On the 20th July 1957, in Bedford, Harold Macmillan made a speech about rising prosperity and for the first time used the phrase “never had it so good”¹. In October 1959 there was a General Election fought and won largely on that slogan. In the town of Ampthill, a few miles from Bedford, in 1957 the architect Albert Richardson was beginning work on a new distillery at Tormore, which would be completed two years later.
The two things are not unconnected. The rather grand building that heaves into view alongside A95 is a monument of hope and an industry finally looking to the future after the retrenchment of the previous fifty years, that had included two world wars. Tormore and Glen Keith, which was built contemporaneously, were the first new distilleries of the twentieth century. Both are good buildings but Tormore is strikingly distinctive and visually interesting. It is a piece of architecture.
When I first thought of writing about the building I thought I would be concentrating on Albert Richardson, who in his own right is a fascinating character, and the way the building evolved form initial ideas to what was finally built. But one thing led to another and I became aware that the development of the distillery involved four remarkable men whose stories needed to be told.
The first is Lewis Rosenstiel (1891-1976), who was then the president and chief executive of Schenley Industries, the huge American distillers who bought into the Scottish whisky industry with the purchase of Seager, Evans and Co Ltd (the makers of Long John) in 1956.
The second was Brendan Bracken (1901 – 1958) who from obscure beginnings became an editor a publisher before becoming an MP, a close associate of Churchill and Minister of Information during the war. Post-war he made the Financial Times what it is today by merging it with the Financial News. He also published The Economist and founded History Today. His unparalleled access to influential people made him an ideal person to act as emissary for Rosenstiel for his UK ventures.
The third was Neil Gunn (1891 – 1973), novelist and prominent member of the Scottish Renaissance, who wrote one of the early books about whisky and was one of the first to eulogise it.
Finally, of course there is Sir Albert Richardson (1880-1964), the architect who during his career had been the Professor of Architecture at the Bartlett, an author, and President of the Royal Society.
From their dates you can see that all of them were of a certain age at the time of the project. All, apart from Bracken, were born in the nineteenth century and all were near the end of their careers.
I thus tend to see Tormore both as a beacon of hope for the post-war recovery and the last the last huzza for four memorable careers. It embodies something of the new and the old
¹ “Indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.Go around the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime – nor indeed in the history of this country.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/20/newsid_3728000/3728225.stm