"Having long been possessed with an ardent desire to see the Distilleries of Scotland...", Alfred Barnard, 1885

"O Thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink", from Scotch Drink, by Robert Burns

Friday, 30 July 2010

Glasgow Part 3 – (Loch Katrine) Adelphi Distillery

A walk through Glasgow – past and present
Buchanan Street Glasgow looking south
After my seagull induced delay at George Square I make tracks for the south side of the city centre, across the River Clyde. I follow Barnard’s footsteps down Buchanan Street “the finest thoroughfare in Glasgow’ and then “through busy Argyle street”. These streets are also busy with shoppers today and after many years of neglect Buchanan Street has been transformed over the last 25 years into something that can once again be described as a fine thoroughfare, with the Royal Concert Hall at the north end looking down to the St Enoch Centre at the other.

At the top of Buchanan street I pass the entrance to a Subway station. Glasgow’s Subway was opened in December 1896, 10 years after Barnard’s journey ended. Barnard travelled by rail and by horse and cart for most of his tour; the motor car would replace the horse and cart in the early 20th century, in Glasgow the opening of the ‘District Railway’ as it was then known was the first stick in the spokes for animal powered transport in the city.

Outside the O2 shop there is still a queue of around 20-30 people at 2pm, waiting to purchase the latest release of the Apple iPhone. Barnard notes only a few distilleries with telephone links during his tour, and most of them only between distillery and an office in another part of the city. Alexander Graham Bell’s famous inaugural telephone call was made on 10 March 1876, the first British telephone link appeared in 1878 and provincial companies spread across the UK between 1881 and 1885 (when Barnard’s tour commenced).

Barnard’s journal was serialised in Harpers as he was travelling and I pondered over how long it would take for his notes to reach the London publisher from far away villages in the highlands. In the 1880s, the Post Office used horse drawn carts and the rail service for mail collection and delivery. Today, communication technology could allow me to write this piece on an iPhone (if one magically appeared through my letterbox) and instantly post it to this blog with just the slightest contact with a touch sensitive screen.

I cross the River Clyde by way of the Victoria Bridge which was built in 1851 to replace the old Stockwell Bridge. The original Glasgow Bridge had been built on this site in 1350 and was, for 400 years, the only bridge across the Clyde. Barnard describes the scene on the Clyde as “…one never to be forgotten; a forest of mast extending as far as the eye can reach; the open centre of the silver stream; …the endless variety of sounds and sights complete a picture unequalled in any other city in the world.”

River Clyde from Victoria Bridge
Perhaps some poetic licence in that last statement, we don’t know how well travelled Barnard was, but nonetheless a picture of busy commercial and passenger activity. In the late 19th century Glasgow produced half of all the ship tonnage in Britain. In the early to mid 20th century the Clyde was still one of the major ship building rivers in the world, the Royal Yacht Britannia and the QEII liner among the classics built there. Not any more. The shipbuilding has mostly gone; the banks of the Clyde now home to modern apartments and office blocks. Barnard’s description of the Clyde as a ‘silver stream’ is a far cry from the post industrial murk that now winds its way through the city.

The Distillery
The Adelphi Distillery was built in 1826 and used to stand at the north-west corner of the infamous Gorbals, between the Gorbals Cross and the Clyde. The site of the distillery was previously an orchard, long before Glasgow became an industrial heartland of the British Empire, and no doubt contributing to the city’s moniker as the ‘dear green place’.

Adelphi was one of the largest distilleries in Scotland at the time of Barnard’s visit, producing in excess of 500,000 gallons (2.3m litres) per annum and was one of the few producing both malt and grain whisky on the same site. The distillery also had warehouses at Port Dundas and most of its malting was also done there, again emphasising the importance of that area to Glasgow’s distilling history.

Adelphi Street today
An 1895 map (NLS, OS large scale Scottish town plans, 1847-1895, VI.11.21) names Adelphi as Loch Katrine Distillery and it was licensed as Loch Katrine Adelphi in 1870. Adelphi Street is named on the map running along the bank of the Clyde just to the north of the distillery and this is now a public walkway. The name Loch Katrine perhaps came from this loch being the water source for producing whisky at the distillery, the pipeline to supply Glasgow having been opened in 1859.

The distillery was bought by the Distillers Company Ltd in 1902 and was closed in 1907. The distillery buildings remained until they were demolished in the late 1960s and the final landmark, the chimney, came down in 1971. I have heard of one story about a major accident in 1906 when an additional building to accommodate two new washbacks, which Barnard had noted as under construction when he visited, collapsed and flooded the street with wash. This may have led to the decision to close the distillery.

The Gorbals
Distillery accidents aside, the Gorbals had other alcohol issues to deal with. Perhaps to quench the drouth of those employed in the hot, dusty industries the Gorbals quite literally had a pub on every corner. On the 1895 map (ref VI.15.2) one street block between Crown Street and Rose Street has PH marked for Public House on every corner and no less than 10 in total in the block.

Barnard makes no mention of the Gorbals area in his report. Running to the south and east of the distillery the Gorbals was an overpopulated series of cramped four storey tenements and heavy industry, with dye works, iron foundries, forges and cotton mills side by side with homes and schools. The tenements housed generations of families under one roof and were overcrowded and dirty. Poor sanitation, poor quality building and the dust and smoke from industry made this one of the poorest slums in Glasgow.

Various attempts at regeneration have taken place since as early as the 1860s and the area was finally transformed into more modern housing and commercial areas following demolition of the last tower blocks in the 1980s.

Present Day
Glasgow Central Mosque
The site on which the Adelphi distillery once stood is now home to Glasgow Central Mosque. Built in 1983 the Mosque is the focal point for Glasgow’s Muslim population and can accommodate 2,000 people for prayer. This striking building features a traditional Minaret and a large, ornate glass dome allows light to flood the interior.

My vague understanding of the Islamic view on alcohol is that the Qur’an is interpreted as forbidding alcohol (and other intoxicants) as they are considered harmful (particularly in turning one away from God and prayer). Most observing Muslims will avoid drinking alcohol in any form. Other interpretations extend to the avoidance of anything connected to alcohol including production, transportation and sale.

The building of Scotland’s largest Mosque on the site where once stood one of Scotland’s largest distilleries may be the clearest contrast in a change of land use that I will encounter on this journey. Whatever their views on alcohol the Muslim community appear to have embraced their new home, and this tranquil corner, adjacent to a leafy walkway along the banks of the now serene Clyde, is a stark contrast to the noise and industry of its past, and also an echo of the close communities that were once forged in the Gorbal tenements.

The name Adelphi also lives on in a more recent whisky venture. In 1993, the great-grandson of Archibald Walker who owned the distillery in the 1880s, Jamie, revived the name as an independent bottler, Adelphi Distillery Ltd. Not an actual distillery the company bottle single cask whiskies under the Adelphi name. The whisky writer Charles Maclean chairs their nosing team.

My journey now takes me east to where a new forge stands in Glasgow.