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ESPARTO

Sorry, image missingEsparto grass was of vital importance to the economy of the southern of Spain in the 19th and 20th centuries. To look at it one wouldn't think that it was of any use for anything, but it was in great demand in Britain for the printing industry (in 1887 Britain imported 50,000 tonnes of esparto from Spain). Mainly produced and handled in the areas of Cortes de Baza, Cúllar and Benamaurel the esparto grass was carried in horse-drawn carts the 150Km to the coast (Águilas Port or Cartagena).

Sorry, image missingThe estate in Cortes de Baza was owned by the Duke of Abrantes y Linares, Count of Águilar and represented the only form of income for the local population. It was rented by a variety of British companies who had large esparto processing plants on the coast, especially in Águilas, the first being, on 3st March 1866, that of an Irishman by the name of Robert Cheney Johnston. In March of 1867 and April of 1868, Mr Johnston contracted the use of warehouses in Águilas for the storage of the esparto. The first exporter in Águilas was The Esparto Trading Company which was owned by the British, one of them being Philip Barron, the British vice-consul in Almería. Interestingly, George Loring held four shares in this company.

Labourers were employed on a salaried basis whereas other private estates had other arrangements whereby there were agents who organized the collection and transport.

The GSSR

When the GSSR arrived in Baza on the 16th December 1894, it solved the big problems of transport of the esparto to the coast to the extent that in 1920, The GSSR carried 31,000 tonnes of esparto to Águilas for export.

Sorry, image missingNowadays, esparto has little or no use except for artisanal production of baskets, espadrilles etc. However it is still there covering thousands of hectares, standing regimented in rows and columns as planted many years ago. There is a museum in the area devoted to the history of esparto grass.

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