History of Johnnie Walker and Kilmarnock 1820-2012

Finally the last post in our mini series is on the history of Johnnie Walker and the plant in Kilmarnock. Using photographs from a number of sources we can see the changes in the people, the equipment and the town.

John Walker Shop

The story starts with a grocers shop in the centre of Kilmarnock.

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The shop was in what is now called King Street which is the main shopping street in Kilmarnock.

The shop is now a branch of Goldsmiths jewellery shop as shown below:

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John Walker & Sons Ltd

The first building used in the town by the John Walker Distillery company was the Whisky bond building in Kilmarnock town centre. This large building was both offices and a warehouse for maturing stock.

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Today the building is now home to a number of council departments after a recent renovation.

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Before the renovation was started someone managed to get pictures of how the warehouses as they would have been used at the time.

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The Workers

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The business of producing, maturing, blending, bottling and ultimately selling whisky has always involved the large scale employment of people. As time goes on this is becoming less the case but John Walker & Son’s was always a large employer in Kilmarnock until they left in 2012. There was even housing built for the workers as in Hood Street which is now no longer with us having made way for a retail park.

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One of the trades closely connection with whisky production is that of the cooper. The trades person who builds and repairs the oak barrels in which whisky is produced. Below is a picture of the men working beside a mountains of casks.

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The Hill Street Move

The Hill street plant was started just before the outbreak of the Second World War. One of the buildings had been built when work stopped due to lack of resources. The War Office would take over the buildings as a weapons store for the rest of the war. The facility would not be completed until 1954 because of the lack of materials in post-war Britain.

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The buildings contained modern bottling lines with increased capacity. The below image was taken in 1977.

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The End of an Era

In March 2012 the Hill street plant closed never to reopen. Some staff moved to other parts of the business but many people lost there jobs. Jobs which their whole families had held for generations.

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Today the site has been cleared with a new Kilmarnock College put in its place. There is future plans to develop the large site further however to the best of my knowledge nothing has been agreed yet.

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The connection has now been broken between the Johnnie Walker brand and the town of kilmarnock. Something which was developed and cultivated over more than a century is broken without any chance of being brought back.

There is nothing deeply sad and troubling about that for me. It is further evidence to the truth about scotch whisky. Without the strong protection of scotch whisky legislation then little to no major distilleries would be producing and maturing whisky in Scotland. Imagine the further destruction that would do to our islands and rural communities all over Scotland.

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