1926 Additions to Manager House Glen Mhor

All reputable distilleries of the era had a residence for the manager situated close by. This was both a perk of the position and a status symbol, but it also served a practical function. As evidenced by our research in the Distillery Logbook, there were times when the Exciseman required the approval of the distillery manager for modifications or to report any issues. 
Having the manager living nearby meant quick and easy access, sometimes even through the telephone, when time was of the essence. This was highlighted in the entry from 14th April 1939.

The position of the manager's residence facilitates tracking of its residents and, consequently, Glen Mhor's managers. Moreover, it appears that after Mackinlay & Birnie took over Glen Albyn in 1920, the position of a manager overseeing both sites was established. Despite each distillery protecting its own territory, there was significant inter-site assistance, making it a rational and effective approach.

It is unclear whether the combined role of distillery manager was created almost immediately after the purchase of Glen Albyn or followed through natural wastage or opportunities. Further dedicated research on Glen Albyn is necessary to determine this. However, it appears probable that Robert Robertson was promoted to the position from his existing managerial role at Glen Mhor sometime after 1920. And ultimately, that position may have included Glen Albyn House, which appears to be the larger and more sought-after property in comparison to its counterpart, Glen Mhor.

Robert was a dependable and unwavering figure at Glen Mhor from his arrival in 1894 until his death in 1939 onsite at Glen Albyn House. It is plausible that he commanded admiration from the workforce of both distilleries, considering him a sensible choice and an informative figure upon whom John Birnie could rely. Glen Albyn House was used by future managers, and James Ritchie, his successor, is listed at that address. I acknowledge that the information I have gathered is becoming comprehensive, therefore I recommend enjoying a dram and visiting the Distillery Info page for an overview or exploring the Timeline to discover the history of Glen Mhor.

The back of the Manager's House presents a typical design for its time and would have been consistent with the housing on Telford street. The plans are commendable, as they provide an overview of the original layout, along with the proposed extension for a larger house.

This new extension would be located next to the current servants' quarters and washroom, offering an additional bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor. This does not relate to Glen Mhor's work, but provides a benefit of improved living conditions for the Manager and their family. It may also allow for visitors to the site. It is known that Robert Robertson was the Manager at Glen Mhor during this time. My investigation has uncovered that he had a son and three daughters, which could indicate the necessity to enlarge the premises, even though he would have been a widower in his late 50s when making this request. Thus, his family endured the current lodging for a considerable amount of time, or were to found elsewhere.

With Glen Mhor's rising status, it may have been necessary to improve the house and introduce a reception area. However, the timing of his relocation is unclear. John Birnie was a prominent figure at both distilleries, and he had property elsewhere in the city that was passed down to his son, William Birnie at a later date. 

The elevation view of the extension provides a clearer understanding of its physical effects on the distillery site, enabling us to pinpoint its potential location. By doing so, we can eliminate Glen Albyn House as a possibility, leading to several unanswered questions.

Looking at the various photographs we have collected of the distillery, it appears that there is only one suitable candidate for the Manager's residence, which is located near the main entrance to the site. This arrangement seems logical. The house is situated across from what we believe were the distillery offices and adjacent to the accommodation for the workers. Can you imagine living next door to your boss? It is not something that I would particularly enjoy.

This image, taken in the 1980s and zoomed in, provides a possible identification of the Manager's residence. Although incoming research suggests that this is not the house we are searching for, but instead the Workmen's Cottages, the question of where the house was remains to be answered in future articles.

There are no other buildings on the site that better fit the description. It should be noted that the building is not detached, which may have been an artistic choice in the original drawings or a later addition. Furthermore, it is possible that by 1926, the Manager's house was no longer serving as the distillery manager's residence. Instead, this extension was potentially built to provide more space for the workers and their families.

It is evident that the house in question is not Glen Albyn House. This statement is supported by an unpublished plan (until now) of the manager's house for a neighbouring distillery dating back to 1895. The plan shows a house with a dissimilar style, with a dining reception room located on the ground floor.

So, we return to Glen Mhor and consult the Inverness Burgh Directory, a useful source if one has the time to process the data. It seems that the building is frequently referred to as Glen Mhor Cottage. By 1924, multiple men were recorded as residing at this address, such as Robert Robertson, as evidenced by the directory.

This begs the question of who resided in the recently acquired Glen Albyn House. It is unsurprising to discover that John Birnie obtained this highly coveted residence for personal use. In effect, crossing former enemy lines (Telford Street) to take up his prize.

An intriguing aspect of the Glen Albyn House investigation would be John Birnie's potential return to the estate in 1921. Did he reside in Glen Albyn House as the former manager in the 1880s? It would be an intriguing turn of events if he did, especially considering that he was forced out by the directors (who may have lived in the house also) in 1892/3, leading to the creation of Glen Mhor on their doorstep.

Little information is available regarding the separation between John and his previous employers. William Birnie, his son, described the event as a 'squabble' in passing, indicating a lack of cordiality at the time. This allusion is featured in R.B. Weir's 1971 PHD thesis.

John may have derived some satisfaction from reclaiming his position as a co-owner and regaining the privileges that were once denied to him, or lost. This will require further investigation through the Glen Albyn project and adds further support to John's continued residence in the property for nine years.  The former manager of Glen Albyn distillery may have experienced a complete turnaround of fortunes after being dismissed (or forced out, its never been clear) for requesting a stake in the company.

This prompted an extensive search of the 1920s Directories to determine Robert Robertson's move-in date at John Birnie's Glen Albyn House, signifying his increased status in the distillery's operations. Actual entries can be viewed on the Directory page on this site, but 1930 holds great importance for both Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn, as discovered through research. This signaled the appointment of James Ritchie as the head brewer (he would later succeed Robertson following his demise in the 1930s). John Birnie presumably assumed a more directorial responsibility across both locations, thereby freeing up the general manager position for Robert Robertson, who is recorded to have resided at Glen Albyn House starting in 1930.

So, a new job title for Robert Robertson and a new residence to call home. 

It is advantageous to have the opportunity to utilise such resources and extract informative materials which offer new perspectives on property ownership. After completing a brief exploration into Manager House related topics, I pondered whether the same principle could be applied to unveil when John Birnie initially inhabited the Glen Albyn House and who occupied the premises beforehand.

The Glen Albyn property was purchased in 1920 as part of the distillery deal itself, and the yearbook from this year does not provide evidence of any residents. This may not be surprising given that the yearbook was likely compiled in late 1919. Looking back at 1919, the only reference is to Glen Albyn Cottages, which was the residence of Alex Watt, a brewer, and also mentioned in the 1918 edition. The first appearance of Glen Albyn House in the yearbook is in 1917, with Eaton Hall listed as the resident. Research shows that Eaton held the position of managing director at Glen Albyn Distillery Company. It is apparent that the property was assigned for the top tier of the managerial hierarchy, a feature that was maintained with Glen Mhor.

It is unsurprising that the 1921 yearbook displays John Birnie settled in Glen Albyn House.

We will discuss the house as the Glen Albyn research progresses. There are numerous pieces of information to be collated to uncover another narrative. I did not anticipate that a mere house extension plan would lead to all of this, but documenting whisky history is exciting when time permits.

Potentially, the subject of Glen Mhor houses may be revisited as my research includes plans for New Houses in October 1946 and Workmen Houses Alterations in May 1950. These plans could illustrate the changes made to the Manager's House, possibly providing a stronger basis for matching a building from the 1980s photographs. However, only time will confirm this hypothesis.

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These original plans are kindly made available bh the Highland Archives Centre and is watermarked for its protection. As with any images on this website, please ask first before using and always give credit.