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Salt Industry

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Scotland's salt industry dates as far back as the 12th century, and was once the source of one of the highest value raw materials traded in its day.

It's use as a food preservative throughout Europe meant production grew to a massive scale to meet demand, and between the 16th and 19th centuries he Firth of Forth became a centre of production as the coal mines of Fife fuelled the salt pans used to heat the brine. It took some 50 tons of coal to produce just 3 tons of salt. The process was less than pleasant, with thick smoke rising from the fires under the pans, and stinking vapour from the pans themselves, which had blood (from slaughterhouses) added for its albumen content, which acted to remove impurities.

Seawater was first taken from the firth and left in settling ponds for a few days before being transferred to the salt pans, which were about 20 x 12 ft and mounted on stone pillars over depressions in the ground. The fires set below were fuelled by a low grade form of coal known as pandwood.

Sir George Bruce was an engineer and coal mine owner who lived in Culross Palace. He also operated 44 salt pans there from 1575 until 1625, employing dozens of workers in the two ventures.

Places such as Culross, St Monans, Joppa, and Prestonpans were amongst the largest producers, with the latter receiving the first Royal warrant to produce salt in the 12th century, continuing until 1959.

Scotland's salt industry peaked in the 18th Century when Scottish salt flooded the English market after the Act of Union resulted in a more lenient tax north of the border.

However, Scotlandís salt production was largely wiped out following the repeal of salt duty in the 1820s, when rock salt from the Continent rapidly flooded the market.


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