They say that honesty is the best policy and I do believe this. The truth is, I have swithered and dithered about posting this particular Blog. There are two main reasons why. Firstly, this story is already out there and is easily accessible and I’m sure is known by many. Secondly, I’m not convinced that I can do this story justice.
I was working on the biography of Archibald Dunlop Armour, an original shareholder in the Picture House. In 1912, Archibald bought 150 shares and he was also a Director of the Picture House.
As I have mentioned in a previous Blog, I always like to build a Family Tree for the person I am researching. It can often lead to exciting discoveries, little did I know what I was about to uncover…
Archibald Dunlop Armour was born in Campbeltown in 1863. But it’s impossible to write about Archibald without including other generations of the family. Archibald’s Grandfather was Robert Armour, a Copper and Tinsmith who set up his family business on Longrow in Campbeltown sometime around 1811. It was very much a family business with his eldest son Alexander a Coppersmith, son John a Plumber and Gas Fitter and his youngest son Robert, (Archibald’s Father) a Coppersmith, Tinsmith and Plumber. Eventually, Archibald and his brother, (another Robert) joined the family firm as Plumbers too. So far, that made three generations of Armours working in the family business on Longrow. And a very successful business it was too, this is evident from the amount of property the Armour family owned in the town.
However, we need to go back to Grandfather Robert Armour who was perhaps the one with the insight and the one prepared to seize an opportunity to increase the family wealth. He was a risk taker and most definitely an entrepreneur… Robert Armour was using his legitimate business on Longrow as the perfect cover for his illicit still manufacturing business.
Illicit whisky distilling was rife on the Kintyre Peninsula. Robert Armour was methodical and organised. He kept detailed records including names of customers in his Still Books until 1817. His records show that between 1811 and 1817, he manufactured 400 small stills which brought in an income of £350 each year. The pages of the Still Books are heavily scored which indicates that his customers always paid and indeed, many were returning customers. It’s no coincidence that the names of local, legal distilling families appear as early customers in the Still Books: Beith, Greenlees, Colville and Mitchell to name but a few.
This is only scratching the surface of the story and I can only suggest that you read for yourself the complete scale of Robert Armour’s success by reading the account in The Campbeltown Book, published by Kintyre Civic Society. Also worth reading is an article written by Dr. I A Glen in The Kintyre Magazine, “A Maker of Illicit Stills.”
(The Still Books of Robert Armour are held in private collection. A partial transcription is held at Argyll and Bute Archives.)
There was an account in the Campbeltown Courier in 1885 about work being carried out in the shop premises on Longrow, where the workmen found a “still vat buried pretty far in the ground” and a secret vent leading up to the main chimney. The Courier reporter stated, “It is supposed that at one time the ground beneath the shop has been a vault where secret distilling operations were carried on.”
And finally, in the whole of his career, there is no record at any time of Robert Armour ever being prosecuted or caught.
What a man!