"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

Monday, 8 November 2010

Springside Distillery and others, Campbeltown

Barnard describes this distillery as “the smallest work in Campbeltown” and his visit was very brief.  It was also his shortest report from the town and one of the shortest in the book, on a par with Auchintoshan and with only Macallan having fewer words.  The distillery output was just 30,000 gallons p.a. (136,000 litres) and although this was the lowest in Campbeltown there were 14 other Scottish distilleries with lower output at that time.

When Barnard visited he found “a scattered lot of buildings placed around a small yard” yet all the key components were on site, including three small granaries and maltings right through to four bonded warehouses, although only containing 600 casks.  There were two kilns, heated by peat only, and water was drawn from Crosshill Loch.  The mash tun was the smallest in town at just 10 feet by 3 1/2 and the two pot stills held just 1,205 and 394 gallons (5,475 and 1,790 litres).

Springside Distillery wall
Located off Burnside Street at the south end of Longrow the distillery was owned by John Colvill & Co throughout its entire history, from 1830 until closing in 1926.  Some of the buildings have since been demolished and a Hydro-Electric depot established, but one of the bonded warehouses is still well used for storage and a wall remaining from the distillery stands behind the depot.

And that is it for the Campbeltown distilleries visited by Barnard in the summer of 1885.  To complete the picture for Campbeltown though I think it is worth a brief mention for the other licensed distilleries that came and went before Barnard arrived, most of this data is from Stirk (2005):

Broombrae (1833-1838) – only licensed for a year although there may have been another unrecorded distillery on the site in the Dalintober part of town before then.

Caledonian (1823-51) – the second or third licensed distillery in Campbeltown itself.  It was on Burnside Street beside where Springside would later be built.  Caledonian ceased production in 1844 and the company was wound up in 1851.  The distillery site became the southern entrance to Glebe Street in the 1870s to expand the town westward.

Drumore (1834-47) – located on an old illicit still site at Drumore Farm on the road into town from the north.  Sequestrated and sold in 1847 it ceased production then.

Glenramskill (1828-52) – on the south side of the loch beyond Kilkerran.  It was advertised for sale in 1835 and believed closed by 1852 although it is still clearly marked on maps from 1865.

Highland (1827-52) – situated on Broad street in the Dalaruan area, just north of Kintyre Distillery, little else is known about it.  The output may have been by far the highest in town around 1840 as it had the highest rates to pay of all distilleries at £400 p.a. while most others were charged £200.  The distillery was still clearly marked as such on maps right up to 1921 but the site was redeveloped in the 1930s for housing and again in the last two years.

Lochside (1830-52) – very little known about this distillery but it was located on the east side of Longrow looking out onto the mussel ebb at that time.

McKinnon’s Argyll (1827-1844) and Meadowburn (1824-1886) were mentioned under the posts on Argyll and Burnside respectively.

Mossfield (1834-37) – situated off Longrow Street in what are now the grounds of the Lorne and Lowland Church beside where Longrow distillery stood.

Mountain Dew (1834-37?) – also first known as Thistle and sharing the shortest run with Mossfield.  Thistle closed almost as soon as it opened and was finally wound up in 1837 but recommenced as Mountain Dew for a few years afterwards.  It was between Springside and Caledonian distilleries off Burnside Street.

Tober an Righ beyond Springbank cask storage
Tober an Righ (1834-60) – another one on Longrow, this time wedged in between Springbank and Longrow Street.  This little corner of whiskidom got very crowded for a short while in the 1830s.  It was a very small affair with rates of only £80 when most others were paying £200.  Bought by John Mitchell in 1851 when he owned the neighbouring Springbank but closed nine years later.

Union (1826-50) – built adjoining Campbeltown Distillery at the north end of Longrow and sharing the proprietor with it at one time, even jointly assessed on rates of £160 between them.  Campbeltown lasted until 1924 and Union may have effectively been surplus to requirements when the business was sold in 1850.

West Highland (1830-50) – built on Argyll street at the south end of town.  Another small venture and it had ceased production by 1850.

One other distillery worth mentioning and omitted from Stirk’s book is Ballegreggan (1790-1797).   The dates are recorded in Udo (2005) and according to the Scotch Whisky Industry Record this was the first registered distillery in the area, before formal licensing was introduced some thirty years later.  The exact location is unknown but there is a Balegreggan farm on the north side of town near to Drumore, beside which a burn runs through the Balegreggan glen, an ideal place for illicit distilling and smuggling in the years before the distillery fell under the watchful eyes of the Excise.

Chart of Campbeltown Distillery dates (click to enlarge)
The chart here records the open and close years for each of the 35 recognised distilleries in Campbeltown’s history and shows the peak of the industry in the 1830s and 40s, with the highest number open at one time being 28 between 1834 and 1837.  Some of these dates will vary depending on the source as there are often differences between build and licence dates and also between production ceasing and the venture being finally wound up.  The lack of records for some distilleries also makes direct comparisons difficult but I hope this provides a fairly accurate overview.

I have nothing more to report on the individual distilleries of Campbeltown but my next post will wrap up some final thoughts and observations about the town in general, including a quick look at some of the reasons for the collapse in the industry, before we take the ferry to Islay.