DESIGNS for elaborate Victorian ironworks made in Glasgow when it was known as the second city of the Empire have been unearthed in a back garden.

Garrowhill resident Andrew Reilly made the discovery after lifting old paving slabs and found them covered in pictures and blueprints.

Instead of old earth and insects, the reverse side of around 60 slabs carry decorative designs showing railings, gates, fountains and columns, each with their own name and number.

The slabs, which he was removing to put down a patio, date back to at least the 1930s when the house was built.

They have now been revealed as lithographic blocks, used to make prints for Walter Macfarlane & Co. The Glasgow ironworkers had an international reputation and exported across the globe a century ago.

However, mystery surrounds how they came to be in Mr Reilly's garden, or why they were discarded and used as building materials.

The firm went bust after the Second World War, and its once-massive factory at Possilpark has long since been demolished and the ground used for housing.

Mr Reilly said: "I was laying a new patio when my son called me over and said there were pictures on the reverse of one of the slabs. I began to check the others and they all had designs on them – about 60 in all.

"I did not know what they were and it was a real surprise. I've lived here for years and the patio was already built when we moved in.

"They are really heavy, so I imagine that's why they were used as paving slabs. I was extremely surprised to find anything like that."

A investigation of the designs, which are incredibly well preserved despite their decades in the earth, revealed their displays to belong to the Saracen Foundry, which lay only six miles from Mr Reilley's house.

Set up by Walter Macfarlane and partners Thomas Russell and James Marshall in 1850, the ironworks produced thousands of pieces which decorated much of the north of the city and were sold around the world via the British Empire.

At its peak, the factory employed renowned architects such as John Burnet, and Alexander "Greek" Thomson to come up with their designs, although it is not known if it is their work which is recorded on the slabs.

While many of the firm's decorative railings have been lost, examples of its work can be found in the supports of the Kibble Palace in Glasgow's Botanic Gardens and the Saracen Fountain in Alexandra Park.

A similar fountain by the company can also be found in the National Zoological Gardens, Pretoria, South Africa.

Experts think the slabs are lithographic printing stones used in the preparation of catalogues for the firm, as the writing on them faces backward.

Officials at Glasgow Life, which runs the city's museums, now plan to visit Mr Reilly to examine the find. John Messner, curator, Transport and Technology for Glasgow Museums, said: "These are lithographic printing stones, used to create items such as catalogues and other promotional material.

"They are limestone and this technology developed in the mid-19th century to create highly detailed reproductions of items such as paintings, natural history plates and maps."

Mr Reilly has offered the stones to Glasgow's People's Palace, although no decision has been taken on their fate.