August 1916 The Highland Railway Company


Our examination of the 1916 Highland Railway Company shipments involving Glen Mhor continues. Prior to delving into this particular offering from August, it should indicate that the distillery is returning to production after its traditional silent season, which range from June for 6-8 weeks in duration. 

Additionally, the image displays a signature in red, which is a notable addition to the document collection and is available for public viewing online, as it is from John Birnie himself, which is just great given his historical importance, to me anyway. My thanks once again to all those who made the Go Fund Me pledge a resounding success, thus enabling us to procure this invaluable artefact and several others. 

4th August

1 bag of brass (Willison) Alloa

7th August

4 hogsheads of whisky (Clyde Bonding Co) Buchanan Street

9th August

3 hogsheads of whisky (McDonald & Muir) Leith

10th August

4 casks of whisky (Cockburn & Campbell) Leith

25th August

1 hogshead of whisky (McKinley & Co) Leith (parent company)

26th August

2 hogsheads of whisky (Haddon & Co.) Grangemouth

2 hogsheads of whisky (Melrose Drover) Leith

15th August

9 then amended to 4, hogsheads, Leith

31st August

Received as for attended, Canal basin

(then earlier shipments that find a place on this invoice)

18th May

1 butt of whisky (Mackinlay) Leith - settled in last account

29th November

Oats? Oaks? or coals? (cannot make out firm) Canal basin

29th July

40? hogsheads (JW Kilmarnock) 

John Birnie (director) comments: This item was paid for in last a/c and please correct above items.

Interestingly, we have a more clearer entry than seen in July 1916, regarding a firm in Alloa. The name of which is Willison and a bag of brass? After researching Alloa, this refers to the copper-works in the town, which was located on Broad Street and was originally a West Free Church (source: Clackmannanshire) before Robert Willison adapted the premises. My initial thought was that the brass materials could be for small maintenance repairs at Glen Mhor? 

However, Alan Winchester's advice on the July 1916 invoice suggested that the brass parts could have been for a rummager at the distillery, which any visitors to Glenfarclas over the year could have seen in action, with a couple of modern additions. The use of rummagers has died out along with direct fired stills, as they helped prevent elements forming and sticking to the bottom of the still. It's no surprise to find a rummager in use, given how the stills were heated at Glen Mhor. 

The order indicates that during the period of relative inactivity, the men would have been engaged in a comprehensive examination of the distillery and its associated equipment, with a view to implementing improvements and replacements for the forthcoming season. The documentation in the Distillery Logbook reveals that their efforts were beneficial, as there were few unexpected occurrences at the distillery. 

The invoice contains several noteworthy entries, including the presence of Edinburgh Wine and Spirits Merchant, Macdonald & Muir. This company would subsequently become the owners of the Glenmorangie distillery and was renowned for its Highland Queen scotch blend, which relied on Highland whiskies as part of its recipe. Hence the initial purchase of 40% of Glenmorangie, before completing a full takeover a couple of years later. It seems that Glen Mhor was also an element utilised in their blending operations.  

The destination is depicted in the accompanying image, taken in October 1994. At that time, the company's warehouse in Leith was located at #35 at the old dock behind Commercial Street, between the junction of Dock Street and the Citadel. 

I'm grateful to Edinburgh Collected and Ronnie Dunbar for the image and information, I've also used a.i. to enhance the original image and bring a little more clarity. Following the relocation of MacDonald & Muir to Broxburn during the summer of 1996, the building was converted into flats, as were numerous others in the Leith area.

Also mentioned is the Clyde Bonding Company (incorporated in 1907 by James M'Creadie & Co.) that would later become part of Edrington and be associated with the Cutty Sark blend. While the company's operations were subsequently relocated to Spiers Wharf (situated in the vicinity of Port Dundas) in Glasgow and subsequently to Drumchapel, the original site was located on Buchanan Street. 

Buchanan Street takes its name from Andrew Buchanan, a former tobacco lord who was the original landowner with aspirations for this area of Glasgow. The street itself became synonymous with whisky bonding in the city, including bonded warehouses and blenders, with several merchants in the vicinity.

This order precedes the creation of Cutty Sark, and thus cannot be linked to that particular blend. Nevertheless, the continued interest of blenders across Scotland in Glen Mhor is evidenced by this entry and also that of specialist merchant, Cockburn & Campbell.

This firm was established in 1831 as a consequence of a family division from the original Cockburns of Leith (which is still in operation). Its initial focus was on the sale of wine and spirits. The company's primary focus was on the London market, with a particular emphasis on wine, and a small presence remaining in Edinburgh. However, they did maintain a select range of Scotch whiskies, which they distributed to a clientele that included the city's elite and it seems this handpicked selected included Glen Mhor.

Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to locate any information about the Haddon Grangemouth entry. Could this be a possible port departure to another market? Melrose-Drover were a well-known importer of wines and spirits on Mitchell Street, Leith. This was their main store with another in London. The business finally closed in 1974, with the ending of gin production in the area at that time.

The company produced a range of blended whiskies, including Ancient & Honourable, Malcom Stuart and Golden Crown, which was arguably the most well-known. Prior to its acquisition by Saccoone & Speed Limited in 1968. We don't know the intended blend for these casks, however, it is likely that at least one of them was destined to receive some Glen Mhor.

The canal basin entries are of interest, with one occurring at the end of the month on the 31st August. Judging by the actual cost, it is the largest entry on the monthly total, which serves to illustrate its size or weight. The same type of cargo is repeated for November, and also appears as a credit.

Rose proposed an alternative hypothesis regarding the material in question, which I had not previously been considered. Could this be oak or oaks? The material may have been required for a previously unknown spate of internal work. The warehousing springs to mind, or even the washbacks, with the 1898 planned expansion1898 planned expansion creating space for two more. We know these arrived later, at the latest by the 1920s, but not when exactly. The same can be said of the spirit vats noted on these plans. Could these be the necessary materials arriving for these improvements?

The document also illustrates the extent of John Birnie's hands-on approach at this juncture. He could have been engaged in golf, on holiday, or enjoying a game of curling. Nevertheless, he was to be found with a keen eye, ensuring that the records were accurate and bills were settled fairly.