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St Monan's Windmill and Saltpans

St Monan, Fife

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The landscape around St Monan's Windmill was once industrial. Today it is a beautiful coastline with the windmill acting as a visible seamark, perched on the bank just above the sea line. It takes it's name from the village it adjoins of St Monan's, named after St Monanus who is believed to have been buried in a shrine here in about 875.

Throughout history the village has been a significant fishing port and as a consequence it has 3 piers. The original pier was built in 1596 and is in the centre of the three, the eastern pier was added in 1865 and the western pier in 1900 at a time when over a 100 fishing boats still sailed from here. For 200 years it was also home to the shipbuilders JN Miller & Sons, but the last ships was built just prior to 1992 when it closed bringing this part of it's heritage to an end. The harbour in the past has also been used to export locally extracted iron ore and the salt produced from the nearby windmill and saltpans.

St Monan's Windmill is the last surviving windmill in Fife, and it is thought that this 18th century windmill acted as the powerhouse of the saltpans, the remains of which can be seen in the landscape around it. It is situated on a bank above the saltpans and beach below and is an impressive site when you approach.

Salt has been a valuable commodity since the Roman period, when they would occasionally use it to pay their troops, which lead to the word "salary" entering into our language. Traditionally it was mined as "rock salt", but later shore side locations started to be used to evaporate sea water in shallow ponds to produce "bay salt". By the late medieval period, in places where coal was produced in coastal locations, it lead to the production of "industrial salt", this was a process in which coal fires burned under metal pans full of seawater until the water had evaporated, leaving just the salt.

St Monan's Windmill, Fife

Coal had been mined for many centuries from both sides of the Firth of Forth, so with the nearby coal mines and the abundance of seawater the establishment of saltpans along this coastline was a natural expansion. Before long there were few places along either bank of the River Forth where salt was not being extracted to serve the needs of industries like glass and pottery manufacture. Salt was also in demand as a food preservative, and especially as a fish preservative, allowing the growing catches of Scotland's fishing ports to be exported.

Most salt production alongside the Forth ceased after 1823, when changes in the tax regime meant rock salt from England became much cheaper.  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 burn eight tons of coal to produce one ton of salt.

The stump of St Monan's Windmill survived, and has been restored and re-roofed and below it you can see some of the remains for the Saltpans.

St Monan's Saltpans

In 1771 the Newark Coal and Saltworks Company was established. At St Monan's on the Scottish east coast they built 9 saltpans, probably the windmill pump, a settling tank and channel. Wagonary was used to transport coal from the surrounding area to the pans, and then took the salt as well as coal to the nearby Pittenweem Harbour for export. At the end of the 18th century salt production went on around the clock.

The Forth basin, at which St Monan's is at the mouth of, was abundant in coal supplies and perfect for the needs of the saltpans furnaces, and this part of the coastline was the main area for salt production in Scotland for some 800 years. In 1614 salt was Scotland's third most important export, after wool and fish. These saltworks became the third largest salt producer in Fife, but only lasted for about 40 years, with production coming to a halt in 1825.

A view of part of the Saltpan remains taken from up by the windmill

Salt was always a fluctuating market and the salt produced in Scotland, suffered from using coal to power the furnaces, in that it left impurities within the extracted salt. This resulted in a drop off in demand in the 17th century. It's decline in Scotland was further impacted in 1825 when the salt duties were lifted and the Scottish market began to be flooded with cheaper imports from other parts of the world. The result was that in 1959, when the last Scottish saltworks at Prestonpans closed, salt production in Scotland was at an end.

Only the foundations of the pan houses now remain, and only one of these has any remains of the physical structure remaining, the others only being raised grass mounds. Little documented evidence of the saltpans at St Monans exists, from archeological explorations and documents from how others were made, these give an idea of what they may have looked like and worked.

How the saltpans worked

Furnaces, powered by coal, probably on iron plates below the pans fired the large 18ft x 9.5ft iron pans. The settling tank would fill with sea water which was pumped up wooden pipes, perhaps by the power of the windmill, to be distributed to the panhouses by either a surface pipe or a water cart. The small coals or panwood were dumped into shoots at each house to be used in the furnaces which heated the pans.

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The SaltPans on the edge of the Firth of Forth Click the smaller images to see larger version

The salt water was then boiled off to leave the salt behind, this process could take 4 hours, and it took 3 boiling's to get enough salt out. Egg white or bulls blood was then added to help remove impurities and the remaining salt was put in either whicker baskets or sacks and left to dry. To carry out this process it took a master salter and 2 or 3 assistants for each salthouse and women and children were used to carry the coal and salt to and from the pans. It was hot and dirty work.

At one end of the row of panhouses was the 'girnel', a secure warehouse where the extracted salt was housed and weighed by salt officers who made sure the correct duties were paid.

Our visit was in May 2012 and although we got to see it from the outside we were not able to get inside to have a look around. There was however a sign on the gate that said during during July and August you can get access to the inside of the windmill, between 12noon and 4pm, via a key you can pick up in the local post office in the village.

   As you approach the Windmill See Larger Image   From the other side  See Larger Image

See Larger Image Click on the smaller images to see a larger version

Further information Grid



St Monan's Windmill, St Monan, Fife

Ceremonial County: Fife

Grid Reference:


Map Link:


Aerial photo: Google Aerial



Best Times to Visit:

Anytime, but during July and August you can get access to the inside of the windmill via a key you can pick up in the local village.




Fife Museums

Other useful websites:

Undiscovered Scotland  

Aerial View of the Windmill and Saltpans

Nearby Locations:  
Other Relevant pages:  


Planning Grid


St Monan's Windmill, St Monan, Fife

Grid Reference:


Getting there:

From A917 into St Monan via Station Road at the bottom of the village take left into Mid Shore and follow round and take second right into Rose Street.


From the centre of St Monan a short walk to Rose Street and follow the footpath, part of the Fife Coastal Path, across to the windmill. Access inside the windmill see opening times below.


In the village and then take a short walk or there is a small car park signposted for disabled at the end of Rose Street.


None on site.

Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Windmill, coast, saltpan remains

What to take:

long lenses, tripod, filters and a warm coat it can be a bit chilly when there is a breeze

Nature highlights:

Coastal views, sea birds


St Monans Windmill

Coal Farm




KY10 2BB


01334 659381

Opening times:

Exterior: Anytime

Interior: 1st July to 31 August, between 12noon and 4pm but you have to get a key from local post office and you may be required to leave a small deposit which is refunded when you return the key.



Photo Restrictions:


Other Restrictions:  
Special Needs Access: To get to the windmill you have to follow a footpath across grass and access to the windmill is via steps.
Special Needs Facilities: None on site
Children Facilities: Great area for kids to run about in.
Dogs Allowed: Yes, but as a courtesy to other, please keep on a lead

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Tracey Park Section: Windmills Key:
Page Ref: st_monans_windmill Topic: Windmills Last Updated: 06/2012


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