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Glassary Seaweed Factory

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The Glassary Seaweed Factory was located at Middleton on the island of Tiree until 1901.

The island is surrounded by forests of kelp, and this abundant supply of raw material formed the basis of a successful industry in the are for almost a century. The processed seaweed provided alkali in the form of soda and potash for soap and glass manufacture, and for bleaching linen. Between June and August, the seaweed would be dried near the shore (on stone ridges), then burnt in U-shaped pits (which can still be seen) for about eight hours. The ash would then be pounded into lumps with kelp irons, and left to cool after the pits were covered with turf, finally producing a cooled ash cake. Although this industry dated back to the 1600s, the raw material could later be produced more cheaply abroad (Chile and Tasmania), and the industry began to decline during the 1800s, and has generally continued to do so throughout Scotland ever since, although the discovery of alginates in 1881 led to a slight resurgence.

The North British Chemical Company appointed scientist Edward Curtis-Stanford as a manager, and he travelled to the island in 1864, to supervise the building of their new factory at Middleton, known locally as the Glassary. He had developed a new process to extract iodine from kelp. The factory operated until 1901, extracting iodine and alginates from the seaweed, and selling the residual charcoal as fertilizer, and a deodorant for earth closets. Interestingly, the gas produced by the production process was used to light the buildings.

The remains of the factory were finally demolished in 1941, and used as hardcore in the foundations for the runways of RAF Tiree, built on the area of The Reef during World War II.

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