Worth It's Salt
This beautifully restored windmill sits atop a raised beach close to the shore at St Monans on the East Neuk of Fife, Scotland.
It’s easy to associate windmills with a pastoral countryside scene, but this windmill is part of a heavily industrialised past. The coastal communities right along both shores of the Firth of Forth have been involved in the production of industrial salt for centauries. Salt has been a valuable commodity through much of our civilisation, and the Roman's occasional use of it to pay their troops brought the word "salary" into being. Salt traditionally was mined as "rock salt" or from evaporated sea water as "bay salt". By the late medieval period, in places where coal was produced in coastal locations, it became common for "industrial salt" to be produced. This was a process in which coal fires burned under metal pans full of seawater until the water had evaporated, leaving just the salt.
Salt was increasingly in demand for glass making, pottery, and as a food preservative, and especially as a fish preservative, allowing the growing catches of Scotland's fishing ports to be exported. The local laird, Sir John Anstruther established the Newark Coal and Salt Company In 1771. Coal was extracted from land immediately to the north of the windmill. The salt pans were housed in nine buildings on the raised beach below the windmill. You can see the remains of the pans below left. The role of the windmill was to provide the power to pump sea water from tidally-fed reservoirs cut into the rocks offshore into the salt pans. Production went on round the clock and at the height of operations the salt pans employed 20 men, while the colliery serving it employed a further 36 men.
An indication of salt's value lies in the high levels of tax it attracted; the way it was stored in bonded buildings, like whisky today; and the way it was actively smuggled to avoid duties. Perhaps the most telling sign of its relative value was that it was deemed acceptable to b