A little history of Salen

These notes are an edited version of notes on Salen village prepared
local historian John Dye.

The name ‘Salen’ does not appear on Bruce's map of 1733, the position of the village is merely noted as the site of a 'Woodkeeper's House', close to another house symbol labelled 'Tarbert'. Tarbert means an isthmus; in north-west Scotland it is usually applied to an overland connection between two sea, or loch routes. It is probable that the village we now call Salen was originally only known by the name Tarbert.

In 1854 Salen village apparently consisted of the Pirn (or Bobbin) Mill, the jetty, the inn, a shop and one house.

Salen House
The residents’ lounge of Salen House was the village store and used to be called 'Matheson's'. A shop is first mentioned in the estate records in the 1850s when it was in the hands of Mrs Owain MacNaughton, a widow of 38 with nine children.

During the 1960s and 70s the assistant in the store was Archie 'Skiffie' Cameron. There used to be a tin on the counter with string coming out of hole in the lid and Skiffie would wrap up your purchases in brown paper, tie them in a parcel and snip off the string with a huge pair of tailor's scissors - I wonder what became of them: he guarded them with his life.

On the opposite side of the road were petrol pumps, a paraffin tank and a coal store where they would measure out the coal for you.

The store is connected to an older house and there are some sheds at the back and a feed store along the road, later converted into a house and post office. I was always sorry that I was not involved in clearing the sheds when the store finally closed - they sold everything from cheese to wellie boots and from aspirins to gas mantles and it must have been a treasure house.

Immediately to the west of the shop is a building which was formerly a feed store and stables. This building has recently been converted once again and several names were found written in pencil on the plaster, presumably by customers at the feed store. We know from court records that the Hotel was in the hands of Donald Cameron in the late 1890s and he used to hire out a carriage (called a ‘machine’), which I presume occupied the ‘feed store’ building.

After some detective work, John Dye believes that Salen House was also the village hotel. Several old books were discovered in an outhouse at Loch Shiel Hotel about ten years ago. Some have writing indicating they were once in the Salen Inn - one of them is a reference book printed in 1763, there are some pencilled dates from the early nineteenth century. None of the present buildings in Salen appear to date from this period.

The Salen Pirn, or Bobbin, Mill
The Pirn Mill at Salen was sited behind the Old Post Office. It was constructed to produce bobbins or pirns for the Clark Company in Paisley. It operated from the early 1840s until 1854, when it was destroyed by fire, and was said to have been largely manned by lads from Glasgow. It was powered by water, the dam being on the hill above. In a Clan Cameron Archive on the Internet is the following unsigned comment: "An extensive manufactory of bobbins for thread is carried on at Salen, on Loch Sunart; the machinery is very ingenious, and moved by immense power, the water-wheel being forty feet in diameter."

World War Two
All around this area there are the concrete foundations of many huts erected during WWII when the area was occupied by troops in training. Salen itself was occupied by U.S. Army Rangers who suffered heavy casualties in the D-Day landings. Just north of the hall is the foundation of the cookhouse. I was told that the troops ate in the Hall. One can find spent US ammunition on the hill above Salen, a cartridge from Tarbert has been identified as having been fired from an American Remington carbine.

Close to the sports field are said to be the possible remains of an ancient cairn. The cairn is noted in the Ancient Monuments record for North Argyll: "What may possibly be the remains of a burial-cairn can be seen in marshy ground some 30m S of the old Schoolhouse of Salen. Heavily overgrown with trees and shrubs, it is an irregularly shaped pile of stones about 6.5m in diameter and 0.9m in height." The date of the record is given as 1972, which is surprising since the Hall was certainly not in use as a school at that time. After some searching I eventually located the cairn, about 30m south of the Hall in the trees at the back of the field. However, among the stones of the cairn were several pieces of concrete! I conclude that the cairn represents the bases of army huts which were cleared after the war to restore the sports field to its original condition.

Ellen Kammerath, Salen House, Salen, Acharacle, PH36 4JN
Telephone 01967 431 384
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