Living and Working For Dalmellington Iron Company
Everyday life for the people who worked for the Dalmellington Iron Company was quite typical of the conditions experienced by workers in similar Victorian work environments. The men all did work relating to the iron process, either in the ironworks or the associated mines, while the women stayed at home and concentrated on the household chores. Unmarried women had the opportunity to go to work as domestic servants in one of the large houses or on a farm.
The working day was from 7 am until 4 pm, with only a 15 minute break throughout the working day. A 6 day week was worked. There was no compensation pay for injuries at work until the 1897 Workmens Compensation Act. Holidays were unknown, and when they were finally granted they were without pay. The average earnings varied depending on the job done, although they were poorly paid considering the heavy work involved. Prior to the strike in 1920 wages were just under £4 a week, which was below the national average of around £5 paid at other similar workplaces.
The Education act of 1872 ensured that children between the ages of 5 and 13 had to attend school. The iron company did build several schools to serve the children of the ironworkers. After this age the children would be sent out to work, some in the iron works and some down the mines. Prior to the 1872 act children as young as 6 years old were employed. As large families were common the more money being brought into a household the better.
Life for women was also very harsh by today’s standard. All cooking was done over the open fire. Washday consisted of scrubbing dirty clothes using a scrubbing board in a tin bath, with a mangle used to wring out the excess water. A heavy iron was heated in the fire and used to iron the clothes. Electricity was introduced to the area in 1921, but was initially only used for lighting.
The healthy diet plan consisted of food that was filling and cheap at the same time. Soup was the mainstay of all meals, made with a piece of boiling beef on the bone. Every house had a vegetable garden, with potatoes being served at nearly every meal. The company-owned store supplemented the other food needs of the household.
As well as work the iron company also made provision for leisure time. In 1904 the Institute was built. Membership was restricted to men only and the minimum age to join was 14. Newspapers, books and periodicals were available for reading here, as well as games such as carpet bowls and dominoes. 4d (about 2 pence) was deducted from the men’s wages for upkeep of the institute.
The hub of the community was the church. For the children Sunday School picnics and outings were organised by the church. Other forms of entertainment for adults included dances and plays, for which months of preparation took place before a public performance and this was a very important part of village life.
Today various activities take place at was is now a heritage center. Some of the numerous activities apart from tourism and education at the site includes:
Film & Television
Most recently Dunaskin Open Air Museum has been used as a film location. The magnificent collection of Victorian industrial and social architecture provide the ultimate backdrop for industrial drama, documentaries or romance.
The museum was used as a location for the film ‘Bent’ in which Dunaskin was transformed into a prison camp in Berlin in the 1930’s. The film starred Clive Owen, Sir Ian McKellan and Mick Jagger.
Television work has included a Channel 4 documentary on the life of Andrew Carnegie, with actor James Cosmo, famous for his roles in the film ‘Braveheart’ and various television programmes such as ‘Soldier Soldier’ and ‘Roughnecks’. Comedian Fred Macaulay also spent a day at Dunaskin filming scenes for his BBC1 series ‘Life According to Fred’.
Above-Fred MacAulay and Mr Gavin during filming of ‘Life According to Fred’
The museum hopes to be featured in many films in the years to come and can offer a truly perfect film location adaptable to any era, and can offer a wealth of photo opportunities ranging from a short photo session to a full location facility.
As well as the museum buildings and collections there is also an ongoing programme of archaeological work. This page shall give updates of the work in progress of these excavations and surveys. Please check back regularly to keep track of the latest discoveries!
The Furnace Bank Area
An evaluation was carried out to determine the extent and state of preservation of any remains of the blast furnaces that used to operate at Dunaskin. A total of 5 trenches were dug into the furnace bank area. Of these trench three proved to be the most interesting, as it contained the remains of one of the furnaces! A large structure built from sandstone blocks and measuring approximately 3 metres by 3 metres, this proved to be part of the base section of one of the furnaces.
The Furnace Base
The blocks were held together with a cement made from lime and had a layer of bricks lined along one side. These bricks, known as refractory bricks, were specially made to withstand heat, meaning they must have been located on the interior of the furnace.
Finds from the excavation included a piece of pig iron, measuring 42cm x 19cm x 9cm. This was found in trench 2 at a depth of 2.40 metres.
A full excavation report is held in the museum archive and also at the Strathclyde Region Sites and Monuments Record in Glasgow.
Blast Engine House Test Pit
A test pit was dug at the side of the Blast Engine House to determine the depth of the foundations and the nature of the sub surface strata. During the excavation a large metal plate was exposed. On removing this a cellar was discovered.
There were two pipes leading into the Engine House and a tunnel leading away in the direction of the River Doon. It seems likely that the cellar is part of a drainage mechanism to take water out of the Engine House to ensure it did not interfere with the machinery.
A full excavation report is held in the Museum Archive and also at the Strathclyde Region Sites and Monuments Record in Glasgow.