Glen Albyn Distillery Sketch of Ground Plan and Elevation of Premises
It was during one of these visits to the Highland Archives that I stumbled across a trio of documents relating to the Muirtown Wharf area. I didn't know what to expect when I unrolled the historical document, one of which is almost 180 years old. Immediately noticing it's importance to our Glen Albyn research, I wanted to document it visually, however we have been unable to obtain permission via the Canal & River Trust to reproduce the original document.
This is disappointing; however, the success of these projects is based on goodwill, non-profit and openness, I'm happy to follow the restrictions that are imposed around these documents. If you're feeling motivated enough to look them out for yourself, then I'm happy to list them below, otherwise you'll have to make do with my commentary and a poor sketch from my notebook at the time; as the Highland Team advised permission for a copy of this document would need to be sought and given how busy the Trust are, it took several months to receive a polite no to my request, hence the omission of the originals.
The three documents in the Highland Archives are:
HCA/BW1/3/3/2/2 Sketch of Ground Plan and Elevation of Premises... 1 rolled plan,1 paper
HCA/BW1/5/14/2/16a Photocopy of plan and section of Muirtown Wharf 1 rolled plan
HCA/BW1/5/14/2/18 Plan and Section of the Muirtown Wharf, Locks... 1 rolled plan
There is some duplication involved, as from memory, I recall that one is merely a copy of the original, but nevertheless, just as impressive. These plans required a large table to be rolled out onto and appreciated fully. What immediately struck me was the skill and attention to detail of the technical marvel who created these plans. They are also in fantastic condition, radiant as the first day that they were completed, which must have been no mean feat.
The plans show us where the Muirtown basin meets the Muirtown locks, and therefore, the Caledonian Canal. By chance, they also record the nearby buildings and water sources at the time, which includes Glen Albyn distillery.
Entitled, Caledonian Canal, Plan and Section, Muirtown Wharf, Locks and Adjoining Banks, Showing the Site of the Glen Albyn Distillery and the Supply of Water conveyed to and from the Upper Reach of the Canal. The title is as large as the document is grand.
Documented are the cross section of the Bulwark and Parapet. Showing the width of base, or Ground occupied by North-West Walls of Distillery Buildings, and of recent addition or Back Wing to Caledonian Inn, resting thereon.
Created between 1840 and 1844, this is a unique period in the history of Glen Albyn and one that I'm confident has never been seen before in this level of detail. Established in 1840, this takes us back to the very beginnings of Glen Albyn, to the original configuration of the distillery that would only exist for a brief 9 years. The fire in 1849, which we've previously documented, prompted an extension rebuilding of the site. This initial version of Glen Albyn has remained lost, until now.
The plans show the distillery (referred to as Glenalbyn) residing on the far left of the Muirtown basin with a width of 144 feet. To its side, nearest the water, are a coal store and temporary tun room. A warehouse also sits to the front of the site on the righthand side although it is unclear whether this is affiliated to the distillery or not. The ground to the right of the distillery (which it would occupy in later incarnations via waterfront warehousing), belongs to a Timber Yard. On the corner of Telford Street, sits the Caledonian Inn. There is no mention of the infamous pipe between the Inn and distillery, which would have not been possible in this version due to the present of the yard in-between.
The plan also confirms the water source for Glen Albyn, which is an actual pipe that runs from the front of the distillery. All its water requirements are taken from the top of the Muirtown locks, prior to the first gate. Meaning the pipe actually runs the length of the Muirtown basin and locks, arriving at the Muirtown reach, just in front of the original Loch Keeper's House and was also used by Glen Mhor as its water source, so effectively the chat from Glen Mhor about the waters of Loch Ness, applies to their neighbour.
What's also fantastic is that the plans also give us a side-on perspective of Glenalbyn distillery, showing the water pipes within the facility. This is the earliest recording that I've found of the distillery so far and gives us an indication of what it originally looked like:
I showed my findings to Alan Winchester, who has been a tremendous source of information and insight as part of the Glen Mhor research project. To say he was excited by this Glenalbyn find, is an understatement:
'Gosh what a find, love the mention of a temporary tunroom.
The existence of a temporary tunroom perhaps underlines the transformative state of the brewery to a distillery, remembering this plan was captured very much during its initial years.
The Glenalbyn worm tubs have always been a source of particular interest, as they were uniquely D-shaped . The flat side being face down to assist in cooling the spirit. Their origins and design have remained a mystery, could we be seeing their formative years here? Could they be positioned on the left hand side in the enclosed the rectangle box of water?
As mentioned, there is also a very small warehouse, placed near the quayside more than the other distillery buildings. It is particularly small, suggesting little maturation took place and/or limited production. Perhaps its location offered more convenience for the loading of casks, destined for the bustling central belt?
We can also appreciate the infamous presence of Provost James Sutherland, founder of Glenalbyn and quite the character by all historical accounts. As we've already shown, the presence of a pipe between the distillery and the Caledonian Inn, which he also owned, seems more than just a tall tale. The plans show how close the inn was to Glen Albyn, with only a timber yard in-between. This would in time, become part of the distillery site as warehousing was expanded. This possibly occurred during its 2-year rebuild (between 1850-1852), as the pipe was only revealed circa 1859 after Sutherland died and the workman returned from a period in Australia, citing its presence and how it was laid a few years earlier.
It seems unlikely another timeframe would have been available to lay the pipe and the existence of groundworks to establish new foundations and buildings would have opened the door of opportunity. And as Alan suggests, the lack of piping in the original layout is noticeable and was improved as part of the 1850s refurbishment.
From one mystery to another, that's how these distillery projects unfold and we've started in earnest by revealing the original version of Glenalbyn.