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Furnace, Lochfyne Powder Works

Cottage(S) (Period Unassigned), Gunpowder Works (19th Century)

Site Name Furnace, Lochfyne Powder Works

Classification Cottage(S) (Period Unassigned), Gunpowder Works (19th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Loch Fyne Powder Mills; Sparrow Castle

Canmore ID 23403

Site Number NN00SW 14

NGR NN 02309 00420

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Inveraray
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NN00SW 14 02309 00420

Site of ironworks in 1751, and later a Powder Factory; the waterwheel and some buildings are still traceable.

M Campbell and M Sandeman 1964.

Site was examined prior to the refurbishment and upgrading of the Scottish Hydro-Electric Port Ann to Lochgair power line.

NN 0225 0030 At Furnace is the site of a gun powder works. The proposed route of the power line across this site ensured the structures were unaffected by the refurbishment works.

Sponsor: Scottish Hydro-Electric plc.

L H Johnstone 1999.

This works was established in 1841 by Robert Sheriff, who also owned the powder works at Glen Lean (Clachaig). It was ideally suited to take advantage of plentiful local supplies of charcoal released after the closure of the neighbouring iron furnace. However, the site was dangerously close to existing development, and therefore fell foul of the Explosives Act of 1875 when it was observed that several components of the works were both too close to each other, and too close to the village. These regulations were waived as the site pre-dated the Act. The Lochfyne Powder Works Company (Limited) was subsequently taken over in the late 1870s by John Hall and Son of Faversham, Kent. In 1883 a serious explosion confirmed the doubts raised previously. The blast not only caused several injuries and much damage in the village, but also killed the manager who was standing in the garden of his house at the time. The works were never re-opened and all machinery was stripped out and taken to Faversham.

A Fraser (1971).

There was a large 'detached' waterwheel to the to the S end of the range whuih was connected to the mills by a long line-shaft.

Information from (the late) Dr Edward Patterson, East Kilbride, 1995.


Field Visit (28 July 1986 - 1996)

Geoffrey Stell and Miles K Oglethorpe

Field Visit (May 1989)

The remains of this gunpowder-works are situated on the W bank of the Leacann Water, 0.5km from the NW shore of Loch Fyne and 400m NW of the old iron-furnace (No. 239). The works stand immediately W of the A83 trunk road, which was re-routed across the S part of the site some time after 1899, and the former manager's house (Inverleckan) and the magazine, which was set in a screen of woodland, are now surrounded by the houses of Furnace village.

The powderworks exploited the same local charcoal-industry as the furnace, although birch- and alder-charcoal were preferred, and they were established by Robert Sheriff and Son, proprietors of the Clachaig works (No. 231), who obtained a licence in 1841. In a report of 1876 it was noted that the works did not conform to the Explosives Act of the previous year, several of the process-buildings being too close to each other and the main magazine being situated close to Furnace village. However they were allowed to remain, and in or soon after 1877 they were acquired by John Hall and Son of Faversham. Following a disastrous explosion in 1883, which originated in the stove-house and boiler-house and in which the manager was killed, the works were abandoned (1).

The mills were water-powered, steam being used only in the drying-process, and in 1842 Robert Sheriff obtained permission from the Argyll estate to make a new dam at Loch Leacann (cf. No. 239) and deepen the Leacann Water (2*). A lade taken from the river 1.1km N of the works feeds a millpond on the terrace immediately N of them, from which further lades, up to 1.8m wide, led SE and SW to the various mills. The site was roughly triangular, extending originally about 400m from NW to SE by about 200m at the NW end. It was extensively wooded for safety reasons, except for an open central area, but most of this woodland has been cleared except at the N end of the site, although many of the remaining buildings are heavily overgrown.

Comparison of the OS maps of 1866 and 1899 shows that many buildings were added after the former date, and very probably in the late 1870s when Halls acquired the works (3*). In 1866 the principal buildings were a T-plan range near the E boundary, of which only fragments survive; two other structures near the W boundary, of which one was the glazing-house and the other is represented by a mound of debris and may have been the original seat of the explosion of 1883; and two rubble-built magazines, one having a brick barrel-vault, at the centre of the site. The much-altered manager's house (lnverleckan), at the S end of the site, and Powdermills Cottages, a row of three brick-built and slated workers' dwellings immediately E of the road, also existed in 1866.

The most impressive of the post-1866 buildings is the range of six incorporating-mills at the N end of the site, 25m E of the mill-pond, which measures 37.5m by 6.7m over 1m rubble walls, but is open on the W to reduce blast-damage. The water evidently operated a power-source at the N end of the range, from which drive-shafts ran below the mills in a brick-vaulted tunnel which was also used as a tail-race. Subsidiary channels from the SW lade served a three-walled mixing-mill, a new coming-house on the NW side of the open area, and the glazing-house mentioned above. Other ruinous buildings at the E side of the site included a cooperage and sawmill, while an office and a watch-house at the entrance survive in much-altered form as dwellings. The powder was exported by sea, and was stored awaiting shipment in a 'factory magazine' built after 1866 at the SE angle of the site, 35m NW of the bridge over the Leacann and only 80m N of the school. The much-altered remains of the rubble-built magazine, which was certificated for 80 tons of powder, 4 survive, but a massive baffle wall at the S end, 1.8m thick and 3m high, was demolished in 1986.

RCAHMS 1992, visited May 1989

Publication Account (1990)

These works, founded in 1841 and abandoned after a disastrous explosion in 1883, probably used some of the former furnace sheds. A massive screen wall which isolated a magazine stands in the village, and remains of the processing mills are in a field W of the main road. A row of brick-built workers' dwellings are still occupied.

Information from ‘RCAHMS Excursion guide 1990: Commissioners' field excursion, Argyll, 7-9 May 1990’.


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