Seaforth House – What’s in a name?

 Seaforth House and Furnace Row

In the photo below from ‘Old New Cumnock’ by Donald McIver [1] the row of cottages on the left is the Furnace Row while on the other side of the Furnace Road sits Seaforth House. The row and road take their name from the furnaces of the nearby ironworks. But what are the origins of the name Seaforth – in this inland and upland parish of New Cumnock?


 Nithsdale Iron Works

Let’s begin the search for the origins of Seaforth at the birth of the ironworks.

John L. Carvel in ‘The New Cumnock Coalfield’ provides an excellent overview of the  ironworks. In 1847 John Nicholson, William Muschamp and Nicholas Ward , iron merchants from County Durham and Yorkshire acquired a lease from the Afton estate in the parish of New Cumnock to work the coal reserves near Straid and the iron-ore deposits on the lands of Brockloch.  Land was leased on the neighbouring Bank estate, belonging to the Hyslops of Blackcraig and Bank, where the furnaces were built on the banks of the Connel Burn [2]. Initially referred to as the Afton Ironworks , the name was later changed to Nithsdale Ironworks.

Courtesy of National Library of Scotland (OS Map
Courtesy of National Library of Scotland (OS Map
  • A: Bank House, mansion house of Hyslops of Blackcraig and Bank,
  • B Furnace Row and Offices
  • C: Ironworks

George Sanderson in ‘New Cumnock Long Ago and Faraway’ identifies William Hunter as the first manager of the ironworks and he lived at the house built for the works officials. [3].  However it would be some years later before the building was name Seaforth House. William too had moved to New Cumnock from England with his wife Jane and seven children, including 1 year old daughter Hannah. Soon after settling in their new home in 1851, another daughter Mary was born. In the census records of that year Mary is only 3 weeks old and her father’s occupation is given ‘as Manager at Black Furnaces‘, transcribed incorrectly from Bank Furnaces. The address is Craigbank.

Map Cuurtesy National Library of Scotland (OS Map 1855-1892)
Map C0urtesy National Library of Scotland (OS Map 1855-1892)
  • A: Managers House (later Seaforth House)
  • B: Bank Furnaces
  • C: Ironworks

Sadly the business failed and the then partners were sued for bankruptcy.

INSOLVENT DEBTOR to be heard at the County court of Northumberland, to be held at the Guildhall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on Wed 28th July 1852

‘John Heslop* , (sued with William Nicholson and John Nicholson,) formerly of Shotley Bridge, in the county of Durham, Joiner and Builder, in partnership with William Nicholson, under the style of Nicholson and Heslop, and also of Craigbank-cottages, Nithsdale Ironworks, in the parish of New Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, carrying on business in partnership with David Little and William Nicholson, under the style or firm of Little, Heslop and Company, as Masons, Joiners, Builders, Merchants and Contractors, afterwards of Shotley Bridge aforesaid,Builder, and late of the same place, Journeyman Builder‘ [Newcastle Journal, 10th July, 1852].

*not to be confused with John Hyslop of Bank

On 3rd November 1852, the Nithsdale Ironworks were put up for sale by public auction at the Royal Exchange Square sale rooms in Glasgow. As well as the ironworks, comprising three blast furnaces and two blowing engines (capable of blowing seven furnaces), Workshops, Counting House, Dwelling Houses for Managers and Agents and Workmen’s houses, &c. were put up for sale.  [Glasgow Herald, 15th October 1852].

Prospective buyers were to be shown the round the property by William Neild, Cashier and Clerk at the Ironworks, another employee that had moved with his family from England to New Cumnock, where their son Joseph was born the year before.

In 1853, the Nithsdale Ironworks were acquired by Turiff, Sharp & Co. from Paisley and Glasgow and the name changed to New Cumnock Ironworks. However a combination of low quality iron-ore and a high level of competition doomed the company to failure and bankruptcy followed two years later. Attempts to sell the works were unsuccessful  including at an  upset price (i.e. first offer at that price)  of £22,000 in 1858 and of £15,000 the following year.

At no time during the short lifetime of the ironworks is there any evidence that the  manager’s house or company offices were known as Seaforth House!

Bank Coal Company

John Hyslop of Bank

During this period of turmoil for the Ironworks, John Hyslop of Bank put the family Bank Estate up for sale at a public roup at the King’s Arms Inn, Ayr in July, 1855 for an upset price of £12,000 – including Nithsdale Ironworks.

As for the other buildings they are  described as ‘The Mansion House is modern and beautifully situated and the Garden is productive. The Office Houses are good and extensive.

The sale did not go ahead and  John Hyslop had second thoughts . In 1860 along with business partners John McKenzie and Kenneth McKenzie he formed the Bank Coal Company. There were three seams of coal on the lands (five feet, three and half and feet and four feet) where pits had already been sunk and the coal found to be lying well.

Bank House
Bank House

The McKenzie brothers, from Old Monklands parish had both experience working in the ironworks of Lanarkshire and it was Kenneth McKenzie that took a leading role in the partnership with John Hyslop. As a young man he had worked as a blacksmith at the Clyde Ironworks and worked his way through company to be the manager of the blast furnaces. He moved to New Cumnock in the late 1850’s and in 1861, he is living at Pathhead as a ‘coal master employing 30 men and 18 boys’.

By 1871 he and second wife Elizabeth and their four young children and an elder daughter Agnes from his first marriage are living at Bank Furnaces.

Courtesy of National Library of Scotland ( OS Map: 1890-1960)
Courtesy of National Library of Scotland ( OS Map: 1890-1960)
  • A: Bank Offices
  • B: Furnace Row
  • C: Bank Pit No3

In 1878, John Hyslop of Bank died and his son William Hyslop inherited the Bank estate and formed the New Bank Coal Company with Kenneth McKenzie and his son Donald A McKenzie (from his first marriage)as partners .

By 1881 Kenneth McKenzie, Elizabeth and their family has blossomed to seven children all born in New Cumnock and their address given as Bank Furnace House – still no sign of Seaforth House! The Bank pits had also grown with McKenzie now a ‘coal master employing 120 men and 10 boys‘. The following year another son was born to McKenzie family at the Bank Furnaces, his name – Duncan Seaforth McKenzie !

Kenneth McKenzie died 20th May 1890 , aged 74 years,  having served the Bank Coal companies for over thirty years. His obituary paints a picture of a well loved and well respected man and also a reference to Seaforth House. [4]

Kenneth McKenzie
Kenneth McKenzie

This day week all that was mortal of our friend was conveyed from Seaforth House, followed by many mourners, to New Cumnock Station; and as they raised their hats and turned sadly away, the feeling of all was that our whole parish had suffered a severe loss, while many knew they were saying farewell to a very dear friend.The remains were met at Glasgow by friends, who, with those who had traveled from New Cumnock, made up the procession to Tollcross Churchyard, where at length his dust was laid, just beside the church in which, as boy and man, he had worshipped in earlier days; and near to the scenes which environed his infancy and inspired his after life of toil and honoured activity.”

McKenzie and Seaforth

With one of his son’s carrying the Seaforth name and latterly so too the house in which he and his wife raised a large family and from where he managed the Bank pits , it is safe to say that Kenneth McKenzie introduced that name Seaforth to the parish of New Cumnock.

Clearly Kenneth was a man proud of his McKenzie heritage. The name McKenzie is said to be a variant of MacKenneth and the clan traces its origins to Colin of Kintail who died in the late 13th century.  Some 300 years later in 1609, his descendant Kenneth McKenzie was honoured as the first Lord McKenzie of Kintail and this mighty chief secured Lewis in the Outer Hebrides for his clan. His son was created the 1st Earl of Seaforth, taking the name from Loch Seaforth (Gaelic Loch Shiphoirt) , a large sea loch which forms a boundary between Lewis and Harris.

Courtesy of National Library of Scotland
Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

 Seaforth Legacy

In the Valuation Rolls of the parish of New Cumnock of 1895 and 1905, the address of Archibald Smellie, colliery manager at the New Bank Coal Company, is given as Seaforth Cottage; although the 1901 Census gives his address as Bank Furnaces.

In 1909, William Hyslop of Bank acquired the pits previously operated by Lanemark Collieries and created the New Cumnock Collieries Ltd. Archibald Smellie is still living at Seaforth Cottage in 1915, however by 1920 his address is given as Seaforth House and his neighbours in Seaforth cottages were George McMichael (foreman), John Richard (joiner), James Lorimer (oversman) and Mrs Campbell (widow).

Tragedy struck in 1941, when a gas explosion at the Bank No 6 pit killed colliery manager Charles Hynds, Seaforth House and under manager William Crombie, Bank Glen Cottages.

Seaforth House

William Hyslop had passed away in 1936 and a new board of directors was installed at New Cumnock Collieries Ltd. The drive for new coal reserves continued and in 1940 Seaforth Colliery came into production with William Dryburgh, colliery manager, living at Seaforth House. The coal industry was nationalised in 1947 and the following year Seaforth Colliery was producing 200 tonnes of coal per day with a workforce of 125 employees. The pit closed in 1953 and was abandoned two years later [5].

Seaforth from the Outer Hebrides to Old Monklands parish to the parish of New Cumnock courtesy of Kenneth McKenzie of the Bank Coal Company!

If you have any information or memories of Seaforth please leave your comments below.


  • [1] Donald McIver , ‘Old New Cumnock’
  • [2] John L. Carvel ‘The New Cumnock Coalfield’
  • [3] George Sanderson ‘New Cumnock Long Ago and Faraway’
  • [4] Kenneth McKenzie , photo and obituary,
  • [5] M K Oglethorpe ‘ Scottish Collieries an inventory of the Scottish coal industry in the nationalised era’
  •  Scotland’s People: Census Records, Birth and Death Certificates, Valuation Rolls
  • British Newspaper Archives
  • Maps coourtesy of National Library of Scotand



  1. I enjoyed reading the histories of various aspects of New Cumnock’s history. I am a descendant of Kenneth’s sister Jane MacKenzie. In response to the query about the Seaforth connection I can tell you that John and Kenneth’s father was Donald MacKenzie, blacksmith of Clyde Iron works, who was born 1776 in Urray on the Black Isle, Ross-Shire. The landowners at one time was one branch of the Mackenzie Clan known as the Seaforth Mackenzies, and if there was any blood tie with the rich branch I suspect that it was far back in time. The tradition in those days was to name the first son after the baby’s paternal grandfather and with large families there were often two children with the same name, the younger being a “spare” in case the first one died. Kenneth already had one son named Donald, however, the forename Donald is interchangeable with Duncan, hence “Duncan Seaforth M’Kenzie”.

    1. Hello Rena, Thank you so much for visiting the site and sharing some of your family history. It certainly reinforces the case that Kenneth was responsible for introducing the name Seaforth to New Cumnock. It’s clear he was an extremely well respected man in the community.Look forward to hearing from you again, all the best , Bobby

  2. Hello, Can you help me: i am trying to find information on the death of my grandfather, family story is that he died in a brass furnace explosion, 1910. Death register shows New Cumnock.
    Alexander McDonald, aged 36.
    Address about that time, Lugar.
    Is there info in your history on such, or anywhere you could point me to?
    Thank you, David Martin

    1. Hi David, I had a quick look in Scotland’s People. He was injured at Lugar Ironworks, it’s hard to read the details, something fell on him or he fell at work, fractured skull. He later died in Bute Hospital, Old Cumnock. His home residence was in Back Row, Lugar. If you give me your e-mail , I can send the death certificate to you. Regards, Bobby

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