Wilsontown's history timeline

The 16th Century

1599: John Wilson owns East Forth.

The 17th Century

1644:  A stone at the current Cleugh house is dated 1644, older maps show a house at Cleugh in the 16th century.

1655:  James Wilson buys the lands of Hinschelwood and Cleugh from William Inglis of Eastsheil.

The 18th century

1708 – 1712: Abraham Darby uses coke in a blast furnace for the first time at Coaldbrookdale, Shropshire. Thomas Newcomen invents the atmospheric / fire engine.

1759: William Wilson Snr establishes himself successfully in business in London; he becomes a merchant.  The Carron Ironworks is established.

1770: William Dixon Snr is 17yrs old and comes to the West of Scotland from Northumberland to seek his fortune; he settles at Govan Coalworks.

1771: John Wilson Snr returns from Sweden after selling his business in Gothenburg. He sets up a business in London with his younger brother William.

1772: William Wilson Jnr born to John Wilson Snr.

1779: Robert Wilson asks his brothers for a loan to purchase neighbouring land to the Cleugh estate.  Construction of Wilsontown Ironworks begins.  John Mackenzie is the Overseer as the Ironworks are being built.  A large house is built and coal mining enterprises are not very successful.

1781: The first iron is produced at Wilsontown Ironworks.

1782: John Mackenzie is dismissed and the works then remain idle.

1783: Henry Cort patents the process of rolling iron.

1784: William Wilson Snr returns to Wilsontown and moves into Wilsontown House after touring round the UK getting experience in ironmaking.  He dissolves the agreement with his brother Robert.  John Wilson Snr stays in charge of their London business.  Wilsontown Ironworks starts up again in May with Ironmasters from Coalbrookdale making pig iron for a short while. Henry Cort visits Scotland in May and does demonstrations of his new puddling process at Edinburgh - his Scottish Patent for rolling and puddling is sealed on 6th Feb.

1785: The blast furnace at Wilsontown Ironworks is blown out in February and not re-lit until May.  John Wilson Snr sends Alexander Gunn to Wilsontown to be his representative.  William Wilson Snr is concerned that the Ironworks will never make enough money to cover the costs incurred.  John Wilson Snr and William Wilson Snr buy out their brother Robert.

1786: Clyde Ironworks is founded by John Mackenzie (who worked at Wilsontown) and Thomas Edington.  Alexander Gunn is sent to Coalbrookdale to be instructed in the art of bar iron manufacture.

1787: Omoa / Cleland Ironworks and Muirkirk Ironworks are founded.  A second blast furnace is built at Wilsontown and another blowing engine (see image, right) of greater power is set going.  Produce includes pig iron, ballast for ships and shot (4-18 pounders inclusive).

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William Wilson Snr and Alexander Gunn do not see eye to eye on the management of the Ironworks, but John Wilson Snr supports Gunn when William protests to him.  It is likely that blooms from Wilsontown are rolled at Rotherhithe, London.

1788: There are 86 blast furnaces in Britain, 60 are using coke as fuel and 26 are still using charcoal.

1789: A steam engine is erected at Wilsontown to draw off the water from the minerals.  This opens up a large mineral field so much more coal can be mined.  John Rennie of Boulton and Watt produces plans for the new Forge at Wilsontown for William Wilson Snr.

1790: The workmen at Wilsontown are paid on piece-rate, monthly.  Boulton and Watt produce a plan of the engine house and working gear for the new forge for Messrs John and William Wilson Snr.  An engine (originally built in 1785) at Rotherhithe London is stopped, it is later bought by the Wilsons for their new forge.

1791: The Company name is John and William Wilson & Son, Swedish Iron Merchants.  An extensive forge for the manufacture of blooms is erected at Wilsontown.  Gardner, Manson and Co agree to take a large quantity of blooms from Wilsontown but there is a quarrel with Alexander Gunn and the contract is lost.  John Wilson Snr arrives at Wilsontown from London and excludes William Wilson Snr from the firm.  James Murdoch, an engine erector for Boulton and Watt, has been at Wilsontown for 15 months putting up the new engine in the forge.

Thomas Paine publishes the ’Rights of Man’ as a guide to the ideas of the Enlightenment, he greatly influences the French Revolution.

1792:  The dispute between John and William Wilson Snr gets worse and John Snr makes his son John Jnr his legal representative in Scotland.  William Wilson Snr is still very concerned about the state of the business and his lack of control.  It is possible that William Murdoch (brother of James Murdoch) lights his house with gas coal for the first time now.

1793: The balance sheets show that Wilsontown Ironworks is in debt to its London business . William Wilson Snr is in favour of reducing iron production and diversifying by producing household coal.  Alexander Gunn and John Wilson Snr disagree and prevent this idea being developed. William Wilson Snr estimates his loss at £20,000 and disputes follow regarding possession and examining the Company books.

The Sherrif of Lanarkshire appoints an interim manager for Wilsontown, Richard Steel of Lanark. Alexander Gunn is dismissed, William Wilson Snr alleges he is a disciple of Thomas Paine and has circulated copies of his work to the employees.  John Wilson Snr dissolves the London co-partnery and stops William Wilson Snr’s credit.  William Wilson Snr concludes that the economic failure at Wilsontown is due to mismanagment and not inherent economic weakness, still believing the operation can be made profitable

1794: There is a local community totalling 400 at Wilsontown.  This includes a considerable number of people who are not from the area but have come here to work.  Wilsontown Ironworks is currently not working, due to the family dispute.  In the Ironworks there are currently 2 blast furnaces to produce pig iron, and 10 forges to convert the pigs into blooms before they are then beaten into bars.  The Ironworks can also produce castings.  There are said to be several Helve hammers.

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It is currently 27 miles to get to the port at Leith but the line of a new road has been laid out that will reduce this to 21 miles.   Carriage for produce going to Bo’ness and Leith is 8 shillings per ton in Summer and 10s per ton in Winter.

1795: Glenbuck Ironworks and Calder Ironworks (William Dixon is a partner) are founded.  Richard Steel of Lanark is still in charge at Wilsontown

1796: John Condie is born in Glasgow.

1797: John Wilson Snr buys out William Wilson Snr .  Wilsontown Ironworks are put up for sale and bought by John Wilson Snr, Merchant of Token-House Yard, London.  John Wilson and Son is launched; the partners are John Wilson Snr and two of his four sons, William Jnr and James.  Mr James Meason, a clerk at Wilsontown Ironworks, is employed to examine the state of the minerals:  “from what he had explored 40,000 tons of iron might be made annually for the space of 90 years, that the supply of ironstone is inexhaustible”

1798: The Forge at Wilsontown is put to work, with the addition of 2 hammers after having been stopped during the dispute, and the two blast furnaces are brought into full operation again.

The 19th century

1801:  William Wilson Jnr has failed in his St Petersburg trade.  William Wilson Jnr mortgages Wilsontown house to one of his partners in a Russian venture when he could not pay £1,000, his full share of the loss incurred by Brown, Porter, Wilson and Co.

1802: Shotts Ironworks is founded.  A Swedish Ironmaster visits several Scottish Ironworks including Wilsontown and writes a report.  John Wilson Snr has pulled down part of the Ironworks and is replacing this with Puddling Furnaces and an extensive Rolling Mill.  It is expected to produce 1,500 tons annually of bar iron once this building work is completed.  The present manager of Wilsontown Ironworks is William Wilson Jnr who has planted 100,000 Pine, Spruce and Larch on a drained peat bog nearby.

1803: Clyde Ironworks is the second biggest Ironworks in Scotland at this time.

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1804: The Wilsons acquire the coal rights at Climpy from George Crawford and they build a village for the workers there.  Horse tramways are now laid to get raw materials to the blast furnaces at Wilsontown.  The Rolling Mill at Wilsontown is put into operation this year.  Wilsontown Ironworks is producing pig iron, cast iron goods, malleable bars, rods and hoops, boiler and other plates, and is said to be the only Ironworks in Scotland equipped for this trade.  Robert Bauchop completes his ‘Plan of the Estate of Wilsontown’.

The Napoleonic War begins.

1806: A powerful Boulton and Watt blowing engine is erected and the weekly produce of the furnaces at Wilsontown increases from 20 to 40 ton. A manager’s house with 8 rooms is built around this time (believed to be Wester Heathland farmhouse). The coal and iron-stone mines, the furnaces, the forges, the rolling-mill, the shops of smiths, carpenters, engineers and mill-wrights are crowded with workmen.

Wilsontown Inn is built.

1807: In the census of this year there are 2000 people dependant on Wilsontown Ironworks. The total monthly payment to workers is not less than £3,000.  The Ironworks has to issue change tickets due to a shortage of small coins -  £100 of silver and copper coins are needed each month; the change tickets can be exchanged at the Company shop . Mr George Brown, Landsurveyer, conducts a survey and valuation to prepare the way for borrowing upon heritable security.  There is now £63,500 borrowed on the security of the lands and fixed assets at the Ironworks.  Both the Scottish and the London firm become insolvent.  There is a severe depression in the iron trade.

Artist's impression of the interior of a worker's house at Wilsontown1808: By this date many buildings have been erected at Wilsontown, including 450 houses, a bakery and company shop.  There is no further credit to be had from the banks, so a meeting is called with friends, merchants, local businessmen, bankers and mine officials in London.  As a result, 54 well-wishers raise a short term loan for Wilsontown Ironworks.

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The Scottish Company is now taken over by a Trust Deed.  The Trustees are: John Dickson of Coulter, Advocate; James Pillans, Ironmerchant of Leith; John Mowbray of Edinburgh, Writer to the Signet; George Crawford of Climpy; Thomas Edington of Pheonix Ironworks near Glasgow; and Martin Dalrymple at Omoa Ironworks.

There is hope that the Iron trade may pick up again.  William Wilson Jnr and James Wilson continue to manage the Ironworks. The Climpy coal field is surveyed by ‘a professional man of great skill and integrity’ who reports that the quantity of workable coal exceeds 2,724,000 tons, with only 100,000 wrought out.  A 40-year lease is established on all the coal and ironstone in the lands of Guildhouse and part of Hendshillwood - equivalent to 580 english acres.

George Crawford Esq of Climpy writes a letter dated 6th August 1808 where he explains that he had at least 150 families employed on his estate.  They were miners, lime-workers, and labourers.  Because the parish church was so far away in Carnwath he built a place of worship for these families at his own expense.   Joseph Purdie from Peebleshire was ordained as the Minister in April 1810.

William Dixon sends a report on the Wilsons in a letter to David Mushet.  Mr Edington is the Wilson’s agent in Glasgow and has compiled a report on Wilsontown Ironworks.  Martin Darlrymple at the Omoa ironworks has given Mr Edington all his iron to sell to try to keep down the price of iron. John Wilson Snr is mortally ill in October and dies on Christmas day.

Humphrey Davey demonstrates his new electric arc lamp.

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1809: Land and equipment that is not essential for the operation of Wilsontown Ironworks is offered up for sale at the Royal Exchange Coffee House in Edinburgh.  Various people buy parcels of land including John Wilson of Guildhouse and Henry Wilson, late of Calcutta. New boilers are installed at the blowing engines despite the Company’s perilous position.

1810: Lodge St John Wilsontown Ironworks is founded. John Wilson and Sons is now bringing up a day level in the Wilsontown Colliery, which has already been driven 500 fathoms.  This is an extension of the famous Holmesyke Level. The Ironstone is so rich that little more than 3 tons yields a ton of iron.

For the last 6 months the Ironworks has almost entirely been employed in making soft pig iron for foundry use due to an increase in price for pig iron and a drop for bar iron.  There are few competitors in Scotland in the making of engines - Wilsontown is fitted out for this. The 2 blast furnaces (see image, right)  produce about 80 to 90 tonnes of iron a week, mainly of best no. 1 iron.

There are houses for 400 – 500 workmen and their families. The freight from London to Leith is from 10 – 12s per ton and insurance less than 1%.

Joseph Purdie of Peebleshire is ordained as the Minister of Climpy Church in April.  The week after this, at least 100 families are discharged after the collapse of the Ironworks business.  The congregation of the Church now fell to only 20 or 30 people and stayed this way until the Minister gave up in 1813.

1811: Wilsontown Ironworks is advertised for sale in the Morning Chronicle, London, but no-one purchases it.  An Inventory of tools values them at £7,050.  George Crawford, the owner of Climpy, goes bankrupt this year - the Wilsons had advanced money to him but they never recovered it. Thomas Bauchop, surveyor, produces a map of Wilsontown Sheepwalk.

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1812: There is a general commercial crisis in the Scottish Iron trade.  Many local gentry become bankrupt including John Wilson Jnr of Guildhouse and Henry Wilson of Cleugh House. Stock accumulates at Wilsontown and in the warehouses at Leith, Glasgow and London.  By June there is 2,200 tons of unsold iron.  By July the outstanding debts total more than £100,000, with over £1,600 in wage arrears.  There is an attempt to switch production from bar iron to pig iron but this encounters technical difficulties .

The Scottish Creditors of Wilsontown Ironworks apply for sequestration (bankrupcy), which is granted on 15 June. A temporary factor is appointed to protect the interests of the Creditors.  The Trustees decide to carry on the works with one furnace in blast, the labour force is put to work casting axles, collecting scrap iron, breaking up plant and taking inventories. 521 men are employed at the Ironworks.

The last batch of iron is made in December and the furnace blown out, the workmen are dismissed and paid off apart from a skeleton staff. The workingmen’s union and savings bank, the Wilsontown Friendly Society, loses its capital. Wilsontown Ironworks is put up for sale for £20,000. William Mowbray buys Wilsontown Sheepwalk . An Illicit home still is discovered.  William Wilson Jnr  moves with his family to London after this year and sets himself up as a successful merchant in the ‘Russia trade’, importing goods from Moscow and St Petersburg.

1813: The last account of John Wilson and Son is made on November 26th.  Mr Thomson, ‘a respectable Engineer’, makes an inventory of implements and utensils essentially necessary for the works. During this time Mr Laurie (Lawrie), Overseer, and James Baird, ‘an efficient workman and watchman’,  have been kept employed at the works in order to keep things ticking over.

On 23 February, the Minister of Climpy Church resigns due to a lack of a congregation.  Since the Ironworks stopped in 1810 he had only 20 or 30 people attending sermons.  He stated that "sermon was however regularly kept up at Wilsontown by other parties".

1815: The Napoleonic War ceases

1819: Alexander Gillespie of Sunnyside buys the lands of Cleugh. Inspired by the French Revolution there is industrial unrest spreading through the country.  Weavers from Glasgow talk of revolution and organising themselves for a fight.

1820: John Patterson, Ironmaster, and Robert Stevenson, Civil Engineer, visit Wilsontown Ironworks and make a full report: "no Ironmaster at this day would set down a work from which the carriage to the nearest port is no less than 26 miles". Mr Laurie is still the Manager.  Wilsontown is said to ‘have the appearance of a large village now in a state of decay’.

1821: The sequestrated Estate of Wilson and Sons is purchased from James Britstow Fraser, Writer in Edinburgh, Trustee, on 20 March by William Dixon for £6,100.

1822: Alexander Gillespie of Sunnyside buys the lands of Mid and East Forth, part of the Wilsontown Estate.

1823: There are now 237 blast furnaces in Britain.

1824: William Dixon dies.

1827: John Nimmo is the Manager at Wilsontown Ironworks.  There is a new toll road, an improvement on the old moor road, to Edinburgh via West Calder, over which pig iron etc. is carted to Edinburgh and Leith.  The Road to Glasgow is not so direct and Glasgow has become a valuable outlet for the Ironworks. In the Autumn John Nimmo and William Dixon Jnr map out a new road west from Climpy to the Holytown road via Shotts Ironworks.

1828: James Beaumont Neilson discovers the hot blast process whilst fixing a boiler at Wilsontown.  He goes on to patent the ‘improved application of air to produce heat in fires, forges and furnaces – no 5701’ on 3 March. An Act for making and maintaining a turnpike road (this is the B715) from Wilsontown Ironworks to the A71 is dated 23 May. Thomas Nimmo is the Manager at Wilsontown Ironworks .

The Gartsherrie furnace is started by Bairds. A foundry is opened at Shotts Ironworks.

1829: The Hot Blast process is now in use.

1830:  Lord Belhaven takes over the lease of a distillery at Wilsontown from Hugh Goold.  Captain Alexander Wilson, son of Robert Wilson, is still living at Cleugh Mansion house.  William Wilson Jnr is 58 and approached by partner Benjamin Lancaster to go into candle making.  They set up Edward Price and Co.

1831: Coal used per ton of pig iron has gone down from 10 tons to 3 tons due to the Hot Blast process. Hot blast is being used at Calder Ironworks by William Dixon, using an open water-cooled tuyere with only limited success.

1832: Thomas Nimmo ceases to be the Manager at Wilsontown Ironworks.  His sons later manage the works and Thomas goes on to work coal pits on the Wilsontown and Cleugh lands on his own account.  John Condie is taken on at Calder Ironworks by William Dixon Jnr.

1833: John Condie is sent as manager to Wilsontown by William Dixon Jnr.

1834: John Wilson Jnr now owns Westsidewood as well as Guildhouse, near Forth.  William Pillans is murdered at the toll bar, Wilsontown, by James Tweedie on 18th April.

1836: John Condie has invented a nozzle at Wilsontown with a spiral of wrought iron tubing cast into it so that a continuous flow of cooling water can be maintained – the 'scots' or 'worm' or 'Condie' tuyere.  This revolutionises iron manufacture.

1842: The output of pig iron at Wilsontown Ironworks is 14 tonnes per day.  There is a great shut down in Scotland’s industries and Wilsontown Ironworks closes for the final time. John Condie moves to Dalry Ironworks (also owned by William Dixon) .The trustees of the late James Hare grant a feu in favour of William Dixon of Govan Colliery at Wester Handaxwood, sheepwalk of 204 scotch acres in December.

1845: Wilsontown Ironworks is broken up by breakers.

1846: John Condie patents his steam hammer.

1848: The Condie steam hammer is erected for first time at Govan Ironworks.

1849: James Wilson, an earnest and evangelical Christian, sets up a Christian society at Price’s Candle factory.

1850: James ‘Paraffin’ Young patents his process for making paraffin wax from distilled coal.

1851: By now practically all the coal mining at Wilsontown has ceased. Wilsontown is now offered for sale again, and although advertised at an upset price it is not bought.

1853: James Wilson urges Price’s Candle Co shareholders to pay for a school and chapel for factory boys.

1856: The steel making process is introduced by Sir Henry Bessemer.

1858: William Darling, a Glasgow Iron Merchant, buys Cleugh,  Mid and East Forth from the trustees of Alexander Gillespie.

1860: On 22 October a railway is opened up past Wilsontown for goods and minerals.  It stops at a siding behind Quality Row.  After the railway comes, William Dixon resumes mining Wilsontown Main coal for coking, thus bringing industrial activity back to the area.  This keeps the Wilsontown pits busy.

1862: The Coltness Iron Company open up the gas coal in Haywood.  James Gray of Leavenseat Lime Works and Gavin Paul of Airdrie, a railway contractor, get a lease from William Dixon to work the Wilsontown Cannel Coal.  To get to the Cannel Coal they have to clean out the Holmesyke Level from its outlet to the middle of the coalfield at great expense as it had been neglected for some time.  Gavin Paul and family move into Wilsontown Mansion house after this year.

1865: The mineral railway line is extended to Wilsontown Station.  Thomas Nimmo extends his mining operations to the lands of Haywood and Lawhead and he and his son, also Thomas, take out a lease of the rough coal.

1866: Omoa Ironworks shuts down.

1867: The railway at Wilsontown takes passengers for the first time.

1869: The railway line is extended from Wilsontown to Climpy.

1870:  Gavin Paul and family are still living in Wilsontown masion house; he is responsible for having the church at Wilsontown built this year  There is a boiler explosion at no. 1 pit Climpy, leased by Gray and Paul, killing 2 children.

1871: Wilsontown Inn is now shown as a store on maps.

1873: The trustees of the late Mr William Dixon sell the lands of Cleugh, Greenwalls, Mid and East Forth now called Wilsontown, to William Smith Dixon.

1875: Beehive ovens are erected for the first time at Wilsontown Colliery.

1884: Gray and Paul give up the lease of the gas coal as it is exhausted.

1885: The Paul family leave the area and it is a sad departure.  From now on most mining is carried out at Wilsontown by Dixons. It is more extensive than before due to an increase in the use of coking coal in coke ovens and in gas works

1887: The Carnwath Board take over running of the old school at Wilsontown as a works school.

1898: A new colliery at Wilsontown opens up this year (called Wilsontown colliery, there was a colliery with this name run by the Wilsons previously).

The 20th Century

1900: Tennants commences delivering miner’s coal around this year in the Peaweep Row.

1905: At Wilsontown Colliery the old beehive ovens are now replaced with a modern type of by-product plant.  This plant is used to carbonise coal into metallurgical coke for the smelting of iron ore and ironstone in the blast furnaces.  In addition the coke is used to recover valuable products such as tar, ammonia, and in later years benzol, all of which Wilsontown Main Coal is especially rich in.

1912: The Coltness Iron Company returns to the area and acquires the Climpy Colliery.

1913: Wilsontown sheepwalk has been let to Henry Wilson Esq.

1919: Kingshill no. 1 pit is sunk by the Coltness Iron Company in Allanton.

1921: Muirkirk Ironworks closes.

1922: William Dixon Ltd stops using splint coal and only uses coke fuel, which they get from Wilsontown Colliery and other coke makers.

1926: The old Wilsontown school closes.

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1931: Kingshill no. 2 pit (Queenshill) is sunk, owned by Coltness Steel Company Limited.

1936: Quality Row is condemned and closes. The residents are moved to housing in Forth.

1938: Wilsontown coke is still being used for smelting purposes in the blast furnaces in the West of Scotland.  Forkens mine has recently been sunk mining Kilsyth coking coal, a seam about 24” thick.  A modern type of coal-cutting machine and face and gate road conveying plant has made the seam economic.

Wilsontown mansion house is still in good condition. The old school at Wilsontown still stands but is in a ruinous state. It has the words 'fear god' and 'love thy neighbour' on the lintels.

1940 / 41: A bomb is dropped somewhere near Burnfoot / Mosshat and the men in Forkens mine hear the doors in the mine rattle.  Forkens mine is shut down and the men are transferred to Wilsontown Colliery.

1948: Wilsontown Colliery has an output of 320 tons per day, 80,000 tons per annum.  It uses longwall working, has 390 employees, two screen tables, a Luhrigg washer, no baths, a canteen for packed meals, a first aid centre, DC electricity (all generated at the mine), two shafts – no 3, 104m deep and no 9: 73m deep.

Kingshill no. 2 pit has one 269m deep shaft, downcast with a forcing fan, return mine at Climpy, 1 in 1.2 for 128m, output 640 tons per day, 160,000 per annum, it uses longwall working, has 589 employees, 3 screening tables, a Baum type washer, baths, a canteen for packed meals, and first aid room, all electricity is from public supply.

1951: The last passenger train passes through Wilsontown

1954: Wilsontown mansion house is demolished.

1955: Wilsontown Colliery closes.

1963: The last goods train passes through Wilsontown

1968: The core of the Wilsontown Ironworks site is designated a scheduled ancient monument due to its value as an example of an integrated ironworks.

1970: Forestry Commission Scotland purchases land containing remains of Wilsontown Ironworks.

1973: Forth Primary school do a study on Wilsontown Ironworks with teacher Sheila Kerr and Donald W Mack. The stables of Wilsontown mansion house still stand.

1974: Forestry Commission Scotland knocks down the remains of the culvert, the arched bridge, and two of the engine houses at Wilsontown Ironworks.  Several local people protest and attempt to stop the demolition, including a teacher at Forth Primary School who tries to get an injunction from the Sheriff at Lanark.

1975: Kingshill no. 2 pit closes

1977: The area around the Ironworks is planted with a conifer crop by Forestry Commission Scotland.

The 21st century

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2001: The scheduled ancient monument area at Wilsontown Ironworks is extended by Historic Scotland to include more of the features associated with the site, e.g. the 77 bell pits.

2002: Forestry Commission Scotland begins to research the history of Wilsontown Ironworks.

2007: The Wilsontown Ironworks Heritage Project is launched by Forestry Commission Scotland.

2008: The conifers planted on top of the bell pits are being removed by Forestry Commission Scotland.