Rosebank Distillery and The Great Canal
The Great Canal, as it was called, was completed in 1790 and was the greatest engineering project in Scotland since the Romans built the Antonine wall in the first century AD. It meant that ocean-going vessels could cross from the North Sea to the Atlantic for the first time without having to brave the treacherous waters of the Pentland Firth. And, by allowing the swift passage of goods and people from coast to coast, it was a terrific boost to trade that transformed Rosebank’s hometown of Falkirk.
Rosebank found itself in an ideal position as it shipped in the grain and fuel it required and shipped out its finished product. But the benefits didn’t end there if you think of all the prosperity, jobs and thirst for whisky the canal brought in its wake. With this thriving local market, at least five other distilleries set up on the banks of the Forth & Clyde canal, yet only Rosebank survived which tells you something about the reputation of its whisky.
Somehow the fortunes of the distillery were always linked to this once vital waterway which, being unable to compete with road and rail, eventually closed in 1963. Although it was no longer used by Rosebank, its closure seemed to symbolised a sense of decline in the area and ultimately contributed to the closure of the distillery itself.
When its then owners sought a distillery to represent the Lowlands in its six ‘Classic Malts’ launched in 1988, Rosebank was the obvious choice on quality alone. But aesthetics played a part, and there was no denying it looked forlorn beside the derelict canal. The decision to choose another distillery sealed Rosebank’s fate and it shut in 1993. Within a year British Waterways had applied for National Lottery funding to restore the canal after decades of lobbying and hard work by volunteers.
The Forth & Clyde canal finally reopened in 2001, with the Falkirk Wheel – a unique, rotating boat lift, installed a year later. The canal’s once stagnant waters now run fresh, injecting new life into communities along its length. Today its start is marked by the Kelpies, a pair of giant horse head sculptures, some four miles east of the Falkirk Wheel. Right in between, in pride of place by the water’s edge, will be the new Rosebank distillery.
Photo courtesy of Falkirk Local History Society.