Scottish Salt Symposium

Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th October 2021

A two-day event in Brora, Sutherland will bring historians, archaeologists, enthusiasts and salt producers together to celebrate the once vital, but little-known, Scottish salt industry. On Saturday, our keynote speaker historian Professor Chris Whatley, author of The Scottish Salt Industry 1570-1850, will be followed by wide-ranging programme of talks with speakers presenting the latest archaeological and historical research into the manufacture of Scottish sea salt. We will also hear from Blackthorn Salt, the Isle of Skye Sea Salt Company and the East Neuk Salt Company, artisan salt makers in Scotland today. On Sunday there will be field trips to historic sites associated with two of Brora’ early salt pans and experimental salt making in a replica coal-fired salt pan at the Brora Heritage Centre.

The Symposium will appeal to everyone with an interest in the archaeology and history of salt and early coal mining. It will be a rare and wonderful occasion to participate in a stimulating weekend of discussion and celebration of these intertwined historical industries and hear from the growing community of artisan sea salt producers in Scotland today.

Tickets include light lunch and refreshments on Saturday and Sunday activities. £25 (plus £2.54 Eventbrite fee)

Programme Summary

Saturday Conference
  • Chris Whatley, Scottish Salt Industry revisited
  • Richard Oram, Scotland’s medieval salt industry
  • Wes Forsythe, Pots and Panns: archaeology of salt in post-medieval Ireland
  • Tom Dawson,  The return of salt making to Brora, film
  • Jacqueline Aitken, Rebuilding Brora’s salt making heritage
  • Joanna Hambly, The anatomy of a 17th century salt girnel
  • Malcolm Bangor-Jones, Coal and salt in 18th century Brora
  • John Blair, Making salt in Portsoy, 1793 to c. 1810
  • John Pickin, Peat fuelled salt making in the Rhinns of Galloway
  • Nic Coombey, Rascarrel and other Scottish Solway salt works
  • Gareth Jones, Observations and excavations from Cockenzie
  • Colin & Paula Martin and Robin Murdoch, St Phillip’s Salt Works, St Monans
  • Darren Peattie, East Neuk Salt Company, Preserving our Past to Sustain our future
  • Gregorie Marshall, Blackthorn Salt, Modern salt making using the graduation tower process
  • Chris and Meena Watts, Isle of Skye Sea Salt, Sustainable sea salt making in Scotland today
Sunday site visits and experimental salt making at the Brora Heritage Centre

Download full programme

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Covid-19 safety

We are delighted to be holding an in-person event, and measures will be in place to maximise our safety.

  • The venue will be at 50% capacity to allow for distancing
  • The venue will be well-ventilated
  • Wearing of face coverings inside is mandatory unless exempt, whilst eating and drinking and for presenters when presenting
  • We ask that all attendees take a self covid lateral flow test the day prior to the event

Follow Brora’s 21st century salt making journey

Brora was once the most northerly location of coal-fired sea salt manufacturing in Scotland and is the site of the oldest excavated archaeological coastal salt pan in the country. After a pause of nearly 200 years, Clyne Heritage Society and the Cockenzie based 1722 Waggonway Group have joined forces to make salt in Brora again.

Follow the journey below from the fabrication of the pan in summer 2020, to the making of the first salt in Brora in August 2021.

July 2020

Filmed at Macduff shipyards in Buckie, this short clip shows a specialist welder putting the finishing touches to the salt pan. The pan is made from marine steel and will withstand the high temperatures needed to boil salt water without cracking or warping. The original Brora pans would have been made from high grade iron imported from Sweden.  Specialist smiths would have wrought the iron into small rectangular plates, which were rivetted together to make the pan. This made repairs to the pans easier because individual plates could be replaced. The pans were the most expensive item in a salt works and cost more than the buildings that housed them. Cleaning and repairing the pans was one of the most frequent and time-consuming jobs and accounted for a high proportion of lost earnings when the pans were out of action. Proprietors meted out some of the harshest punishments to workers for careless or deliberate damage to a pan.

September 2020

Expert salters from the Cockenzie-based 1722 Waggonway group build a scaled historical replica of a coal-fired pan hearth at the Brora Heritage Centre. The materials are modern, but the design is similar to those used in the industry in the 16th to 19th centuries. Brora’s first pan hearths in the 16th century would have been made from stone, bonded with clay and lime mortar. In the 18th century brick, probably imported from the central belt of Scotland, was used for the chimneys. In the 19th century, locally manufactured, Brora bricks were used.

August 2021

Salter apprentices from Brora learn their craft from Cockenzie master salter Gary. Salt making was a highly skilled occupation and had a lengthy apprentice period. Each pan was traditionally worked by a master salter and one assistant or apprentice, often a younger family member. Master salters managed the day-to-day operations of the salt works and everything that involved the running of the pans. They were very well paid and were sometimes poached by competing salt works.

Overhaead view of a large rectangular metal pan, upon a brick support with a chimney at one end, filled with steaming water. Three people stand around it wearing leather aprons. One person stirs the liquid with a metal spatula

Over several hours, the pan was topped up with sea water which was then brought to boiling point. As the water evaporated, the brine became thicker until during the last boiling, salt crystals were allowed to form.

The first salt made in Brora for 200 years!

Close-up view of a group of small corked glass bottles filled wih salt. The bottle in the foregound has a handwritten label which reads Brora Seasalt batch 1, 7th August 2021

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