A major industry in the Edinburgh area was printing and publishing, and this required paper. Paper can be made from a variety of raw materials, including wood and rags, but esparto grass was used to produce good quality paper. Granton was a major port for the import of esparto grass to the UK. In the 1950s, about a third of all the esparto grass that came into the UK arrived at Granton – 100,000 tons of it.
In earlier years, esparto was imported from southern Spain, including Aguilas, and a correspondent in Spain tells me that Granton was the main destination of the ships carrying esparto from Aguilas between 1875-1925.
In later years, the grass came from north Africa and apparently was not cultivated – it was picked where it grew, bundled and shipped. On arrival at Granton it was taken by train or road to the paper mills.
Esparto grass was still being brought into Granton, and taken onwards by rail, until at least 1970.
A Granton product was used in paper manufacture – wirecloth, used for the conveyor belts on which the damp paper was carried while it dried. Wirecloth was made at United Wire Works.
Another essential for the printing trade was ink, made in Granton by A B Fleming & Company.
There is more about esparto grass in the Granton Harbour Handbook for 1955.