East Lothian Distilleries, a list
East Lothian distilleries (former and current) were widespread. This list has been compiled from map, census and reference material held in the Local History Collection at the John Gray Centre. Dates and names are given, but these must be treated as indicative only: other sources in the collections may fix details. Nine distinct sites are certain and grid references are given; another very early notice has not been confirmed in detail, and two more remain obsure and may refer either to two additional sites or to ‘renamed’ operations on existing sites. Links to the HER have been included where appropriate. What isn’t possible, is to list the numerous alleged ‘illicit stills’ that once nestled in out of the ways places around the hilly fringes of East Lothian!
Boggs Distillery (Ormiston Distillery Company?) (NT453705). If these two names refer to the same site, then possibly 1795 (James Brown) – c1825 (David Wight & Andrew Robertson, partners 1822; William Foote, 1823-1826); but note that Boggs is in Pencaitland Parish. Note also that online sources cite a ‘Boggs Distillery’ in Lanarkshire; the East Lothian site is clearly marked on Forrest’s map of 1799.
The improving land-owner John Cockburn of Ormiston had built in 1726 a distillery (operated by Alexander Wright) of which it was reported excellent whisky was made.
Fisherrow Distillery (cNT3372). 1825 (John Dods) – 1833 (William Aitchison); see also St Clements Wells Distillery.
Glenkinchie (Kinchie) Distillery (NT443668). John & George Rate 1837 – via c1890 (Glenkinchie Distillery Co. Ltd.) – date (Diago). The Rates’ connection ended in the 1850s but the plant was reopened under new management c1880. Output c1887 was c76,000 gallons. By 1914 it was part of the Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd. Note that John, and then George, Rate operated the ‘Milton Distillery’ from 1825-33; this may refer to a site at the east end of Glenkinchie on the Tyne (near NT454671) or it may be an alternative name for the principal site. See also: Craig Ward, The Glenkinchie Story since 1723 (Ao37.5) and note that evidence to Parliament in the 1820s suggests that two sites were operated by the Rates at ‘Milton’.
Linton (Bridge) Distillery (NT592771). Opened by George Rennie c1783, operated by Taylor & Walker c1798 and then George Dunlop & Co. from c1817-52; in 1835 Dunbar harbour exported 91,900 gallons of whisky, most from this site. The site is occupied as a timber merchant’s today. See also West Barns & both Haddington distilleries.
Mr Swinton’s ‘Distilling House’ (North Berwick). The earliest traced notice of an East Lothian distillery has not been confirmed in detail, but is noted on a National Records of Scotland plan (RHP1864) of c1740. It would appear to relate to the site at the aviary, now within the Lodge grounds, and was owned by a Robert Swinton.
Thorntonloch (Innerwick Parish, not located). In 1752 William Sibbel (Sibbald) was described as Merchant and Distiller in Thorntonloch in the OPR of Innerwick. His relative, Marin Sibbald, was at this time one of Dunbar’s largest brewers.
Nungate Distillery, Haddington (NT519738). James Cumming opened the distillery in 1825, then John Brodie, Jr. took over up to 1837. George & William Dunlop then operated the distillery until 1852; Peter Brown was manager for much of this time. The site after became a brewery and then a tannery. See also Linton & Westfield Distilleries.
Gourlay’s Distillery, Haddington, off High Street. An undated reference in Martine’s Reminiscences runs “David Gourlay, distiller, lived in the next house but one to Bailie Wright. He was a well-known and eccentric man. His distillery, the remains of which existed until lately, was up the close. By all accounts he made excellent small still whisky, for which there was a great demand.” A David Gourlay was buried in Hadington Kirkyard during 1805(aged 43), which would appear to suggest the distillery operated in the last quarter of the 18th century.
A Haddington Distillery. A further notice in Martine’s Reminiscences gives another date for distillery work in the burgh; it is not known to which site the observation refers: “In Goodale’s Land (now Mr Thomas Kemp’s) there lived, up to 1822, Convener John Thomson, a well-known mason in his day. He, in conjunction with the late Alexander Wilson, built the distillery in 1816, and did many other large jobs in the burgh.”
Prestonpans Distillery (NT388746). A Prestonpans Distillery Company is recorded in 1825, perhaps the same as HF Cadell & Co., 1826-34; it is likely that the site was the one formerly occupied the the sulphuric acid works. The Cadells were still in possession into the 1830s but at some point the distillery passed to Fowler’s Brewery Company; the new owner, Robert Hislop, then shut the distillery around 1850.
St Clements Wells Distillery (NT375713). In 1784 military protection saved the distillery from being burnt during local unrest, so its origin predates this event. George Milne is recorded as lessee of the farm & distillery in 1786 and until 1809. Thereafter William & James Aitchison of Drummore took a lease 1812 – 1832, but their successor, John Aitchison, may not have been able to secure terms with the landowner, JG Grant-Suttie of Prestongrange, and the distillery closed. See also Fisherrow Distillery.
West Barns Distillery (NT656781). Operated by Taylor & Walker in 1796 and then Andrew Taylor & Co., 1813-19; (an) Andrew Taylor was (re-)licensed to open a distillery 1821 and the site was operated under Andrew Taylor & Co. again to 1833. Christopher Middlemass, junior, was, at his death in 1833, described as ‘distiller at West Barns’ and may have bought into the company. Sometime after 1834 the site was converted to a brewery that passed among several owners until the 1890s. Note that the brewery may have been in operation as early as 1804-06 on part of the site.
The picture is further clouded, because John Johnston (of Belhaven Brewery?) is noted as ‘distiller’ in Tax Returns for Dunbar 1786-87.
Andrew Taylor (senior) served as a bailie in Dunbar from Oct 1824; Andrew Taylor (junior) as a councillor from Oct. 1825. See also Linton Distillery.
Westfield (Distillery Park) Distillery, Haddington (NT514733). Archibald Dunlop 1813, then Alexander Dunlop (1833) and George Dunlop to 1852. Evidence suggests that the Dunlops operated two sites simultaneously: ‘Haddington’ and ‘Westfield’ (perhaps adjacent) are named in evidence to the House of Commons. After, George Dunlop installed a Coffey continuous still and converted the plant to a grain distillery. It was purchased by John Crabbe and Co. and was operated by Francis Laing (1861) shutting shortly after the ’61 census was taken. See also Nungate & Linton Distilleries.