On this section of the site, we'll be listing all the distillery plans that we've found. Starting with the original Charles C. Doig designs from 1893.
We'll be adding to this page on an ad hoc basis, debating, investigating and consuming each newly constructed building, every little amendment and ultimately, giving us the journey of the distillery. My sincere thanks to the Highland Archives in Inverness for their assistance. We'll start at the very beginning...
When I arranged a half-day of research in the Highland Archive Centre, 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 a very 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.
The condition of the plans has been discussed previously; I’m just excited and humbled to be able to bring you these in 2021, 128 years after they were drawn up. A great deal has happened in-between and Glen Mhor is sadly no more.
The discovery of a cache of plans into the 1900s means we will be able to bring you every building change at the distillery. Most of these have been lost to time until now, as always I’d recommend our Timeline page to see the natural progression of things. As and when discoveries are made, they slot into the timeline giving us a new perspective.
A couple of thank you's before we get going...
My thanks to Rose for prepping these images as best as she can with my distinctive photographing style. These plans are watermarked with the site logo, as access to the materials was on a non-commercial basis. This protects the Archive and this site, but ultimately we are a resource and on a journey, so I know you'll give credit and please ask if you have any questions.
Also, thanks to Alan, for his input on the distilling side of things. As knowledgeable as I am, I'm no distiller or whisky historian, or consultant. So, his observations on these plans have also assisted in my commentary. Right, let's get into it, starting with the visual recreation above.
This drawing is especially important, as it gives us a predicted look of the distillery. It is labelled South Elevation and this isn't accurate. It should read South East Elevation given the layout of the site. However, it visually depicts the back end of the distillery. A reverse of the Glen Mhor we've seen over the decades. This view wasn't in existence for too long, as additional warehousing started to block this panoramic view in the late 1890s.
This is effectively the right-hand side of several photographs that look into the distillery itself, which we have on file. Perhaps the most recognisable is this approach to Glen Mhor, captured in 1974:
The only immediate change you can see is the creation of an additional upper floor to the left of the pagoda. And on the left, all the warehousing that was built, creating another courtyard area, while the original courtyard would become crowded with new production buildings - that's for future articles.
There's a simplicity to this drawing. It gives us perspective, the floor levels behind the external walls and a scale, but little else. Alan upon seeing these plans commented that it is a very Doig distillery, reminiscent of Dallas Dhu on Speyside, which you can visit. Built 4 years after Glen Mhor, you can see similarities and I'd also suggest Ardmore which was built around this time as well.
Now, let's venture onto the ground floor in its full, original, glory.
A glorious sight and one that I keep returning to. One of the initial things that strikes you is the compact nature of the design. The distillery office being beside the Malt Barns and Kiln is unusual and perhaps not a good long term marriage. The Excise Office also receives a central location and is next door to the distillery office; allowing both sides to keep in close contact and a watchful eye perhaps?
There is a logical flow to the production process, starting on the right and then moving across to the left of the site. Through our research into the Saladin Boxes installed at the distillery in 1949, we've uncovered that one of the primary motivations was the size of the malting floors:
It's an interesting situation, we know from the 1898 magazine article that the owners had planned to install another pair of stills along with other enhancements. In the end, only a 3rd still was installed in 1925 along with a larger mash tun and two washbacks. That was lost to time until we found a photograph of it. But with this new still, washbacks and mash tun, the Glen Mhor malt barns could not cope. You can get a sense of their scale in this atmospheric photograph featuring William Birnie:
The only unused space is the passageway that cuts through the heart of the distillery, even the lavvy gets a mention and is immediately accessible to the offices. The Mash House and Fermentation Rooms are sizeable, allowing space for upgrades as suggested in the aforementioned 1898 article. However, it is the Still House that suggests an epic scale and forwarding planning.
There are lots of workings in pencil, showing that this edition of the plans was very much in progress and being adapted as and when. Perhaps following discussions with the Dean Guild who eventually provided approval? We can gauge the size of the Still area in this 1898 photograph:
The plans match up nicely, showing us the platform and placement points for the stills. Behind this, we have the smokestack (or chimney) that was limited in size by the Deed Guild's pencil comments. This limitation may have impacted production, what would be interesting is to compare its height to others of the period, including Dallas Dhu, just to gauge how cutback it was. Could a shorter chimney affect how the coal-fired stills were utilised?
Looking at these original plans, you can see that the electrical power from the turbine would reach the mash house at least, before being modified, or perhaps noted just how much power the canal turbine would produce. As noted, this extra power was utilised just a couple of years later, with a visitor to the distillery in 1898 setting the scene:
'There the scene suddenly changed, and became one of bustle and activity. A dense steam rose forty feet into the freezing air, and the keen glow of the electric light was visible in various windows.'
The subsequent distillery tour, with John Birnie as the guide, underlines the value and pride in generating their own electricity, which is also highlighted by an 1896 newspaper article from the Northern Chronicle and General Advertiser that documented a lavish opening celebration. For our visitor, just a couple of years prior, the turbine itself formed part of the tour:
The type of turbine remains unconfirmed for now, but Frederic Nells of London were producing the Victor turbine around this period as we can see below. This turbine could be singular or doubled up to offer more power. It seems very likely that they did not offer a huge range of turbine options, in what was a very limited market, but hopefully, I can confirm the exact type one day.
And finally, as one of the original ambitions of this research, I'm delighted to finally unearth the original plans and vision for Glen Mhor, the assortment of buildings and their original purpose. It gives us a strong foundation to make sense of all the subsequent additional buildings and changes that we'll be documenting in 2022 and beyond.
1893 1st floor plans
Welcome to the third and final instalment of the 1893 Glen Mhor distillery plans.
After the delights of the ground floor layout, the 1st floor seems more mundane and less speculative.
The 1st floor doesn't actually reveal much other than the upper roof space was not utilised and the upper level was open. We can appreciate this more in some of the photographs that we've found below. The size of the production area of Glen Mhor was initially conceived to be expanded. We know that from a journalist visit in 1898, John Birnie openly talked about these plans:
'Mr. Birnie now conducted us to a lower storey, where we reached the tun-room, over 40 feet in length with a concreted floor, and contained four large fermenting vessels, each with a capacity of 6500 gallons. Space has here been reserved, for an extension to hold other four tuns.'
'The still-house, which we next visited, is an excellent structure, 50 feet in length, and with perfect ventilation. It contains two pot stills, and two more are soon to be added.'
There could be some speculation as to why founders didn't launch with a fully maximised Glen Mhor? That's a reasonable question and something you'll come to appreciate as we see the development of the site in subsequent years. There is a feeling that the project was up and running promptly, with forwarding thinking to expansion, but some mistakes were made. Such as the size of the malting floor, which in later years needed help from Glen Albyn's more sizeable presence to support malted needs.
Perhaps John was talking up the project, putting on a positive spin for the press? He would have been well versed in dealing with journalists throughout his career. Although it does seem odd that only 4 years after launch, you're already expanding the capacity of several areas of the site. However, this more steady approach would pay dividends with the Pattison crash and drop in consumer confidence and demand across the industry. Glen Mhor managed to keep in production and out of the hands of larger firms who took the opportunity to purchase distilleries and stock in the coming decades.
A larger Glen Mhor might have been prone to over-production, higher costs and ultimately too much of a financial burden to keep running. A fate that fell many new owners at the end of the 1890s.
On the tour he gave, you can see that the still room did have an upper platform but nothing else - apologies for the grainy photograph, but this is the only surviving example we've found and I've tried to do what I can to make it more clear:
It seems reasonable that the upper platform wrapped around the front of the stills as this photograph is taken from a higher perspective and shows very little had changed at the distillery in nearly 6 decades:
Now that we've covered the initial plans of Glen Mhor, we can start to walk through the changes on site over subsequent decades. These also take the form of plans and give us even more detail. It'll be worth the wait as we have so much to cover and digest.
1898 Plan of Alterations
Due to economic changes these plans were never fully implemented until the 1920s, but they make for fascinating viewing. The full article is available here.
1904 New Workmen's Houses
Except these actually turn out to be alterations to the existing accommodation, and in doing so, reveal some facts about living conditions but also what was happening on the site itself. The deep dive is available here.
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