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Glenury Distillery 1824~1985

The distillery was first started in  1824 by a Captain Barclay of Ury to  provide a market for Barley in an  agricultural depression.  Weeks after opening, a fire destroyed stocks of barley, along with the Kiln and parts of the malting floor. Two weeks after the fire, worker Andrew Clark died in a boiler accident.  Robert Barclay died in 1854, and the distillery was auctioned to William Richie 3 years late.

The main source of power at the time was a water wheel that was doing almost everything: driving the gearing for the Mash Tun, the Sack Hoist and the Rummagers in the Wash Still. There was no steam power and it’s only when the distillery was reconstructed, in 1965-1966, that electric power replaced waterpower.

Aberdeen Journal wrote: “This extensive an very complete Malt Distillery is situated within a mile of the seaport of Stonehaven and 15 miles south of Aberdeen. It is capable of distilling 120,000 gallons of whisky annually, and in consequence of the perfect system of machinery (all propelled by water) the expense of manual labour is greatly reduced… The whisky produced at the works has long stood in high repute both in the Scottish and English markets”.

The fact King William IV authorized the Distillery to add "Royal" to its name in 1835 is also due to the personality of Robert Barclay who referred to his Queen as Mrs Windsor.

A Contemporary Visit to 'Glenury Royal' Distillery

In 1885 Alfred Barnard (1837-1918) Brewing and Distilling Historian visited over 150 distilleries, and amongst them were 129 Scottish distilleries.
We made a brief halt at Stonehaven to see the Glenury Distillery, and visit the celebrated ruins for which the town is famous. Who has not heard of Dunnottar Castle, which farms one of the most majestic ruins in Scotland. We drove direct to it from the station, and were amply repaid for our trouble. It is situated on the site of a stupendous perpendicular rock, 160 feet high, which projects into the sea, and is al most separated from the land by a deep chasm, forming a natural rosse. The Castle consists of a series of stately towers, and other buildings; and before the advent of artillery was quite impregnable.  We drove back by car of the town to the Distillery, which is planted on the banks of the Cowie, and takes its name from the Glen Ury, through which the river passes on its way to the sea. After crossing the Cowie we ascended a gentle acclivity, and reached Glenury by a road cut through the face of a sandy hill, which on one side shelters the establishment. The situation of the Distillery is most picturesque, the lofty railway viaduct, which crosses the glen, adding beauty to the scene. It is a mile from the town, station, and sea shore. The Works, which cover 3-1/2 acres of ground, consist of several ranges of stone buildings; the central block contains the Distilling and Brewing houses, and the outer ones the Granaries, Maltings, and Warehouses.

The Glenury Distillery (Barclay MacDonald & Co) was founded about the year 1825 by Captain Robert Barclay-Allardyce (1779-1854) the local Laird and Army Officer and well known Champion Pedestrian, who walked a 1000 miles in 1000 hours for 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.  He carried on a most successful business, and later it was acquired by Mr. William Ritchie, the present proprietor, who has since made many additions and improvements in the place, and increased the annual output considerably.

Mr. John Watt, the Manager, 1st conducted us to the Granaries and Maltings which stand in a delightful old-fashioned garden, and in same places the river almost washes the walls. The No.1 and No. 2 Maltings are neat stone building of 4 flats, 2 of them appropriated for barley storage, the others for Malting Floors, these last are concreted and have metal Steeps. The No. 3 Granary building is divided from the No. 1 and No. 2 by the Kilns and Excise Offices, and is not quite so lofty, having only 3 floors, 2 for barley, and the bottom a Malting Floor with a Metal Steep.  Served by these Maltings are 2 Kilns, both connected by an overhead bridge, across which the malt is wheeled the floors are of wire cloth and the furnaces are fired with peat. On the level of the Kiln Floor is the Malt Deposit, and adjoining is the Mill, above which is the Grist Loft. A water cistern stretches over the pathway from the roof of the Mill House to the Still. House, and holds 50,000 gallons of water, which is pumped up from the river.

Another bridge forms the communication between the Grist Loft and Mash House, over which the ground malt is conveyed direct into the Tun. Following our guide we entered the Mash House, a spacious apartment containing a metal Mash-Tun 17 feet in diameter, possessing the usual stirring gear and draining plates. On a gallery we observed 2 boiling coppers with a capacity of 6,000 gallons, and sunk into the pavement outside are the two Underbacks. The worts are pumped up to 2 old-fashioned fan coolers in the roof of the Back House, in which the fans are driven by a water-wheel. Ascending 2 pairs of stairs we reached the top staging of the Back House, wherein are 5 Washbacks, each holding 6,000 gallons, switched by water power. This house is 90 feet long and 30 feet wide. We next retraced our steps to the courtyard, and came to the Still House, passing on our way a fine Worts and Wash Pump, driven by water power. This building is 54 feet square, and contains a Wash Charger holding 7,000 gallons, and a Low-wines and Feints Charger 3,000 gallons, bath new vessels, and placed on a platform supported by iron pillars. On the floor of the house are 2 old Pot Stills, one of them a Wash Still, holds 4,000 gallons, the other a Spirit Still of 3,000 gallons, also a Low-wines and Feints Receiver, and Spirit Receiver, the former holding 2,500 gallons, the latter 3,000 gallons, and a Spirit Safe.

Attached to the Spirit Still there is a brass Charging Gauge, an ingenious device for preventing accidents whilst the Still is being charged. The Worm Tub consists of a huge cement tank 80 feet long and 12 feet wide, wherein are laid 900 feet of copper worm; all the water used in the Distillery runs through this receptacle from the aqueduct above, turning a large water-wheel, which drives all the motive power in the place. On leaving the water tank we raid a brief visit to the Spirit Store, containing a vat holding 4,000 gallons, and to the 5 Warehouses, capable of holding nearly 10,000 casks. There is also a large new warehouse of 2 storeys, in the town, of 120 feet square, in 4 sections, which contained 350,000 gallons at the time of our visit.

In the Distillery yard there is a Racking Store, also a Cooperage, over which is a carpenter's shop containing an engine, made by a workman in the place, for driving 3 turning lathes and 2 sawing machines ; also a joiners' and engineers' shop. Home-grown barley only is used; the district being celebrated for the fine quality of the barley. There are 3 Excise Officers, besides the Supervisor, Mr. H. Thompson. The make is Highland Malt, and the annual output is about 132,000 gallons.

In May 1985  production was stopped because of a  recession in the whisky industry although it could be re-opened in a few years time if the recession passed. It was bought by Distillers Company Limited in 1953 and is operated by the subsidiary company Scottish Malt Distillers (SMD) Glenury stands on a site of about 1 hectare with 5.5 hectares of farm land  owned by SMD and let to tenants.   At the beginning of 1985 there was a total workforce of 17.

Other Whisky brands included Garron, Downie and Old Angus.  A blend was named King William IV

The Aberdeen Journal, June 2nd, 1819
Stonehaven 1st June, 1819 - A most distressing accident happened here yesterday afternoon. Just as the mail coach was descending from the Bridge of Cowie, and making a quick turn into the Bridge Street, a child of between 3 and 4 years of age, belonging to Mr David Henderson, merchant here, unfortunately chanced to be in the way of the coach and but a very little distance ahead of her, when running to get out of the road, it fell just before the horses and although every possible exertion was made by the driver to stop the horses and by some people near at the time to save the child, one of the wheels passed over the poor infant's head and part of the breast and crushed it to death. The whole blame lies in the abominable bridge over the Cowie Water - its excessive narrowness and steepness besides the acute turn which it causes in running into the town of Stonehaven. It is much to be wished that a new bridge were put up, of the proper breadth and higher up the water for no person can be safe to pass the present one on foot at any time but particularly at night.

The Aberdeen Journal, June 9th, 1819
Last week, without any object but the common wages of industry, a labourer in Stonehaven, in the course of one day, carried from a vessel in the harbour, across the deck of another vessel, 600 bags of coals, and placed them in carts on the quay, thus having borne on his back the astonishing weight of 38 tons, and walked during the time on very insecure footing, about 9 miles.

The Aberdeen Journal, February 3rd, 1819
Mr Barclay of Ury has given 50 Bolls of Coals to the poor in the Newtown of Stonehaven. For several preceding winters he has made the same generous donation to the great benefit of many indigent families.

The Aberdeen Journal, December 18th, 1822
In consequence of information lodged with Messrs George Sutherland, riding officer of Excise, and John Anderson, supernumerary, of Aberdeen Collection, they proceeded on the morning of the 10th inst, to the farm of Crossgate, parish of Dunnottar, where they discovered an extensive private distillery at work, in which were 3 tuns, containing 210 gallons of wash, in a state of fermentation, which they destroyed. One mash tun, upwards of 200 gallons content, and from which worts of a very high gravity were running off, 2 coppers at work boiling worts, and and 5 bags, containing 20 bushels of dried malt, they seized and lodged in the Excise Office, Stonehaven. The distillery, being contiguous to a small rivulet, was calculated to defraud the Revenue of a very considerable amount weekly.

The Aberdeen Journal, January 8th, 1823
Last Friday night , Captain Barclay of Ury's Gamekeeper, in returning from Stonehaven, missed his way, and by some traces of him to the bank of the water of Cowie, it is but too certain that he is unfortunately drowned. Every search has been made for his body, but without effect. He has left a widow.

The Aberdeen Journal, April 20th, 1825
We are sorry to learn, that between 2 and 3 o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday last, a fire broke out in the malting premises of Messrs Barclay, Macdonald, and Co., Distillers at Glenury, near Stonehaven, which spread with the utmost rapidity, and in the course of little more than an hour, burnt down the Kiln, the greater part of the Grain Lofts and Malting Barn, and also the stock of Barley and malt belonging to the company, notwithstanding the great exertions made by the people connected with the work, assisted by a large body of men from Stonehaven. The Distillery is separated from these buildings by the mill-lade, but communicated with them at upper storey, by means of a covered passage or platform. The flames laid hold of this passage, and extended to part of the roof of the Distillery, when a few intrepid individuals, at the hazard of their own lives, dashed into the passage, and by quickly demolishing it, removed the communication between the 2 buildings and thereby saved the Distillery, Spirit Cellar, and whole brewing and distilling machinery. The flames in the meantime raged with the greatest fury in the malting premises, and although by 4 o'clock of the afternoon, it was so far got under as to prevent any further risk, the ruins continued smoking all night and the greater part of the following day. It was purely accidental.

The Aberdeen Journal, May 11th, 1825
On Saturday last, about 1 o'clock, Andrew Clark, one of the workmen employed at Glenury Distillery, being sent to examine the state of the great boiler, by some unfortunate accident fell backwards into it and was so dreadfully burned, that he died in extreme agony at 7 o'clock in the evening. The water was nearly at boiling point, and he was entirely immersed in it.  No one was at hand but Mr Buchanan, the distiller, who rushed to his assistance and had his hands and arms dreadfully scalded in pulling him out; indeed the heat of the liquor and the weight of the unfortunate man had nearly overcome him, so that it was with difficulty he escaped being drawn into the boiler himself, by his humane exertion; on behalf of the sufferer, who, we understand, was but recently married.

The Aberdeen Journal, December 17th, 1828
For some time past a man and a woman from the sister isle have been gulling a number of the natives of Stonehaven, by selling grain Whiskey for Highland smuggled; and the same article for foreign Brandy, the flavour and colouring being given to it by some pernicious mixtures. We think it right to put the inhabitants on their guard against characters of this description.

The Aberdeen Journal, November 18th, 1829
The Glenury Distillery Company have now nearly completed a passage, for conveyance of water to their premises, of about 85 yards in length, cut through solid rock.

The Aberdeen Journal, March 7th, 1832
Mr Barclay of Ury has placed 50 bolls of coals at the disposal of the Church Session, for distribution among the poor in the new town of Stonehaven; and, we understand, he has intimated to the Board of Health in Stonehaven, that he will readily furnish a suitable home for an Hospital, should cholera make its appearance in that town.

The Aberdeen Journal, June 18th, 1834
Mr Robert Barclay Allardyce of Ury and Allardyce has presented a petition to the House of Lords claiming the Earldom of Airth which has been referred to the Committee of Privileges to meet on the 23rd inst. In his claim Captain Barclay proves himself a descendant of David II of Scotland.

The Aberdeen Herald, March 24th, 1838
The propriety of this well-known Distillery have much pleasure in announcing that one of the partners, John Windsor, Esq., has been appointed "Distiller of Whisky to Her Majesty." The present excellent arrangements and very superior Spirits produced at this establishment are facts extensively and well known. The Distillery has been lately greatly enlarged, and machinery has been added to it to such an extent as to make it the first Distillery in the north.  The Distillery is situated near Stonehaven upon the Cowie, a small stream which takes its rise a short distance above in a mossy district, which renders its waters so peculiarly desirable for the purposes of Distillation.  Note - The Glenury Distillery was originally established by the late Duke of Gordon, with a view to put down smuggling, then alarmingly prevalent, and to encourage agriculture. Captain Barclay of Ury is now the head of the firm, and though that celebrated sportsman has of late years retired to the "halls of his fathers" he continues to devoted his best exertions to the advancement of the general interest of agriculture. We wish the proprietors of this establishment ample success in their spirited undertaking.

The Aberdeen Herald, March 27th, 1841
Upon Tuesday last, a dinner was given in the Mill Inn, Stonehaven, to Robert Barclay Allardyce, Esq of Ury, by a select party of gentlemen, previous to his departure to visit America - Hugh Fullerton, Esq., Sheriff-Substitute in the chair, Chas. Munro, Esq. of Berryhill, croupier. The Reverend John Stewart said grace; many loyal and appropriate private toasts were given, and the conviviality of the company was kept up to a late hour - all at parting wished a safe and speedy return of their distinguished guest of the family mansion. The dinner and wines, served by Mr Melvin, were excellent.

Captain Barclay

Captain Robert Barclay of Ury, MP for Kincardine, a prominent farmer and landowner.

In his 50s, Barclay started a new business venture; the "Defiance" stagecoach that ran between Aberdeen and Glasgow. Barclay made the "Defiance" one of the most efficient and reliable stagecoach services that Scotland had ever seen.

Barclay was an accomplished stagecoach driver and is credited with taking the London Mail Coach to Aberdeen single-handed, which required him to be in the driver's seat for nearly 3 days and nights.

Captain Barclay met his end aged 75 on the 8th May 1854, dying of paralysis a few days after being kicked by a horse.

Sarah-Anne Allardyce, who died in 1833, having married Robert Barclay of Ury, had 3 sons and 5 daughters, and the eldest son, Captain Robert Barclay-Allardyce, the celebrated pedestrian, succeeded to the Estates of Ury and Allardyce. He died May 1854.

The additional patronymic of Allardyce was assumed by Robert Barclay of Ury, in consequence of his marriage with the heiress of the Estate; and in virtue of the marriage of Sir John Allardyce and Lady Mary Graham, the late Captain Robert Barclay-Allardyce claimed to be the representative of the Earls of Airth and Menteith, and the 17th in lineal succession from Robert II, King of Scotland.

The last occupant of Ury House was Captain Robert Barclay-Allardyce. After his death in 1854 the estate was sold to Alexander Baird of Gartsherrie. However Robert Barclay-Allardyce did gain fame as a Hunter to Hounds, Boxer and Athlete. And is reputed to won a wager to walk 1000 miles in 1000 consecutive hours. This was achieved at Newmarket race course while wearing a tight fitting suit, cravat and hat. In 1822 the Captain was forced, presumably due to a wager he did not win, to sell his famous herd of shorthorn cattle. But having kept a single cow was able to rebuilt his herd, again to sell it in 1847. Over the time of the Barclay interest in Ury and its ownership by Alexander Baird , the house itself was rebuilt no more than three time 

Today, the last of the grand homes built in 1885 by Sir Alexander Baird of Ury, and a fine example of Elizabethan style, is now a ruined, roofless shell.  Having fallen into decline when the James Ian Baird, Viscount Stonehaven's 2nd son, moved to Ury House.  Although still approachable along one of the original shrub covered driveways. It is in such a poor state that entry into the structure is prohibited and "Dangerous Structure" notices abound. But the scope and scale of its former grandeur can still be seen.

By far the most important Barclay was the 5th generation, Robert. He had a keen interest in agriculture and after the death of his father in 1760, worked for nearly 40 years to improve the quality of the land. This was achieved by draining and levelling large areas. Construction of dykes and ditches and the adoption of many farming techniques which were widely adopted in the surrounding area. In all over 2000 acres of arable land was cultivated by him in this way, and 1500 acres of wood planted. It is he we have to thank for the development of the Mearns as the foremost agricultural county it is today.

The Wealth Producers
Alexander Allardyce
. Allardyce was MP for Aberdeen in 1792–1801, but had previously been a 'merchant' in Jamaica. He had, it was said, ‘sold as many black men as there are white in his native city’.  Sometimes there was a direct link between Slavery and Scotland’s whisky distilling heritage. 
Alexander Allardyce (c.1743–1801)
- was born in Aberdeen and sailed as a young man for Jamaica to make his fortune. He invested in cargoes of slaves imported to Jamaica, and eventually made enough money to buy one or more plantations there in St Ann’s Parish.  Allardyce returned to Aberdeen as a wealthy man in the early 1780s. He became Lord Rector of Marischal College and in 1792 was elected as the Member of Parliament for the Aberdeen Burghs. To commemorate his success, he purchased the lands of Dunnottar, near Stonehaven, which had been forfeited by the Earls Marischal in the 1715 Jacobite rising. He built a substantial mansion there. This has now greatly dilapidated, but a legacy of his Caribbean wealth survives in the form of Dunnottar Woods, which he originally laid out and planted.

In the 1820s William Shand started Distilling Whisky at Fettercairn near Laurencekirk using his experience of making Rum on his brother’s Sugar Plantations in Jamaica. For at least 10 years he ran parallel experiments in Jamaica and Scotland to improve his rum and whisky production.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013