The Industrial Age

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. Evidence of which can still be seen on the shores of the loch.

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cannons and cannonballs was high, but this led to improvements in the smelting processes and our furnace was quickly out of date.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.