10.7.3 Movement of Raw Materials and Goods

Objects made elsewhere and found in the Highlands show movement of goods, but whether legal or illegal is difficult to document in the archaeological record alone; some merchants were active in both (Bangor-Jones 2000a, 71). Until the late 17th century, foreign trade could only take place in royal burghs. In 1700 there were only seven royal burghs in the Highlands: Inverness, Dingwall, Nairn, Wick, Tain, Fortrose and Dornoch (Gifford 1992, 63). Travelling pedlars and Highland Travellers provided an essential conduit for the introduction of manufactured goods into the remotest corners of the Highlands (Leitch 1990).

With increasingly good transport links, it became possible for objects to be imported throughout the Highlands, and for raw materials and products to be exported. Documentary evidence provides details of many objects imported and exported. By the early 18th century, Inverness merchants were importing luxury goods and other items direct from London. Even before Telford’s new roads, London porter (beer) was being exported to Thurso, to the dismay of the local minister (OSA; Case Study Thurso Brewery). The cloth industry at Cromarty illustrates both large scale import and export of raw materials and goods (Case Study Russian Cloth Trade to Cromarty). The 19th century aluminium smelter at Foyers on Loch Ness, initially used local bauxite (aluminium containing ore) which was processed in Northern Ireland, and later used bauxite supplies from Ghana, processed in the central belt (Close-Brooks 1995, 58).

Lead seal from hemp imported from Russia (1775) found near Cromarty. ©Cromarty Courthouse Museum

Archaeological finds also provide evidence of less exotic movements, such as of clay pipes, a topic which deserves further work in the Highlands (see 10.4). National ScARF discussed movement of objects, with references, in its the section on consumption (ScARF Modern section 6.3). Most excavations in the Highlands and elsewhere encounter a range of post-medieval ceramics. Imports to the Highlands include mass-produced wares from the Lowlands even to rural Sutherland in the late 18th to early 19th century (Fairhurst 1968, 153), but this information has not been brought together. The types of materials imported to the Highlands were not always due to cost or fashion. Work on imported ceramics to the Western Isles has shown that local preferences reflected in part local dietary preferences and eating arrangements (Webster 1999).

There is great potential to link archaeological and documentary evidence to produce a detailed picture of local and regional movements of goods and objects, and to provide insights into the abilities of people, even at lower economic incomes, to afford imports.

Means of transport

Timber was used to make wheeled and unwheeled transport, with some surviving in local museums. Edmund Burt described and illustrated several types of carts and sledges in use in the early 18th century (Burt 1754), evidence which can be fleshed out by looking at Gaelic sources (Cheape 2021). A locally made peat sledge is in Timespan Museum.

Illustration of a timber cart, by Edmund Burt
A locally made peat sledge on display at Timespan Museum. ©Susan Kruse

The importance of ships and railway are discussed in section 10.7.2, with evidence of manufacturing of both in the Highlands. Given the amount of water transport, local or long distance, and the scale of the fishing industry, a number of boats were needed. More attention needs to be focussed on boat building on the mainland, including timber sources.


Case Study: Thurso Brewery


Case Study: Russian Cloth Trade to Cromarty


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