Kilchattan Bay Tile Works were built in the mid 1940’s. They were built on the initiative of a former Marquess of Bute and in addition to making bricks and tiles also served as the Estate Sawmill. The original tenant had the imposing designation of “Master of the Tile-work” but in spite of this impressive title he and his successors were not successful and by 1855 the tile works were idle.

In 1866 Mr Gill took over the tile works. Within a few years, he had introduced his own patented design of power-driven tile machine, built a second kiln, extended the drying capacity of the works and built a steam-heated- brick-drying stove. The reason for this activity was the introduction of government-assisted draining and hundreds of thousands of acres of land were tile  drained and brought to a high level of productivity. The Marquess of Bute took full advantage of the government grants and for some thirty years a minimum of 256,000 tiles per annum were buried in Bute. The annual production of the works was about 1,250,000 tiles and half a million bricks, the bulk of which had to be exported. The quality of Kilchattan tiles was famous, enabling an extensive trade to be built up throughout the Western Highlands and Islands and in Northern Ireland. All this trade took place through the port of  Kilchattan Bay. The bricks produced, were of poor quality, the porosity that made such a good tile, made a rather indifferent brick.

Kilchattan was quite a port at this time. Mr Gill had his own boat, a 70 ton jigger, the "Christina and Janet", and in addition there were the locally owned smacks "Duchess," a product of the Ardmaleish Yard and the "Cottage Girl "and one or two smaller vessels of 25/80 tons. These boats were engaged primarily in the tile trade, carrying dross from Ardrossan for burning in the kilns, and transporting tiles throughout the West of Scotland.

The nerve centre of the works was the engine house and milling plant. Attached to this was another building that housed the smithy, workshop and stores. The prime mover was a very ancient  steam engine supplied with steam from a 25' x 3' egg-ended boiler. In addition to providing steam for the engine, the boiler also supplied the steam for the brick-drying stove. The old engine had come from a pithead in Ayrshire back in the 1840's and provided the power until the works closed. Another building housed the clay cutters, rollers and the pulleys which  operated the tile machines. Radiating from the Mill Building were the two large drying sheds, each some 120 feet long, which had a drying capacity of some 50,000 of 3" tiles and in their day were the biggest in Scotland. The kilns were massive affairs with a capacity of about 60 tons of tiles. The kiln was fired through 26 fire holes, 13 on each side of the kiln, and it took some 30 tons of dross to fire one kiln.

In its heyday the tile works employed some 20 men and in addition provided work for the locally owned smacks and half a dozen carting contractors, who were engaged in carting dross from  Kilchattan Pier and tiles back.

In the early days of this century there were no telephones, but there was a telegraphic service from Kilchattan Bay Post Office. The shipping side of the business made regular use of this facility. Telegrams were written on a tile and given to a carter to hand in at the Post Office.

After the turn of the century it became more and more difficult to find a market for the output. In addition the original clay bed had become exhausted and although a new pit was dug in 1908, the clay was 18 feet below ground level and difficult to extract. As a result the last kiln was burnt in 1915. The drying shed did find an alternative use, and for some years dried shells taken from the shore for use as poultry shell and grit.

Adapted from an article by Mr T Gilmour (grandson of the Tile Works Manager) published in December 1949

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