Glen Albyn 1885 William Grant Pencil


This is an extremely interesting article entitled A Glimpse Into Our Past which was published in an inhouse magazine article for William Grant & Sons. My thanks to Alan Winchester for highlighting its existence and setting the pendulum in motion with a new mystery to solve. As always, the images and texts belong to their rightful owners.

I'll transcribe the informative article below, and then go onto debate some elements and where I presume this Glen Albyn research project may - or may not - help shed some light on this pencil and the motivation behind it.

'William Grant's Pencil 1885

We record and treasure our company's incredible history and heritage at the Glenfiddich distillery, where our story began over 150 years ago. Archivist DAve Stewart handpicked this silver propelling pencil from our company archive. It belonged to William Grant himself and is inscribed:

To Wm Grant from the Employee's at Glenalbyn Distillery Invs 1885

But we're left with a bit of a puzzle with the inscription. The Glenfiddich Distillery Coy, Scroll Cashbook for 1892 records that a spirit still was purchased from the Glenalbyn Distillery in Inverness for £93. This was for the first still that William and John Grant bought to start up The Balvenie Distillery in 1893.

Why is the pencil dated 1885? And why did employees at Glenalbyn feel the need to share their gratitude to William Grant with this gift? We think the initial purchases for Balvenie were being done through the Glenfiddich books and then transferred to Balvenie at a later date.

It's an unsolved mystery, indeed. But a fascinating glimpse into our past.'

So, a mystery and at the time of writing it remains as such. The history of Glenalbyn or Glen Albyn is relatively undocumented. That's the point of this research, to bring the distillery back to life virtually and hopefully in doing so, provide new context and answer a few mysteries. Plus, if my more advanced Glen Mhor project is anything to go by, create a handful of new mysteries along the way!

Let's look at what we do know, as William Grant would have been very close to starting Glenfiddich after saving up enough money to start his own distillery and purchase land. However, in 1885, this was just an ambition than a reality. William would have been a respected distillery manager at the great Speyside distillery of Mortlach. A distillery with a unique presence and style of distillation. 

Why the thanks? Well, this is to be confirmed, but I believe it is reasonable to assume that William must have been sought out by grain merchants A.M. Gregory, who purchased the Glenalbyn distillery in 1884 and then set about refurbishing and upgrading the site. The distillery was a shell, with previous equipment having been sold off in 1857 and left empty. A new team would have been recruited, new equipment sought and to guide them in this, or the practicalities of distillation, a more experienced hand would have been identified on a consultancy basis, if they were unable to secure a permanent deal. It seems a logical approach and explains why the distillery team are thanking William? Perhaps A.M. Gregory were experiencing problems, and with his knowledge, he stepped in to assist the distillery and overcome those initial pains that new start-ups often experience.

Again, all pure speculation with some grounding in dates, but my theory does seem possible on paper at least.

We know that this ownership also had a track record of looking to Speyside for talent and assistance, having recruited John Birnie as their distillery manager in 1885... the same year that the team thanked William Grant. Coincidence or something more? Alan Winchester suggested that it seems highly likely both men - being prominent distillery managers in the same region - will have known each other and their work. So, could have William made a recommendation or introduction? Moving to Inverness would not have been on his agenda, given his ongoing saving of resources for his own distillery, but could he have pointed the Albyn owners to a suitable candidate or similar expertise?

An interesting what if moment, if indeed William did take up the role and became manager of Glen Albyn, Glenfiddich would have been put on the backburner, or never taken shape. In a way, this echoes John Birnie's own journey, as eventually he would want a share in the successful Glen Albyn distillery. After being refused, he would leave his managerial role to become co-founder and co-owner of Glen Mhor; located across the road from Glen Albyn.

As for the pencil origins, I reached out to the Inverness Local History Forum, who also believed this a bespoke item, which may have the hallmark of a local jeweller. The Inverness museum has done collated research - thanks to a former member of staff - on local hallmarks. So, if the pencil does have one, then there is the possibility we can identify the maker and any associated records. Their general thought was that Inverness offered several jewellers who could have been responsible and offered such skills. I'll look to reach out to William Grant & Sons in due course to confirm if a hallmark has been noted.   

This is one area of Glen Albyn that I hope to return to as the research begins to take shape in the coming years. 


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