Kelp production

Kelp as food :
Species in our shores : Dulse, Laver, Sugar Kelp, (lots more)
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

The Kelp industry
On Canmore there is Kelp Grids at An Doirlinn - isle of Eriska

Kelp Grids
Settings of stones on the foreshore, often arranged to form a rectangular grid, used to grow kelp for harvesting.
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'.

Kelp Kilns / Pits
A stone-lined pit in which seaweed was burnt. The calcined ashes were used in the manufacture of soap and glass, amongst other things.
The seaweeds would have been cut about once every three years, leaving part of the plant still attached to ensure its re-growth. After spreading on the fields to dry, it would have been gathered into a simple stone pit to burn. Do we have any remnants of these locally ?

Kelp Houses
Once the kelp cooled, it was extracted from the kilns and stored until a large enough quantity was amassed to make it worth selling. Simple stone structures known as 'Kelp Houses' were built to keep the kelp safe and dry. Over the years, most of these kelp houses have disappeared, no doubt their stones being used for other purposes. Did we have these, are any remnants left ?

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

In relation to kelping, which was the most important source of crofting on the western seaboard, during the period 1746-70 when demand for this product used in the manufacture of soaps and glass was relatively small landlords leased kelp shores to individual entrepreneurs. In 1746 for example production on Tiree was controlled by an Irishman, and in 1754 Hector McLean of Coll leased a kelp shore,39which annually produced twenty-five tons, to another Irishman. The expansion of the chemical industry, however, and the outbreak of the Wars with America and subsequently France, which cut off foreign
imports, created boom conditions and reversed the landlords' previous neglect of this commodity.
Against this background, annual production in the Hebrides alone rose from two thousand tons in the 1770s to fifteen to twenty thousand tons during the early years of the nineteenth century, and kelping became a lucrative source of income for the landlords.^
The main centres of production were the Long Island, North and South Uist, Benbecula and Skye. Within Argyll kelping did not attain the same importance, although considerable quantities of kelp were produced in some areas. In Mull for example annual production stood at six hundred tons and sold for £6,000 (sterling), on Islay the total was two hundred tons, Colonsay and Oronsay manufactured one hundred and twenty to one hundred and sixty tons and Ulva one hundred and fifty 41tons. On the mainland significant quantities were also produced in Morvern, Ardnamurchan and Sunart, and along the shores of Loch Creran and Loch Melfort, but it was generally small amounts of up to thirty42tons, which were gathered in parishes throughout the county.
To establish control over the industry, landlords arrogated the right of ownership over the kelp, escalated the assault on the traditional agrarian system and took steps to secure the labour of their tenants. To curb emigration, caused by clearance, the landed interest mobilised to introduce the Passenger Vessels Act, which became law in 1803 and temporarily prevented many tenants from emigrating.
Furthermore, they raised rents, introduced croft holdings which were deliberately kept too small, thus underlining dependency on the potato, and encouraged sub-division. These measures maximised profit by increasing the size and availability of the labour force.4

Has anyone collected any history of the alginate factory?

References - Aerial reconnaissance of maritime landscapes in Scotland – some preliminary observations on context, methodology and results


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