Industries of Bute

Farming, a fundamental industry on Bute since prehistoric times, was carried on in 2001 by around 50 working farms and a few small holdings. As recently as 1970 there were 112 farms most of which had dairy herds. The change in the island's other ancient industry has been even more dramatic.

In 1855 there were 557 fishing vessels registered in the town of Rothesay! Now there are only 3 or 4. Many of our older inhabitants remember the summer days when Klondykers anchored in the Bay ready to transport the herring to Europe while fisher girls gutted the fish on the Esplanade. Peter Barr and sons started a successful Kippering business in 1888 at premises in Watergate. The Barr family continued to produce excellent kippers until about 1956 when Ritchies took over the smokery. This firm has carried on the kippering of herring and, in 1962 they began to smoke salmon. 'Ritchies of Rothesay' are now known internationally as producers of high quality smoked fish, their smoked salmon having an exceptionally fine flavour.

In the late 19th and 20th Centuries, boatbuilding gave employment to many carpenters at Ardmaleish where the industry continues to this day. There were also busy yards at the Red Shed opposite the Skeoch Woods and at a yard near Rothesay pier where there are now gardens and a putting green. At Port Bannatyne there was another yard where yachts were built and repaired. Generations of the McIntyre family operated this business until recent years.

A prosperous distillery was sited near Barone Park farm and was still operating in 1834.

Flax was grown on the island in the 18th Century and several small 'lint' mills wove linen cloth.
In 1779 the first cotton mill was set up in Rothesay. By 1855 there were five mills, - some of them five storeys high and lit by gas, - employing 1215 men, women and children. In the last decades of the century the industry declined and the Rothesay mills were all closed by the 1880's.

However, there was still employment to be had in two tanneries, a meal mill, a sawmill and, clustered round the town, the surprising number of seven market gardens. Dobbies Springfield Nursery was "opened to the public every day, except Sundays, from 6am till 6pm"!

At Kingarth there was a busy brick and tileworks which lasted for sixty years.

In recent years, four new industries have been started which continue to give employment. The first to be found was Isle of Bute Industries, set up by the 5th Marquess of Bute in 1947. This mill was later called Bute Tweeds and then Bute Looms, the product originally being handloom woven tweed. By 1970, power looms had been introduced and in 1977 the company took the name Bute Fabrics. In 2001 the mill has 54 employees weaving contract upholstery.

Flexible Technology Ltd built premises at Townhead in 1981 and now employ 70 people manufacturing flexible printed circuits.

In 1990 a new Creamery was built, also at Townhead, where this year (2001) Scottish Milk Products will make 2000 tons of cheese. This is marketed under the label "Isle of Bute Cheese" and is made from milk obtained from every dairy farm on the island.

Tourism is still an important industry on the island, although the peak was reached between 1880 and 1910. A fine golf course with superb views was opened on Canada Hill in 1908. This vantage point to the east of the town was so called because relatives and friends climbed this hill to wave farewells to their sons and daughters. These young people were sailing past their native island on their way across the Atlantic to a new life in Canada. In the 21st Century, Bute looks forward to welcoming descendants of all emigrants when they visit Britain's shores.

Anne Buchanan
Anne came to Bute in the spring of 1938 as a GP's bride.
Ref: The Island of Bute, by Ian S Munro. Publishers: David & Charles, Newton Abbot 1973

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