Walter Macfarlane & Company

The Glasgow based, Saracen Foundry of Walter MacFarlane and Company was one of the most successful and influential of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and has left a legacy of decorative ironwork which is at least the match of any of its city rivals.

Founded by Walter MacFarlane, the company evolved from an earlier partnership from around 1850 which took over a disused brass foundry in Saracen Lane – the location giving the name to the foundries that followed. Walter himself had been a trainee jeweller, followed by a blacksmithing apprenticeship, which in turn led to his becoming moulding shop manager at a local foundry before setting up in business himself.

The early business focussed on the production of sanitary goods, with the success of the firm built on the more ordinary latrines and urinals than the decorative work for which they are now famed.

In 1872 the foundry relocated to what became known as Possilpark and, as the fortunes of the foundry boomed, so did the population of the area, rising from 10 to 10,000 in just 20 years. Along with the rise in the fortunes of the foundry and the population of the area such large industry also created problems of pollution and Walter was known in some quarters and not too affectionately as “the Laird of Fossiltoun.”

As with many of the Scottish foundries, the company also had a London office and warehouse. Theirs was similar in size to many of the large distribution centres that can now be seen alongside our motorways, but considerably more stylish.

Whilst Walter MacFarlane led the initial success of the company, its worldwide reputation for decorative work can to a large extent be ascribed to his nephew and successor, also known as Walter MacFarlane.

The younger Walter initiated a process of standardising designs for decorative ironwork products such as railings, fountains, bandstands and architectural features, components of which could also be moved amongst different products to create apparently different designs. He also made use of the greatest architects of the day in order to provide distinctive and high quality designs. One architect, James Boucher, was commissioned to design a stunning showcase building for the products at the Possilpark site, including a glass and iron dome and elaborate Gothic gateway.

The above image show a page from a volume of the MacFarlane catalogue featuring different designs of roof terminals. The client could then choose which was to be included in a particular design, for example, on a bandstand.

The above image is an illustration from a MacFarlane brochure which illustrates a building featuring different components, which are identified by their catalogue reference number.

As production of the decorative ironwork boomed, and a quick consideration of their huge 2 volume catalogues will bear testament to the range of items, their products were shipped, not just around Britain but throughout what was then the British Empire and beyond. Some of their most famous products still bear testament to their design skill and production values, such as the huge iron and glass Kibble Palace, (originally designed as a conservatory for an imposing house, became and still is home to Glasgow Botanical Gardens). Many of their fountains and bandstands are still found around the UK, although many fell to the desire for scrap metal during the Second World War.

An illustration of the top section of a magnificent MacFarlane drinking fountain, followed by a photograph from inside a Lost Art restoration of the same style of fountain, demonstrating the complexity and detail of the decorative ironwork.

Not only did WWII see the removal of many Macfarlane products from public areas but indirectly hastened the decline of the company. Required to produce munitions for the war effort, the years of austerity that followed removed much of the need for decorative ironwork. Whilst the company did produce a considerable amount of plumbing piping for the post-war housing boom, there was a steady decline, especially following the introduction of plastic guttering and plumbing and although like the Carron Foundry, they also produced red telephone boxes the foundry was finally closed and demolished in 1967.

The records, literature and patterns of the company appear to have gone with the building and so where restoration is required this can often involve recreating patterns based on catalogue illustrations and other historical documents that have survived, such as those in the Lost Art Archive.

Lost Art Limited have extensive experience of repairing, restoring and recreating Macfarlane designs.

The bandstand at South Marine Park had been completely removed but was recreated from drawings, illustrations and catalogues held in the archive, which enabled us to produce patterns for each of the required components.

The MacFarlane Pattern 224 bandstand was a particularly popular design, installed in parks throughout the country. The following images show an example that was completely recreated and installed in Wandle Park, Croydon by Lost Art, followed by a the same model of bandstand in Victoria Park, St Helens, which was rescued from a semi-derelict state by Lost Art.

As mentioned earlier, it can be seen that, despite being similar in basic design, the bandstand featured in the illustration above, taken from an original catalogue and the following image showing a bandstand based on that design but featuring some different details.

The image shows a MacFarlane bandstand, produced and installed by Lost Art in Wandle Park, Croydon. Also including the image are some of our Cartmel benches and variation on our gameproof fencing.

The Lost Art Archive: Macfarlane Foundry

Our library contains a significant number of items relating to the MacFarlane company. These range from original copies of different volumes of the foundry catalogue and also includes copies of blueprints, working drawings and promotional illustrations, with the latter serving to illustrate proposed colour schemes. This is a useful research tool when trying to recreate bandstands dating from a period before colour photography.

In addition, we now have a large selection of patterns enabling us to cast replica components for Macfarlane products, either to replace missing or damaged parts of an existing structure, or to fully recreate a missing park feature, such as a bandstand or a selection of seating.