A partnership between the University Archives, Mount Stuart and the Centre for Scotland’s Land Futures led to an amazing experience for three Humanities undergraduates. Here they describe their fantastic two week internship at Mount Stuart working with the archives and other collections.

Connie Mills

The email offering me the opportunity to apply for an archival internship at Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute could not have arrived in my inbox at a more perfect time. As a history student about to enter the third year of my undergraduate degree and just returned from second year spent studying in San Francisco, I was ready for an adventure before I got back on the intense academic train that would be the last two years of my degree. Application successful, I set off to the best alternative to the white sandy beaches and aqua blue waters of California that Scotland has to offer, the Isle of Bute. I was not disappointed, the scenery of the island that greeted the ferry felt like a world away from rainy Glasgow and walking up to Mount Stuart, I soon concluded it truly put any Hollywood mansion to shame.

Mount Stuart as it stands today was brought into existence as a part of the vision of the third Marquess of Bute after the previous Georgian house burned down in December 1877. The “white wings” of the old house remained (and provided me with excellent accommodation for the two weeks) but the middle part of the house designed and built for the 3rd Marquess makes  Mount Stuart the wonder that it is. The four story (plus an attic) mansion reflects the of the 3rd Marquess  with the red stone exterior combining exquisite decoration in the stained-glass and multi-coloured marble pillars together with the technological wonders of the time, such as electric lighting, a still-functional elevator, and an indoor swimming pool. However, it soon became clear the there was a secret gem hidden among all of the exterior beauty, the archives. It was in the archives that the Crichton-Stuart family’s love for collecting and preserving art and books from the around the world as well as their own family memorabilia and it was in the archives that my task awaited.

The Mount Stuart archives contain over 3,500 boxes of historic records dating from as early as 1158 and ranging up to the modern day and are truly a sight to behold. Indeed, as someone who previously had little archival experience it felt quite daunting to be handed some of these boxes and told to get digging. I chose to look at the correspondence between Lady Margret Crichton-Stuart (1875-1964) and her mother, naively believing my task would be little more than a continuation of an already started record. However, Lynsey Nain (head archivist) and myself soon realized the papers of Lady Margret were going to cause us both more than one headache as we soon concluded that these records were unfortunately not in the correct order and were in fact in a bit of a mess. With Lynsey’s encouragement I decided to tackle the project head on.

The best approach we decided on was to start by reordering the letters chronologically. As I read through and arranged the neatly penned papers by date, I soon felt a connection to Lady Margret as I read through her adolescent and then adult years. Her childhood drawings were indistinguishable those my younger cousins, her teenage frustrations toward her siblings reminded me of my own (I’m certain I have also called my little siblings “irritants”) and her adult ventures into travel and education resonated with my current dreams and ambitions. Reading about her travels through Italy, France and even into Cairo felt oddly like re-reading my own to-do list of travel destinations.

As I continued to make sense of the puzzle the letters presented, here I learned more about Lady Margret and her life. Asking Lynsey Nain about her and her family, I learned that unlike many other high-society men of the time Lady Margaret’s father encouraged his only daughter to follow her interest in education, with education always being something that mattered to Margret from an early age, with an early childhood letter containing a school timetable with subjects such as History and Mathematics. Lady Margret married in 1909 and had three children (evidenced by a very cute photo of the children sent to her mother) but she continued to be a force in the community on the Isle of Bute with minutes from a war savings relief meeting showing that she advocated for the continuation of funds for the poor after the end of the first world war. I have no shame in admitting that by the end of the two-week period, I fully believed that if Lady Margret and myself had run in the same circles in the same time period we would have been good friends. I certainly felt that I knew her well.

After sorting early over 1,500 letters (I would know after counting them many  times) and entering their details into the newly set up spreadsheet format, I felt a newfound respect for archivists. Of course, I had always understood the importance of archives (it’s the historian in me) but after the first-hand experience it was all the more obvious to me that without archivists like Lynsey, lecturers, authors and indeed the general public would not have the amazing access to historical records that are now available at a click of a mouse. As there is currently little online record of Lady Margret I like to think that I have done my bit to tell her story for the twenty-first century.   I have absolutely no doubt that this experience will aid me throughout my studies and has inspired a real interest in the missing history of aristocratic women which is something I look forward to researching further. I am incredibly grateful to Lynsey Nairn and the rest of the team at Mount Stuart for this opportunity and experience and I can’t wait to take them up on their kind offer to return some time soon.

Abbie Sheldrick

Mount Stuart is a neo-gothic manor house located on the Isle of Bute. Among the first of the properties in Great Britain to have an indoor heated pool and electric elevator, its architecture is as historically significant as it is visually stunning. The Great Hall alone boasts over 20 types of marble, varying in colours and patterns – including fossilised slabs over 300 million years old. Situated within expansive landscaped gardens and surrounded by shorelines and coastal walks, there was plenty to explore during our two-week Archival internship.

As the ancestral home of the Marquesses of Bute, Mount Stuart houses an assortment of valuable material. The library collection contains an impressive array of wonders, including Shakespeare’s First Folio (valued at around £7 million), books inscribed with Queen Victoria’s signature, and the poetry of Robert Burns annotated by the author himself. The Bute Archive presents equally rich opportunities, as we explored collections tailored to our interests. From family correspondence and recipes to architect plans and receipts, around half of Mount Stuart’s archival material remains uncatalogued.

The Horatio Walter Lonsdale collection spans the years c.1886-1897. The material prominently relates to architectural features of Mount Stuart, as Lonsdale designed a clerestory of stained glass, murals, and heraldic panels for the 3rd Marquess of Bute. The collection includes a subseries dedicated to other properties, such as the Church of the Greyfriars in Elgin and Garrison House, Isle of Great Cumbrae. During the internship, I had the pleasure of cataloguing virtually all material relating to Mount Stuart. This encompassed around 200 items, spread across nearly 50 files.

Lonsdale was born in Mexico in 1844. He attended the Royal Academy School of Architecture at the age of 21, where he studied with great success. In addition to winning the Royal Academy Travelling Studentship in c.1871, Lonsdale’s apprenticeship under architect William Burges brought him fruitful opportunities; he completed a stained glass project for Waltham Abbey as early as 1868. Lonsdale continued to work closely alongside Burges throughout his career, as his speciality in embellishment architecture developed. His work became centred around features such as ornate stained glass, murals, fireplaces, and tiling. External to Mount Stuart, Lonsdale’s notable contributions include the interior decoration of Cardiff Castle (1869-1880’s), Castell Coch (1872-1890), Tower House (1875-1878), Falkland Palace (1889), and St. John’s Lodge in Regent’s Park (1889).

Each collection is organised according to an individual hierarchy. The guidance of archivist Lynsey Nairn was instrumental in learning this process. Lonsdale’s designs are divided into two principal series – watercolours and full-scale cartoons – whilst file type was allocated according to room. Plans for stained glass and other architectural features were itemised for libraries, bedrooms, corridors, entrance halls, drawing rooms, and my personal favourite: the Marble Hall.

The hall functions as the metaphorical heart of Mount Stuart. The space is given suitable prominence by Lonsdale, whose magnificent designs intertwine Greek mythology and astrology. Lonsdale’s Zodiac-inspired stained glass is particularly stunning. The panels are skilfully arranged to emulate the different seasons; Spring is represented by emerald greens, Summer by fiery reds and oranges, whilst deep purples and blues signify Autumn and Winter. I was amazed to note the vibrance of the watercolour in designs over 130 years old; even modern paints tend to appear washed-out in comparison. The vivid pigment was especially visible on the full-scale cartoons. Unrolling and re-rolling these metre-long documents proved quite a challenge, however, with some of the more fragile papers subject to rips or fraying. We were lucky enough to view the windows at a different perspective from the rooftop – watching the kaleidoscope of colours reflect on the marble pillars below was spectacular.

I was equal parts fascinated and shocked to discover that the construction of the 24 glass panes cost under £700 – equating to roughly £50,000 in today’s currency [according to the inflation calculator via the Bank of England]. This appears vastly under-priced when considering the magnitude of details, colours and subjects required in each individual pane. Stained glass, however, was effectively mass-produced for churches during the 19th century; a modern replica set would doubtless exceed hundreds of thousands due to the specialised craftsmanship and materials required.

My favourite designs of all, however, were that of the hall’s Vaulted Ceiling. Deciphering and triangulating the pages of constellations was simultaneously challenging and exciting. Some configurations were more apparent than others, such as Ursa Major and Minor or Canes Venatici. Design No.3 presented the greatest challenge. Whilst I quickly identified Serpentarius and Corona Borealis, the figure touching the Borealis was not immediately recognisable; the intricate small-scale designs can obscure distinguishing details of the Gods and Goddesses. Eventually, I realised the key was hidden at the tip of his staff – a tiny pinecone. This was revealed to be a feature of Dionysus, the Greek God of fertility. The most spectacular page depicted several notable Greek figures, including King Cepheus and Cassiopeia, who is reaching for her shackled daughter Gloria Frederici. The figure of Perseus is most captivating of all, triumphantly wielding Caput Medusae – the slain head of Medusa.

The collaborative nature of the placement was further enriching. Whether aiding in transcriptions or contributing opinions, there was fun to be had in exploring each other’s collections and discoveries. As a language graduate, I enjoyed reading letters in French from Valerie, who worked on papers regarding the Marchionesses of Bute – though deciphering the handwriting often proved more difficult than the translation.

This placement truly exceeded my expectations. I would strongly encourage anyone considering the internship to apply. You will gain invaluable first-hand experience in both the archival and heritage sector, supported by Lynsey Nairn and Elizabeth Ingham, whose enthusiasm for collections is infectious. Beyond the archives, an island awaits exploration; during our stay we visited standing stones, castle ruins, and frequented the local restaurants. A gorgeous wedding firework display served as an unforgettable finale to our incredible two weeks at Mount Stuart.

Valerie Lees

Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute is the family seat of the Marquesses of Bute, a family who can trace their ancestry back to Walter Fitz-Alan, Steward to King David I of Scotland (1124-1153).  The original House on this site, built in 1716, was gutted by fire in 1877 so Mount Stuart as it stands today was re-built by the 3rd Marquess in the fashionable Victorian Gothic style using red sandstone.  Extensive grounds supplied the house with garden produce and flowers and indulged the Victorian passion for ferns and specimen trees.  Impressive from the exterior, the interior showcases the best in design, materials, architecture and decoration which reflect the interests, style and wit of the 3rd Marquess.  The Marble Hall with its expanses of Italian marble and majestic stained-glass windows together with the red stained-glass in the Chapel that send an intense radiance across the marble floors, columns and alter are breath-taking.  However there is an equally fascinating but hidden side to Mount Stuart to be found in the Archives.

The opportunity to work for two weeks in the Archives at Mount Stuart arose from an initiative between the Centre for Scotland’s Land Futures at the University of Dundee and the Mount Stuart Trust.   Lindsey Nairn, Archivist to the Trust, is responsible for over 3,500 boxes of archive material, approximately half of which has been catalogued.  The Archive contains, amongst other things, estate records, personal correspondence, receipts, designs, drawings and plans for the re-building of Mount Stuart and other Bute family properties.

My interest lay in the publications of the 4th Marquess, John Crichton-Stuart (1881-1947).   The 4th Marquess enjoyed travelling, making his first visit to Morocco in 1899.  The first ‘Box’ I examined contained handwritten notes of ingredients, spices and recipes for his book Moorish Recipes published posthumously in 1954.[1]  These notes, some on scraps of paper, had been carefully transferred into exercise books, then typewritten as manuscripts for the publishers Oliver and Boyd, of Edinburgh to create printer’s proofs.  There were also black and white photographs of a Moorish dining table and Moorish cooking pots.  These photographs were used by the artist Mangin to produce pen and ink illustrations for the book an example of which is shown here.

Whilst the idea of eating couscous or cooking with a Tagine may seem ordinary to us today, at the time these would have been new and exciting experiences.  The most exotic recipe was for Locus Bread, a dish which could only be created once every nine years or so following, literally, a ‘plague’ of locusts!

 Moorish Recipes was published privately by his sons and given as gifts to family and friends.  All these items were contained in a single archive box and demonstrate the process and determination required to translate a passion into print.

The 4th Marquess was also interested in Scottish history and undertook to transcribe the parish records and court sessions of several Scottish parishes, including Rothesay, Penninghame and Kirkcudbright.    A black and white photograph taken in 1934 of the Sheriff Court papers and documents as stored in the loft of the Court House Kirkcudbright show the extent of his task.

Nevertheless, with the assistance of Miss C Armet, family Archivist, and a team of palaeographers who converted the records into modern English, the 4th Marquess published a sixteen-volume series of these records dating from 1569 to 1766.  Several complete copies of the series are held in the Mount Stuart Libraries and the National Library of Scotland, and several universities hold individual volumes.  It is of great historical importance for academics, scholars and historians today.

The final box I catalogued were the personal papers of Lady Eileen, Countess of Dumfries, later the 5th Marchioness of Bute.  These papers included newspaper cuttings of her engagement, personal correspondence from friends and her husband John, Earl of Dumfries, as well as and school reports and letters from her sons whilst at boarding school.    The letters from her husband date from 1931, prior to their engagement, through to 1946 including his naval service in World War II and demonstrate his deep and long-lasting love.   At the start of the Second World War Lady Eileen and three other women of the household completed a course of Red Cross training and her Certificate dated 30 October 1939 is within this box.  There are also letters dated June 1934 to 1935 from her husband on his visits to the island of St Kilda which he purchased in 1931 to be preserved as a bird sanctuary.   More extensive records of the 5th Marquess’ relationship with St Kilda are well documented in a different part of the Archives.   Much is written and documented concerning the lives of the male members of families, particularly the aristocracy, so it is valuable to also catalogue women’s lives.

Whilst archives have traditionally been the preserve of scholars and academics, the Mount Stuart Trust is energetic in its mission to share the Bute family treasures and archives with the wider public demonstrating how valuable and inspirational the use of archive material can be.  My thanks go to the Collections Team; Lynsey Nairn, Archivist, Elizabeth Ingham, Librarian and Jessica Insley, Curator.  It has been a pleasure and a priviledge to have played a small part in the cataloguing of archives at Mount Stuart.

[1] John Crichton-Stuart, Fourth Marquis of Bute.  ‘Moorish Recipes’.  (Edinburgh, Oliver & Boyd Ltd, 1954).

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