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Distilleries and Smuggling

Between 1800 and 1825 there were a few distilleries in Campsie. One in Lennoxtown at Mains of Bencloich was owned by a Mr. George Brown.

Up until about 1825, many legal distilleries had been erected in the area, but by the late 1800's most of them had closed again because they were unable to compete with the larger distilleries. In addition, there were a few illicit stills around the area, and due to the high rates of duty, it was hardly surprising that a good deal of smuggling took place in Campsie. 

Prior to 1823, the duty on spirits was 6s 2d per gallon. When this was reduced to 2s3/4 per gallon, the results were quite surprising. Where only 2,225.124 gals were charged for consumption at home in 1822, the amount rose to 5,981.549 gallons in 1825. This was not caused by increased consumption of alcohol, but by the reduction of duty, which in turn reduced the need for smuggling.

 Finglen and the Mount of Glorat were great resorts for smugglers. It was reported that seven illicit stills could be detected in the Finglen by the smoke they emitted. Smuggling was also carried on up the Back Burn, which rises behind the Fells and comes down on Alnwick bridge, and at the Mount of Glorat, and in the plantation below the Ferrets, called the "Smugglers Plantin'." Materials required for the production of the whisky had to be conveyed to these places on horseback.

One ingenious individual erected a regular still in a dwelling-house at the Mount, and was said to have carried on a brisk trade. Smugglers considered themselves innocent and would if necessary, defend with violence what they considered to be their property. Although smuggling was illegal, most people had sympathy for the smugglers, and would never betray them by giving information to the excise officers. Knowing that the whisky was illegal somehow added to it's appeal.

On one occasion, the MacGregors, under the assumed name of Colquhouns, were harrying the Campsie valley and driving off cattle when they came across an illicit still on the hill. After securing the 'lifted' cattle in a level field between Easter Muckcroft and New Mill of Glorat, they brought the whisky down.

The Campsie farmers watched the marauders carry off their cattle and whisky, but being outnumbered couldn't offer effective resistance. However, their hopes rose when they saw the whisky being taken to the marauders encampment. They decided to wait, and when the reivers were asleep, some of them drunk, they attacked and killed them all. The field where the attack took place is now marked on the Ordinance Survey map as 'Field of Blood'. It is located near the cottage on the Milton road; a cottage which once belonged to Kincaid, then Lennox-Lea Farm and was occupied by the farmer's son. 

A song by Alan Reid called "The Devil Uisge Beatha" was written about the above slaughter. It depicts events which occurred  between the MacGregors and the so called Colquhouns. It also tells of how locals, fed up with anarchy, dealt with this particular band of marauders. As stated earlier, the field where the massacre took place is still known as the 'Field of Blood'.

Jaud: is an old Scots word for a woman of questionable virtue.

Uisge Beatha: Is Gaelic for 'water of life'.

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The Devil Uisge Beatha

He watches for the gauger man that prowls the countryside

he hides his liquid treasure, then waits for night and rides

O'er the Torrance burn tae Glesca, where there's plenty that will buy her

She's that sweet forbidden devil uisge beatha


Whisky is a devil jaud that burns the brains of man
He'll dance or stagger, sing or fight,  he'll argue black and blue is white
The farmer's wife, the widow and the weary working man
They fill the air with curses on that devil uisge beatha

A band of wild marauders in the colours of Colquhoun

Were camped above the Campsie Moors above the Lennoxtoon.

The folk below were soon to know they were Clan MacGregor men

When they came sweeping doon the Campsie Glen.

They scattered a' before them, a' the weemin and the bairns

They chased the fairming workers and the fairmers tae their hames.

They gathered up the cattle and they camped aside the hill

And there they found the hidden whisky still.


The Campsie men assembled then tae see what could be done,

But shepherd lads and cottars cannae match a hiela' band.

They cursed the theivin' reivers and their heathen hielin' cries,

As they drank their full 'aneath the evening skies.


Whisky is the devil jaud that burns the brains o' men

For in that night the hielan' men fell drunk upon the ground

The Campsie men crept up to them and slew them as they lay,

And a' was back in order by the day.

There's stills above the Clachan, and there's stills aroond the fells,

There's stills aboot the countryside nae gauger man can smell,

But the one that snared the Gregor was mair valuable than ten

Tae the honest fairmers o' the Campsie Glen

Last Chorus

Whisky is the devil jaud that burns the brains of man
He'll dance or stagger, sing or fight, he'll argue black and blue is white
The fairmers wife, the widow and the weary working man
they fill the air with blessings on that devil uisge beatha


One version of the background to the song claims that "The area of Lennoxtown, although now really part of Glasgow, was at one time on the edge of the highlands. Illicit whisky stills were many in the area, satisfying demand from a growing Glasgow. It became a kind of 'wild west' town, visited much by Highland brigands, as much for the whisky as for the position it had in the hills close to the city. 

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Dougal the Ranger

The illicit distillation of whisky was never considered a crime, but more a country industry - so long as smugglers avoided the law. Stationed all over the country to assist the regular excisemen, were officers who were called 'rangers', the chief of whom was Dougal.

Revenue officers tried, with indifferent success, to keep watch on illicit distillation. They had two  courses open to them. One was to attempt to discover the stills, and the second was to seize the whisky in transit. For their part the smugglers and their sympathizers kept a vigilant look out for gaugers (excise men), and warnings were conveyed sometimes by very ingenious ruses. If advised that excise men were laying in wait for them, the smugglers would choose alternate routes to their destination. At other times the warning was a little too late to allow diversive action to be taken.

Around 1820-22, a supply of whisky had been ordered for a funeral at Maryhill, and an old man named Macintosh was as usual conveying it to it's destination. The whisky was in tin cans, which were strapped around his waist. He had gone by Haughhead, past Woodhead, was near Newlands (Lennoxtown) or Cock-ma-lane, when he encountered Dougal, the ranger who was employed to search for illicit stills or smuggled whisky. He took the whisky from old 'Tosh', and in doing so was perhaps quite rough with the old man.

The smugglers were determined to have their revenge, and on observing Dougal enter Lennoxtown one Saturday, they collected their friends and supporters. They attacked the ranger in front of Robertson's Inn, with stick, stones, mud and missiles of various kinds. He was cut, bleeding and frightened and tried to make his way Westward with the crowd in hot pursuit. At the bottom of School Loan, he ran for shelter into Benny, the Fleshers. He was dragged out of there and assailed by a shower of stones. He fled further west, and took refuge in the Tontine (Lennox Arms), then kept by Malcolm Watters.

The attack had been organized by the smugglers in revenge for Dougal's faithful discharge of duty. He was so severely injured, that the authorities took measure to bring the guilty to trial. Some months later Dougal disappeared - no one knew where, but one day a shepherd on the Craw road, just above Jamie Wright's well, noticed his dog scraping vigorously at a heap of stones. Throwing aside some more stones, he uncovered the body of a man. He went to the Clachan and enlisted the help of Cassels the blacksmith, and some others who conveyed the body to the Clachan. Here it was identified as that of Dougal the Ranger. The murderers were never discovered.

Soon after this incident, Cassels the local blacksmith, was called over to Fintry. He headed homewards but never reached the Clachan. His body was found 400 yards from where the Ranger had been found. The cause of his death was never disclosed.

The supervisors and Excise Officers were nearly all Englishmen whose graves can be seen in a corner of the 'Auld Aisle Cemetery' in Kirkintilloch. Cameron says " This corner pathetically records the last resting- places of these strangers and sojourners in the service of the Excise, nearly all of whom hailed from the south of England." 

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