September 1916 The Highland Railway Company


As we move out of the quiet season and into September, the latest Highland Railway invoice lands on my desk. 

Thanks again to everyone who made the acquisition of these documents possible last year, and as promised I'm able to bring you some deeper and hopefully more meaningful thoughts on what they can tell us. 

The first entry is very interesting, as I believe it reads essentially Mackinlay & Birnie, and if my clogged Glen Mhor memory is to be trusted, this is the first shipment involving the owners I've noticed among these train bills to date. Consisting of 10 butts and 40 hogsheads, it's a sizeable shipment and not in keeping with some of the Leith blenders or wine merchants we've seen before, who tend to take a handful of casks. This is a substantial order destined for Mackinlay & Birnie via North Leith.

The Mackinlay & Birnie empire at this time, I believe, consisted of four bonded warehouses in the Leith area, including one in Charlotte Street and another in the East Old Docks. Possibly one of these was the ultimate destination if the casks were to be filled and returned, depending on where you wanted to draw the northern line on a map.

This may have been the parent company requesting stock for their blending purposes as demand was high and the distillery was just coming back to life. It is likely that these casks would be around 5 years old before making the return leg, as this was John Birnie's preference and he instilled the same belief in his son William, who later commented in 1952:

'Whisky under three years old is a sick spirit... sick in spirit and violent in the throat of a man and I personally should welcome legislation requiring five years of aging.'

The full entry is transcribed below, and it is notable that the next entry is for a large consignment to the Walkers in Kilmarnock, which is a common feature of these invoices. With both of the initial 2 orders being for 40 hogsheads we can see this equates to 2 tonnes of carriage, with the 10 butts adding an extra ton. However, surprisingly, this isn't the biggest order on record for this month.

11th September

10 butts, 40 hogsheads, North Leith, Mackinlay & Birnie

16th September

40 hogsheads (12755-13737), Kilmarnock, Walker

20th September

2 casks? High Street, Martin Barranna?

22nd September

9 casks, Kings Cross

26th September

2 ???, South Leith

30th September

3 bags of yeast, Manchester Hamlyns (Salford)

30th September

50 butts (1056-27373), South Leith, Thomson

30th September

3 butts, Camden, Fordson

30th September

3 hogsheads yeast, Edinburgh

30th September

Received as ???, canal basin (this looks like a total of some kind)

11th September

5 ??? bags, Dunbar

11th September

5 hogsheads whisky? Glasgow

16th September

10 hogsheads whisky, Leith

26th September

1 hogsheads whisky, Glasgow

29th September

Possible half a cask, or smaller cask? Leith

In red: This item is payable by consignee 

The invoice demonstrates that operations at Glen Mhor are returning to normal following the silent season. It also illustrates the diverse range of orders and customers that the distillery served, from large orders from Kilmarnock to smaller independent businesses or individuals seeking a single cask. This reflects a bygone era when purchasing a cask directly from a distillery was a common practice.

It is interesting that an order was placed with Thomson of Edinburgh, which I believe is J.G. Thomson & Co., a company that is still in existence and has recently been relaunched. I contacted the company to request information regarding the aforementioned large shipment, as well as to inquire about their relationships with Glen Mhor and Mackinlay & Birnie in general. I am still awaiting a reply, which I hope indicates that someone is currently searching through old records in a storage facility in Edinburgh. It would be great to obtain such insight and confirmation, even if only to understand the destination and purpose of the casks in question.