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6 Nov 2018

Horsing around

Written by Oliver Taylor
The wheel stair at Fyvie Castle
Fyvie has been home to man and beast for centuries. Some of the castle’s former residents enjoyed horsing around more than others.

Previous owners of Fyvie Castle sought no better way to get around than on horseback. Allegedly, in the 18th century General William Gordon’s horses were raced up and down the great wheel stair for a wager. Even a few decades ago, the Forbes-Leith family sometimes took the occasional Shetland pony up the same staircase.

Racing indoors must have appealed to future residents of Fyvie Castle, or perhaps they were inspired by previous anecdotes. Not far from the wheel stair is a peculiar looking chair.

The chamber horse
The chamber horse

This item is an exercise chair, otherwise known as a chamber horse. It was intended to simulate riding a horse, without going to the trouble of doing so. The chair contains large springs and is a precursor to more modern gym equipment. The central section acts like a large accordion and moves when someone sits on it. Chamber horses were popular for over a century as a form of exercise, but like the scores of modern exercise bikes abandoned in garages across the nation today, they were used much less than intended. Consequently, many chamber horses appeared in country house auctions during the 19th century.

When you visit Fyvie don’t be alarmed by this other unusual seat – it was never intended to be used to weigh visitors!

The jockey weighing scales
The jockey weighing scales

The seat is a jockey weighing scale, which was used to ensure that jockeys were at the ideal weight for a horse race. Scales like these would have been a common feature at a race track. If a jockey and his saddle were lighter than the appropriate weight, then more weight would be added to the saddle.

It’s safe to say that Team North won’t be horsing around quite so much while they catalogue the objects at Fyvie Castle.

Project Reveal is a Trust-wide collections digitisation project. It will result in an updated database with high-quality images and unique object numbers for every item in the National Trust for Scotland’s material culture collections. Six regionally based project teams, supported by experienced project managers, will work across all our properties with collections to complete the inventory in 24 months from July 2017 until July 2019.

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