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The Childers Universal Tartan

The Childers Universal Tartan first came to prominence when Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Lord Lyon King of Arms in his drastically revised Sixth edition of Frank Adam's The Clans & Septs of the Scottish Highlands, pronounced that "Englishmen should wear ‘Childers' Universal' tartan, a 19th century War Office invention - a converse of the Mackintosh sett. The story behind this recommendation shows with admirable clarity the dangers of a little knowledge.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Minister for War, Erskine Childers, produced a plan for putting all the Scottish regiments into tartan, the one chosen being the Black Watch which thus became the "Universal" tartan. The plan was extremely unpopular with the un-tartanned soldiers who gave the tartan rude names (MacChilders was probably the least rude) and, in the end the idea came to nothing.

However, around 1906-07, various Gurkha Regiments became affiliated to Highland Regiments, many of them - including the the 1/8 Gurkhas - adopted the Black Watch tartan under the name Universal for their pipers' plaids and the covers of their pipe bags. The 1/1 Gurkhas however had a new tartan designed for them by H.B.Mackintosh, of Elgin, and woven by James Johnstone & Co. Newmill, Elgin. Based on the red Clan Mackintosh sett, this has black for red, 'ash leaf green for blue, except that the blue line between the green bars is in red; the shade specified for the green bars is 'beech leaf green.

The tartan is not Childers', not Universal; nor is it easy to understand why it should have been specified for the English. It is much easier, however, to understand how muddled thinking and lack of knowledge confused Childers, two Gurkha regiments and two tartans to produce this spurious name and spurious attribution.

 


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