See all stories
8 Feb 2019

Saucers and syllabub

Written by Oliver Taylor
A French champagne glass used at Fyvie Castle. The glass is partially gilded with an elaborate pattern, and has a green colour. The stem has a delicate lattice-type silver decoration.
A French parcel-gilt champagne glass
Fyvie Castle was once the place to come for a party. When Project Reveal Team North-East uncovered over 1,000 pieces of tableware, they realised these parties would have been like a military operation.

Alexander Forbes-Leith bought Fyvie Castle in 1889. He sought to transform the building into an opulent stage for hosting lavish celebrations. He installed a self-playing pipe organ, and covered his walls with 17th-century tapestries and a glittering array of masterpieces. Over the castle’s history it has played host to many famous guests, including Queen Victoria of Spain, granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

A tapestry depicting Samson. He wears a blue wrap and is in a pastoral setting. He is leaning forward.
A tapestry depicting Samson, collected by Lord Leith

Performing the duties of a host in Edwardian society required an army of servants, and a castle full of tableware. The castle was fitted with an internal telephone system as well as servants’ bells in the cold attics to wake the staff when needed.

There are over 1,000 plates, saucers, glasses and pieces of cutlery at Fyvie Castle. Each piece served a specific purpose, and many were designed to impress. There’s a china store set aside to house all the tableware required to host 11-course banquets. Dishes were prepared in the kitchen and were sent up in the dumb waiter to be served from the butler’s pantry. Once the guests had finished, the plates were washed in the butler’s pantry teak sink, and then were sent up to the china store. Each cupboard was carefully labelled and each plate had its place.

Among the pieces of tableware is a set of 46 parcel-gilt custard glasses and saucers. Each piece is decorated with the monogram FL, for Forbes-Leith. They were bought in 1921 to celebrate Lord and Lady Leith’s golden wedding anniversary. The glasses would be used to serve baked custard before dessert, or syllabub – a dessert made of whipped cream, wine and lemon juice.

A custard glass from Fyvie Castle. It has a gilt-decorated rim and base. On the side is the gold FL monogram, with a gold crown above.
A custard glass with the FL monogram

Fyvie Castle has over 200 pieces of glassware. Evidently when it came to serving alcohol there were many ways to do so! The collection contains sherry glasses decorated with exotic birds, parcel-gilt champagne goblets, and appropriately named ‘glug-glug’ decanters. Each glass is subtly different; woe betide you if you should mix your wine glasses up.

And if choosing the correct drinking glass was not confusing enough, deciding which plate was for which food could prove just as baffling. Thankfully, help was at hand. Within the collection there’s a set of carefully decorated oyster plates, each painted with pictures of oysters to avoid any confusion. Similarly, there are plates for serving asparagus, handily decorated with moulded asparagus shapes.

An indented circular plate, divided into six oyster-shaped sections. There’s a small round bowl at the centre.
Oyster plate

When you next have some friends round, spare a thought for those Edwardian servants doing the washing up after a Fyvie party!

Project Reveal is a Trust-wide digitisation project. It will result in an updated database with high quality images and unique object numbers for every object 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 from July 2017 to July 2019.

Project Reveal

Find out more about this Trust-wide collections digitisation project.

Project Reveal >