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                                                            THE INDUSTRIAL HISTORY OF BRORA - "THE ELECTRIC CITY"

The parish of Clyne took its name from the fact that the parish kirk was sited on the slope of a hill.The Gaelic word cleonadh meaning inclining."The principal part of the parish today is its only village Brora;whose name derives from the Norse Brua-a meaning a bridge and river.

The bridge is even today the central point of Brora and a vital link in communications to the north.The small deep gorge that it spans has been the site of a bridge for hundreds of years with references to bridge repairs in 1619.The present bridge was opened in 1929, when it was decided that the existing bridge was too narrow for modem motor traffic.

Its predecessor still stands by its side and serves as a footbridge.

Houses naturally clustered by the bridge,although for centuries they remained as separate hamlets,only coalescing as one village in the 19th century.

Fishing was undoubtedly the oldest industry, with boats laid up on the beach and fishing for salmon at the mouth of the river.The rise of the Sutherland family brought this to an end as salmon fishing became their prerogative and licensing was introduced.

In 1820 the Marquis of Stafford, later the Duke of Sutherland,commissioned the building of a new harbour.This harbour became a centre for local import and export, even a starting place for emigrants to New Zealand.

The rise of the herring fishing industry made Brora an important centre with the harbour packed with fishing boats.The Salt pans, developed in 1598 in association with the coal mine, provided salt for the curing.An Ice House was built and new trades arose such as coppers and specialist curers.

Brora's other oldest industry was its coal mine which started in 1529 as an open cast pit. In 1598 Jane,Countess of Sutherland,began to actively exploit them.

Her son.Earl John, had sunk a shaft at Castle Hill,and also started the salt pans.In the 1770's a new shaft- was sunk at Castle Hill and a 20" wooden tramline was laid to the salt pans,where coal was in use to speed evaporation in salt making.

At the beginning of the 19th century a new 250ft shaft was sunk at Fascally.A new tramway with cast iron rails was then laid to the salt pans.

In 1817 Lady Stafford set up a brewery by the harbour,The Stafford Arms.A year later in 1818 the Marquis of Stafford set up Clynelish Distillery and by 1821 production had reached over 10,000 gallons a year.

In 1818 the Marquis also set up a brickworks which was soon producing 10,000 Bricks and Tiles.

A thriving quarry was producing Jurassic sandstone, used for extensions to Dunrobin Castle,the Ben Bragghie monument and the building of London Bridge.

With all these industries and the new harbour for export Brora was thriving.

In 1825 competition from the industrialised south offering better quality and cheaper coal forced the mine to close.The brick and salt industries also suffered from the southern competition and Brora went through a period of decline.

In 1846 Mr George Lawson acquired a lease on the distillery and for the next 50 years the distillery was operated by the family firm of George Lawson and Sons.In their hands the distillery proved very successful, the whisky became established as the most expensive of single malt whiskies and enjoyed high sales.The 1870's saw a revival in Brora's fortunes.When the third Duke of Sutherland built the railway from Golspie to Helmsdale he built an engineering shop at Brora to carry out some of the engineering work including the building of the locomotives "Florence" and "Little Giant".

Also in 1872 the Duke re-opened the Colliery and Brickworks which for some years were operated by the estate.Within a year the brickworks was producing 57,000 bricks a year.Drain pipes, tiles and firebricks were also produced.

In 1890 the engineering plant was moved to a smaller building and the remainder of the works was leased to a Yorkshire weaving company.The new mill was not a success and closed in 1900.

In 1901 the mill was re-opened by Captain T M Hunter, a former manager of Harrow Wool Mills in Wick, who installed new machinery which allowed the production of woollen goods from raw materials to finished product.

In 1913 Captain Hunter set up the Brora Electric Supply Company which for 25 years supplied shops, houses and street lighting, the first north of Inverness. Brora thus became known as "The Electric City".

In 1914 The brickworks and coal pit were both taken over by Brora Wool Mills.The brickworks continued to be operated by Brora Wool Mill until 1940 when shortage of labour led to closure.

Captain T M Hunter died in 1916,but the company remained in family hands with his son controlling it for over 50 years.Despite various ups and downs the mill remains to this day an important Brora employer.In 1998 the mill moved to a new purpose built factory on the edge of Brora.Which has now closed.

Brora Wool Mill gave up the coal pit when they ceased to use coal for powering their production in 1949.

The coal pit was taken over by Sir David Robertson, the local M.P. in 1949, when the National Coal Board threatened to close the pit.

In 1954 Sir David also revived the brickworks.The brickworks finally closed again as a result of the Conservative Governments three day week in 1972.In 1896 the distillery passed from the Lawson family to Ainslie & Co.,This company was dissolved in 1912 on the retirement of Messrs.James and Thomas Ainslie.This led to the business being offered to The Distillers Co.,who formed the Clynelish Distillery Co. Ltd.

In 1930 the company's capital was acquired by Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd and today the distillery is run by UDV, part of the DIAGO Group.The distillery used Brora coal in its operation until 1960 when it converted to electricity.In 1968 a new larger distillery was built beside the original plant.

Despite the loss of two major customers the coal pit continued for a few more years with the aid of a grant from Highlands and Islands Development Board.

At this stage the pit was operated by Highland Colliery Ltd and the miners themselves were shareholders.

In July 1966 The Highland Development Board financed the sinking of bores to the west of the shaft and reserves of 8 million tonne were estimated. Despite this the pit closed in 1972 and the company went into liquidation in 1973

The pit area was later reclaimed, the shafts filled with rubble and the area landscaped.

In 1939 a further chapter was added to Brora's industrial and commercial history with the building by the Post Office of a Radio Station.This station was taken over by the Ministry of Defence in 1949 and operated as a communications/listening centre until 1986. It is clear the station played an interesting part in The Cold War and hopefully more can be written about this chapter in the future.The Radio Station was an important social factor in Brora since it brought many people to Brora to work, who subsequently returned.It also led to the children of many Brora families being born or brought up in England,Cyprus and Hong Kong.

A number of other enterprises have also come and gone in Brora including a Slaughter house and a lemonade factory, both by the harbour area.

The scouring action of the river and the presence of a sand bar has always restricted use of the harbour and as the herring trade dwindled so did the harbour.Today the harbour serves only for part-time lobster fishing, sea angling and pleasure purposes.

For further details see "Coalmining in Brora 1529-1974" by John Owen.

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