Industry heritage at Kennetpans

05 May 2016

Driving across the Clackmannanshire Bridge, few will give the overgrown ruin on the shores of the river Forth a second glance. 

Even most local residents will be unaware that an important site in the history of Scotch Whisky distilling and Scotland's industrial revolution lies just yards away, with a heritage linked to some of the most famous names in whisky. 

Whilst still a substantial site, today the Kennetpans distillery ruin only hints at its former scale, grandeur, and importance.  A large main building, and a remarkable warehouse, are now badly in need of stabilisation.  The ruin dates back to the mid to late 18th century and, at one time, formed the largest distillery in the country. 

Silent now for 200 years, Kennetpans and neighbouring Kilbagie distilleries are names largely forgotten (although the latter was described somewhat unfavourably by Robert Burns in the Jolly Beggars) but which were once at the centre of a modernising whisky industry.  

Founded by the Stein family, Kennetpans embodies a time when distilling was gradually becoming larger scale and more industrial.  Such was the level of production that it is suggested that Kennetpans and Kilbagie together paid spirits duty that exceeded the land tax raised across the rest of Scotland.   The sites were also notable for industrial innovation, including a railway line and canal linking the two distilleries to the Forth, as well as an early Boulton & Watt steam engine to power production. 

The Steins had a big impact on the industry, not least invention of continuous distillation in the 19th century.   In the 18th century, however, Margaret, daughter of John Stein (the owner of Kennetpans), would marry John Haig.   Their sons trained at the distillery and the Haigs would go on to become one of the most famous names in the industry, building distilleries and as the forerunners of the Haig brand that continues to this day. 

The Steins also opened two distilleries in Dublin, with another family member by marriage, John Jameson, moving to Dublin and eventually becoming general manager at the Bow St distillery.  His name is today synonymous with Irish Whiskey. 

As so often in the story of whisky, taxation played a pivotal role in the Kennetpans story.  The business came to rely on shipments to the London market.   A series of tax changes in the 1780s were introduced to raise the duty paid on whisky shipped to London and, as a result, the trade collapsed and the business bankrupted.  

The distillery would eventually close in 1825 and, sadly, Kennetpans is now badly in need of maintenance.  A Trust has been set up to raise funds, with local couple Brian and Fiona Frew working to ensure the site is stabilised and that the heritage of the site is more widely recognised.   More information on Kennetpans and the work of the Trust can be found at www.kennetpans.info

David Williamson, SWA Director of Public Affairs & Communications