its headquarters in Sheffield and with a European headquarters in Saint Ghislain, Belgium.

1991 June – Two French insulation brick companies – Les Produits Siliceux (LPS) and Constructions Thermiques Europeennes (CTE) were added to the refractories group. MPK’s Insulation’s Colchester works closes in October.

1996 – Hepworth states in its annual report that it’s seeking a buyer for its refractories subsidiary.
1997 April – Alpine Inc a USA company buys Hepworth Refractories for £63.9m (£62.5m plus £1.4 intercompany debt repayment)
1998 April – Alpine Inc having just bought an American refractories group, American Premier Refractories,  merges this group with its Hepworth Refractories subsidiary and forms a new company called Premier Refractories International. American Premier Group included BMI-France, American Premier, Premier Refractories Canada, JH France and Findlay Refractories amongst its subsidiaries.
1999 May – Cookson Plc purchases Premier Refractories International (PRI) for $115m plus $293m in debt.  Cookson merges PRI with its refractories subsidiary Vesuvius. Cookson had bought Vesuvius Crucible Company in 1987 and expanded that group by acquisitions which included buying Flogates / KSR group in 1998. Cookson continued to purchase and divest. UK Foundry specialist Foseco was purchased in 2008.

2001 – Works closed.

2012 – December  Cookson group floats its refractory division as Vesuvius Plc And renames the rest of the Cookson group as Alent Plc.
2020 – Vesuvius Plc remains an international leader in the refractories industry and continues to make and sell its legacy brands such as Nettle, Stein, Sillmax, Alro, Supermag, Contex, Durax and many other GR-Stein brands though most of them are manufactured in plants outside of the UK.

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Some additional insight – Eric Flack states – From 1959-1965, I used to work for a consulting analytical chemists in Glasgow. They specialized in chrome ores amongst other things. Steins Manuel Works used to import Masinloc Chrome Ore ground to under 1/4 mesh. It came in 4,000 ton “lots” as ships ballast in the Ben Line-mainly. I would spend a few days each month sampling the ore. It went mainly by lorry to Whitecross and sometimes by rail; via the tippler at Manuel. The chrome was around 32-35% Cr203 and 20-25% Al2O3. They made a very heavy Chrome refractory brick. Stein also imported ilmenite from Rhodesia and Rhodesian Chrome. They sometimes bought Turkish chrome but it was not so good. But mainly Masinloc Chrome Ore.  Then went to work with British Steel where I did a weekend shifts-extra overtime- rebricking electric arc furnaces! With Stein’s chrome bricks!

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Below – Date unknown – Aerial view of the Manuel Works.

Below – Source Falkirk Heritage and Archives.

J G Stein, G R Stein and Hepworth Ceramic Holdings.

Castlecary Brickworks, Bonnybridge, Falkirk

Established November 1902 – 1979

Construction at the yard began in November 1902 with the works finally opening in April 1904.

In the 1920s the Company was hit by the depression and this adversely affected the demand for fireclay and silica bricks. Stein, however, retained a good market and opened a research laboratory in 1930.

In 1937/38 further expansion was completed and Castlecary became the head of GR Stein’s Scottish Operations.

1970 – JG Stein & Co Limited merged with General Refractories Limited and became a member of a group headed by Hepworth Ceramic Holdings Limited. During the remainder of the 1970s and despite the selling up of a ‘special products’ unit, the site was slowly run down.

1980 – Main offices closed and shortly after, all production.

Raw materials – Fire bricks were made from raw materials found in a fireclay mine in Castlecary Estate and leased from the Earl of Zetland.

Products – Production of firebricks and phosphate bonded refractories. A range of Tenemax domestic storage heater blocks. Also, refractory cements and monolithics including mouldables, gun mixes, ram mixes and concretes.

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Below – 03/01/2002  – The Falkirk Herald

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 monolithics 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 to 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.

Below  – I believe this is a photo of a similarly marked brick

last brick fire Manuel works

…….and this too  – Annet House Museum Linlithgow

MANUEL WORKS LAST BRICK

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 years 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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