Whisky Magazine Issue 28
This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.
Copyright Whisky Magazine © 1999-2017. All rights reserved. To use or reproduce part or all of this article please contact us for details of how you can do so legally.
Tom Bruce-Gardyne examines the life and times of the determined, self-made whisky pioneer William Teacher
Of all the founding fathers of the Scotch whisky industry, there is something endearingly down-to-earth about William Teacher. In a photograph taken shortly before his death in 1876, he stands square-on to the camera, wrapped in a thick Astrakhan coat and hat, his eyes peeking out above a magnificent beard with a look of ferocious determination. In contrast to that strutting dandy, Johnnie Walker, with his cheeky grin and flapping tails, there was absolutely nothing frivolous about William Teacher.
His story is a classic tale of rags to riches – the self-made man who seized his chance with both hands and never let go. With his father ‘lost at sea', William joined his mother at a spinning mill near Glasgow aged seven, after just six months at the village school. A few years later, he became an apprentice to a local tailor, whose wife read to him while he stitched in the workroom. Though it proved to be a brief respite and he was soon back at the cotton mill, it gave him a glimpse of a better life.
Back on the shop floor, in a demonstration over pay and conditions, William discovered how brutal the bosses could be when they ordered the two ringleaders to be strung up. William escaped with a warning as he was under 18. The incident left a deep impression, and though he became one of the bosses himself rather than a hot-headed radical, he was a lifelong utilitarian and a man of cast-iron principles.
His chance came when a Mrs McDonald needed a man to help in her grocery s...