A retired police officer has been unearthing fragments of Scotland’s glorious past close to INEOS’ site in Grangemouth.
But Mark Cranston believes more treasures could be lurking within the perimeter fence that surrounds the petrochemical plant.
"I have spent many hours searching around the Firth of Forth and INEOS' plant at Grangemouth but I'd love to explore the shoreline and river bank areas within the site itself," said Mark.
But he’s not searching for gold; he's looking for bricks that helped to shape Scotland’s brick manufacturing industry.
“The humble brick is very much underrated, underappreciated, undervalued and overlooked,” he said. “Yet it has had such a huge impact on Scotland’s economic, social and industrial history.”
Over the past nine years he has amassed about 3,000 bricks, all of which he keeps in two converted stables in his garden.
“The shoreline between the INEOS site and Bonnybridge is littered with old bricks covering many decades of brick manufacture,” he said.
Many are fire bricks which Scotland exported all over the world due to their high quality.
“Ship's captains and owners were keen to ship these orders because the loads doubled up as ballast to steady their ships on rough ocean voyages,” said Mark. “That’s also the reason why Scottish bricks have turned up in dozens of countries around the world.”
The Falkirk area was the epicentre of fire brick production in Scotland. Many industrial sites, such as the Carron Iron Works, exploited fire clay seams and made bricks for themselves.
“It is entirely possible that at some point INEOS’ Grangemouth refinery site did likewise, because they would, no doubt, have needed bricks,” he said.
Among Mark’s collection is a brick from the doorway of the execution cell of Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow.
He also has one that was recovered from the wreckage of SS Politician, whose sinking in February 1941 inspired the film Whisky Galore, and two others salvaged from a wreck off Hawaii.
Mark’s short-term goal is to find, recover and record bricks made in Scotland. His long-term goal, though, is to create a Scottish national brick collection and data-base for future generations – and open a museum. “This is a huge story that deserves to be told,” he said.
He already works with local individuals, heritage groups and archaeological societies, and liaises with brick collectors and academics from all over the world.
And his efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2016 he received the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation’s Scottish Angel Heritage Award. “I was elated to receive that award for my endeavours,” he said.
His wife Karen is also supportive and proud of what he has achieved so far, using his own money. “Sometimes he can spend up to 70 hours a week, travelling around Scotland in search of new examples, or on research,” she said. “But his collection is proving an invaluable, educational tool for people from all walks of life.”