A Look Back at Scottish Highland Dress at Stirling Castle
The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum has over 200 years of history on Scotland’s elite military regiments – The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Stirling Castle currently plays host to this museum, called the Regimental Museum, where you can see exhibits and memorabilia from conflicts all round the world. What interested me the most in the museum was the evolution of the Scottish Highland dress.
You learn all about the history of the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders and the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders. From their union in 1881 when they became the 1st and 2nd Battalions of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment to present day. Stirling Castle has been the home since 1881. However, it was not until 1988 that a museum was opened in the King’s Old Building of the Castle.
Civilian Scottish Highland Dress
This Civilian Highland Dress (c 1780-1837) was worn by Duncan Campbell of Lochnell when he was not serving with the army or on other occasions which didn’t require him to wear his uniform. Made from silk tartan cloth, his colorful glengarry (cap) also has ribbon tails attached to the back. Which is common to Scottish caps of this kind. His kilt, sporran (purse), tartan hose (socks), red garter flash, brogues (shoes) and sgian dubh (the small knife which would have been worn in his hose) are also on display.
The kilt is made of “Hard Tartan” which was manufactured from very coarse wool tightly woven to produce a hard-wearing, almost waterproof cloth. Which is completely different from the softer tartan kilts that are worn today. Pins held the kilt in place after it was wrapped around the wearer’s body. The kilt is flat at the front but pleated at the back in folds of material. These pleats give the kilt shape and allow the back of the kilt to swing as the wearer walked along. I’m sorry, it just reminds me strongly of Outlander…
You can also see his Silver Cantled Sporran (purse) decorated with the coat of arms of the Campbell of Lochnell family. As well as the family motto “Arma Parata Fero” (I carry arms/weapons in readiness). This is surrounded with the entwined thistles. The purse is made of goat skin and hair (most of the hair having been lost) and has six silver thread tassels attached to the front.
Fun Fact: What a cure for blistered feet? “On the march the men wore thin low buckle shoes which let in all the wet. Some got blistered feet, soap mixed with whisky was a favourite remedy for a blistered hell.” 93rd Officer, Ireland c. 1818
Officer’s Scottish Highland Dress
An Officer’s Feather Bonnet was made from ostrich feathers. It has an internal bowl shaped wire frame. The height and construction of the bonnet saved several soldiers lives throughout the 19th century.
“The enemy were confused by the height of our bonnets’ fortunately the rebels aiming a few inches to high fired a volley and knocked my bonnet off my head.”
“I received a sword cut, the wires of my bonnet bent inwards, the sword glanced off cutting open my right ear and cheek instead of splitting my skull.”
– From two officers’ accounts of the fighting in the city of Lucknow in 1857.
A Badgerhead Sporran was made from the head and pelt of a badger. Those with the rank of sergeant or higher were the only ones to sport a sporran. To open the purse, the owner would raise the front of it up by lifting the nose of the badger. The six white horse hair tassels are topped with bronze thistle decorated caps which are tied into the leather of the sporran by gold cords and small sections of chain.
A Royal Family Visit
Also held within the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum is the key to Stirling Castle. When a member of the Royal Family comes for an official visit, the Stirling Castle key is used. The key and it’s equally large padlock were used to lock the entrance gate to the castle. On the occasion of a Royal visit, the key is taken from the museum to the front of the castle. The Hereditary Keeper of the castle (the Earl of Mar) presents the key to the Royal personage. Who then touches it, and is invited in.
The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum is currently closed (until at least Spring 2020). More details can be found on their website.