All writing © 2009-2015 by Colin Salter unless indicated otherwise. All rights reserved.
More information at

Saturday, 20 November 2010


John Tough was my great grandfather. Until recently, when I found some thorough work posted by someone else on the internet which pushed them back another three generations to the end of the eighteenth century, he was as far back as we went in the Tough line. (Tough, by the way, used to be pronounced “Tooch” rather than “Tuff.” It still is, by some surviving older members of the family.)

John Tough (c1879-1944)

Even at that short ancestral distance, we didn’t have much to go on. We knew little about him except his address, in Falkirk in Central Scotland, and his place of work. He was employed at the nearby Carron Iron Works, a company founded in 1759 which was a pioneer at the forefront of Britain’s Industrial Revolution.

The factory took advantage of locally abundant iron ore and coal and the plentiful water of the River Carron. By adopting the more efficient techniques newly developed at Coalbrookdale in England it became a powerful force in the market, winning lucrative contracts to supply armaments to British and foreign armed forces – both sides fought with Carron weapons in the Anglo-American War of 1812.

A carronade,
displayed in the Maritime Museum Daenholm, Germany

Its big seller was a short-barrelled, close-range cannonade devised by one of its partners and which came to be known as the Carronade. That weapon remained in production for almost eighty years until the 1850s, its sales undoubtedly boosted by the Duke of Wellington’s insistence, also in 1812, that only carronades be supplied to his army fighting the Peninsular War. Carron also manufactured armaments in both the world wars of the twentieth century.

One of the factory’s earliest products had been a cast iron stove so popular that it became common to refer to any such stove as a Carron – Janet Schaw, the ‘Lady of Quality’ who in 1776 met my ancestor John Halliday (see earlier post), wrote that on her arrival in North Carolina her host “received us into a hall which tho’ not very orderly had a cheerful look to which a large Carron stove filled with Scotch coals not a little contributed.”

Edinburgh New Town railings

The company’s non-military products included cast iron bath tubs and metal railings. The astonishing uniformity of Edinburgh’s New Town development (from 1765-1850) was supported in no small measure by the use throughout many of its buildings of Carron railings.

Its work remains highly visible in many parts of Britain because it was one of several foundries producing the ubiquitous red pillar boxes and telephone boxes, so much a part of British street furniture for most of the twentieth century. (Despite their Scottish origins, several of those sited in Scotland were blown up in the 1950s by Scottish protesters when they were cast with the insignia of Queen Elizabeth the Second – Elizabeth is only the first monarch of that name to rule Scotland!)

Iron two, made in Scotland – from girders
(It’s a Scottish joke …)

By the time of John Tough’s death the company had been successful for 185 years. It would survive another 38, but it struggled in the post-war years to compete with  foreign production costs and closed in 1982. It had been, in 1814, the largest iron works in Europe. For 223 years it was the dominant employer in the area and as I now know, my great grandfather was at least the fourth generation of Toughs to work there.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...