If you think of the town of Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire, should you ever have the mind to, what would be brought to mind. Maybe a spot of shopping at the Faraday retail park. Like most towns across the UK though, a high street that is struggling to survive can be seen. Competition from supermarket chains is killing off most of the small independent businesses around. Lack of industry has slowly suffocated the community.
The picture could not have been more different in the late 18th century. Coatbridge was a busy, vibrant industrial town. The industry of choice was Iron. There were several ironworks in the Coatbridge area in places like Gartsherrie and Summerlee (now a busy heritage museum showcasing the industry and the rich local history). The development of the Blast furnace technique for producing Pig Iron was new and Summerlee works was one of the first ironworks to employ the method.
This new method of producing iron meant workers were in demand and soon men were moving to Coatbridge from surrounding rural areas as well as an influx of immigrants from Ireland, where at the time work was not as readily available.
This population increase meant that employers started erecting housing quickly and cheaply. This housing in the area of Dundyvan was affectionately known as “the slap ups” due to the speed at which this new housing was being “slapped up” around them. These new communities needed a place to congregate and in 1905 the Dundyvan Parish Church was built.
In that time the church was a beautiful red sandstone building with a slate roof. It was built by the notable Architect of the area Alexander Cullen. The church, although once the heart of a thriving community is now unused and in a sad state of repair. As can be seen from the pictures, the slate roof has been totally destroyed, being ravaged by fire. The building is a ghost of its former self, a sad reflection of happier times. The rare crown tower and spire can still be seen and is the main reason this beautiful building has not been demolished.
The building looks somewhat out of place now, surrounded by housing estates, flats and, of all things, a car showroom and a leisure centre. The spire and tower pierce the skyline and the building seems almost otherworldly. It’s broken stained glass and sandstone carcass seems to being pulled to the earth by the trees and weeds that now infest its once beautiful stonework.
While people drive past, barely having time to look up and notice the amazing piece of early 20th century architecture, which was once the centre of a thriving working community, you may ponder; what would those Ironworkers and their families think if todays fast pace, yet industrial-less North Lanarkshire. Smartphones, cars, leisure parks, and frozen microwave dinners. Would they consider it an improvement? Or would they long for the sense of community, family and worth that buildings such as the old Dundyvan Parish church represented. Heavy industry has been left to decay, now a shadow of its former self – much like the building that stood for so long to represent it.
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If you find this interesting you can find more about the industry in North Lanarkshire by visiting the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, well worth a visit.