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The Alchemist's Den

Part 1 Project 2010
Sebastian Cunningham
Northumbria University Newcastle upon Tyne UK
The village of Otterburn is situated on the Scots - English Border surrounded by sparsely inhabited moorland, interrupted only by rivers and valleys.
The site is home to five illicit whisky stills, a notorious murder and the MOD training on the high moorlands.
The illicit stills date back to when the Hanoverian governments imposed heavy duties on spirits. The Tippling Act 1751 abolished distiller’s licenses, making the practice illegal, as a result whisky was smuggled south from Scotland, most notably, “Whisky” Jack Kane and Black Rory set up their own stone built houses beside the burns of Upper Coquetdale, where water and peat were abundant.
A long and bloody battle arose between the excisemen, or ‘gaugers’, as they were known, and the illicit distillers, for whom the excise laws were alien in both language and inhibiting intent. Smuggling became standard practice for 150 years.

Clandestine stills were cleverly organised and hidden within the nooks and crannies of the heather clad hills - smugglers often organised signalling systems from hilltops to warn of spotted excise officers in the vicinity

Speckled ruins encompass Otterburn exuding its turbulent and illicit past.

Set against the bow of the Rede River the connection between the grain of the barley field and the water of the rede enhances the relationship between the architecture and the history of whisky within the village of Otterburn. The walk within the field of stroking barley combined with the tumble of the weir becomes an experience that ignites the senses for the journey ahead, as the sweet intoxicating veil of malted barley embraces the landscape ahead, drawing intrigue and a thirst for exploration into the illicit surreptitious history of Otterburn.

Sebastian Cunningham


Deeply in touch with its historical and physical contexts, the proposal floats over the landscape to re-establish the rich mythical heritage of this remote border region.

The project demonstates exceptional knowledge of the history, landscape and complexities of the programme whilst remaining both playful and mysterious.

The proposal is beautifully illustrated and a real joy to explore.

Tutor(s)
Mr Benjamin Elliott

2010
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