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Tartan Ferret
Test

Our Scottish District Checks


Part I July 1933

It is always a matter of interest to watch the different phases of Fashion, and the different subjects which interest those concerned in Fashions. No one can usually say why or how some particular phase of Fashions came into being or faded: "I came like water and like wind I go." A few generations ago fashions in clothes at any rate moved slowly. Even within our memory, what Paris or London decreed today took six months or more to journey across the Atlantic , and another six months to reach the shores of the Pacific. Now there is but one season throughout the civilised world of dress, and -- what Paris designs today is already beginning to fade on the Californian beaches before the month is out. In the olden days no one outside the small world of fashion paid any attention to such changes, and costume developed on National and not on Fashionable lines. This new arrangement produces a terrible wear and tear of ideas, and our designers constantly have to retreat into the past for novelty. As for the writer of romance, so for the designer of Fashions, Scotland is a favourite refuge. After long wandering amongst plain colours and jazzy disorder, the Fashion Makers have fallen back upon the somewhat barbaric orderliness of our Scottish District Checks. All the trade papers have been vying with one another in the invention of improbable legends about them, in which they have been aided and abetted by our own manufacturers; the plain truth being, that remarkably little is known about the origins of these patterns because of their hidden and inconspicuous beginnings in the private annals of private families.
Before we go on with our subject, just a word on our last number. The verse which headed our preliminary essay on Tartans has aroused great interest, and we are asked where it may be found. The verse is from Neil Munro's "The Kilt's My Delight", and is to be found in "The Poetry of Neil Munro", published in Edinburgh by the old Scottish House of Blackwood - a name familiar to all lovers of Sir Walter Scott. There are some good things both in Scots and in English in this slim volume of verses, which have been chosen and edited by John Buchan.
The District Checks belong to an interesting period in the history of Scotland , and to get their story right we must examine the circumstances out of which arose the development of Modern Scotland. Scotland is not a rich country for the farmer. The parts that come under the plough, by their very poverty have produced some of the finest agriculturists and stock breeders in the world. Before the Industrial Revolution, even Southern Scotland with difficulty supported a not very numerous people in circumstances we would now consider on the poverty line. The wolf was never far from the door, and in a bad year many houses could not keep the door barred against him.
In the North and West - the Highlands - things were even worse, for it had passed the wit of man to make an honest living in that "land of brown heath and shaggy wood" for more than the merest sprinkling of a population. Scotland has always been an exporter of her sons - a necessity that has developed into a national characteristic of roving, so that there is no part of the world where the Scot is not to be found. In the Middle Ages, when nations waged wars on the very sensible principle of hiring men to fight for them, soldiering was the commonest employment of the Highlander. For long the Scots supplied the Royal Bodyguard of France. In the niches of the great stairway of the Chateau of Blois they still show you the names of the Guards - all Scottish names - scratched on the soft stone. The Southern Scots went out as traders and scholars; the Highlanders as soldiers of fortune.
Then came the Union . First the Union of the Crowns, when our King James VI. fell heir to the throne of England under the title of James I. Later the Union of the Parliaments - a mariage de convenance which for long seemed likely to end in the divorce court. It is curious that the very man who presided at the marriage was chosen to arrange the divorce, but by one of these unforeseen sudden developments in politics, that have so often changed the development of nations, the proceedings for the dissolution of the Union were stopped - things settled down, and Scotland rose to a height of prosperity far beyond anything dreamed of by her most optimistic rulers.
Such great changes in the life of a nation can never happen without loss to some one. "Nothing for nothing" may be cruel, but it is inevitable. Some one must pay. This time the payment had to be met by the Highlands . Their old trades were gone. Gradually an unsympathetic Government enforced law and order at home, built roads, and opened up these wild and inaccessible mountain regions. The old chieftains degenerated into landlords and became pale imitations of the great English landed families, imitating a social order built on very different foundations from those of the Scottish Clan System. Even when the great Dr Johnson visited the Hebrides in 1773, he regretted to find that so many of the great families no longer lived in their ancient territories, but had gone to spend in London or Edinburgh the scanty incomes of their barren lands, incomes which, being largely in kind, were ample for the simple and barbaric lavishness of their accustomed hospitality, but were strained past breaking point to maintain their ancestral state in the wealthy society of the Capitals.
The Union with England closed the armies of France - our old ally - against the Scot. The Old Scots Guard was replaced by the Swiss, so it was they and not we who "plunged forth among the pikes" that September day in 1793 when, in the streets of Paris, "there forms itself a piled heap of corpses, and the kennels begin to run red", and the poor remnants of the Red Guard that had survived the capture of the Tuileries were hewn in pieces one by one. "Let the traveller, as he passes through Lucerne , turn aside to look a little at their monumental Lion: not for Thor-waldsen's sake alone." Forgive me this digression.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century the Highlands were reduced to desperate straits. Sir Walter Scott in his "Journal" gives some terrible pictures of the departure of shiploads of emigrants to the New World - a movement that a few years later culminated in the Highland Clearances. A movement, however grievous to the Highlands of Scotland, that furnished the English-speaking world with some of its finest pioneers and settlers. And so we come to the end of the first half of the nineteenth century. Scotland had changed extraordinarily in its social structure, though extraordinarily little in the character of its people. "Nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldom extinguished" is as true of nations as of men.
Sheep farming had replaced the primitive work of the Highlanders who had been deported from their old homes - some to the coast, some across the seas. Many parts of the country were almost totally depopulated by a movement as misguided as it was well intentioned. The next phase was the displacement of the sheep and the sheep farmers for deer, and the formation of the great deer forests and sporting estates. So great became the distress in these almost empty glens that many attempts were made by Parliament to help - not very successfully. The area was placed under the general supervision of the Congested Districts Board - a name surely applied with cynical humour to a district that never carried much population, but was now an almost uninhabited waste.
In this setting arose the great Highland sporting estates. The development owed much to Queen Victoria, who not only greatly admired the scenery, but, by her purchase of Balmoral, set the fashion for the Highlands . This connection of owner and tenant soon ripened into a great mutual love and sympathy between Her Majesty and the people of her estates, who transferred to the Little Lady the loyalty and affection that used to be commanded by their chiefs.
In the Highlands , money had always been scarce. Most payments were in kind and most privileges were repaid in service, so it was natural enough that the great estates should clothe their retainers. In the new developments of the country many of the new owners have no right to any tartan, and moreover tartans are not very suitable for modern dress. The great scientific developments of the times interested such ardent minds as the Prince Consort in problems of protective colourings for his ghillies, keepers, foresters, and so forth at Balmoral - and some tincture of the old clan spirit left it the fashion for owners and staff to be clothed alike in the costume of their forest. So came into being our District Checks.
In a later paper we intend to trace this question of protective colouring in the development of mixtures, and give a page to the evolution of the Lovat Mixture, and the Elcho Mixture of the London Scottish Regiment. This idea, which originated in the minds of the sportsman Lord Lovat, and the soldier Lord Elcho, has spread to the clothing of the armies of the world - the British Khaki, the German Field Grey, the Horizon Blue of the French are all alike the outcome of this social change in an obscure and unknown comer of the little Kingdom of Scotland, whose population even today is hardly greater than that of New York City.
In the Cheviots - the Borders - it had long been the habit of the shepherds to wear as their outer garment a long plaid or shawl, usually about four yards long and about a yard and a half wide - from which arises the common trade expression "six quarter wide". These plaids were almost always checked black and white - no special number of threads of each, but usually about a quarter of an inch. This pattern travelled North with the sheep and the shepherds, and became well known throughout the Highlands .
Perhaps I should explain that the word "Glen" is the Gaelic for a valley. Strath is likewise a valley, but larger and more fertile. Naturally, in such a mountainous country as the Scottish Highlands, the population existed only in the valleys, so it is by the valley names that the Highland Districts were, and are, known.
As the idea of these special tweeds spread, they were naturally enough mostly made by our own mills in Elgin , as they were the oldest of the Northern mills that developed more than a purely local trade. The first collection of the patterns was made by Fraser & Smith of Inverness - a firm that ceased to exist about forty years ago, when this part of their trade was carried on by the Edinburgh firm of the present editor's father, who introduced the definite name of District Checks, and took up their general distribution seriously.
The District Checks follow a few main lines of development, as illustrated in our supplement, but their detailed consideration must be left to a further number of "Scottish Woollens". The Shepherd Check of the South is the foundation. The District Checks owe little or nothing to the Tartans of the Glens where they were first used. The Glenurquhart is one great development of the Shepherd - a stroke of genius that gave a new type to the woollen trade of the world - besides the type we give the Mar, which was adopted by King Edward when he was Prince of Wales for his Forest of Mar, just above the Royal Forest of Balmoral in the valley of the Dee. As a simple development of the Shepherd we give the Glenfeshie. Then there is the great group of the Gunclubs, which linked our District Checks with the New World when the Coigach was adopted in 1874 as their uniform by the Gun Club of New York or Baltimore. I should be deeply indebted to anyone who could give me authentic information on this point.
Then there is a series of patterns which broke quite new ground, but which, from their natural limits, produced no further developments. These are illustrated by Prince Albert 's Balmoral and the Erchless. There is also a group of regimental checks represented by the Scots Guards which we illustrate. There are, of course, many others of varying degrees of interest and authenticity, and we shall return to these details in a further paper, when we shall sketch more definitely the stories of some of the principal patterns.
NOTE. - We would remind our readers that they are entirely at liberty to use "Scottish Woollens" as they like for reproduction or for quotation. Our intention in issuing the series is to help all who sell our clothes in every way possible by supplying reliable and useful information.
Part II
December 1933


Our Scottish District Checks arose out of a modem social development acting on the ancient traditions and instincts that developed, in the first place, Heraldry - the Heraldry of Feudal Europe - and somewhat later the Highland Tartans. A tradition that in its turn rose out of that defensive and offensive alliance of individuals that is one of the chief features that distinguish mankind from the lower orders of creation - the necessity of knowing our friends from our foes. That same instinct has its twentieth-century development in school and club colours, badges, marks, and national emblems, swastikas or back shirts or blue shirts, or a thousand other ornaments and disguises that please the barbarian child that is in us all.
The northern part of Scotland is divided from sea to sea by the Great Glen. From Inverness - which, for a brief moment during the Great War, became almost an American city, and was policed and kept in order by the United States Navy - the Great Glen runs south-west to the Atlantic at Fort William . It is little above sea-level, and its floor is occupied by an almost continuous line of deep lochs. About halfway down the longest of these lochs - Loch Ness - the ancient ruined stronghold of Castle Urquhart dominates the waterway, and below it the brawling little river - the Enerick - ends its race down the wild glen that gives its name to the greatest of all the developments of woollen designing - the GLENURQUHART CHECK, or as it was called in the country of its birth the Glen Urquhart Tartan. It is in its simple and original form a development of the Shepherd Check. Whilst the actual origin of the pattern may be, and probably was, accidental - for every one of us who has served his apprenticeship to the weaving and designing of our Scottish Woollens has got over the knuckles for mixing up the coloured threads of the Shepherd - the fixing and adopting of the definite device of the Glenurquhart is due to Caroline, Countess of Seafield, who, some time about the middle of the nineteenth century, adopted the form we illustrate in her Glen Urquhart estates, and there it was worn for many years by tenants, factors, and gamekeepers alike. This device, combining two different patterns in one, was a stroke of genius, and has given the designers of the world a source of countless varieties of patterns that have clothed untold millions of well and ill dressed men and women all over the globe, wherever Western civilisation has made its touch felt. The Countess was a woman of great character, and, after the deaths of her husband and her son, ruled her wide estates for many years with beneficent tyranny. She was herself a handloom weaver, and this is perhaps why tradition has credited her with the design. It seems certain that the actual designer was Elizabeth Macdougall, who lived at Lewiston , a small group of crofts at the foot of the Glen. She spun and dyed the yarn, and the first web was woven by William Fraser. It is an amusing detail of the story that as William did not easily understand her instructions for this outstanding novelty - in which he was very like his modern successors - she sketched her instructions with a stick on the mud in front of his cottage door: which suggests that elaborate apparatus is less important than ideas! Originally this great design was blue and white, but before long the present-day black replaced the original dark blue. The invention took place some time in the late 'forties of last century.
This then was the design chosen by Lord and Lady Seafield for their Glen Urquhart estates, and the original estate cloth was woven in a little mill which, till quite recently, continued working in a quiet way. The mill still stands a little way up the Glen, but it is now only inhabited as a house. It is in itself interesting as one of the attempts to introduce industry and prosperity to these much harried lands after the last Stuart Rebellion of 1745. It was built by the Laird of Grant at the same time as the factory founded by the Honourable Commissioners for Annexed Estates at Invermorriston close by, and there are still preserved in the archives of Castle Grant the lists of women to whom the King's Commissioners distributed spinning-wheels for the supply of yams for the mill. It is difficult in these days of organised excursions, where streams of buses and motorcars pour continually through the Glen, and excursion steamers pass up and down the Loch , to remember that only a little more than a hundred and fifty years ago the King's Writ hardly ran in the valleys. The nineteenth century has seen great changes - not only in America, where the Organisers of the Chicago Century of Progress Exhibition of this year had such difficulty in discovering the site of little Fort Dearborn, and where the comfortable tourist, in his palatial transcontinental dining-car, sees with a thrill the name Fort Sumner on the depot sheds, and remembers that almost within the memory of living man this was the edge and frontier of civilisation.
Not many of the District Checks follow the Glenurquhart type. THE MAR we illustrate - brown and white with a green overcheck. Tradition - not too well authenticated - says it was designed by King Edward, when, as Prince of Wales, he used to shoot from Abergeldie House in the Forest of Mar. Mar is at the headwaters of the Dee, which flows down to the North Sea at Aberdeen, to which it gives its name. The Forest was acquired by the ancestors of the Duke of Fife, when the Earl of Mar was attainted and his estates forfeited for the part he took in the Jacobite Rising of 1715.
Just a little lower down the river from Mar lies Balmoral, which the Prince Consort bought in 1848, from the Farquharsons of Inverey, and where the royal couple built the new Balmoral Castle with all the enjoyment and enthusiastic interest that went to the making of many a frontier man's homestead - "Ever my heart becomes more fixed in this dear Paradise." The foundation-stone was laid on 28th September 1853, and there the ever active brain of Prince Albert devised the BALMORAL TWEED, which we illustrate, and the Balmoral Tartan - one of the very few tartans that can be absolutely "documented." The tweed is a very dark blue and white sprinkled with crimson - the blue so dark as to be almost black. It imitates very closely the texture and effect of these grey, granite mountains amongst which lies the Forest of Balmoral .
THE CARNEGIE is a very unusual treatment of a simple black and white Glenurquhart, three inches on the repeat. It is overchecked through the centre of the 2 and 2 part by a half-inch wide strip of camel colour, a scheme which separates it very markedly from any other. In their original form our District Checks were made for real service on the hills - all men whose work exposes them to all weathers - shepherds, keepers, guides, deep-sea fishermen, all alike have no use for flimsy summer cloths, and all the original patterns were made in good, solid cloths of winter weights.
THE GLENFESHIE, one of the boldest and most invisible of all the Districts when seen in its proper environment, is the type of a considerable group. It is just the Shepherd Check with a brilliant scarlet overcheck. The Feshie is one of the bright clear streams that come down from the Cairngorm Mountains to join the Spey - a long and beautiful glen, the scene of many of Landseer's great paintings of deer-stalking and highland landscape.
From 1834 till 1841 Glenfeshie was tenanted by the Right Honourable Edward Ellice, M.P., and General Balfour of Balbirnie, who rented the forest from Sir George Macpherson-Grant of Ballindalloch. The daughter of General Balfour married the son of Mr Ellice, and it is to the kindness of their son, Mr Edward C. Ellice, who was member for St Andrews Burghs, that we owe the record which we give. In these days Glenfeshie Lodge had not been built, and young Miss Balfour acted as hostess to the many interesting guests housed in a group of wooden huts sprinkled amongst the fine old pines that cover the narrow, level floor of the valley and restrain the turbulence of the river. In these days it was an inaccessible spot some eight miles from the nearest road, and nearer twelve from where the nearest stagecoach passed. To quote her son's words, Mrs Ellice "was disturbed because she had no tartan, so she designed the plaid which Mr Ellice and the gillies and keepers all wore from that time to the present date." The check - or mixture as it is called locally - was transplanted to Glengarry in the west when its designer and her family acquired the estates of Glengarry, but it also remains firmly rooted in its original soil. The ruined outline of the old mill, where the cloth was first made, is still to be traced - its Gaelic name rather beautiful, Druimnacailleach - but, like many a score of the cottages amongst our Northern mountains, is now silent and unroofed - inhabited only by rabbits: its garden marked by a few unfamiliar leaves soon to be obliterated by the encroaching forest, or the lovely empty spaces of the moorland.
It is said that Mrs Ellice introduced this simple and beautiful check to give the effect of the red and grey granites of Glenfeshie, but local tradition says the red check was introduced to distinguish the keepers and other men of the forest from the shepherds. How real and how far-reaching was the significance of these District Checks is well illustrated by Mr Alister Macpherson-Grant, who tells how his brother, the head of the family, was once accosted in Western Canada because he was wearing a cap of the Glenfeshie Mixture.
Entertainment in these days was much simpler than now. The young ladies sketched or picnicked - shooting not then being permissible for them. There were no near neighbours, and the evenings, which in these Northern glens start very early in the day, were spent singing and dancing to the pipes or the fiddle, which is more truly the national instrument. After all, is not Strathspey the very home of Highland Dancing? Also in these days the sportsman had to work for his game - muzzle-loading guns and walking up your birds over dogs - and not the least delight that modern mechanised sport has lost in return for its vastly bigger bags is the delight of watching the work of the dogs. After a good day's work following the birds up and down the precipitous hills of Glenfeshie, the big wooden hut, that was the living-room, with its oil lamps and roaring log fire makes a pleasant picture with its whiskered sportsmen, and the ladies with their hooped skirts, and the dogs crowded round the fire. Songs and home-made ballads, old stories and new tales of the day's adventures; and if your bedroom was ill to find in the black darkness groping amongst the trees, the river and the wind made fine music to send you to sleep.
We can but take our patterns one by one, describe their main features, and add here and there such notes as we can, to give a little of the background against which they appeared. Looked at from a distance, that nineteenth century was a strange period in our history, for the wealth whose sources had destroyed for ever the old life of the Scottish Highlands supplied almost the only source of livelihood that remained.
The IN is the Shepherd with a peculiar dull red brown for black. THE BALLINDALLO CH the same, red brown and white one way with a dull biscuit shade taking the place of the white in the cross threads. It has an overcheck the same size as the Glenfeshie Mixture, of dull olive green. Till recently, it was used on the Strathspey estates of Sir George Macpherson-Grant of Ballindalloch.
THE ARDTORNISH - a West Coast check - is a 4 and 4 Shepherd of white and brown - olive brown warp way, russet brown weft way. THE GUISA CHAN is remarkable as one of the very few not on a common twill ground - the warp 4 of black and 4 of white crossed with 4 of brown and yellow twist, and 4 of white, the weave a 4 X 4 diamond cut in the warp but not cut in the weft.
The two RUSSELL checks are peculiar in their colour effect. The check follows the style of the Glenfeshie, but, being crossed with two shades of drab, the dull brown overcheck gives the strange illusion of being wine coloured in the weft and russet in the warp, though actually the same. The Glenurquhart form of the Russell has the bold overcheck on each side of the 4 and 4 part of the check, the whole pattern being no less than six and a half inches.
THE GLENQUOI CH is unique. It is a very small design, the warp 5/8 inch of white and 1/8 inch of black crossed in the weft with a dull warm drab for white, the black being used in both directions. Glenquoich, in the North-west Highlands, boasts the highest rainfall in Scotland - about 120 inches, and fittingly contains one of the biggest of our Hydroelectric Schemes.
THE MINMORE - introduced by Mr Smith Grant in his Strathspey estates- is a very similar colour with a deep green check. These two checks are the only examples we have seen of this method of varying the Shepherd ground
THE COIGA CH is again the representative of a large class. In it, the Shepherd has been varied by making its checks alternately black and strong red brown, a very bold and original idea which, as we mentioned in our first article, forms a bond of union between Scotland and the United States through its adoption about 1874 as the club check of one of the American Gun Clubs. Perhaps it is because the original name of this fine design is quite a hard problem for him who is not a native of Bonnie
Scotland that its new name of Gunclub became the world name for this, the third of the three great types that dominate the designing of the vast bulk of ordinary checked woollen cloths - The Shepherd, The Glenurquhart, and The Gunclub.
THE DA CRE is the Coigach boldly magnified by two. Its checks are three-eighths of an inch each. THE SEAFORTH, used by the Seaforth Highlanders as a tweed, is a beautiful scheme of two tones of russet on a white ground and overchecked with a brighter russet, one check bigger than the Glenfeshie Mixture, so as to fit the Gunclub ground. THE DUPPLIN is the Coigach with a scarlet overcheck, like the Seaforth. THE STRATHSPEY the same, with a dark blue overcheck.
THE LO CHMORE uses a greenish Lovat mixture to replace the black of the Coigach, and THE GAIRLO CH is the Coigach itself with a dull yellow mixture replacing the white in the weft. THE GLENMORRISTON is the Coigach arrangement with dark blue and a light, slightly greenish Lovat mixture as the alternate colours. This valley of Glenmorriston is the next towards the west of Glen Urquhart and is part of the wide Seafield estates. Like the Glenurquhart Check, the pattern belongs to the reign of Lady Caroline.
THE HAY or DUPPLIN is the same as the Strathspey with a brown, much lighter and yellower than the Coigach brown, so that its whole effect is different. THE BROOKE, used on Lord Burton's estates, uses black and white twist and a light Lovat mixture as the alternate colours, and a skeleton overcheck of scarlet edging one of the Lovat checks. It is made with both silver grey and white for the ground. The only other check we have seen using this type of overcheck is THE KINTAIL - the district in which Prince Charles Edward landed in '45. The alternate ground colours are a pale grey and a greenish drab.
THE ARNDILLY, from Strathspey, is a somewhat unusual and beautiful scheme. The ground a dull white - a "laid" white as it is called in the Highlands - the alternate colours black and greenish fawn in the warp, black and reddish fawn in the weft; the overcheck formed by replacing every third fawn check with a bar half dull peacock blue and half reseda green. It dates from before 1870, when it was introduced at Meggemie Castle in Glen Lyon by Ronald Stewart Menzies of Culdares, the father of the present owner, Colonel W. Stewart Menzies.
Though THE WYVIS is a Gunclub, it is so unlike the other Gunclubs as to require a special description. It is extremely bold, about two and a quarter inches on the repeat. The ground is a deep fawn of the tint of withered bracken or dead beech leaves. The alternating colours a solid dull browny green moss shade and a sprinkled bar of twist yams of bright green, moss shade and grey. Colonel Shoolbread, the owner, says it is very good on the hills. His note on the pattern so aptly covers a phase of these checks that it is tempting to quote: "Though I had no personal share in its designing and should not myself have chosen so large a check pattern, the mere size of the pattern possibly helps the invisibility of it on the hill - and after all, nearly every bird and beast in the hill is brown of some shade or other, is it not?" Some time we hope to devote a number to this most interesting phase of "camouflage". The Wyvis was introduced about 45 years ago. Ben Wyvis, one of the most prominent of our Scottish mountains, dominates this forest and looks down upon Strathpeffer in Ross-shire. Strathpeffer was the base of the American Red Cross in our country during the Great War. It is a health resort of old standing, long famous for its mineral springs and pleasant climate, so with its many hotels transformed into hospitals it formed an ideal place for such a purpose.
THE FANNI CH is a check so unusual in construction as to demand special detail. The warp pattern is on 18 threads: white 6, Lovat Mixture 3, black 2, yellow 2, black 2, Lovat 3. The weft is a simple Gunclub repeating on 24 - white ground, black and Lovat the alternate colours.
THE S COTS GUARD CHE CK is one of the club checks chosen by the officers of several of our regiments for the members of their mess when out of uniform. In this, a bold basket effect is given by the reversing of the pattern, produced by two threads of light and two of dark warp and weft on our common twill weave. This is done by means of an overcheck of four threads, which reverses the position of the light and dark colours relative to the weave.
There is also a small edition in black and white of the original Glenurquhart where the same effect is used. It is about two-thirds of the size of the one illustrated, the alternate squares of the hair lines being reversed. This fine pattern is sometimes wrongly described as the Small Glen - a valley of Perthshire , far south of its native Glen Urquhart. Its proper name is simply THE SMALL GLENURQUHART.
Much the darkest of all Districts is THE CARNOUSIE. The ground is developed in black and black twisted with russet. It is about the size of the Small Glenurquhart, without the basket effect of the 2 and 2 part. Every alternate part of the 4 and 4 is sided with a bold crimson overcheck. Carnousie is on the Deveron, not far from Turriff in Aberdeenshire.
THE STRATHMASHIE is a large and very bold Glenurquhart, nearly eight inches on the repeat. Using the colours of the Coigach, it is brown and white warp, black and white weft, the strong over checking up the sides of the 4 and 4 part being ingeniously obtained by reversing the warp and weft colours. Its history is amusing. Some forty years ago, negotiations were started by one of our principal London tailors to arrange a check for the whole Brigade of Guards, instead of the individual regimental checks which we have enumerated. Finally, the negotiations failed, and, with good Scottish economy, the bold and excellent design was christened Strathmashie - a real place, but not the name of a forest.
There is a considerable list of variations of the 2 and 2 warp and weft effect. We have already referred to the Scots Guards - one of our illustrations. THE HORSE GUARDS use a brown and white ground overchecked every three and a half inches with six threads of bright navy. THE WELSH GUARDS, fawn ground with brown and red twist and an alternate two-inch overcheck of light red and dark blue.
The Farquharsons of INVER CAULD - near neighbours of His Majesty at Balmoral - use a white ground with brown and drab twist overchecked every two and a half inches with bright tartan green. THE BATESON, from Shieldaig in the Gairloch district of Sutherland, is a strong red brown and white with pale yellow for white weft way - perhaps the most highly coloured in general effect of any - very invisible, nevertheless, in autumn in that country heavily overgrown with bracken.
The Malcolms of POLTALLO CH use a check in general aspect very like the Invercauld, but the overcheck is yellow crossed with red. THE GLENDOE estate in Inverness-shire uses a dull blue grey and white ground with a very strong russet overcheck.
THE ER CHLESS is no longer used in the Forest of Erchless . It takes its name from Castle Erchless on the Beauly River to the west of Inverness . It is only a few miles from Strathpeffer. Castle Erchless is the seat of the head of the Chisholms, and the Forest extends over many miles of very high and rugged mountain country to the north. This most original design consists of a warp unit of 3 on the 4 thread weave, white, pale stone drab, and yellow, crossed by a weft of black twisted with white. It is a type that does not lend itself to great variation, and remains unique.
We have already touched on Prince Albert 's BALMORAL - one of the few on an intricate weave. The warp arrangement is 1 of white, 2 of navy and white twist, 1 of navy and scarlet, 2 of navy and white. The weft is white, which from the nature of the weave mostly goes to the back. The weave unit is 8, so that it is only after 24 threads that the pattern repeats. It has also remained without imitators, and the heavy texture of the original cloth has caused its abandonment in favour of a quiet Lovat mixture, diagonal with a soft mossy brown overplaid.
There are several mixture grounds, of which the type and original is the Lovat of Lord Lovat. There is the tweed used by THE BLACK WATCH or 42nd Highlanders, whose sporting tweed is a Lovat mixture reminiscent of Khaki, with a bold but soft red overcheck of three and a half inches, " sided " half an inch away by a thin blue line on one side and a thin green line on the other - a tweed used during the Great War as the kilting of the 73rd Royal Highlanders of Canada.
THE BENMORE Forest uses a somewhat darker and browner ground, strongly checked every two inches by a dark and vivid green. Benmore Forest is now national property. It was given to the nation by Mr Harry George Younger for forestry purposes, and is now under the management of the Forestry Commissioners. There the Commissioners have established their chief forestry school in Scotland and are forming an important botanical garden.
Working on the same protective lines, the Brander Dunbars of PITGAVENY use a strong green mixture that blends well with their lands - lowland cultivated lands, though in far Northern Moray. Lossiemouth, which has awakened so suddenly in the limelight as the birthplace of our Prime Minister, Mr Ramsay MacDonald, is part of the Pitgaveny estates. On this green ground are two very thin alternate checks, red and white, the gules and argent of the Dunbar arms.
THE GORDON HIGHLANDERS TWEED is a greenish Lovat mixture, softly checked with yellow, dark blue, and green, the colours of the regimental tartan. THE KING'S OWN S COTTISH BORDERERS also use a Lovat ground - rather bluer - a soft white check alternate with a soft green, on each side of the green a thin scarlet line. Lord MINTO uses on his estates one of the darkest of the Districts - a deep rich greenish mixture, almost as dark in its shade as the general effect of a holly tree.
THE DALHOUSIE, used by the Earl of Dalhousie, whose chief estate is not far south of Edinburgh , is quite unusual. It is a solid white warp crossed with a grey of a depth midway between black and white. The plain diagonal twill is broken every inch by reversing the twill for six threads. Every fourth reverse is dull green, and this dull green is checked with a corresponding bar of bright navy blue.
The Earl also has another very characteristic design for his northern estate of INVERMARK on the borders of Angus. It is an unusually heavy cloth even for a District. It is a true Glenurquhart, three and a half inches on the repeat; the ground a strong olive brown and white, the 4 and 4 part sided with a heavy navy overcheck, and also two threads of a bright, light scarlet - almost a carmine - down the centre of the 2 and 2 part.
THE KINLO CHEWE, from the head of Loch Maree, is of russet like the Seaforth, but is overchecked curiously by a thin check of one thread of black, and one of crimson in the white, crossed with a thin line of orange. These, being extra, throw the whole design out of position on the weave every alternate repeat of the pattern, and produce a marked and subtle effect. There is also a very handsome pattern, THE KINLO CHEWE GLENURQUHART. A pure Glenurquhart, 4½ inches overall, the dark colour of the warp black and yellow twist crossed with a dark camel's wool type of drab and white.
THE PRIN CE OF WALES is a bold pattern of the Glenurquhart type. It is nine inches on the repeat but being a double arrangement it hardly looks so large. The colours are the terracotta brown of the Ing and white. The general effect is a brownish pink. The 4 and 4 starts and ends with white and the dark slate overcheck is taken off the first and last brown expanded to six threads. The 2 and 2 starts and ends with dark so that a basket effect is produced. There is a not very well authenticated story in our mills that it was made for King Edward VII when he was Prince.
THE BU CCLEUGH CHE CK or TARTAN is the same as the Glenfeshie but with sky blue for the red overcheck. The pattern is 5 by 6½ inches on the repeat. The ground is a shepherd check, ¼ inch of black and ¼ inch of white: the cloth a fine Saxony kilting. It was designed by Sir Richard Waldie Griffiths, Colonel of the 4th K.O.S.B. about 1908 and is worn by their pipers.
In 1951, the ROYAL S COTS REGIMENTAL LOVAT was introduced and a length of the first web was presented to their Colonel-in- Chief, the Princess Royal. It is an attractive green Lovat overchecked at one and a half inches, with neat lines of red and yellow alternately, the overchecking colours of their tartan, the Hunting Stewart. The yellow is sided with the quiet green of the tartan ground.
We include THE THANE OF FIFE of doubtful parentage but respectable age. It is a Glenurquhart very like the Mar in the ground but overchecked with sixes of dark slate instead of green.
THE GLENISLA is used by the Earl of Airlie on his estates at Cortachy Castle near Kirriemuir in Angus. It is a small true Glenurquhart in off-white and dark brown one unit smaller than the Mar and without overcheck. The design is 2 1/8 inches overall.
These then are the principal examples of our District Checks. This somewhat pioneer effort is full of omissions, probably also of mistakes. It is necessarily somewhat disjointed and at times degenerates into language only understandable by the technical man. It was not easy to select points of interest and importance from so large an amount of unrelated detail. Some may think that its very modernity robs the subject of all claim to study. In fact, that in showing that our Scottish Districts Checks date only from last century, we have destroyed their interest and their Romance. But the times and developments that brought them into being were times of vast social upheaval. A revolution, as is our wont, carried out without dust and bloodshed but not less far-reaching for that; too near us yet to be completely pictured, too overcrowded with detail for us yet quite to grasp all its results and implications. Perhaps Romance is to be found everywhere by the understanding mind, but however other places can make good their claim, there can be no doubt that amongst our mountains and glens he has lived since before the dawn of history and will live for ever...
".. .And all unseen
Romance brought up the nine-fifteen.
Robed, crowned, and throned he wove his spell,
Where heart-blood beat, or hearth-smoke curled,
With unconsidered miracle,
Hedged in a backward gazing world;
Then taught his chosen bard to say:
' Our King was with us - yesterday!'"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

E.S. Harrison

 

 

One of a series of fascinating articles written over the decades  by Edward Harrison who ran Johnstons of Elgin for 46 years from 1920 - 1966.

Commencing with the first in November 1931, the essays were published anonymously by the National Association of Scottish Woollen Manufacturers.

All these essays - and a host of other articles - are freely available in our Archives to Members of the Scottish Tartans Authority.

Interested in joining? Just click here to see all the benefits.

 

 





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