St. Magdalene

The below is taken from The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard first published in 1887. You can find the distillery profile at our St. Magdalene overview

St. Magdalene Distillery, Linlithgow.

AS we left the Waverley Station for Linlithgow, we thought with regret that our pleasant sojourn in “dear old Edinburgh” would soon be over. The run of seventeen miles was accomplished in half an hour, and as the train steamed into the station we passed the extensive Distillery which was the object of our visit. On alighting, we found that we had an hour or two to spare before our appointment at the Distillery. Linlithgow is a dull, sleepy place, and it is difficult to believe that it is a royal burgh, and was once a seat of Royalty. It is, however, rich in splendid ruins and historic remains, which more than compensate for its dullness.

We proceeded to the Royal Palace, one of the most extensive and stately ruins in Scotland, standing on peninsular ground, and engirt by a pretty loch. One of our companions - an artist - being well acquainted with the Palace, proffered his services as guide, and gave us the history of this venerable place. It was the favourite residence of several kings, and the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. We were shown the room in which, on the 7th of December, 1542, she was born. As we passed through the banqueting-hall, state apartments, chapel, and suite of rooms once devoted to the use of the beautiful queen, we pictured to ourselves the stately processions of courtiers, noble ladies, and servitors, who daily trod these corridors and gave life and light to a place now so cold and dead.

We ascended one of the towers, from which the whole country round and the town beneath could be seen, but as the wind was high and the position dangerous, we quickly descended, and shortly afterwards left with regret this monument of a bygone age.

“Thy vanished floors have bent to mailed reet,Warm firelight slanted thro’ those windows, blind;And thro’ those chambers echoed voices sweet,Which now are haunted by the unhappy wind.”

We then wended our way to the Distillery, to commence our inspection of that establishment. At one time there were as many as five distilleries in Linlithgow. One of the oldest was the Bulzion, which was in existence before in the middle of the last century. Soon after, Mr. Dawson, who owned a Distillery in the Carse of Falkirk, erected another at Bonnytoun, Linlithgow. Shortly after this, and to oppose the Bulzion Distillery, one Sebastian Henderson feued the lands of St. Magdalene’s Cross from the Countess of Dalhousie and built St. Magdalene Distillery. Ultimately it was purchased by Mr. Dawson, who removed to it from Bonnytoun, and now the works are so extensive that they cover the site of both Distilleries. The works comprise nearly four acres, but the ground in connection therewith extends to other six acres, and they have a frontage to the railway of six hundred feet. The Distillery buildings are all enclosed and built with stone. They are entered from the Edinburgh Road by a large gateway, and at the back there is another gate, close to the wharf on the canal, which is only used for canal traffic. The picturesque old dwelling-house in front of the establishment, formerly the residence of one of the original proprietors, has been turned into offices, for the use of the partners, managers, head brewers and excise officers. On our arrival, Mr. Alexander Kerr, the courteous manager, took us in hand, and first of all directed our steps to the west Maltings, which are on the right-hand side of the entrance. These lofty buildings are 124 feet long, 75 feet broad, and five stories high. The top floor is used as a grain loft under this there are two malting floors, and the first floor and basement are duty-free Warehouses. In the grain loft, at the time of our visit, there were about 4,000 quarters of barley. A gas engine of two-horse power supplies the motive power for hoisting the barley to this floor. An outside gangway on the level of the lower malting floor gives entrance to these departments. On the barley floor there is a Steep capable of welling 130 quarters at one time, sunk in the floor, so that the workmen can tip the barley in without lifting it. It is supplied with water from a reservoir in a field on the south side of the canal, where the ground rises rapidly, and also, if desired, from a tank on the roof of the west Maltings; in fact, at pleasure, or if necessary, the water can be made to circulate round the works. The Kiln attached to these Maltings is 60 feet long by 37 feet wide, and is floored with wire cloth and heated by two furnaces 1,300 bushels of malt can be dried off at a time. The fuel used is a mixture of peat and coke, in stated proportions. The peat is obtained from the moors above Falkirk and round Slammannan.

Our guide then conducted us to the east Maltings, on the left-hand side of the entrance. They are smaller than those already described, but the buildings are four stories in height and have two entrances, one near the canal and the other from the inner court. The large staircase at this point, owing to the sloping nature of the ground, is six stories in height, and the tank already referred to surmounts the roof. From the platform adjoining we had a glorious view of the surrounding country, which included Bonnytoun House and policies, the residence of the widow of the late Provost Dawson, one of the proprietors of the Distillery. But, to return to our subject, these Maltings are similar to those on the west side, having a grain loft and two malting floors, but only one dutyfree warehouse underneath. In this loft there were 1,500 quarters of barley at the time of our visit, and the Steep is capable of welling 85 quarters at one time. The Kiln is 37 feet by 36 feet, and is also floored with wire cloth, and dries off 850 bushels of malt at one time. From this Kiln the malt is conveyed to the deposit by a travelling belt. Notwithstanding the extent of the Maltings, they cannot keep pace with the mashing; so that it is necessary to keep on malting during the summer months in order to have a stock of malt - about 30,000 bushels - on hand at the commencement of the distilling season. At times they mash 3,600 bushels per week, but when we visited the Distillery they were mashing only 3,400. A third Kiln is only used for the drying of barley.

The Mill is situated near the entrance gateway, between the engine room and Mash House, and contains two malt rollers driven by steam. The pulverised malt is carried up by elevators to the upper flat, thence into bags to make up the various mashes or grists. The hopper over the Mash Tun is immediately adjoining, and the Malt Deposit is on the same floor.

Our guide then took us to the Mash House, a clean, spacious, and lofty building, situated to the east of the Mill, which contains a Mash Tun 21 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep, possessing the double-acting stirring rakes, propelled by steam power. On one side of this building are metal heaters, which supply the Tun with hot water, whilst the Underback is below the surface of the floor. A centrifugal pump throws the worts therefrom to the coolers above, from whence they flow through a Morton’s refrigerator into the Washbacks, or fermenting tuns, as they are called.

Adjoining the Mash House on an out-side iron gallery, over which the coolers already referred to form the roof, is a fine draining tank connected by pipes with the heaters, so built and arranged that carts can draw underneath to receive and take away the draff; In close proximity is a smaller tank similarly placed for retaining the washings of the vessels, and the draff so collected is also sold.

We then wended our way to the Tun Room or Back House, which contains 14 Washbacks, each with a capacity of 6,500 gallons; a donkey engine drives the switchers in these fermenting vessels, and is also used for pumping water to the tank formerly mentioned. We next return to the brewing department and came to the Still House, a building 60 feet by 27 feet and built of stone. The first vessel pointed out was the Wash Charger, placed at a high elevation to command the Stills, and capable of containing 9,000 gallons. Our attention was next directed to the five old Pot Stills as follows: two Wash Stills holding 3,500 and 4,881 gallons respectively; three Low Wines Stills, holding 1,500, 1,867, and 2,676 gallons respectively; also a Low Wines and Feints Charger, holding 3,000 gallons. There is an overshot water wheel in this house, which drives the stirring gear in the Wash Stills. We may here mention that the three Worm Tubs in connection with this important department are fixed on stone and brick seats in the court yard outside.

We next passed from the Still House to the Ball Room, as it is called, where are to be seen the Safe and sampling apparatus, a Low Wines Receiver, a Feints Receiver, and two Spirit Receivers. Here also is placed another donkey engine for pumping the wash, low wines, and feints and spirits to their different vessels. Following our leader we then crossed the yard to the Spirit Store, a neat building fitted up with casking appliances, and containing a Vat holding 2,300 gallons. From thence we proceeded to the Warehouses, which in this establishment are on a most extensive scale and cover a large space. There are nineteen in all, and as already indicated in our description of the Maltings, a number of them are on the west side and a number on the east. The west range contains eleven distinct Warehouses; the east range seven. Those in each range are all intercommunicating, so that only one entrance door is necessary - a great convenience to the Excise gentlemen, whose office is just outside the door of the west range. On the wall hangs an index board of the divisions and sub-divisions of the Warehouses, and a moveable indicator thereon shows the section where the warehouse-keepers are at work, so that they can be found at any time.

These Warehouses, although some of them are of two floors, are apparently on the ground floor, the building of which they form the basement being on the side of a hill. The tramways are very ingeniously arranged, and must be seen to be appreciated; they fit any size of cask, and the inclines are so gradual that they slide along with case. There is some very old Whisky stored in these bonds; we saw a number of casks branded 1875 and 1877, and a few still older. Altogether there were 7,500 casks here, and each cask is registered in a book and can be found immediately when required. We must not omit to mention that another Bonded Warehouse has been recently built of enormous proportions on the other side of the railway; it is of brick, and has a slated roof and, we understand it is about to be enlarged.

The racking store is at one corner of the premises and is a neat building contiguous is a large shed for storing casks, and a cooperage; also a joiner’s and smith’s shop, and peat sheds. For bringing in coal and coke the company have a wharf of their own on the Union Canal, which runs along at the back of the Distillery, and the railway is in front of the works.

All the arrangements for prevention of fire are very complete. Coils of hose are kept in different parts of the works ready for instant use. There is also a manual fire engine, and in the Mill there is a small hand engine, while buckets filled with water are distributed at various points. A trained brigade, who are exercised weekly, complete the arrangements.

The engine department consists of a handsome beam engine of 20-horse power, two donkey engines, and a steam boiler 20 feet long by 7 in diameter. Adjacent are the two chimney stacks, one of which is 120 feet high. There is an inexhaustible supply of water, consisting firstly of that drawn from the canal, used for condensing purposes, driving the water wheel, and for supplying steam secondly, a noted spring; thirdly, an artesian well 300 feet deep, and a spring situated near the top of the hill, these two last being used for brewing purposes. Forty men are employed on the premises, and there are four Excise officers, the chief being Messrs. Allice and Macfarlane Robertson.

The Whisky is pure Malt. We were informed that the company make nearly 7,000 gallons per week, and the average annual output is 200,000. gallons, but it has been as high as 225,000 gallons. It is sold principally in England and Scotland.

“Of all the palaces so fairBuilt for the Royal dwellingIn Scotland, far beyond compareLinlithgow is excelling.And in its park in jovial JuneHow sweet the merry linnet’s tune,How blithe the blackbird’s lay!The wild buck bells from ferny brake,The coot dives merry on the lake;The saddest heart might pleasure takeTo see all nature gay.““Marmion”