Friday, July 19, 2024

Lightly Peated

Whisky, Blabber 'n' Smoke

Distillery Visits

The Buildings of Tormore

As a whisky, Tormore has a low profile: there are a few independent bottlings  but not much oomph behind a single malt identity. It hides itself away in blends but in 2014 a smartly packaged 14 yr old and 16 yr old were introduced and soother might be an effort to establish more of a presence amongst whisky natterers. This if we want to talk about provenance  it has the most striking buildings of all distilleries. If for no other reason it deserves some recognition

TomintoulWhen you drive along the A95 you cannot help notice it but would be hard pressed to date when it was built. Obviously Twentieth Century but surely not post WWII, as industrial buildings then tended to be more functionally austere and were influenced by modernism; perhaps it dates from the stripped back historicism of the inter-war period? No – in fact the complex (including 10 cottages) was opened in 1960 and was the first brand new distillery built in the Highlands after the war. 1960! Just compare it to Tomintoul, a few miles away, which was opened in 1964 and isomer characteristic of the period.

The reason, though, is obvious given Long John’s choice of architect: Sir Albert Richardson. He was born in 1880 and his training at the beginning of the Twentieth Century was in the Beaux Arts style but he reacted against that  and developed a form of stripped down classicism, somewhat similar to Adolf Loos in Vienna, though the reputation  of the two men could not be more different. Loos is seen as being one of the predecessors of the Modern Movement  ( ‘ornament is crime’, which underpinned some of the MM’s philosophy was one of his phrases) whilst Richardson became to be seen as an antiquarian battling against the intellectual tide sweeping in from the continent. But there was more to Richardson than liking to dress in Eighteenth Century clothes and not having electricity in his Georgian town house. In his work he melded classicism to the functionalism of modernism quite successfully, as can be seen in Bracken House, which he designed for the Financial Times, which was the first post war building to be listed. He was also an eminent, establishment figure who, during his career, was a professor of architecture at UCL, president of the Royal Academy, editor of Architects’ Journal, and founder member of the Georgian Group. So in choosing him to design their distillery Long John were consciously making a statement that they want to build something a bit more substantial than a shed and were prepared to pay for it (the cost was £500,000, which was quite a lot at the time).

Tormore was seen as being more than just a distillery as there were also 10 houses for workers ( serviced by mobile shops from Grantown and Ballindalloch). In fact when the opening was covered in the Times it was described as a village rather than a distillery. This suited the outlook of Richardson who was a great proponent of the idea of the village (especially in opposition to the New Towns). Something of  his enthusiasm can be seen from the statement he made at the opening of an exhibition of photographs of the English village in 1956

“The main characteristic of English villages was that they were records of regional materials and methods. Merely to call the picturesque and old fashioned was to burke the issue. To say they were charming and sweet was to say nothing. They were historical and seemly; they were records of ourselves and our character as a nation.”

You can see that at Tormore he was trying to respect the locality by his use of  granite from Rubislaw in Aberdeenshire. The buildings have a solidity and presence that sit well in the landscape.

P.S. The lamps he designed for the  estate were copper covered, atop a sturdy wooden post. This is worth mentioning because Richardson had once fought a battle, in his home town of Ampthill, against the replacement of the existing street lighting by concrete lamp posts (you know the type a straight-up post with a fluorescent lamp at right angles at the top, very, very common). He was so incensed he put a plaque on the  wall of his Georgian town house saying “These incongruous lamp posts, which detract from the beauty of this historic town were erected by the urban district council against the advice of the Royal Fine Arts Commission” Obviously he would not want incongruous lamp posts at Tormore!

P.P.S. The site is neatly maintained and if you look at the bush in the photo you can see it is cut into the shape of a still – a neat touch.

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