"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

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Saucel Distillery, Paisley

My next destination was Paisley to visit the site of the old Saucel Distillery, once one of Scotland’s largest in terms of production volume. Barnard describes the distillery as being located in the suburbs of Paisley but, like so many of the Glasgow distilleries, the site has been absorbed by outward growth and is effectively now part of the town centre.

From Wishaw to Paisley via the M74 and M8 is relatively easy, soon to be even easier (possibly) when the M74 extension is completed in 2011(ish), although the arguments about increased air pollution in South Glasgow hark back to the old days of the Gorbals which was just north of the route the extension now takes.

However, Wishaw to Paisley via Hamilton and East Kilbride is, at first, a tortuous journey on roads I don’t know (especially when the A726 splits into two completely separate roads eventually reconnected after either 3 miles on the A727 or 3 miles on the M77!), but a journey that is ultimately rewarded by fine views west across the Gleniffer Braes and Renfrewshire valley. I don’t know this part of Scotland very well but I am beginning to understand the affection that Barnard had for the area.

The site of the distillery was on the banks of the River Cart close to Paisley Abbey, which those Monks who rested at Tambowie were heading for in their pilgrimage. Barnard describes the distillery as a large work that “occupies nearly both sides of King Street”. The old NLS maps over a number of decades mid-19th century all show Saucel Brewery on the north side of King Street with the distillery on the south side, but the businesses were likely connected and founded together in 1793. The maps show malt houses, kilns and spirit stores on both sides of the street.

Espedair Burn and old chimney from thread mill
The water source was initially the Espedair Burn which ran through the grounds behind the brewery, but that burn became polluted, this time from nearby dye works, and so a separate reservoir was built in the hills beyond Paisley and water channelled to the site. The old burn still runs by the site, now through culverts into the River Cart. Dyeing was a major business in Paisley, connected to the thread mills and weaving that the town was famed for.

Barnard doesn’t mention the Ardrossan canal which passed the distillery on its south corner but which was closed by an Act of Parliament in 1881. Heavily in debt, and the route all the way to Ardrossan never completed, the canal was used to transport goods and sightseers between nearby Johnstone and Glasgow Central Station before railways took over. Ironically, the canal was filled in and its path from Glasgow to Paisley is now a railway which has a dead end at Paisley Canal station beside the old distillery site!

When Barnard visited, the distillery was in the top five production volumes in Scotland, about 1 million gallons p.a. (although still dwarfed by Port Dundas’ 2.6m gallons). There were 20 Washbacks and 18 Pot Stills plus a Coffey Patent Still.

The distillery was taken over by DCL in 1903 and there is report of a fire that destroyed the production facilities in October 1915 (Ulf Buxrud, 2000) but spared the warehouses. Barnard had noted that “precautions against fire are very complete, every floor having a plentiful supply of water laid on with the necessary hose attached” and the cause of the fire, whether bombing during the war or otherwise, is unknown. No, I am not about to take on another newspaper trawl, but if anyone has any more information on the demise of this once great distillery then please feel free to add a comment below.

Bingo at Saucel and Anchor Mill appartments
King Street is now Saucel Street (a new King Street now lies to the west of Paisley town centre) and no trace of the distillery or brewery remains, not even by name as Saucel was a name for the district before the distillery was built. The last warehouses were, like Clydesdale, demolished in the 1980s. Apartment blocks now fill most of the grounds and a bingo hall stands where the main distillery buildings once were.