Glen Mhor 1893 Distillery Plans by Charles C. Doig Part 1
When I arranged a half-day of research in the Inverness Archives, I really didn’t know what the visit would offer. I knew from initial discussions that the document on Glen Mhor New A New System of Malting, would be of huge interest and a first. Beyond the obvious headline act, it was very much a closed book, waiting to be pulled from the shelf and opened for the first time in decades.
In reality, I didn’t have enough time to fully appreciate what awaited me. For instance, a Distillery Logbook requires at least several further days of study and further contemplation. Then, further digging through the records as to what else is hidden, waiting to be revealed. What did become abundantly clear is I had to prioritise my time efficiently. The Archive is fortunate to have the comprehensive records of the Inverness Dean Guild Plans and Valuation Rolls. Focusing specifically on Telford Street, this materialised as a sizeable stockpile of plans, sitting on the desk, waiting for me to venture through the contents. This undertaking would take up the majority of my time.
This collection of documents provided a journey through the history of Telford Street. A variety of companies were included within; from retailers to stadium improvements at the Caledonia ground (that sat behind Glen Mhor) and of course, the distilleries. These requests to the Dean Guild underlined what a thriving area Muirtown was and that distilling was at the heart of the community.
I'm pleased to report that there are present sizeable plans for Glen Albyn within the records. These are not the current focus of my research, but they do exist for future reference. That’s something for a distant project, perhaps. The jewels were the variety of plans for Glen Mhor that allow us to track its foundation, then stepping through various amendments over the decades. Thanks to these documents, we’re able to track and document everything prior to the Second World War. The level of detail is fantastic and gives us new insight into the distillery site and the changes that were made (or at least, requested for planning acceptance) for a variety of reasons.
When you consider architect plans and Scottish distilleries, you immediately think of Charles C. Doig. He was and remains Scotland's, most widespread and influential distillery architect. We know from an 1894 newspaper article, he was the lead architect for Glen Mhor and involved in the build from the invoices that we've so far discovered. His legacy is highlighted on the Scottish Architects site which sadly doesn't even list Glen Mhor amongst his projects - just confirming how overlooked this distillery is by the wider audience. Interestingly, they have Charles in 1893 as working on extensions at Glen Albyn; two for the price of one?
The holy grail for any distillery is the original plan. Distilleries as such have been extended, bulldozed and quite often, changed beyond comprehension during their existence. Glen Mhor is, as we'll see, no different.
I'm delighted to confirm we do have sight of these original plans for Glen Mhor. Amongst the pile of plans was a particular set that was a distinctive tanned colour - the rest were mostly original dulled white. The plans were brittle and had seen much better days and I'd speculate, had not been opened for some time. Needless to say, I was extremely methodical and restrained when laying these 128 year old plans out on the table. Hence why I've not flattened these out or even attempted to flatten any folds or creases - this is a valuable document.
Dated 1893, these are signed by Charles C. Doig of Elgin. Laying these out on the table was a real thrill, which probably confirms my whisky geek status if it hadn't been diagnosed previously. Charles C. Doig's original vision for the distillery and of historical importance. On a side note, it did cross my mind that these need to be saved and preserved. They are of importance not only to whisky enthusiasts and a hugely profitable industry but to Inverness and Scotland as a whole. That's another topic, but I was privileged to unfold these plans and then take in their contents.
What was immediately noticeable was the fact that Charles calls these plans 'Distillery Inverness', there is no mention of Glen Mhor as the project name. This is hugely interesting, as you'll note from our Timeline page, there's an entry in 1886 that a new distillery was granted permission and was to be called Glen Mhor. An initial ambition of this visit was to unearth hard material relating to this application. Sadly, so far, none has been found, which does call into debate the entry itself. Who made this application? Why did it not proceed? And given these plans, was Charles even aware of the name? Had the decision to formally christen the distillery been taken in 1893? It would suggest that the project was indeed just that less than a year from the build.
This is backed up by our Newspaper archive, which confirms from various sources the project did not have an official name in late 1893 or early 1894.
Let's also consider the placement of when these designs were drawn up by Charles. Our aforementioned Timeline page is a great diagnostic tool; giving us a sense of what was happening around this period. Very little is known about John Birnie's departure from Glen Albyn, other than he was refused a stake in the distillery. This catalyst prompted his desire to seek out a new venture and partner, which arrived in the form of the Mackinlay's and Glen Mhor. Yet his departure from Glen Albyn was only made public on 16th November 1893, when he was named as the owner of the new Inverness distillery.
What's clear now is that his departure wasn't a sudden reaction, followed by the search for a new partner. The seeds were sown sometime before. Charles C. Doig's services were in demand and came at a premium (in 1898 he was paid £1000 to design the Ardmore distillery, equivalent to £135k in 2021), so the outlay for his skills was considerable and there would be a queue. These plans would have been submitted much earlier in 1898, meaning John was so confident of the new venture that he could leave Glen Albyn without the council approving the plans until the turn of the year. Perhaps word got out and he was forced to leave? Hopefully, one day we'll find out, but his influence on the Glen Mhor design - as an experienced distiller - will be interesting to debate.
An interesting find is that the above entry confirms that they were approved on 8th January 1894 - subject to the smoke shaft being not less than 60 feet. This reflects the growing urbanisation, or perceived trend of, Muirtown. From our Maps, to our Photograph Section, you can appreciate how rural Glen Mhor was at its foundation and then over time how it was swallowed up by an expanding Inverness. Interestingly, referring to our Newspaper Archive once again, the press was reporting the acceptance of the plans by the end of the week, on Friday 12th January.