Saint Magdalene distillery

Sometimes known as ‘Linlithgow’, St Magdalene’s distillery is often viewed as one of the great lost distilleries of the 1980s, often fetching north of £800 at auction.

The victim of overproduction and strategic re-positioning the majority of the site is now lost, having been redeveloped into residential flats in the early 1990s. The malting barn and kiln with Doig pagoda ventilators have now been registered as a C Grade listed building so the site will remain for the foreseeable future. Although transformed into a luxury apartment building, its exterior character has been perfectly preserved. The pagoda walls display the distillery name painted in large white letters.

St. Magdalene (Linlithgow) Distillery

St. Magdalene was a Scotch whisky from the Lowland region of Scotland, located near Linlithgow. St. Magdalene was a sizeable distillery occupying a prime position between the Union Canal and railway line. Originally founded in 1795 by Adam Dawson, the distillery was closed in 1983 and is now one of the most revered “lost distilleries” in Scotland.

The St. Magdalene distillery was located in Linlithgow, in the middle Lowlands. Founded probably in 1765, an exceptional single malt for the Lowlands was produced here for a little over two hundred years. Exceptional because St. Magdalene single malt whisky was peated when malting, not exactly typical for the region in the south of Scotland known for its mild, soft whiskies.


When it was eventually acquired by Distillers Compant Ltd. (DCL) Saint Magdalene was a comparatively large distillery with a capacity of 1 million litres per annum produced over 14 washbacks, five stills (two wash; three low wines), three worm tubs, 19 warehouses and the capacity to produce over.

The Saint Magdelene

Over 200 years ago, the Scottish Lowlands were still of some value in terms of whisky producers and distilled quantities. In the former Royal Burgh of Linlithgow there were five legendary distilleries that distilled high-proof alcohol from malted barley and sold it as whisky. Such as the formerly large St Magdalene Distillery, which was built by Sebastian Henderson in the mid-18th century. It is said to have been the year 1753 when the distillery was built in the immediate vicinity of the already operating and older Bulzion distillery.


The St. Magdalene distillery, was founded on the site of former a leprosy colony, later the site of a monastery during the Middle Ages. Around 1753 St. Magdalene distillery was established by Sebastian Henderson.

The site was first built upon in the 12th century when “The Knights Templar of St. John of Torphichen” founded a hospital that was mainly used to treat lepers. Later the buildings were used by the Order of Lazarite as a monastery, whose name may be derived from the monastery, which is said to have borne the name Lazar House. Linlithgow was an important brewery and later distillery in the 18th century, benefiting above all from its location in the Lowlands on the Forth-Clyde Canal.

The first distillery, whose exact foundation is unfortunately unknown, opened around 1750 and is said to have been named Bulzion. Towards the end of the century, the neighboring distilleries Bonnytoun 1795 (or Bonnytown) and St. Magdalene opened at a short time. Adam Dawson, the founder of Bonnytoun, already owned a distillery near Falkirk and acquired the St. Magdalene distillery in 1798 just a few years after its founder Sebastian Henderson was founded.He shifted his focus to St. Magdalene and was so successful with the distillery that he expanded in 1810 and combined the site with that of the old Bonnytoun distillery.The distillery remained in the hands of the Dawson family for more than a century and was operated by the A. & W. Dawson company from 1895 until it was liquidated in 1912.The already powerful DCL (Distillers Company Ltd) acquired the distillery with all its assets, but also with its debts. In 1915, St. Magdalene was one of the five Lowland distilleries that founded the Scottish Malt Distillers under the roof of the DCL. The other four were Glenkinchie, Rosebank, Grange and Clydesdale.Apart from the war years of the First and Second World War, the St. Magdalene was in operation almost continuously from bankruptcy in 1912 until its closure in 1983.Of the former four or five distilleries in the city (depending on which source is cited), no remains remain apart from some buildings of the St. Magdalene distillery. The listed buildings (floor maltings) have been converted into neat row houses and apartments in recent years. Also the characteristic landmark of Scottish distilleries, the pagoda has remained. So you can still read the old pagodas and the big white letters with the name of the distillery when you drive by train or visit the small town on the Union Canal.

The water from the distillery belonging to the Lowlands region came from Loch Lomond, although other sources were also tapped. The malt used was very peaty. The SMWS once had a bottling that could have gone through as a medium-sized Islay at a blind tasting.It had two wash and two spirit stills , so distillation was carried out twice. The distillery obtained its cooling water from the Union Canal and operated its water mill with the water. The peat used came from the bogs near Falkirk and Slamannan.

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The distillery was originally founded under the name Linlithgow in 1765. the name referred to the nearby town of the same name. The location of the distillery was moved in 1834. The name St. Magdalene refers to the St. Magdalene cross and the nearby chapel of the same name. The St. Magdalene distillery distilled its whiskey twice. Heavily peated malt was used. Both are somewhat untypical for a distillery in the Lowlands. The distillery is now closed. It was decommissioned in 1983. In the meantime, the buildings of the distillery have partly been demolished and partly they have been converted into apartments. Remaining remains have been added to the Scottish monument list. Linlithgowyou may also know from Friedrich Schiller’s drama “Maria Steward”. Linlithgow is the birthplace of this Scottish queen. For all friends of the Star Trek universe, it should also be mentioned that the fictional birthplace of the film character Scotty is also the city of Linlithgow.

Today there are hardly any malt whiskey distilleries left in the Lowlands . The St. Magdalene Distillery is part of a series of formerly active distilleries in the Lowlands. Just remember the Littlemill and Rosebank distilleries that were closed a few years ago . The fate of Bladnoch is currently open. This distillery belongs alongside Auchentoshan and Glenkinchieto the three still active malt whiskey distilleries in this region.

The former distillery buildings have now largely been converted into apartments. Only the large pagoda towers and the name St. Magdalene still testify to the existence of this special Lowland distillery.

If this Lowland distillery were still distilling whisky on Scottish soil today, it would undoubtedly be one of the oldest malt producers in the country. But unfortunately in 1983 it happened completely different for the elderly lady, the Saint Magdalene Distillery, in Linlithgow.

As with many other Scottish distilleries, over the years it has not only been known as St Magdalene. The name Linlithgow is also thrown into the ring and this immediately makes history interested people take notice. Today’s small town west of Edinburgh was also the birthplace of the former Queen of Scotland, Maria Stuart, who saw the light of day in the sublime Linlithgow Palace.

During its good times, the St Magdalene Distillery was not even one of the small producers, because 14 washbacks, five pot stills and 19 warehouses for storage and maturation made it possible to produce over a million liters of high-proof alcohol in earlier times.

The situation in the Lowlands west of Edinburgh was really well chosen. On the one hand, the malt whisky producer was in the immediate vicinity of the Union Canal and could therefore easily be supplied with supplies such as barley or coal. On the other hand, there was a direct connection to the national rail line with its own tracks. Of course, one should not forget the fresh water for the production and cooling from the sewer.

Special feature: The distillery in the Lowlands near Linlithgow, near Edinburgh, dates back to 1790. The name probably comes from St Magdalene’s Cross, a place where there was once a medieval market and a leper colony, a place for leper or leper, later a convent and hospital.

The distillery got its water from Loch Lomond and most recently belonged to Diageo. The Union Canal ran behind the distillery and not only supplied cooling water, it was also the main transport route for barley and materials at the wedding of the distillery. Whisky barrels were probably also loaded on barks here.

It was one of the distilleries that, like many others, was closed in 1983 and the site was later sold as a building site.

Saint Magdalene factsheet

Name Pronounced AKA Region Country of Origin
Saint Magdalene saint mag*del*ena St. Magdalene, Linlithgow Lowlands Scotland
Status Active Whisky Type Website Tours Available
Lost 1798 - 1983 Malt Saint Magdalene Not Available
Manager Distiller Blender Owned by Parent Group

Saint Magdalene Timeline:

1750: Bulzion is the first recorded distillery in Linlithgow

1753: Sebastian Henderson founded the distillery

1765: The Bonnytoun distillery is established by Andrew Dawson,among the earliest recorded licensed distillers

1795: Andrew Dawson purchases the St Magdalene distillery from Sebastian Henderson

1798: Andrew Dawson incorporates the Bonnytourn distillery into St Magdalene

1829: Adam Dawson Senior was succeeded by Adam & John Dawson

1834: The distillery was moved to be near supplies of coal and coke transported along the canal

1894: A. & J. Dawson was incorporated as a limited liability company

1912: Saint Magdalene / Linlithgow was purchased by Distiller's Company Ltd (DCL). following the liquidation of A. & J. Dawson

1914: The distillery is managed by the subsidiary Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd. (SMD)

1927: The distillery was refitted

1960: The stills are converted to mechanical stoking

1971: The stills are converted to steam heating

1983: The distillery is closed and sold to developers

1989: The distillery is redeveloped for residential use

Useful Saint Magdalene links:

Saint Magdalene at ScotchWhisky

Saint Magdalene at MaltMadness

Saint Magdalene at Whisky

Saint Magdalene at Wikipedia

Saint Magdalene at WhiskyPortal

Saint Magdalene at MasterOfMalts

Saint Magdalene at WhiskyExhange

Saint Magdalene at SMWS

Saint Magdalene at Wormtub

Saint Magdalene at Whiskybase

Saint Magdalene at Malt Review

Interesting Saint Magdalene links:

St Magdelene - the story

Alfred Barnard's report on St. Magdalene

Gordon & MacPhail

St Magdalene's at Canmore

Whisky online

Historic Environment Scotland

Can I tour Saint Magdalene?

No, unfortunately Saint Magdalene distillery is not open to the public for tours