Progress Report on Industrial Archaeology of Forres and District

MFC Paper 12 by D Macnish 1976

Undoubtedly the exhibit the industrial archaeologist would most like to see penned up in his archives would be rusting bulldozers. Remains in Forres are scanty and disappearing fast. Certainly there are no picturesque ruined "dark satanic mills". The continuity, over the centuries, of the basic industries - agriculture, wood, salmon fishing — has meant that they have usually absorbed or recycled their cast-offs.


The bobbin mill seems to have been an interesting factory. It was burnt down in 1949. The late proprieter is still alive and his family are cautiously trying to collect information from him.

Oak was exported for tanning.


Mrs. Beaton has already reported on Horse Engine Houses. Club members took a step back into last century on visiting the meal mill at East Grange. There are ruins of a similar mill near Pluscarden. Most impressive was the calf-skin sieve and the miller's know-how.

Lime has always been required for mortar and for lime-washing. Lime nodules (often with fossils!) are reported as being burned in Ardclach in the early 18th century. with the upsurge of interest in improved methods of agriculture in the 17th/18th centuries lime became valued as a fertiliser. Kilns were two storeyed with a grating between. Lime and fuel (coke or wood) were burned in the top and the burnt lime was recovered through a wide arched drawhole in the base. The glow of the kiln was a feature of rural, nocturnal landscapes even fifty years ago. The warmth attracted houseless vagrants who sometimes perished in the poisonous fumes. There are remains of kilns and the lime quarry at Cothall near the Findhorn.

Local lime was of poor quality and with the building of the Fochabers bridge and road improvements, lime was brought from Dufftown. Some was also brought from Sunderland by boat. Aberdeen Lime Works seem to have grown out of an older bone mill. A sulphuric acid factory started beside it near the railway at Waterford. Full descriptions of the bone milling and the making of the acid to be found in Watson's Morayshire Described (Russell Watson pps. 239 - 240).

Later the Aberdeen Lime Company processed other fertilisers by spreading the blocks of raw material on the factory floor and exploding them with small charges of dynamite. The sulphuric factory was said to cause lung troubles. All these buildings disappeared a few years ago. Photographs in "Forres Gazette" archives.


Old charters give such specific details of fishing rights that the business must have had an importance greater than merely "fish on Friday". Findhorn fishing belonged to Kinloss Abbey. After the Reformation they were given to the Royal Burgh of Forres and were then developed on a much more extensive scale. In the 17th centuries the fish were boiled, salted or smoked and exported to France and the Low Countries, but after 1707 London became the chief market and it became difficult to buy fish locally. This was when ice came into use. It was collected from the river in winter and stored, packed close in ice houses.  It usually lasted till June. Fish on ice was shipped from Findhorn. After June fish was boiled or salted. There are two well preserved ice-houses in Findhorn and one near Nairn. The coming of the railway meant faster transport and the ice-houses went out of use. Billingsgate Fish Market opened in 1870 and added a fillip to the salmon industry.

Another method of salmon fishing was sometimes carried on. Fish were speared with a three or five pronged barbed fork called a  lester. One is listed as being in the Elgin Museum. The fishing was a community effort and seems to have been the 18th century equivalent of football violence or else a survival of earlier customs.


These followed the same pattern here as elsewhere in Scotland - the British Linen Bank attempting to foster a cottage industry. There was an attempt by  Mrs. Brodie to grow flax but it did not develop. Until lately the original building of the lintmill was to be seen by the bridge at the junction of Orchard Road and St. Catherine's. It later became a brewery and then a little farm. There was a lade and a water wheel. All that is left now is "The Dyer's Cottage“ on the other side of the bridge.

In 1340 the Taylor family took over a derelict wool mill at Burnside and began weaving and dying. Later this became a laundry which closed some years ago. The building, much changed internally, is now the "Mosset Tavern". The present owner has many photographs. This mill and many other small enterprises that sprang up in the wake of the great industrial movement of the 18th/19th centuries followed the usual Scots pattern of remaining small family businesses and so were vulnerable.

The Clay Pipe factory has sunk without trace. It was next to the gas works and must have had problems getting the fine white clay necessary for the "cutties".

Local gas started in 1857 and ceased to be made in 1966. One gasometer remains.


Forres was at the junction of the Aberdeen and Inverness Junction Railway and the Highland Railway from the South. It had a triangular arrangement to enable trains to transfer from one line to the other with a minimum of time wastage. This is now gone but aerial photos of it exist. The Argus Record C0. have a good recording of a Jones goods engine making the switch with bells whistle and signal noises (EAF126). There was a shed where sleepers were creosoted under pressure for a wide railway area. A railway left Kinloss for Findhorn. The station was right beside the harbour and exposed to sea storms.
It lasted ten years, closing in 1869. There was also at one time a station at Dalvey and another at Rafford. They closed in 1858 and 1865. Probably no trace now remains.

One of the wonders of the Highland Railway was the viaduct over the Divie near Edinkillie. It is 477 ft. long and 105 ft. high with 7 spans. It is still in existence.


At the Mercat Cross (1844) intending traders paid dues for their stalls at market. Later a fish market was built. It survives as the rear premises of George Nicol and Sons, Butchers and Poulterers, Tolbooth Street.

There are rumours of an old printing press in the "Gazette" offices. This paper has many photographs, but often they are more picturesque than directly informative.

An activity that may shortly be ready for the archives is the annual visit of the "Onion Johnny" from Brittany. This business has been carried on all over Britain since 1820. Our local man is the President of the Onion Growers Federation and has starred in a documentary with Johnny Morris. He is of the opinion that the connection cannot last much longer. (The name of the onion is "Rose of Roscoff"). ’

It is planned next year to go after tools and implements. Mrs. Skea of Forres has kindly offered to do sketches. Dates and details of the above facts will also be established more precisely.



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