In a golden age of manufacturing, Scots-made ironwork was sent all over the world to appear as ornate railings, gates and fountains in towns stretching from Argentina to India, Australia to Sri Lanka.
Eventually the call for traditional decorative ironwork slumped, furnaces died and foundries closed.
Now, however, soaring demand for a West Lothian foundry’s time-served skill has come from an unlikely tropical source, bankrolled by Celtic majority shareholder, Dermot Desmond.
Bo’ness-based Ballantine Castings has secured a major project to supply 180 decorative iron columns for a major luxury marina project in the Caribbean which is being developed by the Irish-born billionaire.
The deal, which will see the handcrafted bespoke columns feature as key architectural elements of dozens of marina buildings on an exclusive island in St Vincent and the Grenadines, is said to be the largest export order of its kind for a generation.
It will see the foundry construct 180 iron columns - each weighing 650kg – which will feature prominently on the façade of at least five key properties within the marina development.
Director Gavin Ballantine said the firm had beaten competition from foundries in China and Italy for the multi-million-pound order, which will see more than 150 tonnes of Bo’ness cast ironwork journey halfway around the world to the sun-kissed Caribbean.
“It’s not the kind of order that happens very often and we are extremely happy, particularly given the economic situation with so many unknown elements,” he added. “These are totally bespoke Corinthian and Doric-style columns which have to be structural and designed for weight loading as well as look good. The marina development has been described as being like the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, a new complex which is costing hundreds of millions of pounds. The columns will feature as a significant element of the front of the buildings.”
The Celtic chief has already invested an estimated £60m in creating the luxurious Glossy Bay Marina on Canouan Island in the Caribbean – regarded as one of the world’s billionaire playgrounds. The 120-berth marina – including 24 berths for superyachts - has been earmarked for a further £30m investment per year over a four-year period.
The billionaire has previously described his vision for the island’s marina as being “as identifiable to the Grenadines as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as the Eiffel Tower, as Buckingham Palace.”
He also ploughed millions into the development of the five-mile square island’s Pink Sands Club, a £100m super-luxury hotel complex where a room costs from £1000 per night.
Securing the Caribbean order is a remarkable achievement for the family-run foundry which can trace its roots to 1820 and the peak of the industrial revolution.
The business was formally established in 1856 as Arthur Ballantine & Sons and traded for almost 160 until the recent financial crisis saw it facing potential collapse.
However, a last-gasp buyout in 2014 saw it reborn as Ballantine Castings, with Mr Ballantine taking over as the sixth generation to run the business.
Since then it has taken on a series of high-profile challenges, including replacing the ironwork on the Palace of Westminster’s roof and Big Ben’s Elizabeth Tower.
The clock tower alone has required around 1000 iron tiles of varying size and shapes to be made from handcrafted moulds at the foundry’s Bo’ness workshop.
The foundry is one of the last remaining of what were originally hundreds of foundries scattered across the central belt.
Ironwork from the Bo’ness site has been used in some of the UK’s most familiar locations, including the spear-head railings at Edinburgh Castle Esplanade and the 15 cast iron replica cannons inside, railings at the National Galleries of Scotland, ironwork at the Ca d’Oro building in Glasgow and decorative canopies which shelter visitors to Buckingham Palace.
More recently the business supplied iron features for the refurbished Albert Bridge in Glasgow and Westminster Bridge in London. Meanwhile, recent international projects have included supplying 260m of railings and ramps for Stockholm’s national museum, 40 ornate cast iron urns sent to France, over a kilometre of railings for Norway and decorative ironwork for Jeddah’s royal palaces.
Work to produce the Caribbean-bound columns began this week and is expected to take several months to complete.
However, while the latest order is exotic, the foundry is also continuing with a number of slightly more routine orders – including scores of Just Eat hire bike docks for Edinburgh, alongside gates and railings for a park in Mayfair.
“Orders can be a bit like buses,” Mr Ballantine added. “It’s good that people are willing to have something made in the UK and that we still have that reputation for quality.”
Source: Sandra Dick, heraldscotland.com