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Industries, Manufactures, Mines, and Minerals

At the end of the eighteenth century George Dempster of Skibo established a cotton mill at Spinningdale, which was burnt down in 1808, and since that time no factories of any importance have been established in the county.

According to the census of 1911 upwards of 3000 persons (male and female) were engaged in agricultural, pastoral, and forestry employments in Sutherland, while there were about 1000 fishermen, 200 curers and fish workers, and 30 coopers. The other industries in the county are mostly accessory to those of agriculture and fishing. The various building trades provide work for about 400 men, while 200 persons are employed in the clothing industries, and other 200 in the industries concerned in the provision of food and drink. In 1911 there were 200 general labourers and 790 female domestic servants.

Brora, the only manufacturing and mining centre, provides employment for 30 men in its coal mine, about 20 in its brick works, and 6 in its distillery. One hundred and fifty men are employed on railways and over 100 on roads. Forty men and 16 women were returned in 1911 as workers in wool and hosiery, chiefly at Brora and Rogart, but this does not include workers in homespuns, who are numerous in Rogart, Lairg, and the northwestern parishes. Game preserving afforded employment in 1911 to 182 persons, but prosecutions for poaching are rare, sporting rights of moor and river alike being generally respected by the people. At the last census 1620 males and 6249 females, being one-fifth of the total number of males and three-fourths of the total number of females above ten years of age, were returned as of no specified occupation.

The mineral resources of Sutherland, though not lacking in variety, are commercially of little account. Accumulations of slag, the remains of ancient iron workings in the period of the brochs, are to be found along river banks and burn sides in various districts. Such slag heaps occur in Achinduich, Shinness, Lairg, Skelpick - where the layer of slag is intermixed with burnt wood and charcoal - and Achrimsdale in Kildonan

Sir Robert Gordon affirms that in his time abundance of good iron was made in Sutherland.

For centuries no attempt was made to develop the mineral resources of the county. At length, Jean, Countess of Sutherland, in 1598 opened coal pits and salt pans at Brora. According to her son, Sir Robert Gordon, the Brora salt pans not only served local needs but also provided an export trade to England and elsewhere. After a time, however, coal mining and salt making were discontinued. They were revived for some years about 1820, and the third Duke of Sutherland, about 1870, again opened the coal mine at Brora. Since his time a steady, if not large, trade has been maintained.

In recent years marble was quarried at Assynt and exported from Lochinver, but the venture proved unsuccessful. Extensive granite quarries opened at Dahnore, Rogart, in 1885 with the object of procuring blocks for polishing also proved unsuccessful. An excellent building stone was obtained but the promoters found that the granite did not take on a flawless polish. Granite building stone is quarried at Creich and Lairg, and sandstone at Dornoch and Brora. The hard whinstone found all through the county is used to a considerable extent locally for making up the road crusts. Were the limestones of Durness and Assynt more accessible they might be more extensively utilized by agriculturists. The limekilns in use some thirty years ago at Lairg have been discontinued.

Fisheries and Fishing Stations

The Sutherland fisheries fall within three of the twenty-seven districts recognized by the Fishery Board. The east coast fisheries are in the Helmsdale district, those of the north coast belong to Wick, while the west coast stations belong to Lochbroom.

In 1914 there were 51 registered fishing boats in Helmsdale village, 11 belonging to the first class. Embo possessed 25 boats, 6 being in the first class. Golspie possessed 21 boats and Brora 13. Embo had 130 fishermen, Helmsdale 106. The total number of fishermen in Helmsdale district in 1914 was 360. On the east coast (where the haddock and plaice fishings are the most valuable) the yield in 1914 was £6000 from the white fishing and £800 from shell fish.

To the Wick district belong the north coast villages of Portskerra, Strathy, Kirtomy, Skerry, Isle Roan, Talmine, and Eriboll. The boats of the north coast fishermen are nearly all of the small class (under 18 feet keel). The total number of resident fishermen in these villages in 1914 was 210, of whom 40 were in Portskerra, the only village which showed a slight increase on the figures of the previous year. The value of the cod and saith fishing in 1914 was £800, while lobsters and crab yielded £1500.

The west coast fishings are chiefly at Oldshoremore, Badcall, Scourie, Culkein, Stoer, and Lochinver. The fish obtained are chiefly cod, haddocks, lobsters and some herrings. There are 330 fishermen engaged in the west coast fishings, of whom 90 are in Stoer and 30 in Oldshoremore. The annual value of the white fishing exceeds £2000, while the yield of the lobster and crab fishings is rather less than £2000.

Owing to lack of improved gear and appliances the Sutherland fishings are on the whole in a backward condition. Fishermen depend for their livelihood not so much on the yield of the local fisheries as upon their earnings at the Shetland, East Coast, and English herring fishing.

The salmon fisheries of Sutherland have been steadilv growing in value. The assessed rentals of the Kyle of Sutherland fishings have almost doubled within the last thirty years and now exceed £4500. The rentals of the salmon fishings of the Halladale, Naver, Borgie, Kinloch, Hope, and Dionard, amount to about £2000, but as the angling is often let with the shootings the detailed valuations cannot be definitely stated. The rod fishings of the Borgie are worth about £100 per annum. The number of fish taken on the north coast fishings in 1914 amounted to 2000 salmon, 3000 grilse, and 500 sea trout. There are valuable salmon fishings on the west coast, particularly on the Laxford, the Inver, and the Kirkaig rivers.

Shipping and Trade

Prior to the extension of the Highland Railway from Ardgay to Thurso the needed supplies for the county were obtained by sea. Sloops and schooners traded from Leith and Newcastle to Helmsdale, Brora, Little Ferry, and Bonarbridge on the east coast, and on the west side from Glasgow to Lochinver, Badcall, Loch Inchard, and Loch Eriboll. For a good many years a small steamer plied between Burghhead and the Little Ferry. With the advent of railways, however, this coasting trade declined. At Bonarbridge and Little Ferry small vessels still unload from time to time cargoes of coal and building materials and take away pit props and timber logs. Brora and Helmsdale also import timber and slate, and export fish (principally herrings). Dunrobin pier is private, while Golspie pier is used mainly by fishermen.

The trade on the north and west coasts is of small account. Some tourist traffic is brought by the west coast steamers to Lochinver, Badcall and Loch Eriboll. For some years in the middle of last century the fishcuring industry at Lochinver, and the marble quarries at Drumbeg provided shipping freights at Lochinver, but both these industries are now extinct.

Loch Eriboll is in winter a valuable harbour of refuge for steam trawlers and other fishing craft. In the days of sailing ships its waters were sometimes crowded with vessels during severe winter storms. While shipping at Lochinver and Helmsdale is no longer what it was, yet there is a good prospect of increasing trade at the numerous fishing ports and piers round the Sutherland coasts when the fishermen learn to apply to their calling those improved technical methods which have revolutionized the fishing industry in other parts of Scotland.

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