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Scottish Towns-Cities / Writings · 19 June 2022

Scottish Towns-Cities. Coatbridge.

Coatbridge (Scots: Cotbrig or Coatbrig, Scottish Gaelic: Drochaid a’ Chòta) is a town in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, about 8.5 miles (13.5 km) east of Glasgow city centre, set in the central Lowlands. While the earliest known settlement of the area dates back to the Stone Age era, the founding of the town can be traced to the 12th century, when a Royal Charter was granted to the monks of Newbattle Abbey by King Malcolm IV. Along with neighbouring town Airdrie, Coatbridge forms the area known as the Monklands (population approximately 90,000 including outlying settlements), often considered to be part of the Greater Glasgow urban area – although officially they have not been included in population figures since 2016 due to small gaps between the Monklands and Glasgow built-up areas.

In the last years of the 18th century, the area developed from a loose collection of hamlets into the town of Coatbridge. The town’s development and growth have been intimately connected with the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution, and in particular with the hot blast process. Coatbridge was a major Scottish centre for iron works and coal mining during the 19th century and was then described as ‘the industrial heartland of Scotland’ and the ‘Iron Burgh’.

Coatbridge also had a notorious reputation for air pollution and the worst excesses of industry. However, by the 1920s, coal seams were exhausted and the iron industry in Coatbridge was in rapid decline. After the Great Depression, the Gartsherrie ironwork was the last remaining iron works in the town. One publication has commented that in modern-day Coatbridge ‘coal, iron and steel have all been consigned to the heritage scrap heap’.


Main article: History of Coatbridge

Coatbridge owes its name to a bridge that carried the old Edinburgh-Glasgow road over the Gartsherrie Burn, at what is now Coatbridge Cross. This first appears on Roy’s survey of 1755 as Cottbrig, one of a number of places on the wider Coats estate. The name Coats most likely comes from the Scots word cot(t), meaning “cottage”,although an alternative theory links it to the name of the Colt family, who owned land here as early as the 13th century.

Early history: from Bronze Age to Middle Ages.

Settlement of the Coatbridge area dates back 3000 years to the Mesolithic Age. A circle of Bronze Age stone coffins was found on the Drumpellier estate in 1852. A number of other Bronze Age urns and relics have been found in Coatbridge. An Iron Age wood and thatch crannog dwelling was sited in the loch at the present day Drumpellier Country Park. Dependent upon the water level in the loch, the remains can still be seen.

Roman coins have been unearthed in Coatbridge, and there are the remains of a Roman road on the fringes of the town near the M8 motorway.

Middle Ages to late 18th century

Pont’s “Nether Warde of Clyds-dail” map c. 1654 which depicts the hamlets of Kirkwood, Dunpelder, Wheatflet, Dunbath, Gartshary in the modern day Coatbridge area

Map of the Coatbridge area dated 1858


The Monklands area inherited its name after the area was granted to the Cistercian monks of Newbattle Abbey by King Malcolm IV in 1162. In 1323, the Monklands name appeared for the first time on Stewards’ charter. The Monks mined coal and farmed the land until the time of the reformation when the land was taken from them and given to private landowners. In 1641, the parish of Monklands was divided between New Monkland (present day Airdrie) and Old Monkland (present day Coatbridge). In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army seized Coatbridge from government troops on their march to Edinburgh in an action described as the “Canter of Coatbridge”. Coatbridge was described in the 1799 Statistical Account as an “immense garden” with “extensive orchards” and “luxurious crops”, where “rivers abound with salmon”.

19th century

The Monkland Canal was constructed at the end of the 18th century initially to transport coal to Glasgow from the rich local deposits. The invention of the hot blast furnace process in 1828 meant that Coatbridge’s ironstone deposits could be exploited to the maximum by the canal link and hot blast process. The new advances meant that iron could be produced with two-thirds less fuel. Summerlee Iron Works was one of the first iron works to use this technology. By the mid 19th century there were numerous hot blast furnaces in operation in Coatbridge.

The prosperous industry which had sprung up around the new iron industry required vast numbers of largely unskilled workers to mine ironstone and work in the blast furnace plants. Coatbridge therefore became a popular destination for vast numbers of Irish (especially from County Donegal in Ulster) arriving in Scotland. The iron bars and plates produced in Coatbridge iron works were the raw materials needed throughout the British Empire for railways, construction, bridge building and shipbuilding. One example of uses Coatbridge iron was put to included armour plating for British ships fighting in the Crimean War.

Over the course of the following forty years, the population of Coatbridge grew by 600%. The character of the Coatbridge area changed from a rural, Presbyterian landscape of small hamlets and farmhouses into a crowded, polluted, Irish Catholic industrial town. In 1840, Rev William Park wrote that:

‘The population of this parish is at present advancing at an amazing rate, and this propensity is entirely owing to the local coal and iron trade, stimulated by the discovery of the black band of ironstone and the method of fusing iron by hot blast. New villages are springing up almost every month, and it is impossible to keep place with the march of prosperity and the increase of the population.’

One contemporary observer at this time noted that Coatbridge is “not famous for its sylvan beauties of its charming scenery” and “offers the visitor no inducements to loiter long”. However, “a visit to the large Gartsherrie works is one of the sights of a lifetime”.

Most of the town’s population lived in tight rows of terraced houses built under the shadow of the iron works. These homes were often owned by their employers. Living conditions for most were appalling and tuberculosis was rife.

For a fortunate few though, fortunes could be won “with a rapidity only equalled by the princely gains of some of the adventurers who accompanied Pizarro to Peru”, noted one observer. Among the most notable success stories were the six sons of Coatbridge farmer Alexander Baird. The Baird family had become involved in coal mining but opened an iron foundry in order to exploit the new hot blast process of iron smelting invented by James Beaumont Neilson. The Bairds subsequently constructed numerous iron foundries in Coatbridge including the famous Gartsherrie iron works. The waste heap or ‘bing’ from the Baird’s Gartsherrie works was said to be as large as the great pyramid in Egypt. One son, James Baird, was responsible for erecting 16 blast-furnaces in Coatbridge between 1830 and 1842. Each of the six sons of Alexander Baird was reputed to have become a millionaire.

The town was vividly described by Robert Baird in 1845:

“There is no worse place out of hell than that neighbourhood. At night the groups of blast furnaces on all sides might be imagined to be blazing volcanoes at most of which smelting is continued on Sundays and weekdays, day and night, without intermission. From the town comes a continual row of heavy machinery: this and the pounding of many steam hammers seemed to make even the very ground vibrate under ones feet. Fire, smoke and soot with the roar and rattle of machinery are its leading characteristics; the flames of its furnaces cast on the midnight sky a glow as if of some vast conflagration. Dense clouds of black smoke roll over it incessantly and impart to all buildings a peculiarly dingy aspect. A coat of black dust overlies everything.”

Summerlee blast furnaces at the start of the 20th century Coatbridge. The present day Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life is sited here.

In the 19th century, the Baird family wielded a pervasive influence over Coatbridge. They were responsible for the design of the lay out of present-day Coatbridge town centre. The land for the Town Hall and the land which later came to form Dunbeth Park was given to the town by the Bairds. Gartsherrie church was built by the Baird family, the oldest and most significant landmark in the town. Despite being Protestant, the Bairds donated the site on the Main Street for the erection of St Patrick’s Catholic Church.

The Whitelaw Fountain in Coatbridge during the 1930s.

Daniel (Dane) Sinclair, an engineer with the National Telephone Company, based in Glasgow, patented the automatic telephone switchboard. This system was installed in Coatbridge in 1886 and became the world’s first automatic telephone exchange.

20th/21st centuries

By 1885, the once plentiful Monklands ironstone deposits had been largely exhausted.[28] It became increasingly expensive to produce iron in Coatbridge as raw materials had to be imported from as far afield as Spain. The growth of the steel industry (in nearby Motherwell) had also led to a start of a decline in demand for the pig iron Coatbridge produced. Living conditions remained grim. In the 1920s, Lloyd George’s “Coal and Power” report described the living conditions in the Rosehall area of Coatbridge:

“…on the outskirts of Coatbridge, I found nearly the worst of all. In each of these single rooms lives a miner’s family. There is no pantry. The coal is kept under the bed. Water has to be obtained from a standpipe outside, used by a number of houses. Conspicuously huddled together in the yards are filthy huts for sanitary purposes.”

George Orwell’s book The Road to Wigan Pier was illustrated by a photograph of homes in the Rosehall area of Coatbridge.[32] In 1934, there was an exodus to Corby in England when the local Union Plant relocated. This had the effect of a hammer blow impact on the town’s iron industry and ushered in the end of serious iron production. The decline of the Clydeside shipbuilding industry in the 1950s meant the demand for iron finally collapsed.[33] A legacy of ‘devastating’[34] unemployment, appalling housing conditions and some of the worst overcrowding in Scotland left its stamp on the Coatbridge of the early 1930s.[35] As late as 1936, Coatbridge was the most overcrowded place in Scotland.

In the 1930s and 1950s, however, massive state-sponsored programmes saw thousands of new homes built in Coatbridge and some of the worst examples of slum housing were cleared away. By the early 1980s, 85% of homes in Coatbridge were part of local authority housing stock.[36]

The last of the blast furnaces, William Baird’s famous Gartsherrie works, closed in 1967.[28]

Since the 1970s, there have been various initiatives to attempt to regenerate Coatbridge. Urban Aid grants, European Union grants and, more recently, Social Inclusion Partnerships have attempted to breathe new life into Coatbridge. Despite these efforts the town’s population has continued to fall and, in recent years, the town has been dubbed the “most dismal in Scotland”.[37]


At 55°51′44″N 4°1′46″W (55.861°, -4.047°), Coatbridge is situated in Scotland’s Central Lowlands. The town lies 88 metres (288 ft) above sea level, 9 miles (14.5 km) east of Glasgow, 6 miles (10 km) south of Cumbernauld and 2 miles (3 km) west of Airdrie. Although Coatbridge has no major river running through it, the North Calder Water runs east–west to the south and the now defunct Monkland Canal used to run straight through the centre of the town toward Glasgow. The canal route through Coatbridge can still be seen today. Several smaller burns run through Coatbridge, most of which drain into the North Calder Water. Coatbridge has four significant public parks: Dunbeth Park, West End Park, Whifflet park and Drumpellier Country Park. Lochend Loch (locally known as Drumpellier Loch) and Woodend Loch are situated on the north-west edge of Coatbridge.


The topography of Coatbridge was an important feature in the town’s development during the industrial revolution. Coatbridge rests 60 metres below the “Slamannan plateau” and neighbouring Airdrie sits on its edge. The low-lying flat ground of Coatbridge was a vital factor in the siting of the town’s blast furnaces and the Monkland Canal route. Although Airdrie was an already established town and had local supplies of ironstone, the Monkland Canal link did not extend into Airdrie because of its higher elevation.[38] The Clyde Valley plan of 1949 described Coatbridge as ‘situated over a flooded coalfield’.[39] Tenement buildings in Coatbridge were not built to the same level as Glasgow tenements due to danger of local subsidence from centuries of local mining.[40]


Dunbeth Hill where the present local authority municipal buildings stand is a wedge of rock which was probably squeezed upwards by the force of two (now-extinct) fault lines. There are the remains of spreads of glacial sands along the crest of Drumpellier, the west bank of Gartsherrie Burn and along modern day Bank Street. Kirkwood, Kirkshaws and Shawhead sit on a sandstone capped ridge looking south over the Clyde Valley. The vital Coatbridge black band coal field extended from Langloan to beyond the eastern edge of the town.[23]

View of Coatbridge from the east. Landmarks from left to right are: Gartsherrie Academy, Gartsherrie Church, Coatbridge Library, Canal Bridge, High Coats & Dunbeth Court flats. Whitelaw Fountain can just be glimpsed under the Canal Bridge. It was noted in the early 20th century that “The cross at Coatbridge ranks among the most unique…one may pass through it in any form of locomotion. One can not only walk, ride or drive past it, but may train over it or sail under it by means of the canal.”



Like much of the British Isles, Coatbridge experiences a temperate maritime climate with relatively cool summers and mild winters. The prevailing wind is from the west. Regular but generally light precipitation occurs throughout the year.


Coatbridge is the home of one of Scotland’s most visited museums, Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, which contains an insight into the lives of working people in the West of Scotland. A miners’ row of 1900s–1980s houses, a working tramway and a reconstruction coal mine can all be experienced on site. The museum is situated on the remains of one of Coatbridge’s historic blast furnaces, now a Scheduled Monument.

Literature, theatre and film

Janet Hamilton, the nineteenth century poet and essayist, died in Langloan in 1873. Present-day writers Anne Donovan (Orange prize winner), Brian Conaghan (the author of three novels ‘The Boy Who Made it Rain’ (2011) ‘When Mr Dog Bites’ (2014) and ‘The Bombs That Brought Us Together’ (2016)) and award-winning author Des Dillon[42] are all from Coatbridge. Coatbridge has regularly featured in Des Dillon’s work. Two of his books about Coatbridge have been turned into plays.[43]

Mark Millar is a Coatbridge comic book writer whose Wanted comic book series has been translated into a feature film starring Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, as well as the highly successful graphic novel Kickass which was adapted into the successful film of the same name in 2010. Coatbridge-born Dame Laurentia McLachlan was the Benedictine abbess of the Stanbrook Community whose correspondence with George Bernard Shaw and Sydney Cockerell was the subject of the film The Best of Friends.[44]

Coatbridge is also home to the annual Deep Fried Film Festival. Local filmmakers Duncan and Wilma Finnigan have been described by The List as ‘the John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands of Coatbridge’.[45]


Thomas McAleese (alias Dean Ford) was the lead singer of The Marmalade who had a UK number one single in 1969 with a cover of The Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and co-wrote “Reflections of My Life”, Marmalade’s biggest worldwide success. Coatbridge brothers Greg Kane and Pat Kane are the band Hue and Cry. Coatbridge born Alan Frew is the ex-pat lead singer of Canadian group Glass Tiger. Cha Burns (deceased), Jimme O’Neill and JJ Gilmour of The Silencers are from Coatbridge. Coatbridge sisters Fran and Anna were a famous duo on the Scottish traditional music scene. Cousins Ted and Hugh McKenna, of Tear Gas and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and Hugh’s sister, Mae McKenna, a folk singer and renowned session singer, came from the Kirkshaws area of Coatbridge.

Coatbridge and Ireland

See also: Coatbridge Irish

St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Coatbridge, 2009


Coatbridge is especially noted for its historical links with Ireland. This is largely due to large scale immigration into the town from Ulster (especially from County Donegal) in the 19th century and throughout most of the 20th century. Indeed, the town has been called “little Ireland”.[46][47][48]

The most obvious manifestation of these links can be seen in the annual St Patrick’s Day Festival. The festival is sponsored by the Irish Government and Guinness. The festival runs for over a fortnight and includes lectures, film shows, dance/Gaelic football competitions and music performances. The festival is the largest Irish celebration in Scotland.[49][50][51]

Coatbridge accent.

The Coatbridge accent has been categorised as making less use of the Scots tongue and exhibiting a tendency to stress the “a” vowel differently from general Scots usage. Examples of this are seen in the pronunciation of the words stair (“sterr”), hair (“herr”), fair (“ferr”) and chair (“cherr”). This different enunciation has been attributed to the impact of successive influxes of Ulster Catholic immigrants into Coatbridge.[52][53] However, the distinctiveness of the Coatbridge accent and pronunciation has diminished as the various surrounding populations (especially Glasgow) have mingled with that of Coatbridge.


Cliftonhill, home of Albion Rovers

Coatbridge’s local football team is Albion Rovers. Albion Rovers play in Scottish League Two, and Cliftonhill is where they play their home games. The “Wee Rovers” were founded in 1882 when two local Coatbridge clubs, Rovers and Albion, amalgamated to form the club bearing the name.

Coatbridge CC a local amateur club founded in 1976 became Scottish Champions in 1986 and again in 1988.

Drumpellier Cricket Club has been in continuous existence for over 150 years and the club has a ground in the Drumpellier area.

Greyhound and speedway racing also took part in the town, using the Albion Rovers FC ground. Greyhound Racing began on 11 December 1931 and lasted until 1986. The Edinburgh Monarchs rode there in 1968–69 (as the Coatbridge Monarchs) after losing their track at Meadowbank Stadium to the developers for the 1970 Commonwealth Games. Glasgow Tigers moved from Hampden Park to Coatbridge in 1973, and stayed there until June 1977, when they were forced out by the greyhound racing.

The Coatbridge Indoor bowling club hosted the World Indoor Bowls Championships from 1979 until 1987.

Coatbridge was the home of former boxer Bert Gilroy, Scotland’s longest-reigning champion. Coatbridge is also home to the former WBO Super-featherweight, lightweight and light-welterweight world champion Ricky Burns. Walter Donaldson, former World Snooker champion, also hailed from Coatbridge.

There are two golf courses: the municipal course bordering Drumpellier Country Park and the nearby private member’s club Drumpellier Golf Course. Clare Queen, Scotland’s number one female golfer on the women’s European tour, is from Coatbridge.

Coat of arms

The coat of arms of Coatbridge


Coatbridge was given burgh status in 1885, and was granted a coat of arms by the Lord Lyon in 1892. The arms have a black field and on it a flaming tower to represent a blast furnace and Coatbridge’s industrial tradition. The crest is a monk holding a stone in his left hand. The stone relates to the old parish of Monklands and the legend of the “aul’ kirk stane”. The legend of the “aul’ kirk stane” is that a pilgrim undertaking a penance from Glasgow carried a stone in the direction of Monklands. When he could carry the stone no further (or in another version of the legend, when an angel spoke to him) he laid the stone down. It was where the stone came to rest that he was to build a church. The church is the present-day Old Monkland Kirk, at which the alleged stone can still be seen.

The Latin motto Laborare est orare translates as “to work is to pray”, which originated in the writings of St Benedict and is commonly associated with the Cistercian Order, whose monks came to Monklands in the 12th century.

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