DISTILLERY Marks Latest Chapter In Ardgowan Estate’s Colourful 600-Year History

AMBITIOUS plans for a new distillery mark the latest chapter in the colourful 600-year history of Ardgowan Estate, which has links to Pocahontas and King Robert the Bruce.

Inverclyde Council this week approved Ardgowan Distillery Company's plans for a £12million world-class lowland malt distillery and visitor centre at Bankfoot near Inverkip which it's hoped will be operational in 2019.

Sir Ludovic ‘Ludo’ Shaw-Stewart, pictured above, the 12th Baronet and owner of Ardgowan Estate, said: “The lands around the estate have been occupied nearly continuously for more than 4,000 years and the history of my family at Ardgowan stretches back over 600 years. In that time, Ardgowan has played its part in the story of Scotland.

“King Robert the Bruce fought here prior to Bannockburn and his descendent King Robert III granted the estate lands to my ancestor Sir John Stewart in 1404,” says Sir Ludo, who is planning for the distillery to become a cornerstone of the regeneration of Ardgowan Estate.

The estate saw a series of infamous witch trials in the 17th century and in 1819 another ancestor, Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, (the 5th Baronet) married Eliza Farquhar, a direct descendent of Native American Princess Pocahontas, one of the most significant figures in the early colonial history of America.

“The Ardgowan Distillery will be a fantastic new chapter in the history of this area, and all future drams will have these extraordinary bloodlines – from both Scotland and the United States – in their veins,” Sir Ludo concludes.

Bankfoot, where the distillery will be developed

Work on the development will begin this year, and will see the construction of a state-of-the-art facility on the site of an old sawmill on estate land.

“Our goal is to produce a truly outstanding seven-year-old lowland single malt," says Martin McAdam, pictured right, the distillery’s chief executive.

“In the coming weeks we will commence detailed design and procurement work for the construction of the distillery, and this will give us the opportunity to engage with local businesses and the public in order to develop our plan and start to employ the staff who will be engaged during the construction and operational stage,” McAdam said.

Last month the distillery announced the appointment of former Macallan managing director Willie Phillips as company chairman, and the addition of ex-Bruachladdich and Diageo veterans Gordon Wright and Michael Egan in commercial and product engineering advisory roles.

“We have a tremendous team on board and are now looking for our next round of investors who can join us on this very exciting journey,” McAdam concludes.

The distillery will resurrect the name of Ardgowan Distillery, which was founded in 1896 and located in Baker Street, Greenock. After a few years of whisky production, the distillery was used to make grain spiirt and industrial alcohol until it was destroyed in the May Blitz of 1941.

Historical Background

Robert the Bruce has a strong connection to Ardgowan having fought there twice, firstly on the side of the English in taking the castle and then prior to his victory at Bannockburn on the side of the Scots to defend it. King Robert III (grandson of Robert the Bruce) granted to his son Sir John Stewart the lands of Ardgowan, Inverkip in the barony of Renfrew on 5th May 1404.

In 1736, Helenor Houston, heiress and granddaughter of Sir John Shaw, married Sir Michael Stewart, greatly enriching the family through the inheritance of the western half of Greenock and so the name 'Shaw Stewart' was born.

Ardgowan House was built by Sir John Shaw Stewart from the designs of Hugh Cairncross who had previously been Robert Adam's Clerk of works at Culzean Castle. The house later underwent significant renewal in the 19th century guided by William Burn and Robert Lorimer.

From 1640 to 1690 witch mania was rife in Inverkip. The ministers of the parish at the time, the Rev John Hamilton (1626 to 1664) and the Rev Alexander Leslie (1665 to 1684) were noted as being ‘zealous persecutors of witches’. In fact, the perceived problem was so bad that in 1662 an application was made by Sir Archibald Stewart (fondly known a “Gouty Toe”) of Blackhall, Laird of Ardgowan to the Privy Council for a Royal Commission to enquire into the matter. It was during this enquiry that 18-year-old Marie Lamont was tried as a witch before the Commission, found guilty of witchcraft and burned at the stake.

Gouty Toe was so called as he often cried off from official engagements (especially if they were in any way controversial) by claiming that his gout was acting up.

In 1819 Michael Shaw Stewart (the 5th Baronet) married Eliza Farquhar, the direct descendent of Princess Pocahontas from whom the family can claim a bloodline. In 1854 Jane Shaw Stewart, Sir Michael's granddaughter sailed to the Crimea where she became a pioneering nurse, working closely with and befriending Florence Nightingale who would later recommend her for her services. 

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