Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Archive Anecdotes

Snippets from the city's archives

Dec 25, 2015


'To the great injury of the revenue'

Illicit Christmas Spirit?

Two hundred years ago, in 1815, a newspaper article in the Edinburgh Evening Courant revealed that an illicit still had been discovered in the heart of Edinburgh near the Cowgate. It was hidden in one of the subterrarean vaults of the South Bridge. The article is reproduced below.

‘On the 24th inst. Mr McKenzie, supervisor, accompanied by Messrs Gorie and McNaughton, officers, discovered a private distillery, of considerable extent, under the arch of the South Bridge, which has been working these 18 months past, to the great injury of the revenue. The particulars of this seizure are worthy of notice, from the great pains which had been taken to prevent disclosure. The original door to the place where the operations were going forward had been carefully built up and plastered over, so as to prevent any appearance of an entrance. Behind a grate in the fire place of a bed room an opening had been made, and fitted with an iron door and lock, exactly fitting the grate, which could only be seen by being removed; and this passage led to the flat above by a trap door and ladder, where the still was working.

This place again was in one of the deaf arches, immediately adjoining the middle arch of the bridge, and the person had found means to convey a pipe from one of the town’s branches, which gave a plentiful supply of water. A soil pipe was also got at, and a vent hole broke through into a neighbouring vent to carry off the smoke. Besides the still, a considerable quantity of wash and some low wines, were found in the premises; also many casks, mash ton large tubs &c. The spirits were said to have been conveyed away in a tin case, made to contain two or three gallons, which was again put into a green bag, and carried out by a woman under cloak.'(Edinburgh Evening Courant, 1 July 1815)


'Unusual Venues Edinburgh' who provided a copy of the Courant news article.

‘Mercat Tours’, provider of vaults tours, for use of their copyright vaults illustration.

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