Alcohol Banned in Scotland

Wait......................Don't Panic as this is a Story although it's a True story when Alcohol was banned in Wick in the Far North of Scotland in 1922. For 25 Years........

Many people know of prohibition in America which began in 1922 and ended in 1933. To most Scots the thought of a ban for 11 years as was the case in the states worse happened in Wick.

The Year was 1922 two years after prohibition in the States.

After the Temperance (Scotland) Act in 1913 the local ward in Wick voted on the 28th of May 1922 by a majority of sixty-two per cent to go ‘dry’ – and stayed off the booze for twenty-five years to the day.

Between 1922 and 1947 Wick was officially a dry town with no alcohol licenses permitted within the Royal Burgh. All pubs were shut  and every off licence could sell or display alcohol on their shelves. That means that prohibition lasted nearly twice as long as it did in America.

It all began in 1840 when the ‘Wick and Pulteneytown Total Abstinence Society’ was formed under the direction of the Methodist Minister and a Temperance Hall was constructed.

That wasn’t an isolated event as there was a growing intolerance towards alcohol and a view that only total abstention would remove the blight of drunkenness and alcoholism from society. Neighbouring Thurso already its own Temperance Hall at that time and a lot of them were linked to the emergence of friendly societies. Dedicated Temperence Hotels also began to appear and one of those Mackay’s Hotel was in Wick.


In December 1946 Wick let it be known they wanted the ban overturned and on May 28 1947 exactly 25 years later prohibition ended.

Not that a ban would stop some Wickers having a skin full People went to Thurso 20 miles away a special train ran there and they went by bus to other places to get drunk on weekends.

In those days carriages had no corridors and toilets so you can imagine what it was like lots just didn’t make it home they just lay and slept on the train.

This was all during a time in Wick when herring fishing was at full strength the population of Wick grew from 10000 to 20000 and there were 5000 extra men in town.

And he believes disgruntled wives were the biggest reason for prohibition.

Prohibition was brought about by women so fed up with their men because they were often paid only once or twice a year and the fishermen were often paid in the pub then came home with no money at all.

So something had to give and for 25 years to the Day Wick kept the ban inlace even with a distillery in town.

A ban on booze also meant there was money to be made by crafty bootleggers willing to take the risk.

A local legend Wullie Thomson who evaded the police for 15 years right under their noses.

Running alongside prohibition three crofters on Newton Hill made whisky for 15 years and cops couldn’t find them — less than two miles from a police station.

One man had been at the Somme during the First World War and camouflaged trenches where he built two stills in peat which were not discernible from people walking right over the top of them.

He did this Between 1922 and 1937 then he as jailed for six months.

He who fooled police for 15 years by operating right under their noses.

He got caught because for some reason the place went on fire and somebody saw the smoke and knew only one thing way out on the moors could be happening.

Wullie was asked by the prosecution ‘How much money do you make out of those small little bottles of whisky?’

He said ‘Your honour you see those small bottles of ink on your desk a lawyer would make far more money out of that with letters than I would ever make with my little bottles of whisky.’


Amazingly the ban remained in force even throughout the Second World War when the influx of large numbers of servicemen in need of a wee dram. The ban was challenged four times over the intervening period and every time it was supported by more than 50 per cent. Then in December 1946 the local population turned out in force to overturn the ban and on the very significant date of the 28th of May 1947 twenty-five years of ‘No Licence’ came to an end. The ban in Wick was repealed in 1947 but the infamous Temperance (Scotland) Act of 1913 was only finally abolished by the Licensing (Scotland) Act of 1976.  Pulteney distillery  struggled during the ’20s and changed ownership three times before it closed down in 1930. Thankfully it reopened in 1951.