Broomhill Distillery

Illus: Roy’s Great Map showing Damhead (National Library of Scotland).

Both Gordon’s and Horsley’s accounts mention the water course for the Bonny Mill in Bonnybridge.  Gordon refers to it as Damhead because immediately to the south of the Antonine Wall it was dammed to form a pond and this became the name of the nearby settlement and works.  It is named as such on Roy’s map of the 1780s-90s.

The small pond served a distillery and the spent water then continued on to the Bonny Mill.  It is sometimes called Broomhill Distillery (Broom Hill being an alternative name for Cowden Hill) or Damhead Distillery.  The date at which the distillery was established is now lost in the mists of time but, as will be explained later, the engineering works connected with its water supply suggest that it was there by 1723. In the 1820s, as the Broomhill Distillery, William McNeil was the owner (Caledonian Mercury 21 May 1829, 1).  The Falkirk Almanac of 1836 (Love 1908) lists Damhead Distillery as belonging to Messrs A & J Grossart.  Yet a third name for the distillery appears in 1838 when it is referred to as Bonnymuir Distillery.  That it is the same place is indicated by its geographical location which on this occasion was associated with the planned course for the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway (Scotsman 26 September 1838).

In 1841 Broomhill Distillery employed twelve men and was paying £150 a week in tax to the Government.  As well as feeding the worm tubs, the water was used to provide power for the malting.  An unfortunate incident happened there in 1848 when a miller in the employment of George and Alexander Guild got entangled in the machinery of the mill, and, ere assistance could be given, life was found to be extinct. He was a young man, and newly married (Glasgow Courier 17 October 1848).  Four years later the works was put up for sale:

Illus: Ordnance Survey Map of 1860 (National Library of Scotland).

“To be disposed of by Private Bargain, ALL and WHOLE the LANDS of DAMBHEAD and BROOMHILL, with the DISTILLERY thereon, known as BROOMHILL DISTILLERY, all as at present possessed by Messrs Guild, and situated in the county of Stirling.

The Lands consist of about 66 Imperial Acres, nearly all arable, and have been partially tile drained.

The Distillery includes all the apparatus and utensils necessary for carrying on an extensive business; and the whole buildings are in excellent repair.  There is a large supply of pure water, with water-wheel, & c…”

(Falkirk Herald 8 April 1852).

The reason for the sale seems to have been the death of one of the partners, George Guild, and the business was subsequently continued by the surviving partner.  When he too died, in 1861, it was back on the market:

The valuable LANDS, DISTILLERY, including MALTINGS, DWELLING HOUSE, and OFFICES of BROOMHILL, Stirlingshire.  These lands lie near the west end of the Parish of Falkirk, their northern boundary being within a few yards of the Forth and Clyde Canal, and their western boundary in convenient proximity to the Caledonian, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Scottish Central Railways Junction at Greenhill.  Their extent is 67 acres or thereby, well drained, fertile, and leased by a respectable tenant; and the remainder is occupied by Gardens, Buildings, Roads, Streams, and the Distillery Water Dam.

The Distillery includes all necessary Machinery and Utensils, comprising Boilers, Pups, Stills, Worms, Cisterns, Coolers, Mash Tuns, and other appurtenances; and the supply of Water, which is admirably adapted for distilling purposes, is abundant.  The reputation of the Distillery has been long established, and the business carried on in it by the late proprietors, Messrs George & Alexander Guild, has been steady, increasing, and lucrative.  The situation, being close to the Greenhill Junction, affords the easiest transit to Glasgow and Edinburgh, between which it lies; and indeed, to all quarters.

The Dwelling House had just been enlarged, painted, and papered by the late proprietor (in consequence of whose death, the place is now for sale), and the whole establishment is in perfect order and condition.

To ensure a sale, the whole will be exposed at a moderate Upset Price. For further particulars, apply to Mr James Guild, Balgone Barns, by North Berwick; to the Manager, at Broomhill Distillery...”

(Falkirk Herald 18 July 1861).

It remained in the family for another two years but in January 1863 a fire broke out in the still-room.  The alarm was instantly raised but owing to the combustible character of the contents of the room the flames had broken through the roof before water could be brought to bear upon them.  A plentiful supply of water being at hand the fire was extinguished before it had extended to the store-room.  The roof of the building, which was a two-storied one, was partly burned, and the safe enclosing the worm was totally destroyed along with some other articles, including an excise journal.  It is thought that the fire originated from a lighted lamp coming in contact with some spirits or the vapours arising therefrom (Scotsman 29 January 1863).  The damage sustained was very considerable, and although covered by insurance, the property was sold to Messrs J Liddell & Co and converted into a paper mill (Waugh 1981, 119).

G.B. Bailey, 2022