Kelp production

Kelp as food : Dulse, Laver
Seaweed has formed a part of the diet of Irish and Scottish coastal dwellers for at least 4,000 years. The earliest recorded account of its use is in a poem dated around AD563 and attributed to St Columba, a native of Donegal, after his move
to Iona in the west of Scotland.1

As industrialisation increased kelp (seaweed) was an important part of soap and glass manufacture, and the demand for it in the industrial areas of the country expanded the harvesting from the Forth and Orkneys, to the West coast by 1760s.
This took time, and that, alongside the growing populations of sheep for wool then meat, challenged the traditional production of Black Cattle.
It gave the crofters and cottars a direct source of income. But the estate landlords were also looking to convert land to sheep, so this gave them an excuse to force tenants to the shores for fishing or kelp.
The Cottages at Selma were certainly populated by fishers, when were they established?

In the early days it was run by small entrepreneurs, before the estate landlords understood its worth. When did kelp collection become a significant part of our local economy?
During the Napoleonic Wars imports of Spanish barilla was restricted so the value of kelp rose significantly.

Kelp would be burned in shallow kilns (stone lined pit) built up in the ground each season to create calcined ashes Kelp Ash, for use in iodine, soap, glass, fertiliser, food industry, etc. Gorse (whins) would be used to set up the fires.

Seaweed only grows on a hard surface; therefore, large, sandy bays would not have been very good for growing seaweed. However, some 18th-century entrepreneurs found that if they collected stone boulders from the rocky shore and placed them on areas of sand, they could create the perfect conditions to 'farm' seaweed. These boulders tended to be placed in regularly spaced lines, forming what have become known as 'kelp grids' is this visible in any of our bays ??

The traditional use of kelp's benefits to our agricultural land became more critically understood in the latter part of the 1800's as chemistry understanding grew.

It is said that as many as 40,000 souls may have depended on kelp harvesting
at its 19th century peak.2

The demand for the kelp for industry compromised the availability of material for feeding our land.
This conflict got greater as in the 1900's our wider community benefitted from Kelp industrially again, with the establishment of the Alginate Factory at Barcaldine Home Farm in 1939.
This was run by a company called Cefoilby set up by C. W. Bonnisken and others.

1939. At the outbreak of war the Ministry of Supply take an interest Cefoil to produce scarce raw materials. Three other factories were built at Kames and Barcaldine in Argyll and Girvan Ayrshire. The most well known war time product was chromium alginate, used for camouflage netting as a replacement for scarce Indian hemp.
Post 1945. Cefoil changed its name to Alginate Industries and bought the 3 factories from the government.
Harvesting and production grew in the following decades : in 1973 the workforce at Girvan numbered 650 and at Barcaldine 250

In 1979 the company became Kelco amid a serious rationalisation of the global industry.
Barcaldine Plant closed in December 1996 with the loss of all the 80 jobs on the site
Hugh McLean was the Plant Manager at the time.

During the second half of the 20th century extensive uses were found for alginates. Sodium alginate is a jelly-like carbohydrate and was used in a variety of ways to hold water, gel, emulsify and stabilise in the food, pharmaceutical and industrial sectors. It was widely incorporated into foods and drinks to thicken drinks, form gels in pies and jellies, and to stabilise pet foods, meringues and ice cream. It improved the head on beer and allowed fast setting of puddings and was used in textile printing
to produce sharp edges and to thicken textile pastes. When dried it could coat quality paper to produce a sheen. The dental business used it in toothpastes and as a dental impression powder and it was used to coat tablets in the pharmaceutical
industry. Alginate’s properties were useful in cosmetics, paints and medical products and sodium alginate could also be used to form alkali-soluble fibres.3

For a great in depth article of the Kelp Industry : HISTORIC ARGYLL 2012 The Scottish kelp industry and its archaeology, Sue Hothersall, Rothesay

Has anyone collected any history of the alginate factory?



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