Scanned image from CWS Annual 1906- Bladnoch Creamery, Wigtownshire  Illustration of Bladnoch Creamery, Wigtownshire, CWS Annual 1906, CHT Collection

Do you remember Bluebell Margarine? This month we’re exploring some of Scotland’s rich history of co-operation, and the story of Bluebell and the creameries it was produced at, proved to be an interesting tale! 

The Beginnings 

The Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society was founded in 1868 to provide high quality, fair priced goods for the various Co-operative societies across Scotland. They expanded rapidly, and by the 1890’s the SCWS recognized the need for regular, reliable supplies of butter to sell in their stores. 

Up until this point, the common method of procuring butter for the stores was to buy directly from dairy farmers, who would each have a small creamery set up on their farms. This led to a lot of variation in terms of the quality of the butter purchased, as well as difficulties maintaining a steady supply. 

Irish butter, the preferred choice, was facing a lot of competition from Danish producers, so SCWS decided to expand a pre-existing distribution site in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, to include a purpose-built, modern creamery. This would allow for the mass manufacturing of standardized, high-quality butter, quite unlike the “lump, wrapped in muslin” often produced by individual family farms. (Quotation taken from Wholesale Co-operation in Scotland by James A Flanagan) 

A postcard of Bladnoch Creamery, c 1900s, from Used with kind permission from Wullie McCreadie Private Collection

Within a year, the butter produced in Enniskillen was so popular that SCWS expanded their creamery operations into Scotland, opening another purpose-built creamery at Bladnoch, Wigtownshire in 1899. This state-of-the-art factory was equipped with the latest machinery and adhered to the highest standards of sanitation and hygiene. The Bladnoch site eventually gained a smaller sister site down the road at Whithorn in 1902.  


Photograph of several cows in a cow byre, Ayrshire Co-op Dairy Farm, C 1960s. These would have supplied the SCWS creameries at Bladnoch and Whithorn. Image Ref. CUP/1/48/14 Co-operative Union Press Collection, CHT 

The Bladnoch Creamery was originally built to produce only butter, but as time went on, margarine, different varieties of cheese and other dairy products were added to the production lines.  

 Growth Times 

By the SCWS Jubilee in 1918, 211 people were employed at the Wigtownshire Creameries (Bladnoch and Whithorn) and together with the Enniskillen Creamery, they were producing over 270 tons of butter and dairy products per year. 

Photograph of the butter extruding machine at Bladnoch Creamery, C 1960s. Image Ref CUP/1/78/45 Co-operative Union Press Collection, CHT 

Bladnoch was responsible for producing some of the most well-known brand names in Co-op Shops across Britain, including Bluebell Margarine, a household essential throughout much of the 20th century.  

Advert for Bluebell, from Women’s Outlook Magazine, March 1924, CHT Collections.  

Although initially unpopular with British consumers, margarine as a butter substitute soared in popularity after the outbreak of WW1, which saw supplies of butter imports from continental Europe disappear from the shelves.  


The Museum collections include several examples of Bluebell Margarine packaging bearing the Bladnoch name, including this plastic tub dating from the 1970s. 

The National Library of Scotland Film Archive have some amazing footage of margarine being produced at Bladnoch, you can watch the process from start to finish in this promotional film, c. 1927. 

This film shows how production methods had changed by the 1959.

Cover of the Bluebell Margarine Home Baking Recipe Book. Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited, Bladnoch Creamery, Bladnoch Wigtownshire.

As part of their promotional activities, SCWS would often produce cookery and recipe books to hand out at the counters with purchases of their margarine, to further inspire home cooks. These cookbooks would promote other SCWS products alongside the ever-popular Bluebell.  

Advert from Bluebell Margarine Recipe Book  - CHT 

Closure and Change 

Sadly, the 20th century saw many co-ops lose their grip on British high streets, with the growth of discount supermarkets and cheaper foreign inputs making retail much more competitive.  

The creamery was the main employer in Bladnoch and the nearby area, and when it closed in 1989 it brought the loss of over 140 jobs, which was a massive blow to the local economy. The main production of CWS margarine was moved to a creamery in Wales, and some workers from the Bladnoch area were offered the chance to move down to Wales too. 

The CWS paid for 4 of the ‘girls’ working at Bladnoch to travel down to Wales and train the employees at the factory there on how to use the various machines they knew so well.  

Regeneration would not be too far away for the area, however. Eight years after the closure of the creamery, nearby Wigtown was named Scotland’s National Book town, and the area has gone from strength to strength, with over 15 thriving bookshops in the town and an annual book festival that attracts bibliophiles from all over the world. 

Plaque for the Book Town Launch, Wigtown by Jim Barton -  Wikimedia Creative Commons.

The creamery buildings themselves were converted into industrial units and the site became known as Bladnoch Bridge Industrial Estate. Among the businesses housed there are a recording studio, a steel works and a gift shop.  

Ex-employees of the creamery remember their time there fondly, with many speaking of the friendship and camaraderie shared between the workers. Many mentioned the fun the staff shared, with blocks of cheese handed out at Christmastime and a local minibus travelling around all the local villages to collect workers for their shifts. The minibus would often be one seat short, so whoever was last on for the day had to make do with a kitchen chair placed in the aisle! The pay was good and there was always laughter, plus overtime shifts aplenty for anyone that wanted them. 

Bladnoch Creamery by Dennis McCallum -  Reproduced with kind permission of the Artist. 

This beautiful painting, by artist Dennis McCallum, shows the remaining beauty of the building, despite areas of disrepair. Dennis shared with me memories of going to work at the creamery with his Grandparents during school holidays, when he was aged around 10. Dennis’ Grandfather, Tommy, worked in the Tinsmith shop, an on-site repair shop for mending the milk churns and vats. Dennis remembers; 

“On a Friday I would queue up with all the other workers for my pay at the office. Strangely my pay packet was a different sort of envelope to all the others! 

My thanks to the members of Newton & Minnigaff Memories Facebook group for sharing so many lovely anecdotes, memories and pictures. I wish I could have included everything that you shared, but hope that I did you all justice! 

The Museum has some objects relating to the SCWS and you can book visit the archives to see Scottish material.