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Tartan Ferret

David Calder Stewart

D C Stewart with a Mrs Bailey and James Scarlett

"His father, D.W., is said to have been a partner in Romanes and Paterson. I do not know the precise accuracy of this, but he was certainly well up in the hierarchy of the firm. At some time, I think fairly early, in D.C.'s teens, DW backed a hosiery business which failed and ruined him. He took to the bottle and was eventually packed off to Australia as a remittance man and thereafter disappeared from view. DC's mother took the family south and joined a sister or sister-in-law in a millinery business and D.C. finished his education at Beckenham Art College, alongside such people as Max Millar, whose cutaway drawings of aeroplanes are a legend. He spent his working life as a process engraver with Sun Engraving and Odhams at Watford, moving from one to the other, he told me, when he wanted more pay, which argues that he was held in some esteem in his trade.

He inherited none of his father's interest in tartan and it was not until 1939, returning from a climbing holiday on Skye and looking on Inverness Station bookstall for something to read on the train, that he picked up a copy of Robert Bain's book The Clans and Tartans of Scotland and, having read it, decided that if people were going to write books about tartan they should do it properly. He had no sympathy for his father but put rather more faith than was justified in his work.

The result of this decision, The Setts of the Scottish Tartans was published in 1950, with a second edition in 1974; he also collaborated with D C Thompson in Scotland's Forged Tartans which was published in 1980 and was a critical study of the Vestiarium Scoticum.

That Robert Bain book is now in my archive in the Highland Archive in Inverness. After the War he retired to Uplyme, finished The Setts, dealt with the ensuing correspondence and prepared to vegetate, but the Scottish Tartans Information Centre (which later became the Scottish Tartans Society) was inaugurated in 1963 and gave him, as he said, a new lease of life. He became its first archivist and principal researcher and remained so until his death in 1977. His work laid the foundation of modern tartan research.

When I got involved with STS I fell into correspondence with him and, living in south-west London, it was easy for me to drive down to see him for a day at a weekend. He came to stay a weekend with us and I took him to meet MacGregor Hastie, with whom he had had some fairly heated correspondence and, when it became his regular duty to go to Stirling twice a year, to tidy up the files and root around in the Museum of Antiquities, I would pick him up at Waterloo on a Friday evening and drop him at Euston on Monday morning, performing the reverse a fortnight later.

He had been a gunner in the first war and my father had been the storeman at the Artillery Observation School, so they had plenty in common and we talked a great deal of tartan, too. When he died, he left me all his material on tartan and the one or two articles he had that had belonged to his father."

Jamie Scarlett

© Scottish Tartans Authority
Scottish Tartans Authority (Scottish limited company no. 162386), c/o J & H Mitchell, 51 Atholl Road, Pitlochry, PH16 5BU
Scottish Charity Number SCO24310

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