Images of the excavation site at Brora

Old Salt House: 1598-1617  |  New Salt House: 1767-1777 1812-1828  |  Historic Maps

The New Salt House: 1767-1777

One hundred and fifty nine years passed before salt was again made in Brora. The origins of the 18th century enterprise can be traced to the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden in 1746. After Culloden, 13 Jacobite estates were forfeited to the Crown, and their rentals collected and administered by the Annexed Estates commission. One of the purposes to which the rents were used was to develop heavy industry such as mining in the Highlands. The Earl of Sutherland was able to draw on this money to help fund trials for mining coal in Brora. In 1764 the Estate leased the coal rights to John Williams, a prominent Welsh minerals surveyor, to develop and manage the coal mining operations.

In 1767, John Williams persuaded the Sutherland Estate that a salt pan would be the most effective means of generating an income from the small and poorest quality coal that was proving impossible to sell. The timing was perfect as it coincided with the beginning of a boom in Scotland’s economic activity, shared by the salt industry, a situation John Williams together with other local businessmen and entrepreneurs would certainly have been aware. A Salt Company, made up of merchants from Portsoy and Dingwall together with John Williams, was set up and given a 19 year lease to develop and operate salt pans on the back beach at Brora. In 1769, both the coal and salt leases were signed over to Messrs Robertson and Co, merchants of Portsoy, following the departure of John Williams from the Sutherland Estate under a cloud.

In 1777, after just 10 years of operation, and with 9 years still left to run on the lease, the Salt Company wound up and the 18th century enterprise of salt making in Bora came to an abrupt end. As was the case with the closure of Jane Gordon’s salt house over 150 years previously, it was internal business issues and perhaps local conditions rather than a difficult market that decided the fate of the salt works. The national picture at this time was of a stable and periodically buoyant home market for Scottish salt, which was protected by the taxation system - a situation that would last until 1823.

The Sutherland Estate Papers contain some first hand accounts of the development and operation of the 18th century salt industry in Brora. Jacqueline Aitken and Nick Lindsay have carried out research into these and other sources which are compiled in the 2007 excavation report. Go to our Archaeology pages to find out more about the archaeological evidence. Excavation reports of 2007, 2008 and 2009 part 1 and part 2 give detailed results of the archaeological excavations of the remains of the New Salt House.

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