FROM the Highlands to Lowlands, illicit stills were a draw for those who wanted a dram or two but wished to avoid paying the high taxes placed on spirits by the government.

One still was discovered at a Sauchie coal mine.

On October 9, 1809, a weaver from Tillicoultry called Robert Benny was sentenced by the local justices to three months' imprisonment for illicit distillation, but instead of paying his dues in prison, he managed to escape from his guard at the courthouse door.

He remained a fugitive for several months, only being recaptured on Monday, January 15, 1810.

He had been found by Mr Downie, the local excise officer while working an illicit still in one of the coal mines on the Sauchie Estate, where he thought he was safe from prying eyes.

He and his still were only discovered by chance as there had been an accident at the mine.

Some of the Sauchie miners, who knew of the still, would frequently visit Benny and his accomplices in the venture and threaten to tell the authorities about the spirit they sold if they did not give them a tot of spirit.

That Tuesday, one of the drinkers had too much uisge beatha and was ascending the pit using a rope when he let go, falling to the bottom of the mineshaft some 72 feet below.

He broke his thigh bone and was covered in bruises but otherwise was fine.

As he was drunk, he had relaxed as he fell. If he had tensed, the outcome may have been very different.

A number of miners gathered at the spot, and Downie just happened to be passing by at the time when he spied the still. He seized it and destroyed the wash and utensils.

He then duly informed the authorities and Benny was apprehended and taken into custody.

He soon found himself back in the dock at Alloa, this time standing in front of two Justices of the Peace.

Benny was sentenced to pay the statutory £30, which he did not have, so instead was taken to the prison in Kinross was where he to serve his sentence, as Clackmannanshire had no jails.

Benny was sent to Kinross prison and not Stirling was because Stirling had been created a different sheriffdom in 1807, having been split from Clackmannan.

Kinross was separated from Fife at the same time, so Clackmannan and Kinross were combined to make a new sheriffdom under the charge of two Sheriff Deputes.