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The last exciseman at Glengoyne Distillery - Mr Bob Thomson

Posted on 23 Apr 2020 by Glengoyne Distillery

The Custom's House at Glengoyne was built at the very front of the distillery adjoining the road which is now the A81.  It was an impressive two-storey affair. 

Where the house once stood, is now where we intake our malt, and if you're ever passing by our beautiful distillery, you may catch sight of a grain lorry disgorging its precious cargo.

If you look closely at the picture of the customs and excise officer house, (see part one of "The House That George Built") it looks like there are two television aerials on the roof which suggests a bit of money, I mean 2 T.V.'s in those days, the pay must have been good!

We do not know who the first officer was that stayed here and kept a watchful eye on George Connell and then the McLellans who were the second occupiers, but we do know who the two most famous residents were. 

Excise Officer Tedder arrived in 1889 until 1893 and went on to become the Chief Inspector of Excise. He rendered the Scotch Whisky Industry 'inestimable' assistance at a Royal Commission of Enquiry into Whisky in 1908-09 known as the 'What Is Whisky' case, when a legal definition or Scotch Whisky was laid down.  

Arthur John Tedder was later knighted, and his contribution was quoted to have been 'scrupulous, accurate and impartial'.  The case was a fight for the very soul of whisky that pitted the Scotch Whisky Industry squarely against the Irish Whisky Industry.  They believed any whiskey with grain whiskey in it was not whiskey at all! 

The Scots believed the opposite and kept the spelling without an 'e'.  It is recorded that Tedder 'saved the day for Scotch Whisky' and in that respect, we at Glengoyne would like to say we played our part in informing Officer Tedder's opinion of what good quality whisky was! However impressive his career was, it was eclipsed by his son who is the most famous resident of this house.  His name was Arthur William Tedder. 

Arthur Junior came into the world in 1890 and as a youngster would have played in and around the distillery.  In 1913 Arthur joined the British Army and transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916, remaining in the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) after World War 1.  By WWII he was appointed head of the R.A.F. Middle East Command. In 1942 he, like his father before him was also knighted!  Talk about an over-achieving family!  

In 1944 when General Eisenhower was looking for someone to become his Deputy Supreme Allied Commander to coordinate all air operations in Western Europe during the D-Day landings he chose the boy born in this house. In 1945 Arthur signed the Act of German surrender on behalf of Eisenhower and in later life became Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and a vice Chairman of the B.B.C. Board of Governors.  He died in 1967, and his name can be seen on a memorial at Westminster Abbey. How's that for a life!

Many a watcher came and went doing their job for the Excise living in this lovely house in front of Glengoyne Distillery in what must have been one of the best postings you could get.  However, it all came to an end in 1980 when the practice of having an Exciseman living on-site was phased out.

During this current lockdown, I had time to go through a box which contained some fascinating archive material from the Glengoyne's past, and I unearthed a photograph, (main picture) of the last of the 'watchers', Mr Bob Thomson.  For those interested in Glengoyne history, the man to the far left with the beard in the picture is Duncan McNicoll who would stay for another 40 years after this photo was taken. Duncan retired this year.

In my first year as a tour guide here in 2015, I remember meeting a small group making a pilgrimage back to Glengoyne. Someone in their family had been the Excise officer here.  I wonder if it was the Thomson family or someone else?  Sadly, I never asked, or if I did, it's been forgotten in the malts of time.  

What I do recall is how they described his love of the place.  It was the best time of his life they said which had sadly now ended. They walked up to the waterfall and took some time to reflect before declaring they felt his spirit would always be here in this exceptional place.

One house, two floors and lots of stories! The House That George Built.