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9 Sep 2021

Tales from the Trust’s teams #3: Falkland Palace & Garden

Written by Sandie Allison, Visitor Services Supervisor, Falkland Palace & Garden


I'm Sandie Allison, and I'm the Visitor Services Supervisor Collections Care, for Fife, for the National Trust for Scotland.
One of the best things about my job is that I get to get up-close and personal to the amazing array of beautiful objects we care for. Now, you might think we know everything there is to know about the objects within our properties, but that is not always the case. Some things might be stored away, and not require inspection or checks for years at a time. There are always new discoveries to be made.
Within Falkland Palace, the National Trust for Scotland's unique relationship with the property means that we care for, or house, a number of loan items, which belong to the Hereditary Keeper. It was during the end of the first lockdown, in 2020, that I was asked by the current Keeper, Ninian, to undertake a condition assessment, of a selection of uniforms and costume, housed within a marriage chest in the Keeper's Bedroom, which belonged to his family.
The majority of the uniforms within belonged to Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart, Ninian's grandfather. Now, Lord Ninian was in a militia battalion of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, and a regular in the Scots Guards, in the very early 20th century. In 1911, Lord Ninian became the commanding officer of the 6th Welsh, a territorial battalion located in South Wales, where he was a serving member of parliament for Cardiff.
Following the declaration of war, in August 1914, the 6th battalion was the first Welsh territorial regiment to go to the Western Front, and it was during the Battle of Loos on 2 October 1915 that Lord Ninian was sadly killed. He was only 32.
Lord Ninian left a wife and three young children, and a bereft constituency. His son Michael, Ninian's father who inherited Falkland Palace, was only six months old. The loss his wife Ismay must have felt is unimaginable. It was only a few years earlier, in 1910, that they'd lost a young son at two years and 10 months old.
This loss is clearly echoed in the careful preservation of Lord Ninian's uniforms and possessions. It speaks of the love and devotion of his family to a man who, like many others during that time, was taken so suddenly in a war beyond anyone's imagining. And it was amongst these uniforms where I also found a rather unassuming Victorian brown velvet jacket, clearly for a child in their early teens. At first I just didn't think much of it, but carefully embroidered on the inside is the letter 'N'.
This jacket, nestled amongst these reminders of the military man, is a memento carefully kept and preserved which speaks of his youth and promise. Most likely first retained by his mother, then his wife, and finally his son until rediscovered through the light of his grandson Ninian.
For me this project not only brought me closer to the family that has shaped Falkland Palace, it gave me the chance to explore something in detail I never would have had the chance to otherwise. Discovering the workmanship, particularly in the braiding and epaulettes of these uniforms has been one of the highlights of my time so far with the National Trust for Scotland.
The collection contains, amongst others: Lord Ninian's Welsh battalion uniforms; Lord Ninian's dress uniforms for the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders; a ceremonial dress uniform of the Order of the Garter; and an early 20th century court dress uniform for the Royal Company of Archers.
The uniform which really stood out to me is the Royal Company of Archer's court dress uniform. It is so utterly and uniquely Scottish. The braiding and decoration is just exquisite. Now, we don't know conclusively who the uniform belonged to. That's a mystery for us to unravel in the future.
The Royal Company of Archers provide duties at the request of the monarch at any state and ceremonial occasion taking place in Scotland, including at the service of the installation of Knights of the Order of the Thistle. Now members of the Royal Company of Archers must be Scots or have really strong Scottish connections, and membership is by election. It is a very select company to be admitted to, and notable past members include Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, to name but a few.
The uniform itself is a deep vibrant green wool, with green velvet decoration to the cuffs and tails, embellished with thistles and silver and gold braid. It's possibly one of the most beautiful uniforms in existence and probably the most beautiful object I've ever had the pleasure to care for. There is no mistaking where this uniform heralds from. It might lack the visual punch of tartan, but it calls out Scotland from every thread and stitch. The fact it's been hidden away from the light and preserved from wear, has meant the colours are as vibrant as the day it was made, and it's just not something that many people get to see up close.
To celebrate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee in 2022, we hope to display the uniform here at the palace, to mark Falkland's links to the Queen and monarchy as a former royal palace.
A chance for everyone to appreciate this unique slice of Scottish tradition and royal history.

‘Palace Uniforms’ is the third of four tales from our front-line staff, showing how their dedication contributes to the Trust’s mission of conservation.

Of course, these are just four examples from the hundreds of initiatives that our teams are responsible for, day in and day out. We are so proud of the love shown for Scotland by all our staff and volunteers! We work to protect the places we all love, so as many people as possible can explore and enjoy the very best of Scotland.

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