The former industrial town of Coatbridge lies in the parish of Old Monkland, North Lanarkshire, approximately nine miles east of Glasgow and three miles west of Airdrie. Originally a small settlement that grew up around a bridge on the Colts estate, Coatbridge or ‘Bridge by the cottages’ rapidly developed into one of Scotland’s largest towns during the years of industrialisation. Perfectly positioned in the industrial heartland, the town was conveniently linked to the rest of the country by a complex and extensive transport network that included the Monkland Canal and the railways. Seven years prior to this survey, the population of Coatbridge was estimated to be 8,564. This was a significant increase from the 741 people who were said to live in the town in 1831.
As suggested by the introduction, the town of Coatbridge largely grew in response to the construction of the Monkland Canal and the development of the coal and iron industries in the local area. With the influx of workers to the area, a rapid programme of expansion in the town was required. Wilson (1857), writing the year before this survey was completed, noted that property in the area, ‘has, in recent times, risen amazingly in value; and the town itself has suddenly swollen from the condition of a village to the character and appearance of a bustling suburb of a commercial city'. Wilson also recorded that all of the churches in the town had recently been built.
Trade and Industry
By the mid-nineteenth century there were around 60 blast furnaces in the vicinity of Coatbridge. With around 80 in the whole of Scotland, it is no exaggeration to say that Coatbridge was the hub of the iron industry. The area around the town was home to some of the largest ironworks in the country, including Gartsherrie, Summerlee and Calder. According to Smith (2001), by 1869, the Gartsherrie ironworks alone employed over 3,000 workers and produced around 100,000 tonnes of pig-iron a year. To achieve this, 1,000 tonnes of coal were used each day, 95% of which was mined from the local area. Located at the very centre of the Monkland coalfields, a large proportion of the population of Coatbridge at the time of survey would have been miners working in the surrounding area. Whilst the area was dominated by the large ironworks and coalfields, there was also a great deal of local and retail trade in the town itself. Many of the shops appear to have offered a wide range of items that would normally have only been found in the large urban centres. Wilson (1857) attributed this ‘to the reckless, spendthrift habits of many of the miners’.
As mentioned previously, the appearance of churches in Coatbridge coincided with the town’s expansion. At the time of survey there was a Free church, a United Presbyterian church, an Episcopal chapel and a Roman Catholic chapel, all of which had been built in recent years. St Patrick’s church and Coats Parish church were both constructed in the decades following the first survey of this area.
At the time of survey, Coatbridge contained offices of the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Union Bank, a savings’ bank and four insurance companies. Also present in the centre of town at this time was a police commission, a gas-light company and a mechanics’ institution. The educational needs of the children of Coatbridge were met by several public schools.
Culture and Society
In many cases there was a strong sense of community in villages or towns that expanded to accommodate an industrial workforce. This was often reflected in the societies and clubs that were formed and in the fairs and other gatherings that were organised each year. In the mid-nineteenth century Coatbridge had more than its fair share of such organisations, including a curling club, bowling club, a horticultural society and several friendly societies. Before the appearance of a public library at the beginning of the twentieth century, the town was served by a small circulating library.