While sifting through the archives of Dunoon’s Castle House Museum, Museum Manager John Stirling drew my attention to a collection of Victorian glass and ceramic bottles. I’d been researching records and artefacts in preparation for a local exhibition called People of Place: Shop Keepers of Dunoon Heritage Trail; a series of shop window displays that used objects to engage people with the hidden stories of its high street.
The collection of bottles became part of the arrangement in the window of what is now Kennedy’s Pharmacy. The display included a short text describing George Stirling, who established the pharmacy in the late 19th century. He sold pharmaceuticals typical of the time alongside 'aerated waters'.
The production of flavoured sparkling water alongside healing elixirs and medical prescriptions didn’t raise eyebrows at that time. Stirling was suitably qualified and equipped with the mechanical processes to infuse water with carbon dioxide and natural ingredients.
When Stirling died in 1879, his eldest son expanded the family business with the construction of a new factory, a building that still stands today behind the pharmacy building, just off the high street in Dunoon.
George Stirling's beverages became popular across Cowal. They were sold directly from the pharmacy and through local hotels, restaurants and public houses.
It wasn’t until the late 1940s that the business was sold to Glasgow based Dunns. Products were stripped of the Stirling brand, but the building continued to be used to produce soft drinks until the 1970s when it was closed and the factory sold.
Dunoon Goes Pop is now a Tacit Tacit research iniative, dedicated to understanding how this manufacturing heritage can be utilsed to support the regeneration of the town.
We are collaborating with local illustrator and drinks enthusiast Walter Newton who will help us develop a brand.
We have already revived Stirling's original visual ID and produced new sparkling beverages based on Victorian recipes and traditional carbonation techniques. We have also hosted public taste tests of George Stirling Ginger Beer, Lemonade and Cola. We have even interviewed people who remember the original factory.
Importantly, the project will draw heavily on the lockdown lessons learned from the independent businesses across the UK, who enriched their niche brands through localised growth and connection. A strategy that can benefit other communities with cultural heritage treasures that may unlock new ways to generate public engagement and revenue in these challenging times.