An ancestor’s illicit whisky still in 1850s Hawick

A few years ago I blogged about my ggg-grandfather Hugh Hall in Hawick doing three months hard labour in Jedburgh prison in 1857, for a crime that I couldn’t quite figure out. The prison records said “smuggling”, but I didn’t know what he was smuggling. And local papers were no help.

Well now I know what he was up to! A search the other night in the British Newspaper Archive website for

“hugh hall” AND wilton

found a report in the Edinburgh-based The Scotsman newspaper, which covered the whole of Scotland. I quote:

The Scotsman
16 May 1857
HAWICK – ILLICIT DISTILLATION – A seizure of whisky and distilling utensils was made at Wilton Dean, near Hawick, on Wednesday, on the premises of Hugh Hall, the tenant of a small carding-mill. Hall was examined in the Fiscal’s Office, and afterwards removed to Jedburgh. There is reason to believe that the distilling has been going on for some time, though not to any great extent.

I probably have totally the wrong attitude, but I just think this is awesome! Also I am quite impressed to find out that Hugh Hall was renting a mill in 1857, even if it was at least in part for legally dodgy purposes. Because I’d always thought at this time he would be an employee, possibly working in the old mill at Wilton Dean, or another Hawick woollen mill. But certainly not a tenant. It’s a bit entrepreneur-ish, something his son definitely had an inkling for, working up from a domestic gardener to nurseryman and then large-scale tenant farmer.

It was also quite nice because when I went back to reread the detailed history of Wilton Dean on the Project Hawick Facebook feed I found a potted history of the mill building where Hugh’s still was. And it even mentions the illicit whisky still! The building was demolished in 1860, just three years after Hugh Hall’s conviction. I used to cycle past its remains as a youngster in Hawick, spending a lot of time in the Wilton Dean area.

Still awesome!

About vivdunstan

Academic historian, genealogist, former computer scientist, and Doctor Who fan.
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1 Response to An ancestor’s illicit whisky still in 1850s Hawick

  1. GeniAus says:

    And my husband’s Hawick ancestors were into Temperance at the same time. It takes all types!

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