Scottish Industry

Scottish industry is synonymous with shipbuilding, steel, ironworks and coal. The heavy industry that dominated the central belt is, in reality, long gone. The mines are all closed, the steelworks are derelict and the Clyde shipbuilders that once employed thousands are a now in reality final fabrication yards kept alive by government defence contracts.

One industry, though is thriving and that is the whisky industry. Scotch Whisky is known throughout the world and is Scotland’s greatest export by a long long way. But what is the history of uisge beatha and its production in Scotland? Where did it begin?

All through history humans have fermented alcohol for drinking and someone somewhere discovered that distilling the brew made it much more potent. The process reached Scotland in the late medieval period and given the lack of grapes for wine or Brandy, and the poor quality of grain for beer, whisky became more common in the north of the country. In the 17th century, two families came to dominate the process and in doing so started Scotland’s industrialisation. The Haigs and the Steins.

Preston 'Island'. Notice the sealed off pit-head.

Preston ‘Island’. Notice the sealed off pit-head.

Three things are needed to produce spirit: water, grain and fuel and West Fife had these in abundance. The area was a fertile flood plain of the River Forth and stood on rich coal seams. Seams which had been exploited to produce Scotland’s other early industry; salt. Off the village of Culross is Preston Island on which was a pithead and salt panning complex

 Preston 'Island'

Preston ‘Island’. The buildings at the back are the pans, which burned coal under huge metal pans of seawater to produce salt.

built onto the small island a km or so off the coast. The Island is surrounded now by reclaimed land using slag and waste from Longannet Power Station but it has been preserved. Unfortunately the walls and mine-workings make it dangerous so it is fenced off to the public.

Kennetpans harbour now silted up.

Kennetpans harbour now silted up. The remains of the pier are still visible in the mud.

Just a couple of km away, past the port of Kincardine was the Stein’s Whisky manufacturing complex at

The remains of the canal with Kilbagie about a mile away.

The remains of the canal with Kilbagie about a mile away were the two pylons stand.

Kilbagie. Unfortunately this complex, though no longer anything to do with whisky, is still used for local industries and any original buildings have long since disappeared under modern facilities. However, the Stein family built a canal about 2km long to Kennetpans, on the shore of the River Forth that had a small harbour. Here was the second whisky distillery and warehouses with easy access to the river for export to the continent and to the

The distillery buildings

The distillery buildings

lucrative London market. This was the beginnings of commercial and industrial distilling and some may say of large-scale industry in Scotland. The Stein’s had invented a quicker and cheaper process that could produce thousands of gallons of cheap grain spirit that the rapidly industrialising population could use to forget their troubles. The Shallow Still in 1786 and then the Continuous Still in 1826 were introduced. The latter was the invention of Robert Stein of Kilbagie and meant that the distillery here could produce 150,000 gallons a year of spirit; for comparison, a traditional pot still could produce no more than 5000. The same process is still used – with a few modern modifications – today by manufacturers of mass-produced spirits.

The Harbour with the Clackmannan Bridge in the background

The Harbour with the Clackmannan Bridge in the background

The Harbour in 1890

The Harbour in 1890

Of course, what was produced here was not the fine golden liquid we know today, but course clear grain spirit for consumption by the labouring classes in quantities that could help them forget the dire lives most of them led. Unfortunately, producing whisky in these quantities made price so cheap that many distilleries could not compete and Kilbagie and Kennetpans were among them, closing their doors in 1852. That the buildings are still standing a testament to their endurance but they are deteriorating fast as the pictures show.

I’d recommend anyone who wants to explore further to check out the website http://www.kennetpans.info/ which has lots of details on the place and the history of the families.

The Distillery in 1939 - notice the flooded harbour

The Distillery in 1939 – notice the still flooded harbour

The same view today with the sited up harbour

The same view today with the silted up harbour

Dunfermline Abbey III

After introducing the Abbey and going on to discuss the rise of the religious house, we now come to the Reformation.

Its impossible to place too much overemphasis on the changes wrought during the mid-sixteenth century in Europe. The number of deaths directly resulting out of Luther’s challenge to the existing Catholic order is effectively incalculable. Wars raged across Europe as secular rulers took advantage of the schisms in the religious authorities. In England, Henry VIII used the church’s difficulties to his advantage to attain the divorce he wanted and his resulting power over the church gave him the legitimacy to destroy the great abbeys and religious houses of England. This then allowed him to grab their wealth for himself and his favoured nobles.

Scotland was still a quiet backwater and though largely undisturbed by the death and destruction being raged across Europe, some of the King James V subjects were travelling to the mainland for education or for trading. Ideas have a way of acting in ways that defy the hopes and fears of those wishing to control them and the ideas of the reformation were no exception.

Before long those same ideas – that the Roman church was corrupt and that it had become a wealth-seeking establishment dedicated not to promoting the glory of God, but to earthly possessions and ungodly secular power – were widespread even in quiet Scotland.

Scotland is fairly unique in Europe in that the change from Catholicism to Protestantism was relatively peaceful – at least in the body count – and can be dated almost to the year – 1560. This was the year that the a Reformation Parliament was called following the death of the Catholic Regent, Mary of Guise. Her daughter (Mary Queen of Scots) was in France having escaped the clutches of the reformers. The leader of the the Reformers was the Calvinist John Knox and it was his zeal against idolatry and against the imagined sins of the Catholic Church that set loose the mobs to sack the great medieval cathedrals and abbey churches of Scotland. This destruction led to an almost complete loss of thousands of artifacts and priceless works of art from hundreds of years of religious life in medieval Scotland.

The damage at Dunfermline was mainly to the church building itself and means that we have the spartan building that we see today.  On the medieval North Entrance there are plinths and recesses clearly meant for statues. The reformers thought these were idolatrous and therefore in need of destruction. The West Door retains some carvings but the reformers did their best in their religious zeal to wipe these out as best they could.

Even though most of the stones have been weathered and defaced, you can still see some remnants of the carvings that would have graced this portal.

Though the destruction of the church was extensive: the shrine of St Margaret was destroyed, as was the high altar and the graves of the Kings that laid there; the nave was saved to act as parish church for the new Presbyterian congregation of Dunfermline. It was helped by the fact that the extensive Abbey buildings would soon be used by the wife of James VI as her Palace.

Queen Ann of Denmark rebuilt much of the abbey buildings to make a palatial building fitAbbey Buildings for her to live in away from her husband’s courts in Edinburgh and Stirling and it is this that forms the remainder of the ruins in the complex. The cloisters were demolished as was the transept and altar from the church. The Refectory and the Abbots House were linked by an arched building to allow the roadway to pass to the south. It was here that her son, the future Charles II would be born; the last monarch to be born in Scotland. It was his monarchy that would eventually lead to the period of Scottish history called The Killing Times. 

Dunfermline Abbey II

We left the Abbey at the height of Medieval Scotland with the shrine to St Margaret attracting pilgrims from across Christendom.

The Abbey became one of the most important religious sites in the country and was the burial place of many of Scotland’s kings for around 400 years. Margaret had four sons and all of them would become kings in turn until the youngest, David, could carry on the dynasty. Thereafter Most of the monarchs were interred in the Abbey Church, including Robert The Bruce.

During the wars of Independence at the end of the 13th century, the English King Edward I – Longshanks  – held court in the abbey whilst on one of his regular attempts to subdue the Scots. He burned many of the buildings on leaving.


In the Abbey grounds is a small tree on a slightly raised mound. The site is supposed to be the grave of William Wallace’s mother and the legend says that returning from Dundee to Selkirk Forest, Wallace stopped here to visit the grave. He was set upon by English soldiers but managed to kill several of them and make good his escape. In the glen that runs to the south of the abbey, there is a spot known as “Wallace’s Well” were he was supposed to have hidden from pursuing soldiers.

Unfortunately there are many legends such as these up and down the country and given the lack of any documentary or contemporary evidence, legends they must remain.

After Bruce had regained his kingdom, he specified that his heart was to be taken to fight the infidels on a crusade, whilst his body was to be interred in the traditional resting place of Kings; Dunfermline Abbey. His heart was removed from his chest and borne by
Sir James Douglas in battle against the Moors in Spain. It was retrieved after the good Sir James was killed and was brought back to be buried in Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders. His body – with a sawn through rib-cage – was interred in Dunfermline.

In 1367 Robert’s great-grandson – the future Robert III – married Anabella Drummond in the Abbey and on her death and burial in 1401 a stained glass window was erected with her coat of arms.

It is around this point that the abbey reached its peak as a religious house. The church to the north of the complex, had two towers to the West which still survive largely

 intact. To the south was the typical monastic buildings of a cloister and refectories used by the monkish community.

Benedictine monks followed the rules set out by St Benedict in the 7th century and focused on a strict hierarchy and submission to God – and by extension the church. They were self-contained communities supposed to be acting separately from wider secular society. However, given the all-pervasiveness of Roman Catholicism in the medieval world and the fact that the church was closely entwined with the monarchy, the fact was that the monasteries often acted as a secular organisation. Dunfermline for instance as noted earlier, owned the rights to the ferry at nearby Queensferry, they owned much of the land  – and therefore the incomes – in West Fife and so it was obviously wealthy in its own right.

With earthly wealth comes both the potential for corruption from within and jealousy from  without. The Reformation of the 16th century arrived a little late to Scotland but it swept away the monastic community in Dunfermline and its wealth was transferred to secular landowners.

Dunfermline Abbey

I live in Dunfermline.

It’s a small town in Eastern Scotland with a long history, one which goes back over a thousand years to the very genesis of what we recognise as Scotland. It was the home, birth-place and burial-place of many of Scotland’s monarchs and and some ways echoes Scottish history in a microcosm.

Much of that history is represented in two buildings, the Abbey complex and Canmore’s Tower. Unfortunately, if the ravages of time have been unkind to the Abbey, they have nearly destroyed any remnents of the tower. It was built by Malcolm Canmore, who you may know from Shakespeare’s MacBeth and he was the ruler of a nascent Scottish kingdom in the 2nd half of the 11th century. The site is a natural fortress, being on a rocky peninsular overlooking a steep sided ravine on three sides. The only access would have been across the narrow ridge and at the other end of this ridge, the Celtic monastary grew up. The Culdee community – as it was known as – would have been a fairly spartan group of monks and prelates, coming under the control of a Bishop and would have been the only source of literacy in the area.

The tower foundations with the Abbey visible through the trees

It was closely allied to the nearby Culdees in Culross – just 5 miles westward – and the island of Inchcolm – 6 miles to the east.

Inchcolm Abbey on the tiny Island in the Forth Estuary

Inhcolm is a fascinating island; it means the Island of Colm – Colm being Columba the traditional founder of Scottish Christianity. Though there is no record of him ever visiting the island, there is evidence of some sort of religious community living there in the 6th century shortly after his death. Later, the Island monastery grew to its current size and it has survived much better than the vast majority of monastic buildings – mainly due to its island setting.

Canmore married an heiress of the English Royal family called Margaret. She had escaped England after the Norman invasion of 1066 and had been shipwrecked on the coast of Scotland. Brought before Malcolm, he instantly saw the value of marrying an English heiress and did so immediately. Though it may have been expediency, Margaret’s writings clearly show a fondness for the rough Scottish king who lived in a tower and who was just one step away from barbarity. She set about taming the man and his country. She called for Benedictine monks from Canterbury to live in the Culdee community in Dunfermline and they built a stone church for themselves and Margaret’s family. She introduced Roman rites and the English language to her husband’s court and in doing so dragged Scotland into modern medieval European life, away from the dark ages and its Celtic past.

Her sons continued this legacy, particularly David I who went in for Monastery building big-time. He founded several of them around Scotland and he commissioned the building of Dunfermline Abbey church. It is David’s building that forms the bulk of the knave today and the design owes much to Durham Cathedral in England. It is likely the architects and builders had worked on Durham before creating this smaller replica in Dunfermline.

The Abbey Church

the Abbey Church with the obvious differences in building periods

It was the Benedictines who built up the monastery and it became a place of pilgrimage across medieval Europe. After Margaret’s death she was cannonized by the Church to become St Margaret and pilgrims coming to pray at the shrine incorperated into the high altar. Pilgrimages were lucrative businesses at that time and along with the

royal connections, the gifts of land, the monopolies on crossing the River Forth at nearby Queensferry and the ownership of mines and saltpans, the Abbey grew very wealthy. It was able to construct fantastic buildings for its community and once the secular authorities decamped for the much better defended Edinburgh and Stirling, Dunfermline became a quiet backwater – albeit a prosperous and religious one.