Great Gorbals Whisky Flood of 1906

by Ben Johnson

Whilst researching our article on the London Beer Flood of 1814, we were surprised to find out that it wasn’t the only alcohol-related disaster to strike one of the UK’s great cities…

Built in 1826, the Loch Katrine (Adelphi) Distillery was situated in Muirhead Street in the Gorbals district of Glasgow. It was at this distillery in 1906 that an unfortunate accident resulted in a massive flood of over 150,000 gallons of hot whisky. The torrent engulfed both the distillery yard and the neighbouring street. One man drowned and many others were lucky to escape.

Early in the morning of 21st November 1906, one of the distillery’s massive washback vats collapsed, releasing a huge amount of red hot whisky. The vat held around 50,000 gallons of liquid and was situated on the top floor of the building. As the wash-charger burst, it carried away with it two more huge vats of wash, a fermented liquid about 7-10% proof. This now vast amount of whisky flowed down through the building into the basement where the draff (malt refuse) house was situated.

whisky barrels Public Domain

In the street outside, a number of farm servants with carts were waiting to pick up the draff for cattle feed. The tidal wave of hot liquor smashed into them, throwing men and horses across the street where they struggled waist deep in the alcoholic mixture. Now that draff had been added to the mix, the flood had turned to the consistency of liquid glue.

The police arrived quickly at the scene. Two of the first victims to be rescued were David Simpson and William O’Hara. These two men had been in the draff house in the basement when the torrent had swept them out into the street. The force of the hot whisky mix was such that one man had had half his clothing washed away.

The only fatality was James Ballantyne, a farm servant from Hyndland Farm, Busby. He suffered severe internal injuries and died shortly after admission to the infirmary.

There were many lucky escapes. The mobile liquid mass struck a bakehouse situated at the back of the distillery. One man was flung against the wall and in the resultant panic, the other men had great difficulty in getting out. Some of the bakery equipment was swept along the floor of the bakehouse and the staircase collapsed. Four men trapped upstairs had to jump out of windows to escape.

An elderly woman, Mary Ann Doran of 64 Muirhead Street, was seated in her kitchen when a massive wave of whisky, draff, bricks and debris swamped the room. After attempting to climb out of the window, she finally managed to escape through the door.

The Loch Katrine Distillery closed the following year in 1907.

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