Scotlands History

The collapse of the kelp industry

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, seaweed was gathered for use as a fertiliser on croft lands and rigs. It was also used more and more, and in huge quantities, in various chemical processes, such as soap and glass making. 

For this purpose it had to be dried out and carefully burned in a kelp pit, trench or kiln. The resulting kelp was an oily bluish substance which was shipped away to factories in the Lowlands. 

Kelp was a crucial livelihood, especially in the Outer Hebrides, but after 1822 the duty payable on cheaper, imported kelp was removed, and the Scottish industry largely collapsed.

This brought hardship in places like Lewis, Benbecula and South Uist, already reeling from the Clearances.

  • An image from the early 20th century of two men burning kelp

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