Furnace History

Our Village by Duncan Beaton

Furnace as a place name is not ancient on Loch Fyne, but it is unique because of the amount of industry it has seen, all now gone except the quarry. It is still attracting industry today, with the welcome expansion of the fish farm. Each new industry has brought new peoples and new family names, many staying for generations, adding to the character of the place. The names on the Furnace War Memorial are evidence of this variety, with English, Welsh and even tinker families commemorated. All have been welcome in Furnace, and played their part in its history.

The following links will take you to different sections of that history, which may be read all in one go, or piecemeal at your leisure. Enjoy!

The Earliest History and the Appearance of the Name Inverleacan.

Furnace as a place name is not ancient on Loch Fyne, but the site at the mouth of the River Leacan was a strategic one in olden times. In the late 13th century the River Leacan was the border between two of Argyll’s great lordships, Lochow (Loch Awe) and Glassary.

The Campbell clan had only recently got a foothold in Argyll, and Sir Colin Campbell was a supporter of King Robert the Bruce, whose sister was his step mother. He was Lord of Lochow, and oversaw his lordship from his recently acquired castle of Innis Chonnal, on an island in Loch Awe. But even before his clan got a piece of Lochfyneside, his neighbour Master Ralph of Dundee, a man of the cloth in the service of King Alexander III from at least 1284, is recorded as having the lands of Glassary in 1292.

We don’t know why, or exactly when, Ralph received the lands of Glassary. Before his time they were in the possession of a family named MacGilchrist, so he may have married one of MacGilchrist’s daughters. What we do know is that the part of Glassary where our village stands was in the possession of Ralph’s descendants until 1668. Like the Lords of Lochow they oversaw their lands from a castle on Loch Awe; in their case Fincharn, near present-day Ford.

Ralph had died before 29th June 1312, when his son and heir John of Glassary received a grant of lands in Forfarshire. John had two sisters, Elizabeth and Margaret, and it is with Margaret of Glassary that our village first appears in history.

The first step is outlined in a charter in the Inveraray Castle Archives. There is no date on it, but it has been attributed to the year 1315, one year after the Battle of Bannockburn. This charter was given by John of Glassary to Dugald Campbell, believed to be the younger son of Sir Colin Campbell of Lochow, on his marriage to John’s sister, Margaret of Glassary. In it John grants Dugald and his wife one third of the lands of Glassary.

This Dugald rebelled against Robert the Bruce’s son, King David II, and by 1342 all his lands had been granted to his brother Archibald Campbell, Lord of Lochow. Dugald had no family by Margaret, but this did not stop the Campbells trying to get their hands on the third part promised as Margaret’s dowry.

On the 25th August, 1355, the eve of St Bartholomew’s Day, the interested parties met on the border of the two lordships to discuss the validity of the grant made forty years earlier. This meeting took place at Inverleacan (Inbhir Leacain – the mouth of the river, the site of our village). This document, called a Retour of Inquest, is still in existence too, and the name Inverleacan clearly defined.

In this document the Campbells claimed that John of Glassary, who was by now deceased, had been insane at the time of his sister’s marriage, and the lands should fall to the Campbells despite their being no children of the marriage. The claim was disputed, and the row was still going on seventy years later. It was taken up by John’s grand-daughter Agnes and her husband Alexander Scrymgeour (pronounced Scrim-ger), Constable of Dundee and grandson of William Wallace’s standard-bearer of the same name.

It seems strange that this part of Argyll should be for so long in the hands of east coast families, but the Scrymgeours held Glassary until the death of John Scrymgeour, 1st Earl of Dundee, in 1668.

RETOUR OF INQUEST relating to gift by John of Glassre of one third of Glassre, August 25, 1355.
Memorandum est quod talis inquisitio facta est per quosdam baronenes Ergadiæ coram Alexandro vicecomite Ergadiensi in crastino beati Bartholemei apostoli apud Inverleacan anno domini M.CCC.LV quinto circa donacionem per Johanem dominum de Glassre Duvgaldo Cambel et Margarete sorori dicti Johanis de tertia parte terre de Glassre factam. In primis dicti Barones videlicet dominus Arturus Cambel Lochlanus Juvenis Doncanus M'Thamais Johanes M'Eogan Alexander M'Sommarrli, Donaldus M'Inpersuyn Christinus Huasuibne et multi alii fidedigni per prefatum Alexandrum vicecomitem quod melius de dicta inquisitione sciverunt ad supradictam diem et locum sunt citati quibus coram prefato vicecomite comparentibus requisitis multipliciter juratis et diligenter examinatis prout melius sciverunt et recoluerunt, consona voce dixerunt quod dictus dominus Johanes de Glassre terciam partem terre sue de Glassre Domino Duvalgdo Cambel quondam militi et Margarete Cambel sorori dicti Johanis postquam factus est insane mentis non ad tempus sed ad hereditatem concessit.
By this writ it is placed on record that an inquiry was held by certain barons of Argyll, in presence of Alexander the sheriff thereof, at Inverleacan on the morrow of St. Bartolomew's Day in the year 1355, regarding the donation made by John of Glassre to Dugald Cambel and Margaret his wife, the sister of the said John, of the third part of Glassre. The said barons and many other trustworthy persons being cited to appear because of their knowledge of the facts, and being duly sworn and examined as to their knowledge and recollection, with one voice declared that the said Sir John of Glassre granted the third part of his land of Glassre to Sir Dugald Cambel, sometime knight, and Margaret Cambel, sister of the said John, after he became of unsound mind, not temporarily, but in absolute fee.

furnace ancient mapUnlike the surrounding area, it was not until near the end of the 17th century that our part of Glassary fell to the possession of the Campbells. By then the old lordships had disappeared – as lordships: but Lochow had become the Parish of Glenaray, and the Lordship of Glassary was now the Parish of Glassary. Furnace was to be divided between the two parishes until the middle of the 19th century, and between the two landowners for much longer.

Colin Campbell, the upwardly mobile Sheriff-clerk of Argyll, acquired the part of Glassary where we now live: the rest of Glassary Parish, and a lot of lands in Cowal across the loch, were in the possession of the powerful Campbell of Auchinbreck family, who had a castle at Loch Gair.

Colin called his property Ederline, although his first acquisition had been the farm of Inverae (the border with Auchinbreck lands was the burn that runs through the centre of Minard village). The Campbells of Ederline were an unfortunate family, although after four generations their financial problems were helped by a marriage to the comparatively wealthy heiress of the Strachur estates. This meant they could divide and sell Ederline: the portion around the “big house” near Ford went to another Campbell family, and the portion where Furnace stands was sold to John Tait of Harvieston, near Dollar (now the site of a successful real ale brewery, but that’s another story). Tait’s wife’s family came from Cumloden, near Minnigaff in Dumfriess-shire, so he named his new estate Cumlodden (note different spelling).

Cumlodden, with the farm of Goatfield, on which lands part of Furnace was built, was inherited by Crawford Tait, son of John, who had married Susan Campbell of Succoth on the 17th June 1795. In 1825, after about 26 years of his family’s ownership, Crawford Tait sold Cumlodden to his brother-in-law, Sir Archibald Campbell, 2nd Baronet of Succoth. The estate is still today (2015) in the possession of this family through Sir Archibald’s direct descendant, Sir Ilay Mark Campbell, 7th Baronet.

The MacLachlan-MacNicol feud, and a Murder at Brenchoille

There was a slight twist to ownership of the lands where we live: it is all to do with archaic feudal rights, now happily abolished. All land in Scotland was held from the monarch, who gave Crown Charters to his subjects in exchange for military support in times of war, etc. On one side of Loch Fyne the land was mostly held from the Crown by the Campbells and the Scrymgeours, as discussed in the early history section. On the other, Cowal, side they were held by the MacLachlans and the Lamonts, but these Cowal lairds held small pockets of Glassary from the Crown too. Among MacLachlan’s holdings on our side were the farms of Gortengower (gortein-a-gobhar – Goatfield) and Drianlaith. Although they were part of the Ederline and Cumlodden estates the lairds paid feu duty to MacLachlan of Strathlachlan. This gave rise to the story that Goatfield got its name because it was where MacLachlan used to over winter his herds of goats.

In the early 17th century one of the MacLachlans was minister of Kilmorich & Lochgoilhead Parish, and his daughter married the MacNicol laird of Elrigmore in Glenshira. This led to the laird of Strathlachlan granting rentals to several MacNicol families, in Goatfield, Brenchoille, and Gallanach, behind Beinn Glas, in the

1660s. A generation later things had turned sour.

In 1692 a party of MacLachlans, led by the laird’s brother James, landed at what is now Sandhole and made their way over the hill to Brenchoille. When they got to the house of Patrick Og MacNicol they found he wasn’t in, but saw his son William in the garden. They took a few pot shots at him but he wisely ran away. The MacLachlans called at the house of Patrick’s brother, Archibald MacNicol in Gallanach, before heading home. However, they went back a few days later, found Patrick Og, and killed him.

The next incident in the feud occurred in Inveraray, when the laird Lachlan MacLachlan was staying at the Provost’s house in the old town. A party of MacNicols, from Glenshira, the Braes of Glenfyne, and Glenorchy, broke in and carried MacLachlan off, with cries of “blood for blood”.Fortunately the townsfolk rallied and retrieved the unfortunate laird before any harm was done. How do we know all this? Well, in April 1692 both cases were heard on the same day in Inveraray Sheriff Courthouse. The MacNicols were charged with “hamesucken”, a Scots form of kidnapping. Unusually for Inveraray Sheriff Court at that time nobody swung for their actions, and the feud seemed to die down

The 19th century, and the start of our Crofting Community

Because the lands where Furnace village stands had two owners, the community developed in different phases. The name Inverleacan was rarely used; the people clustered about the mouth of the river either lived on the farm of Goatfield or the farm of Craleckan.

The records of Cumlodden Estate, held in the Mitchell Library Glasgow as part of the Campbell of Garscube Papers (Garscube, now owned by the University of Glasgow, was the main Campbell of Succoth property) show that Goatfield was divided into 14 crofts or smallholdings, with the house usually occupied by a shooting tenant. There were also crofts at Brenchoille: the ruin of one, known as “Number 10”, was visible until the trees were planted by the forestry. It was occupied by a family of Sinclairs, who later lived at “Fasgadh” in Furnace. Craleckan, on the other hand, was usually only divided into two.

furnace old records

The Coming of the Industrial Age – The Furnace

The use of the land on the Glenaray side of the Leacan was to change dramatically in 1754. Firstly, the last of the Clerks of Braleckan died. The Clerk family had held Braleckan in feu from the Campbells of Argyll for ten generations, from 1514 to 1754 (their burial place is in the woods above Pennymore), but when John Clerk died the property reverted to the 3rd Duke of Argyll. This Duke did not spend a lot of time at Inveraray (he helped set up the Royal Bank of Scotland, and his picture is still on their banknotes), but during his time he saw that the new castle was built and the conditions of his estates were improved with new industries. A combination of a plentiful supply of wood on his lands, coupled with a need for refined iron, saw him authorise the building of our Hearth Furnace. Not only did it bring with it a new name, thereafter people on the Glenaray side of the Leacan were recorded as marrying and baptising their children in “Argyle Furnace” or “Craleckan Furnace”, but an influx of Cumbrian and Lancashire family names.

There were also connections with Bonawe, where a similar furnace had been built. It seems likely that specialist masons were brought from the south too, as the furnace walls are extremely well built, and to a strict design. There are almost identical buildings in Cumbria: they were built to last.

Another industry started to support the furnace was charcoal burning, and there are traditions of supplies being brought from as far away as Lochaweside, carried over the drove roads from Killenuair and Braevallich on the backs of ponies. Some was produced closer to home, and the charcoal burners’ platforms may be seen from the Leacainn Walk.

The elements of our village were becoming different from other previously similar villages on Lochfyneside. This was most marked with our nearest neighbour, Minard. The newly named Furnace took on a more cosmopolitan air, it was no longer an insular, purely Gaelic-speaking community largely reliant on the vagaries of the traditional herring fishing.

This first phase of industrialisation was not to last. Because Britain was usually at war with someone during the second half of the 18th century, demand for iron for cannons and cannonballs was high, but this led to improvements in the smelting processes and our furnace was quickly out of date. It didn’t even last until the defeat of Napoleon, and closed in 1813. However, it did leave the village its name, and we can be rightly proud of the contribution made by our old furnace.

furnace postcard 1900

The Powder Mills

The furnace closed in 1813 and was soon replaced by other industries, one of them related to the iron making process. Cannons and cannonballs are no use without gunpowder, and the damp climate of Argyll was ideal for its manufacture. Mills had already been built at Glen Lean in Cowal and Kilmelford in Nether Lorn.

In 1841 it was Dunoon man Robert Sheriff who applied for the licence to build the powder mills on the lands of Goatfield. The mills went through several hands, and by 1879 they  were in the possession of an English company, John Hall & Son.

Once again there was an influx of new families to the village, men with expertise in the industry who had worked at Glen Lean or Kilmelford, and some have gone but many of them stayed.  

The process required water power to drive the mills, and a channel was cut to bring water from the River Leacan near the Brenchoille Bridge. This fed a dam at the top of the site.

The men and their families were accommodated in the little row of cottages that were built for them. Every day, except Sunday, they crossed the road to the watch house, where they were checked for combustibles and changed into clothes with no pockets (where matches & pipes could be concealed).

The ingredients, charcoal, sulphur, and saltpetre, were brought separately to the mixing house, then the mix was carried up the slope to the massive incorporating millhouse. The water passed through the incorporating mills, where the mix was ground into a paste called a millcake. The process then pressed, corned and glazed the cake, in three separate buildings specially allocated for each step. It was then taken to the drying house where a stove was used, before dusting off, putting in kegs, and storing in the magazine.

One would think that some locals expressed disquiet about the dangers of having this dangerous process so close to habitation. The Explosives Act of 1875 contained regulations about the control of manufacture, handling and storage, and our powder mills failed to comply. The inspector’s report was issued on the 24th October 1876, and it was pointed out that the stove was too close to the dusting house, and several other buildings were too close together, and also too close to the main road and some cottages.

The most serious failing was that the main magazine, which could hold 80 tons of gunpowder, was only 100 yards from the new Board School, when the new law stated it should be at least three miles away. It did have a massive and solid stone screen, but it was deemed to be illegal (the magazine is now Mungo Sinclair’s joiners shop: the screen was removed in the 1970s. Of course, Redwell Park was not built when the magazine was in use).

The inevitable happened on the afternoon of Saturday 29th September 1883. The factory had closed at 2.00pm and a shinty match was due to be played in the adjacent field. There were still ten workmen and boys finishing off, but fortunately no one within 80 yards of the stove.

At 3.10pm there was an enormous explosion. The stove and its boiler house were completely demolished (the heap of stones is behind the old telephone exchange). The mill manager, Willie Robinson, had been standing outside his house at Inverleckan, and had crossed the road to speak to his son Robbie. He was hit by a large stone, which took off one of his legs and broke the other: he died shortly afterwards.

There were no other fatalities although several buildings were damaged. Fortunately the shinty match had been delayed, as players and spectators had gone to the aid of the occupants of a cart that had overturned. Six cartloads of stones were later removed from the shinty field.

Colonel Ford, HM Inspector of Prisons, was summoned to investigate the accident, and his report was sent to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The conclusion was that a spark may have set the 40 foot high boiler house chimney on fire, with some burning soot landing on the roof of the stove. A wooden ventilator was kept partly open, and it had been previously noted that it was coated with gunpowder dust. Never was the old adage “an accident waiting to happen” more true.

This was the final straw for the village inhabitants. They petitioned the Secretary of State, on whose desk the report lay. John Hall and Son had no appetite for completely rebuilding the facility to comply with legislation, and so it closed.

The Quarries

In 1841, the same year as the Powder Mills opened, William Sim from Glasgow had permission from the 7th Duke of Argyll to open up a quarry on the lands of Craleckan. The new demand for dressed stone was for paving the streets of the city of Glasgow, and the big appeal of Furnace was due to its proximity to the loch. Easy transportation was by sea, in the days before motorised vehicles. William Sim also opened a quarry at Crarae, in conjunction with the Campbells of Succoth. The Succoth Papers show that they levied a charge on every ton of stone removed from the site, a “nice little earner”.

William Sim also had an interest in the quarry at Bonawe, on Loch Etive, and once again families moved from there to Furnace to find work (as they did when the furnace was in operation). There was also an influx of families from the quarries at Condorrat, near Cumbernauld.

As time passed and the quarries expanded, more families arrived; from the slate quarries at Ballachulish, the granite quarries in Aberdeen, and from England, Ireland and Wales. Some of them were Episcopalians and a new church, St Brendans, was built for them.

The families lived in rows of cottages close to the quarry, “tarry row”, and “red row”, and the quarry manager’s house was right in the quarry itself. There was also a smiddy, and a small wooden office with a weathercock.

The dressed stones were called setts, and sett-making required a lot of good quality stone. William Sim devised a system of large blasting, where a mine was cut deep into the face and packed with gunpowder. Gunpowder was, of course, a locally supplied commodity. It was estimated that 60,000 tons could be brought down by a “monster blast”, but only about 15% was of good enough quality for the making of setts. 

This arrangement lasted at Furnace right up to the 1950s, only the main output then was curling stone blanks, not setts for Glasgow’s streets. Each mason had a small, triangular portable wooden shelter, where he stood chipping away at the stones with hammer and chisel in all weathers. A hand pushed bogey on rails transported the semi-formed stones to the “big quay” where a puffer was usually waiting to take them away. The big steam crane, acquired at the end of the 19th century and operated for a time by old Baldie McInnes, was still there but no longer in use.

The “monster blast” was also employed at Crarae, in one case with a tragic outcome. On Saturday 25th September 1886 the Clyde steamer “Lord of the Isles” was more full than usual for its daily sail to Inveraray. Among the 1,000 people on board were many of Glasgow’s councillors and officials with their families.

It had been arranged that the blast would be set off as the steamer was approaching Crarae pier, and this duly happened. There was great excitement among the passengers, some of whom were due to leave the steamer at this point to inspect the results of the blast and attend a reception laid on by the quarry owners.

It was a dead calm, misty day on Loch Fyne, and after the steamer docked about 200 passengers disembarked and made their way the few hundred yards to the opening to the quarry face, some running in their excitement to see what had happened.

It was recalled later at an enquiry that the visitors noticed a damp, disagreeable smell, and that there was a cloud of brown-coloured smoke at the mouth of the quarry, which was then much narrower than it is today. As the quarry owner and workers were answering questions someone who was in the crowd was seen to collapse in a faint. A shout went up: “run for your lives!” As people turned to flee they were collapsing, even after reaching the road outside. A crowd of local men who had come to see the blast, including Dr Archie Campbell senior, Brenchoille, rushed to give aid.

There were of course no ambulances, nor even local hospital treatment, so when the “Lord of the Isles” made the return trip from Inveraray it was met with a melancholy scene. Five people had already died and many were lying on the pier in a gravely ill condition. After being loaded aboard, another man died on the sail back to Glasgow.

The investigation into the cause of the tragedy found that death was due to asphyxiation for want of oxygen. The “brown cloud” was composed of a mixture of nitrogen, carbonic oxide and hydrogen sulphide. Willie “Bilsey” Laing recalled his father, quarrier Barron Laing, saying the silver watch chains of the victims had a bluish taint due to reaction with the gases. Whether Barron was one of the quarrymen who gave aid or heard this story second hand is not known.

This story is recounted in Alexander Fraser’s book “Lochfyneside – A History of the District in Recent Times”, but is attributed to a later incident at Furnace.

As work at the quarries continued into the 20th century more accommodation was sought to replace the inadequate housing in the vicinity of Furnace Quarry. Bridge Terrace was built in 1905, when one of the local masons was Caluim Clachdar, Malcolm Munro from Auchindrain, whose son was in the 1923 Camanachd Cup-winning shinty team.

The quarries went through several changes of ownership during this period, before and after the First World War. The firm of McCreath, Taylor & Co. Ltd took over at Crarae but Faill & Co still owned Furnace. In 1920 they presented stone for the War Memorial, which was designed by Francis Nicol, later to become quarry manager: the iron work was made by the quarry blacksmiths, led by Alexander Cockburn. The Memorial was unveiled in 1921, and at about this time 180 men were employed at Furnace.

Recreation was also a consideration for the quarrymen. As well as the shinty, in 1931 the quarry manager had constructed a bowling green near the Pennymore end of the site. This had room for three rinks and, while it was reported that “about seventy men used to take advantage of this amenity”, but the mid-1950s it was overgrown and already starting to fall into the sea through erosion.

By the 1950s both Furnace and Crarae quarries were in decline. Furnace still manufactured the curling stone blanks that had replaced the setts, and the puffers still brought coal to the village and took away the stones. In 1962 the Alexandra Transport Company took over, producing road metal, chips and bottoming, which they transported in their fleet of two-tone blue lorries.

By this time the Hopperton family from Ayrshire had done much the same at Crarae, with their Metlox Company and fleet of red and white lorries. By the mid-sixties, both quarries were booming, and competition was fierce. The rail carrying trucks across the road at Crarae was lifted, to be replaced by a large tractor. As the A83 was getting busier, a flag boy was required to allow safe crossing: in 1964 the flag boy was Douglas Smylie, when at the same time the County Council flag boy was Duncan Beaton. Rest assured, there was no “Battle of the Flags”!

In 1966 the Alexandra Transport Company took over Crarae from the Hoppertons, and started to run down the site. Eventually only two men were left to look after Crarae on a care-and-maintenance basis prior to closure: Archie MacInnes and his cousin, Duncan Bell. Today the place is used for fish farming, and the Quarry Point tearoom.

Furnace Quarry was taken over by Tilling Construction Services Ltd, and a contract was won to supply chips and stone to Germany for use on their autobahns. From September 1969 ships began to call at Furnace once more. In 1970 a new pier was constructed, making use of the deeper water at the south “tip” or breakwater. The 3,200 ton Greek registered ship “Nordheide” called in July that same year, to be loaded with 3,000 tons of chips for Germany. The “Squeak” (Argyllshire Advertiser) reported that stone was also to be sent to the Netherlands for use in dyke building and land reclamation.

Unfortunately the optimism reported in the “Squeak” was not to last: the shipments to mainland Europe ceased and ownership of Furnace Quarry continued to change. Although there was continued investment in new plant it led to more automation and reduced opportunities for employment. However, the quarry is still with us today, an enduring industry in our village.   

The Highways

The roads through Furnace followed substantially different routes from the A83 of today. In earliest times, before the Furnace was built, the road swung inland where the fishermen berthed their boats at Sandhole, crossed the top of the field between the Manse and the Doctor’s house, and climbed up the hill to pass the crofts of Upper Goatfield. This seems to be the route as shown on General Roy’s military survey, made in the mid-18th century after the last Jacobite Rebellion. In the 1960s this route could still be walked northwards from Goatfield through the forest, until it disappeared in the woods above the “New Bridge”, near the old Water House. It must have veered right here, to cross the river at the “Roman Bridge”, the remains of which may still be seen from the Leacain Walk.

About the time the Furnace was in operation a lower road passed through Sandhole, following much the same line as today until it reached the settlement at the mouth of the Leacain. As shown on John Thomson & Co of Edinburgh’s map of 1824 it then crossed the river by the old arched bridge that survived until the 1960s, and climbed the hill above where the Bridge Terrace is today. This was known as “The Galloping Brae”, from the sound of carts being driven at speed down to Furnace. The road passed through “Jock Fyne’s Gate” below South Craleckan Farm: who “Jock Fyne” was nobody seemed to know. Maggie MacInnes said he was a travelling man, or “tramp”, who used to live sometimes in a bothy there, and before the forestry destroyed the gate the outline of a small building above the road could be traced. After the road end to South Craleckan was passed the road crossed open moorland (the route of the Leacain Walk) and passed Clach a’ bhatain (the “stone of the foxes”, now known as Clach a’ Mhadaidh) to join the earlier route above the Brenchoille Bridge and travel on to Auchindrain.

This low road between Sandhole and Furnace, with several minor realignments over the years, was followed by the trunk road we now know as the A83. However, instead of crossing the Leacain in the village it followed the west side of the river for one mile before crossing. Between the Powder Mills cottages and this bridge the road twists and turns along the river bank: one bend being known as “the Tinker’s Turn” because a clearing in the trees was a favourite camping spot for the travelling people. Another bend, a regular accident spot up until the mid-sixties when the council erected a barrier to stop cars crashing into the river, was known as “Dead Man’s Corner”. Although there was a fatal accident there in the early 1960s, Maggie MacInnes said its name was due to a much earlier incident that had taken place there. The only major realignment of the trunk road that affected Furnace was the 1930s bypass, a “cut” made through the lands of the old Powder Mills from “Fascagh” to Powdermills Cottages. This was so straight it even cut the corner off one of the Sinclairs’ stone outbuildings, accounting for its strange shape. The turn off into Furnace following the old road was known as “The Cuts”. At the same time the old arched bridge across the Leacain one mile north of Furnace was replaced by the “New Bridge” and it was still called that in the 1950s.

Another road, also long disused, left the old bridge in Furnace village and climbed round the east side of Dun Leacain to the now deserted village of Auchentiobairt (Achadh na tiobairt – “field of the well?” or Achadh na t-iobairt – “field of the offering?”) There is certainly a well on the road below the site; it was cleaned out by Robert Paterson, Goatfield, but when he went back the recut forestry road had destroyed it, and now the water merely trickles from the bank. However, there was also an old chapel here, on the high ground slightly south of the settlement, so it may have been a holy place for centuries. The families who lived here were MacArthurs, MacVicars and MacPhails, and it was finally abandoned just prior to the First World War. By that time the original road between Furnace and Auchentiobairt had been swept away by the quarry workings: a small piece of the retaining wall that carried this road may still be seen on the “island” above the “big quay” and former crusher site.

The last road connecting Furnace with the outside world was constructed as an estate road along the coast, connecting Pennymore, the then (1770s) recent village of Kenmore, and Dalhenna. This was part of the great “improvements” made in the time of the 5th Duke of Argyll, who tried to bring new industries, including flax growing and weaving, to his tenants. Some of these industries were short-lived, but the road is still there, surviving periods when it was a private estate road, and, apparently, for a time, a toll road. It is now used to access the growing community at Pennymore from the south end, and the houses down to Kenmore from the north end, as well as the removal of timber. It is also ideal for hardy Furnace walkers intent on accessing the delights of Inveraray!

Ivar Campbell, who lived in Strachur and was a grandson of the 8th Duke of Argyll, died in 1916 during the First World War. He obviously had a soft spot for this road, and Kenmore, both across the loch from his home, as he wrote this short poem:

“The road that leads to Kenmore
Is overgrown with grass;
And brambles stretch their fingers
Where rich folks used to pass.
The little crofts are falling
The fields are lying bare
And curlews calling, calling
Are the only creatures there.”

From the south end this road also gave access to the quarry and, during the twenty year period from 1867 to 1887, the “Gun Park” used by the 12th Corps of the Argyll Artillery Volunteers. The ruin of the gun house and magazine can still be seen near Pennymore, where the local volunteers met to fire their “Big Gun” down Loch Fyne.

Of course, not all highways are roads, and another means of reaching Furnace in former times was by ferry. There were several ferries across Loch Fyne, but the one accessing Furnace directly was the “Barnacle Ferry” (Creagan na Bairneach) with Balure (Baile Ur – the Newton), a fishing village created by the MacLachlans for their displaced landward tenants in the middle of the 19th century.

The Schools
Furnace school 1958
Before The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 the schooling of our children was at the whim of local landed proprietors and the Established Church of Scotland.  Because Inverleacain, later to become the village of Furnace, was on the boundary of two parishes, and relatively remote from the parish centres of Inveraray and Kilmichael-Glassary, it was down to the proprietors to make any rudimentary provision that was available prior to 1800.

The First Statistical Account for Inveraray & Glenaray Parish, written by the minister in the 1790s, says that there was a school “at the furnace”, and the 1818 estate map for Cumlodden, proprietor Crawford Tait of Harvieston, shows a school being provided for children on the Glassary side of the Leacain.

By the time of the Second Statistical Account in 1845 the Glenaray Parish school was at Craleckan, above the old road and near the big rock known as Clach a’ bhatain. This school was supported by the landowner, Argyll Estates, and the Duke was paying the teacher’s £8 per annum salary. Clach a’ bhatain school, as it was known, was a drystone building: when pointing out the site of this school, beside its old hawthorn tree, in the 1970s Willie Drew recalled knowing some of its last pupils. They were of course old men when he was a boy, but they told him of gathering moss to stop up the holes in the walls and keep out the drafts.

Attendance at these schools was erratic: children were removed to help with the seasonal work on the farms and, when of an age to do fulltime work, their schooldays were over. However, it appears that the school at Cumlodden had a large roll and a good success rate.  

A school at Creggans was operated by Lady Victoria Campbell (1854-1910), a daughter of the 8th Duke of Argyll, who had contracted polio in her youth and never married. It had been opened by her father, and was classed as a Voluntary School, although by the time it opened there was a Board School in Furnace. The presence of Creggans School suited some people in Furnace, especially the outlying parts, who wanted to send their children “occasionally”. Registering at Creggans School meant they evaded the attentions of the Board School Attendance Officer, and were free to work on the seasonal harvests and so on. Andy Gardner recalled leaving Furnace School before Christmas to enrol at Creggans, where Lady Victoria always laid on a party for the children. Alexander Fraser, in his book “The Royal Burgh of Inveraray”, dated one such occurrence to 11th December 1896, but it probably happened every year until Creggans School closed in 1909: the children went back to Furnace Board School after the New Year holiday. One can only imagine what it was like for small children to walk along the shore road from Furnace to Creggans in the dead of winter. Of course, this did not stop in 1909. When Dougie Turner started at Furnace School in 1948 he was one of the small children who walked unaccompanied every day from Kenmore.

Despite the popularity of these schools, after the passing of The Education (Scotland) Act in 1872, the writing was literally on the wall. The new (present) Furnace Public School was opened on the 18th September 1876, and Cumlodden School eventually closed its door on the 22nd November 1878. The new Board Schools like Furnace were paid for by the local ratepayers and some additional government funding, and were governed by elected School Boards. The Boards, in turn, appointed Attendance Officers to ensure those enrolled actually attended: truancy was a serious matter.

The access to free schooling, unencumbered by the needs of a proprietor who could demand tenants and their families to carry out free work on neighbouring farms at short notice, was seized upon. Martin Munro, who was brought up in Auchindrain, recalled his parents insisting he and his siblings attended and stuck in at their lessons. He also recalled his parents, prematurely aged and broken by the unremitting toil of subsistence farming. They did not want their children to live like that: all the children did well, and by the end of the 1930s the Munros had given up the tenancy in Auchindrain that they had held since coming from Killean in 1766.

Furnace Public School, as the primary school was originally known, taught children between the ages of five and fourteen, and in 1893 a wooden partition was constructed so that it could be pulled across to divide the room into a junior and senior section. This arrangement lasted until 1960, where years 1-3 were taught in the “wee end”, and 4-7 in the “big end”. In the early 1960s the school was considerably extended, and after almost seventy years this arrangement was no longer required.

Another major change had taken place in 1932, when pupils aged 12 and over were found places at Lochgilphead Higher Grade School. Some pupils refused to travel, but gradually this became the norm, and still is today.  

The Churches

St Brendans Episcopal Church 1970

We have heard how Furnace, or Inverleacain as it once was, was on the border of two districts and parishes, Glassary and Inveraray & Glenaray. Although there had been ancient chapels at Killevin (Crarae), Auchentiobairt, Killean, and Kilbride, in the 19th century the churches of both parishes were a long walk from our village. As a result, attendance on a Sunday would have been spasmodic at best.

This fact was recognised by the minister and elders of Inveraray’s Gaelic congregation (Glenaray) in the early 1800s. So Lochfyneside Mission was founded, and a missionary appointed. The various missionaries reported over the years that accommodation was deficient: there were more than 800 “souls” in the district and the Cumlodden Schoolhouse, which was used for services, could not accommodate 200! What would a minister give for a congregation approaching 200 today?

This was before the Disruption, so virtually all of these “souls” were in the care of the Established Church of Scotland. In 1840 Sir Archibald Campbell of Succoth, the proprietor, agreed to gift a piece of land near Sandhole for the site of a church. It was built for the fine sum of £548, with Sir Archibald contributing £100, the Duke of Argyll £200, and the rest coming from the Church of Scotland funds. The building was opened on the 10th August 1841.

In May 1853 the principle benefactors named above petitioned for a separate parish to be created: as it would not be a separate administrative parish, it was termed a quoad sacra or ecclesiastical parish, with the name Cumlodden, in the Presbytery of Inveraray. It was to comprise of the lands from the boundary dykes of Auchindrain and Pennymore in the north to the march with Kilmichaelbeg in the south, taking in the inland farms of Feorlin, Stronalbannich, Garvachy, Gallanach, Craigenure, Brenchoille and Braleckan, with the boundary being the River Add.

There were a number of short ministries in the early days, including the reverend John Smith between 1873 and 1878. He was the grandfather of the late Ian Gow, “Tigh Beag”, at Whitebridge.

Cumlodden was linked with Lochfyneside (Minard) Church in 1931. Minard had, of course, experienced the breakaway of the “free” church at the Disruption of 1843, and had built another church there: Furnace only had a “free church mission”. Then, at the turn of the 20th century, the Free Church of Scotland split again, creating a United Free Church who built Lochfyneside Church. In 1927 the UF Church settled its differences with the Establish Church of Scotland, and they reunited.

Another church in Furnace was the Baptist Church, now a dilapidated building between David McCheyne’s coal-ree and “Lilydale”. There was a strong Baptist movement in Lochgilphead and Knapdale, and many families had emigrated to Ontario in 1818 and 1831, led by the reverend Dugald Sinclair. On Sunday 28th December 1884 the reverend John Knox, Lochgilphead, opened the Furnace Baptist Church for worship. It was a very active branch, or “mission station” of Lochgilphead Baptist Church, and it remained in operation right up until the 1960s.

The “Bethel” is a name surviving to this day. Originally the magazine for the Powder Mills, when that enterprise was closed down in 1883 it lay unused for a few years. In 1886 a Faith Mission was founded, and the “Pilgrims” renamed the magazine the “Bethel Hall” and used it for evangelical services. It is not known how many local “Pilgrims” there were, but during the Glasgow Fair holiday the locals were reinforced by visitors from the city. At this time of year open air meetings, with hymn singing accompanied by a portable organ, were held on the village green (now the site of the fish farm). In more recent years the “Bethel” has doubled as Sinclairs’ workshop and, for a short period, the “Cough Inn”, a Sunday morning meeting place of a more secular nature for the “boys” of the village.

The population of Furnace was much more diverse than that of other similar-sized communities on Loch Fyne, mainly due to the different industries we have had here. Although there were Jewish people too, there were not enough to have their own church: all the establishments mentioned here were of the Christian faith.

So, when quarrymen and their families came from Aberdeenshire and Appin, both staunchly Episcopalian areas, they also sought the solace of a place to worship. Fortunately for them, in the 1880s Duchess Amelia had established an Episcopal Church in Inveraray, and Canon Little, the clergyman there, set up a mission at Furnace Quarry. In the years immediately before the First World War the congregation converted this wooden hut to a pretty little stone building, including a fine altar constructed with granite blocks from the quarry. The church, dedicated to St Brendan, was served by the clergymen from Inveraray. Between 1925 and 1928 the rector was a man whose family is still high profile in Argyll today. James Humphrey Copner Macfarlane-Barrow was born in Ringwood, Derbyshire in 1880, and had married Alice, a daughter of Sir Arthur Campbell-Orde of Kilmory, Lochgilphead. He later converted to Roman Catholicism, and died in 1943.

Macfarlane-Barrow was by no means the most notable Episcopalian to be associated with our parish, although Archibald Campbell Tait predated St Brendan’s Church. Archibald was born in Edinburgh on the 21st December 1811, to Crawford Tait, later of Harvieston and Cumlodden, and his wife Susan Campbell of Succoth. He was their ninth and youngest child, and in 1868 became Archbishop of Canterbury!

Archibald’s mother died in 1814, when he was three years old, and it was soon after this time that he, as he recorded in his memoirs, experienced his first deep religious impressions ‘as by a voice from heaven,’ which never left him. His Tait ancestors had originally been Episcopalians from Aberdeenshire, but in the eighteenth century the family had joined the Presbyterian Church.

His time in our parish would, however, have been short. From 1821 to 1826 he was at the Edinburgh High School, and it was during this time that his father’s agricultural experimentation got him into financial difficulties and he had to sell Cumlodden Estate.

While he was at Glasgow University (1827–30), where among his teachers was the famous Professor of Logic, Robert Buchanan (1785–1873), he resolved to enter the ministry of the Church of England. He competed in 1829 for a Snell exhibition to Balliol College at Oxford, and was successful, gaining one of the Balliol scholarships in November 1830.

His father died 2nd May 1832, and young Archibald remained in England, progressing up the ranks of the Anglican clergy. In 1842 he succeeded the famous Thomas Arnold as headmaster of Rugby School, and became dean of Carlisle Cathedral in 1849: in 1856 was made Bishop of London.

He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1868, and died on the 3rd December 1882, in Addington, Surrey.

The Shinty

For the 1908 team the players are: back row, L to R: W McD Fraser, W Carmichael, M (for Mungo) Sinclair, A McArthur, T McArthur, J McLachlan, A McEwen, C Oberbeck: middle row, L to R: D Morrison, E McLaren, E Smith, A Sinclair (captain), A McNicol, J Montgomery: front row (crouching), L to R: D McNiven, D McLachlan, C McLaren.

For the 1908 team the players are: back row, L to R: W McD Fraser, W Carmichael, M (for Mungo) Sinclair, A McArthur, T McArthur, J McLachlan, A McEwen, C Oberbeck: middle row, L to R: D Morrison, E McLaren, E Smith, A Sinclair (captain), A McNicol, J Montgomery: front row (crouching), L to R: D McNiven, D McLachlan, C McLaren.

Furnace was, until the more recent advent (and subsequent demise) of football teams Lochside FC and then Lochfyneside FC, a shinty village. It is interesting to note, however, that the formal rules for both shinty and association football in Scotland were formed almost simultaneously, and that the participants of both sports were often the same people. Both sports had, of course, their origins in much earlier times; shinty in the Highlands and football in the Lowlands.

We know from the records that Alexandria-based Vale of Leven and their neighbours Renton played shinty and football against Lochfyneside teams in the decade 1875-85, while during the same period the Vale lifted the Scottish Football Association Cup three times in succession between 1877-79 (twice beating Rangers in the final) and Renton went on after winning the same cup to beat the English FA cup-winners, giving them the title “World Champions”.  Conversely, Inveraray fielded a football team that got to the 3rd round of the Scottish cup in 1890, before losing to Morton at Cappielow.

Where Queens Park were the trailblazers in Scottish football, it was Glasgow Cowal who led the way in shinty. Formed in 1876, they went four years undefeated. This was largely due to their captain, Alexander Mackellar, an exile from Tighnabruaich who invented the passing game.

This is not a history of shinty, but the long success of Glasgow Cowal is important to our story. In 1888 Archie Campbell, the 17 year-old son of the Furnace doctor of the same name, arrived in Glasgow to start his medical studies at the University. By 1893 he was the captain of the team, and on 3rd April that year Glasgow Cowal travelled to Kingussie to take part in one of the first matches between teams from the north and the south: due to the different codes a set of rules had to be decided beforehand. The final score was 1-0 to Glasgow Cowal, and Archie Campbell scored the goal, but the impact on the game of shinty was profound.

On the 10th October that same year, back in Kingussie, a meeting was held and “The Camanachd Association” was formed. A standard set of rules were drawn up, along with the formal creation of shinty clubs: these were often found where the game was already being played.  In 1898 Furnace, Inveraray and Kyles joined the association. Archie Campbell’s brother John was captain of the Furnace team, which included his brothers Tom and Dan.

The draw for the first Camanachd Association Cup had been held in December 1895 and, apart from a team from London, Glasgow Cowal were the only representatives from the south: they duly got to the final, only to be defeated by Kingussie 2-0 in Inverness.

After they took up association membership Furnace were quick to make their mark, but they could not get the upper hand on Kingussie, who they met in four finals in ten years. In 1901 they met in a replay at Perth, going down 1-0 after a drawn game at Inverness: in 1908 they lost 5-2, again at Inverness: in 1909 they lost 11-3 at Glasgow: and in 1910 they lost 6-1 at Kingussie. The Glasgow defeat was a particularly sore one; the great Kingussie player Dr Johnny Cattanach scored eight of the goals.

The victorious 1923 Furnace team who famously won the Camanachd Cup that year without conceding a single goal.
Back row: W. Carmichael (Sec), W. Munro (Trainer), D. Munro, J. Montgomery, JAS McNab, D. Campbell, D. McNab,
D. Bell (Trainer), D. McQueen (Reserve)
Front row: D. McColl, N. McCallum, M. Munro (Capt.), Dr. Campbell (President), J. McColl M.M.,N. McCallum, A. Sinclair

The First World War decimated that Kingussie team, and for the ten years after the competition resumed in 1920 the south teams dominated. Kyles won the trophy five times, Inveraray three times and, in 1923 Furnace finally got their revenge by defeating Kingussie 2-0 at Inverness to win the cup for their first, and so far only, time. Not only that, but they did it without losing a goal in any round, a feat that cannot be beaten and has only recently been equalled. Fittingly, their president in the cup- winning year was Dr Archie Campbell, Braleckan, the former captain of Glasgow Cowal.  


After another hiatus for the Second World War a combined Furnace-Inveraray team was entered in competitions. They also amalgamated the former clubs’ colours, taking the red from the Furnace red-and-white and the yellow from Inveraray’s yellow-and-black. In the first full year of post-war competition they just failed to win the Camanachd Cup, going down in the 1947 final to Newtonmore at Oban. In the 1950 final they lost to the same opponents, again at Oban. This team contained such stalwarts as Archie Macintyre, Minard, and “Bunty” Crawford & Donnie MacDonald, Furnace.  

A few years later, in the late 1950s Furnace reformed again, playing in their red-and-white hoops. In their first season they won the Glasgow Celtic Society Cup, shinty’s oldest competition, first played for in 1879 (when Glasgow Cowal beat Renton).  Stalwarts of this team were Alec Campbell in goal, his brother Don at full back, Donnie Campbell, Alan Gray, Iain MacDougall, Tommy Peel, and Hughie & Duncan McColl, nephews of two members of the cup-winning team.

Wouldn’t it be grand to have a shinty team again?


1. Good old Harry do not tarry, hasten o’er the brine
    And drop me by the Quarry on the shores of dark Lochfyne.
    From there I shall not wander, nor shall I ever stray
    When I meet with Dr. Campbell and the boys who won the day.

       Chorus:          The grand old game of camanachd our father played of yore
                                How can he claim his father’s name who can’t his fame uphold?
                                With neatness, fleetness, stamina and keenness to the fore
                                The grand old game of camanachd shall live for evermore.

2. In the first round old Oban found that they were on the run
    And after all they saw the ball and that was all they won.
    Ballachulish sons with their great guns were next held in the trap
    The Furnace boys caused a great surprise with an easy going “nap”.

3. The country cheered when Kyles appeared to damp the Furnace roar
    But there inspired the Furnace fired and four times did they score.
    ‘Twas very sad if Kyles were had and with their great success
    The boys went forth up to the North to win at Inverness.

4. Now let us sup we’ve won the cup, we’ve vanquished Newtonmore
    With sterling play they won the day we’ll toast them o’er and o’er.
    They’ve heads with sense in their defence I just record the fact
    In all their ties with many byes they kept their goal intact


The Furnace Shinty Song was composed by the late J. Kaid MacLean, a native of the Island of Skye who wielded his caman to good effect for his native Island. He later became a noted and versatile entertainer in Glasgow Highland circles. A monument was erected to his memory on Loch Lomondside where he died tragically following an accident. He was a great supporter of the game of Camanachd and the Kaid MacLean Cup, for competition between Skye and Wester Ross teams, was instituted in his memory.

Click here to hear the chorus sung by Furnace Resident Alec Campbell  (new window)