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date: 05 March 2021

Grant, Williamfree

(1839–1923)
  • H. C. G. Matthew

Grant, William (1839–1923), distiller, was born on 19 December 1839 in Conval Street, Dufftown, the son of William Grant, master tailor (known as Old Waterloo), and his second wife, Elizabeth, née Reid. At the age of seven, Grant was receiving payment as a cattle herder, and combined his work with attendance at the village school at Mortlach, near Dufftown. He was then apprenticed to a shoemaker and, aged twenty, married Elizabeth, daughter of John Duncan, a cattle dealer in Dufftown, and his wife, Margaret, née Grant, a labourer. After a period as a clerk to the Tininver lime works at Crachie, Grant in September 1866 became bookkeeper at Mortlach distillery near Dufftown. An active volunteer and freemason, and precentor in the Dufftown Free Church, Grant became a person of standing in the locality. For thirty years he saved to start his own distillery, which he eventually began building in 1886 at Glenfiddich, near Dufftown, using water from Dubh's Well. Initially, old equipment was used, cheaply bought from the nearby Cardow distillery, and labour was mainly provided by Grant's wife and their eight children. The temporary destruction (by fire) of the nearby Glenlivet distillery gave Grant the break he needed. He soon built a second distillery at Balvenie. In north-east Scotland, Glenfiddich was widely sold as a five-year-old whisky. Grant took advantage of the bankruptcy in 1898 of the Pattison family (the largest whisky wholesalers) to establish a base in Glasgow, sending his son Charles and his son-in-law Charles Gordon to sell a rapidly expanding number of blends (including Grant's Standfast).

In 1900 Grant suffered a severe stroke; in 1907 he began to lose his sight, and soon he was blind—his unmarried daughter, Meta, acting as his amanuensis. In 1903 he established the limited liability company of William Grant & Sons. With the Glasgow office showing a loss, Grant decided to export. His son John opened the Canadian business; Lord Strathcona, the governor-general and a distant relative, assisted with letters of introduction. By 1914 the company was trading in most countries of the British empire, and in Japan, the Philippines, and the USA, with over sixty agencies in thirty countries. From 1964 Glenfiddich was sold in its famous triangular bottle—the archetype of modern single-malt whiskies. Grant died from senile decay on 5 January 1923 at Balvenie House, Mortlach, and was buried in Mortlach churchyard.

Sources

  • F. Collinson, The life and times of William Grant (1979)
  • M. S. Moss and J. R. Hume, The making of Scotch whisky (1981)
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.

Likenesses

  • photographs, repro. in Collinson, Life and times

Wealth at Death

£65,153 4s. 4d.: confirmation, 19 March 1923, CCI