Cast-iron pioneer ‘inspired by Scots craftsmen’

Perth Waterworks is an example of early iron-cladding. Picture: Contributed

Perth Waterworks is an example of early iron-cladding. Picture: Contributed


HE was regarded as a pioneer in his field, producing extraordinary designs which gave rise to the towering streetscapes of New York and other cities across the US.

But new research has revealed that the man credited as the father of cast-iron architecture drew inspiration for his craft from a little-known building in Scotland.

Historic Scotland will tomorrow reveal claims which suggest the world’s architectural iron industry began not in the US, but in Perthshire.

While architect James Bogardus has long been credited as the man who first struck upon the idea of using prefabricated iron structures in the building trade, the government agency believes the idea originated courtesy of an enterprising schoolteacher.

Bogardus achieved international recognition by popularising cast-iron construction, a process which allowed buildings under development to be supported by columns rather than walls and proved a significant development towards the creation of skeleton framing and skyscrapers.

As use of the technique spread, Bogardus even affixed plaques to his buildings, identified himself as the “originator and patentee of iron buildings,” having secured a patent on 7 May 1850.

However, the new discovery, which will be announced in a conference on the story behind Scotland’s architectural iron industry, to be held in Falkirk, suggests that Bogardus may have copied the design of Perth Waterworks, which predates his earliest building by 15 years.

The conference, entitled Architectural Iron Industry in Scotland – A Historical Perspective, will hear how Bogardus was married to a Scot, Margaret McClay, and visited Perth Waterworks during a trip to her homeland.

Dr David Mitchell, director of conservation at Historic Scotland, believes Bogardus “used the philosophy” behind the Scottish building to forge his own career, and said Scotland was once the “world’s leading manufacturer of prefabricated iron structures”.

He explained: “Bogardus is world famous and the Americans have credited with inventing that form of architecture – cast-iron buildings, basically. He did popularise it and New York and other big American cities are full of this type of building.

“It has always been accepted it was his invention, but our research shows that Perth Waterworks not only came some years before, but that he was married to a Scot from Perthshire and had visited Perth while the building was going up.

“Being interested in engineering, the chances of him not having seen the waterworks or met the man who designed it are remote. There is a very good chance he has taken a look and then gone back to America and used the philosophy.”

The waterworks on the outskirts of Perth were designed by Dr Adam Anderson, a rector of Perth Academy in the mid-19th century.

Revolutionary in 1832, the building drew clean water from filter beds at Moncreiffe Island in the Tay and pumped it under the river by a steam-engine into the tank within a rotunda.

While the buildings became redundant when a new city waterworks was opened in 1965, it has since been restored to safeguard its national significance as a key monument to Scottish water engineering.

Dr Mitchell described the 
waterworks as “the first cast-iron building that we have, in that kind of construction”. He added: “Scotland is world-famous for its architectural ironwork but the history of the industry is not particularly well appreciated here, so this is a great opportunity to promote the incredible contribution this country made in this field.

“Scotland was the world’s leading manufacturer of pre-
fabricated iron structures for a considerable time, and objects and structures are still being traced in India, South Africa, South America and Australia.

“We continue to discover pioneering Scots in this field and the design and construction of Perth Waterworks ahead of Bogardus in the United States is testament to that.”

The conference, taking place at Falkirk’s Callendar House, comes ahead of both Metal 2013 – a triennial international conference to be held in Edinburgh in September – and the submission in 2014 of the nomination of the Forth Bridge for World Heritage Site status.




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