James Calder ~ Distiller

James Calder – distiller – born 28 December 1869 at Alloa to a family of brewers. He was educated at Perth Academy and later St Benedict’s College, Fort Augustus. In 1886 joined his father’s business and three years later became manager of the Bo’ness distillery. As a brewer/distiller, Calder put his energy into the manufacture of blended whisky and by 1895 was a partner in the firm of Alexander and MacDonald. The 1890s were boom years for whisky in Scotland and business expansion included a pot still distillery (Stronachie) by Forgandenny in Perthshire. Calder’s career continued into the first half of the twentieth century and by 1921 he was part of the huge Distillers Company Limited. His legacy to distilling is immense and he oversaw many developments in the manufacturing aspect of the trade. He was awarded a CBE in 1920 and a knighthood, a year later. His activity was not just confined to the UK. Calder was responsible for the post-prohibition gin industry growth in the USA. Whilst in the USA, Calder befriended an ex-bootlegger, Joseph Kennedy, who was then head of Somerset Imports and later US ambassador to Britain. It was during Kennedy’s term as ambassador that Calder hosted the young and future US president John F. Kennedy’s tour of Scotland. During the Second World War, Calder spent a short period as director of home timber production (1940-41). As well as his business activities, Calder spent time as a justice of the peace for Kinross-shire and as deputy lieutenant of Kinross-shire. Calder married in 1904 – Mildred Louise, but the marriage produced no children. James Calder died 22 August 1962 at Ledlanet by Milnathort; he is buried in Norfolk.

The information below has been provided by Peter Brown descendant of the Calder family.

A Feu, a Bunny, and Two Trout – Three Generations of Calders

In Pursuit, an Uncensored Biography (2001) John MacKenzie Calder (publisher) ‘garrumphed’ that his great-grandfather, James Calder, was a crofter from Buchan who married into a brewing empire. He derided, that his family, “Were the staunchest Conservatives going”.  Research shows those statements were not quite correct.


Supporters of The Pretenders, James Stuart and his son Bonnie Prince Charlie, known as Jacobites, wished to replace the Protestant Hanoverian Kings of The United Kingdom with the Catholic Stuarts. The 1715 uprising failed. The day after winning a battle at Preston, Lancashire, James got cold feet and retreated back into exile in France. In 1745, Charles arrived in Scotland and again the Jacobites marched into England. They reached Derby before retreating to the Scottish Highlands, pursued by an army under the command of the Duke of Cumberland. The Jacobite army was defeated at Culloden, near Inverness. Prince Charles fled, through Skye, back into exile in France and Cumberland’s men set about revenge and subjugation, the effects of which continued for a century. Many of the Jacobites were crofters.

The area around Braemar and Crathie remained a Catholic stronghold, although they were brutally suppressed and many were, one way or another, driven off their lands. (Sheep were more profitable than poor tenant farmers ‘crofters’ to their English landlords). Sheep could not complain nor demand reduced rent if crops failed. The crofts in Glen Gairn, included the store operated by Charles Calder, c1830, in a hamlet known as Ardoch. The crofts were abandoned during those Highland Clearances. The protection of the Crofters Act of 1886 did not apply in Aberdeenshire, but the Calders, by then, had moved south to a more secure life.

A few miles westward, up the River Dee, from Glen Gairn, next to the highway and the river is the Wee Kirk at Crathie, across the bridge from Balmoral. Queen Victoria had enjoyed a holiday in the area, so Albert bought a nearby estate, knocked down the residence, and built Balmoral Palace for her.

Charles Calder (1812-1865)

Charles Calder lived in Glen Gairn, Aberdeenshire, where he had a shop/croft. His father was Charles Calder (teacher) and his mother, Mary McGregor, was likely a native of Ardoch. An account adapted from Rev Mark Dilworth’s ‘Catholic Glengairn in the early nineteenth century’, Innes Review (vol. 7) about the life of Rev. Lachlan McIntosh, and the residents of Ardoch in Glen Gairn included a rough map showing the fourteen smoke houses (houses with chimneys and hearths) and reminiscences of some of the residents of Ardoch about their life c1830. One of those smoke houses was the home and shop of “Charlie Caddell, we ca’ed him, though Calder was his name”. Above the door, was a sign ‘licensed [sic] to retail tobacco and snuff’.

The account gives an oral history, which was written verbatim in the vernacular of the place and time. Several old crofters voiced their memories. The Glen was a wild place of illicit whisky stills, smugglers and excise men. Hard work was required to survive, but they enjoyed life. Charles Calder traded cloth (woven by neighbours William Ritchie and James Cattanach) and bits o’ wool, eggs, milk and cheese from Ardoch through Braemar to Blairgowrie for other goods back over the hills. ‘He wad tak’ onything hame over the hills, onything ‘at was ordered.’

An obituary in the Dundee Courier & Argus (22 August 1865) gave an elaborate description of Charles Calder: Roman Catholic, as became a Braemar man. He was a hardy young chap. About 1832, he started a trade mainly in eggs, milk and cheese from Braemar over the highland passes of Glenshee and down to Blairgowrie where timber mills were being established. He walked alongside his horse and cart through all weather, ‘without the protection of a hat of any description’. By 1836, he had made enough money to move his family from Glen Gairn and set up a small grocery shop alongside the Bridge in Wellmeadow, at Blairgowrie. About 1839, Charles was accused by ‘a conceited and pompous baillie’ of expanding his feu onto town land and taken before the Sheriff. Sheriff Barclay found in favour of Charles, who, emboldened by the outcome, to endless litigation, emerged as a new character. Charles became a hard man of trade, losing his formerly genial business nature. To be fair, he did not bear malice and would be seen doing business with an opponent, of the morning, that very afternoon. He warred constantly with the emerging railway companies, even though they were big customers. He supplied them with sleepers and telegraph poles. (His son and grandson inherited that tough business attitude and litigious nature). An example of the litigious nature of the new Charles Calder, was Thomas Proudfoot, who was imprisoned for 3 months (19 October 1862) for opening Calder’s stable door and stealing a bag of hay.

Perhaps his customers at Glen Gairn had been ‘cleared’, Charles’s his trips over the hills became redundant. Charles saw a new opportunity and by 1851, he had become a coal merchant in Blairgowrie. He bought a timber mill at Dunkeld  and soon, was shipping pit props to Newcastle and supplying sleepers and telegraph poles to the railway companies. The timber business grew rapidly and expanded to other parts of the country. By 1857, his son James, now married, was running the mill in Dunkeld and Charles’s younger son, also Charles, soon joined the business.

The Calders built and owned several small ships and leased others to carry the timber, which was now the bulk of their trade. Timber was sourced in Perthshire, and increasingly from the Baltic States. The Calder boys worked together until 1862 when their partnership was dissolved. Young Charles continued to work with his father in the timber and coal trade and eventually moved to Newcastle to run his own business. James set off in a new direction, brewing. Charles Senior remained a merchant of coal, timber and lime until his death, 19.8.1865, after two years of chronic phthisis (tuberculosis) and liver cancer, at Wellmeadow. The family continued the timber trade that he started for another century. Several relatives, including Thomas George Thornton worked for Calders.

Charles’s wife, Elizabeth (Jaffray) Calder, who was born in Braemar in 1796, was recorded in the 1861 Census, as innkeeper of The Green Tree Inn, Wellmeadow, which would prove important to James’s future. In his later life, James gifted a stained glass window (made by Louis Gross & Company of London and Bruges) to the memory of his mother, Elizabeth, at St Andrews RC church in Braemar.

James (YF) Calder (1832-1917) Laird of  Ardargie

It was autumn, 1917, when Christina (Tin) Beaton was called from her home in Palace Court, London to 68 The Esplanade, Scarborough.  (A four story semi-detached cut stone house with bay windows and elevated North Sea views remains at that address today). The nights were getting long in Yorkshire. It was bleak and wintry. Hannah Sexton (cook) and Elizabeth Clark (housekeeper) welcomed Tina and they gathered at her father’s bedside.  He had enjoyed a long life and was now bed-ridden and failing.  His affairs were in order. On November tenth, 1917, James Calder died. He had been ill for two years with senile degeneration of his heart – ‘cardiac dilatation and pulmonary oedema’, or in other words, an enlarged heart and fluid on the lungs. He was eighty-five.

James was a self-made, wealthy Scot, who owned land all over Britain and he died in Scarborough, Yorkshire. His will, an obituary and many other papers, show that the old man had relinquished his estates and businesses in Scotland to his sons John and James and retired to England. This was in line with the principle of primogenitor (eldest son inherits the estate), which had been law in Scotland. He could also keep a watchful eye on his new timber venture, not far away in Middlesbrough.

James Calder had managed one of Britain’s most prominent timber companies, specializing in pit props, railway sleepers and telegraph poles and he had significant interests in brewing (The Shore Brewery, Alloa, since 1862) and distilling (since the purchase of a distillery at Bo’ness in 1873). Scotland’s largest yeast works at Bo’ness from which he sold malting residues and grain for cattle feed. He farmed livestock and enjoyed hunting. It was said that he had a mischievous trait. James would knock five per cent off any bill presented to him, but tradesmen in the know, would ponder the matter, add the five percent back on the bill. James would then pay in full. The old man had been unconvinced that his sons were ready and able to take over the family businesses. He thought they were profligate and frivolous, but on August first, 1907, at the age of seventy-five, he retired He was no longer Laird of Ardargie.

James (YF) moved his domicile from Ardargie, his home of thirty years, to The Hall, Wold Newton, in the East Yorkshire countryside. Wold Newton is a civil parish and village, on the road from Driffield to Scarborough, five miles south-west from Hunmanby station on the Hull and Scarborough section of the North Eastern railway. ‘Wold Newton Hall, the property of James Calder esq. is a brick mansion situated in the village. James Calder esq. is lord of the manor and principal landowner. The soil is light loam; the subsoil is chalk. The chief crops are wheat, barley, oats and turnips. The area is 2,029 acres of land and 1 of water; rateable value, £1,999; the population in 1911 was 298.’ Kelly’s Directory of the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire (1913)

James was a timber merchant, brewer, distiller, farmer and father of eight surviving children. He outlived two wives.  He built and owned ships. He was known widely as YF, a title that he had, no doubt, gained when his new wife, Jessie, arrived on the scene shortly after the untimely death from cancer uteri of Cecilia (MacKenzie) Calder, James’s first wife. ‘Step-mother’ Jessie would, no doubt, have referred the children of his first marriage to ‘Your Father’ whenever challenged.

James (1832) and his sisters Janet (1834) and Margaret (1835) were born at Ardoch, in Glen Gairn, on a tributary of the River Dee, near Crathie, Aberdeenshire. With their parents, Charles and Elizabeth, they moved to Perthshire about 1836. They appear in the 1841 census in Bridge Lane, Blairgowrie, where Charles had set up a shop. More children, Elizabeth c.1837, Ann c.1840, and Charles c.1842 were born in Blairgowrie. James was likely schooled in Blairgowrie, because that is where he lived through his childhood.  In 1851, aged eighteen, James was working at the family business in Blairgowrie, which may have been the inn, the store, or both, and by the time he married aged twenty-five, he was managing the family sawmill in Dunkeld.

Cecilia MacKenzie, was born 1829 in Edinburgh to John MacKenzie (b1790) and Marion (Coltman) (b1791) (both died before 1875). She was a boarder, educated at St Margaret’s convent in Edinburgh. She was lodging with Colin McGregor and his two-year-old daughter, also called Cecilia, at Constable Street, Blairgowrie, 6 June 1851. She married James at the Catholic Church, Blairgowrie, on 6 June 1857. James and Cecilia lived briefly in Dunkeld then moved down to Perth where much of the expanding Calder business was then based. Much of his business was conducted at their home at 31 James Street in Perth.

Family legend has it, that when Cecilia went to London for the season she had her coach and horses loaded aboard ship and travelled by sea to avoid the discomfort of poor roads. Cecilia died young, aged forty-five, of cancer of the uterus, at Glenlochsie, Spittal of Glenshee, September 25, 1875. Her sister Agnes Anderson was witness to her death. Cecilia was buried at Greenside Cemetery in Alloa. She had lived at 3 Lime Tree Walk since 1862 and was survived by James, four daughters and two sons. James’s ashes would later be buried alongside her. YF married again. His own situation was similar to that of his second wife, Jessie, also recently widowed with one son and three daughters.

Janet Brown (Steven/Calder (Jessie)) and James were married at 36 Abbotsford Place, her residence, The Gorbals in Glasgow, June 2, 1876. Walter was born nine months later. Jessie, the widow of George Steven, a commission agent, needed support for her four young children (John six, Helen four, Mary two and Margaret was just a baby) when George died, 10 April 1871 in Cannongate, a house of refuge for the destitute in Edinburgh. Jessie was the daughter of David Brown, a farmer who died before 1876.  She likely took up employment at The Walk, as Calder’s housekeeper. It is likely  that James and Jessie (and maybe Cecilia also) were acquainted as teenagers. They were both living in Blairgowrie, a small town.

James bought an inn The Atholl Arms at Caputh, Dunkeld, and installed Jessie to run it. His youngest son, David was born there (1880) and all Jessie’s children lived there with her.  Jessie was described as an annuitant in 1881. She later lived at 16 Royal Crescent, Edinburgh on private means. She was ‘looked after’. In all likelihood the marriage, in the conventional sense, didn’t last long but rather than divorce (not acceptable in the Catholic Church), James maintained Jessie until her death at Callender in 1916. His will mentioned a 1910 arrangement for her, to which she had agreed, left her ‘cared for’ outside the provisions of the will. Walter and David were limited beneficiaries of the will, but on the proviso that, should they contest the will, they would suffer exclusion from it.

The Shore Brewery, Alloa

John McNellan, of a brewing family from nearby Cambusbarron, built The Shore Brewery in 1816 at Alloa, a site chosen for its harbour, nearby coal supply and sweet well water. The brewery was successful and expanded but ran into financial difficulties in 1861 and was sold to repay debts. James Calder, who had been doing some timber business in the town, purchased the brewery in late 1862. He moved his young family from Perth to live at 3 Lime Tree Walk, (The Walk), Alloa and a new chapter in the Calder story began.

The Green Tree Inn had played a significant part, I think, as his home, in shaping the thinking of young James, who would have noticed that money could be made with beer. Family legend has it, that his mother, Elizabeth, helped James to buy The Shore Brewery with a loan, influence, and resolve.

The trademark adopted by Calder Brewing was a bee.

Life at Ardargie

When they married, James and Jessie lived together at The Walk as man and wife. Walter was born there. The Brewery was doing well, as was the distillery at Bo’ness. About twenty miles away at Forgandenny, two miles from the new railway station, was a large country house, which would suit James’s rising status and his needs. At McDowells Rooms, Perth, on 11 Pcyober 1877, the residential estate of Ardargie – 962 acres – sold to Mr. John Panton, writer of Blairgowrie, for  30,510 Pounds. Mr. Panton had bought Ardargie on behalf of James Calder. YF was now ‘Laird’ of Ardargie.

Exactly when Ardargie Mansion was built is unknown , but it was there before, “in 1798, Miss Helen Faichney, daughter of the late Wm. Faichney, Esq., of Ardargie, was married to a Mr. Ross, merchant, at Perth.” The house was demolished by fire. John Joseph Calder, the last laird, died at Ardargie in 1962 and  the place was probably sold and demolished about then. The area around the house site is, today, sub-divided with executive houses built and planned A number of photos taken in 1888 of the young adults from YF’s first marriage showed that they did enjoy a high life at Ardargie. Jessie’s children including Walter and David are not amongst them. YF’s eldest child, Cecilia, married William Drysdale Thornton at Ardargie in 1883. By then, the mansion was probably ‘organized’ by the young ladies of the house. Agnes had  met and fallen for George Thornton at their siblings’ wedding. John Joseph (Jack) Calder had his children at The Walk, but when his father moved off to Wold Newton and relinquished Ardargie, the place became home to his large family and remained his home until his death in 1962.

1877 was a busy year for James, another son (Walter), a new home, and he bought back into the timber trade: 22 November 1877 – Mill & machinery from sequestrated estate of James Donaldson, bankrupt timber merchant, was sold to Mr Calder, Ardargie, at £1,600 (the upset price of £1,250). The timber business trades to this day as ‘Calder and Grandidge’ in the port of Boston, Lincolnshire, and ‘a history of Calders 100 years in Boston’ commissioned by the company to celebrate that event, provides a good insight into YF’s life.

A Bunny

“IMPORTANT GAME DECISION, – Some time ago, it will be remembered, we reported a game prosecution at the instance of James Calder, of Ardargie, against Ewan Robertson, joiner, for having shot a rabbit on a field known as “Jackstairs,” on the farm of Kildinney, Forteviot, tenanted by Robert Graham. Robertson pled that he had received Graham’s authority and instructions to kill rabbits on the farm, and this being acknowledged by the latter the case was dismissed, and the decision confirmed on appeal to the High Court of Justiciary. Recently, however, the same pursuer lodged a petition in the Sheriff Court at Perth craving interdict against Graham to prevent him destroying game, and defences being entered a proof was led, and the case debated before Sheriff Barclay, who has now issued an interlocutor granting the interdict craved.”

 Dundee Courier, 16 December 1878

It wasn’t, of course, about one rabbit, but rather James’ right to control the game, on his estates. He was now the Laird and presumably felt that he had to show it. He continued his love of hunting and fishing and was a member of the Scottish Electrics, showing a keen interest in breeding and showing his livestock. Jack and Jim continued the Calder interests.

John Joseph (Jack) Calder, James’ eldest son succeeded YF as Laird and was the last at Ardargie.  He ruled Ardargie from 1907 until his death in 1962.  Jack ran the brewing business based not far away at Alloa, Clackmannanshire, and built it into a brewing empire. John was interested in breeding shorthorns and imported breeders from USA. He bought Hill 60 on the Somme and donated it to the nation as the site for a memorial to the thousands of fallen including his nephew Wilfred and his son James who survived the carnage. Jack had married, 1895, Mary Alice Broadbent in Lancashire, and brought her to live at 3 The Walk, Alloa, where their large family was all born. They moved into Ardargie in 1907. Jack bought a hunting estate called Braemore in Ross-shire where the extended Calder family would holiday. Marriages into Canada and USA and the evacuations of WW2 spread the family across the Atlantic. Jack had gone blind in his last years, but he and Alice stayed at Ardargie where they both died in 1962.

James Charles (Jim) Calder, James second son,  who had worked up from the bottom of his father’s timber empire, was now in charge of Calder’s Timber business and distilleries. He held a senior post in the war effort as Deputy Director of the Timber Industry for which he was knighted in 1921.  Jim lived at Ledlanet, a house which was apparently built in the style of Ardargie,  high on the hill, at Milnathort  about six miles south of Ardargie at the other side of the Ochil Hills .  It was said that the Calders owned all the land between (about 20,000 acres.) Sir James Calder (son of YF) bought Lynford Hall in Norfolk, which had been considered for purchase by Queen Victoria as a country palace, but was passed over in favour of Sandringham, a few miles further north.

Both Jack and Jim were keen shooters and fishermen. They both retained their father’s interest in farming and their prize animals frequently appeared at agricultural shows. Jack was involved with curling at Forgandenny and Jim enjoyed his golf.  The newspapers had regular reports of the success of their country pursuits.

And Two Trout

Jim had a loch on his property, stocked with trout for his entertainment. Sheriff Barclay had finally retired but Jim still felt that recourse to the law was the way to deal with poachers. This incident took place during the 1920s. Like his father and grandfather before him, Sir James exercised his rights before the law. But let all be warned – do not transgress against a Calder.

YF Had Four Daughters: Cecilia (Cicily) (1859-1921) was the eldest surviving child. She married William (Willie) Drysdale Thornton and was mother to Thomas George Thornton (my grandfather). Her other children were Mary who died as a young child, Wilfred who was killed in 1917 at Hill 60 on the Somme, and Helen who married Frank O’Leary. Christina (Tina or Aunt Tin) (1860-1952) married Walter Hardy Beaton, his second wife, grandfather of Sir Cecil Beaton, the Queen’s photographer. Agnes (1862-1947) married Willie’s brother George Thornton. They had ten children (eight of them were girls) Marion (1864-1954) married first a Civil Servant in India, L. C. Berry C.I.E., with whom she had a daughter Ethel. He died about 1900 and Marion remarried Major Archibald (Willie) MacDonald of Blarour, Spean Bridge, Inverness. Their grandson lives at Blarour now. And two sons by his second marriage: Walter (1877) and David (12 October 1880 Dunkeld on 6th wife of James Calder Esq of Ardargie – a son), from his second marriage. David was born at the Inn managed by Jessie.