Lord and Lady Alva’s Georgian House: The Special Inventories

Special inventories were taken for linen, coins and jewels, pamphlets, and pictures and prints found at Drumsheugh House after Lady Alva’s death in 1797. These were designed to resolve inheritance queries raised by her step-daughter-in-law Isabella Erskine.

Linen

The linen inventory is particularly interesting since it includes the marks the family used to identify their property.

Marking linen was one of the activities of a gentlewoman. It had the practical purpose of deterring theft.[1] Linen was passed down through the generations so long as it was usable. It could be cut down and reused for other purposes throughout its life-cycle. The Erskine list has thirty-two entries for table cloths and napkins giving details of 63 tablecloths and 647 napkins. This demonstrates the family’s wealth. Of this extensive collection of table linen only ‘Nine tea napkins’ were deemed too ‘wore out’ to have a value. The tablecloths and napkins were made of a variety of fabrics. The designs of the damask cloths included damboard (a checkerboard pattern), a tablecloth with a ‘Mosaick’ boarder, one with a ‘Star & diamond’ pattern, and several with floral patterns such as snow drip, rose and leaf, and sunflowers. The fabrics were rich – many of the pieces are described as ‘double damask’, that is, the top quality damask. There are also selections in diaper, a patterned type of linen.

The Erskine family table linen listed in the inventory dated back to 1723 when Lord Alva’s mother Grizel Grierson marked two tablecloths and two dozen napkins with her initials – ‘G. G.’ – and the last two digits of the year. From the initials recorded in the inventory we know that Lord Alva’s first wife Margaret MacGuire took her husband’s surname – something not always done in eighteenth-century Scotland – at least as far as linen marking was concerned since her monogram changed from ‘M. M.’ to ‘M. E.’ after 1750.[2] The couple married in 1749 but a post-nuptial agreement followed in 1750.[3]

There is much less bed than table linen in the inventory. The listed bed linen dates back to the late 1750s when it was marked with Lord Alva’s step-mother’s initials, ‘E. A.’ for Elisabeth Areskine – Lord Alva’s father always used a variant spelling of their surname. Some of the less-valuable bed linen is marked with the initials ‘J. E.’ – these may have been the work of Lord Alva’s daughter Jean. There are eleven entries in the bed linen category which ranged from tweeled, that is, patterned linen to ‘Three pair Servants sheets Old marked with figures’. There were also twenty unmarked pillow cases.[4]

Some of Lady Alva’s textiles were put into storage after her death. These included lengths of rich cloth that she presumably bought to decorate the house. Found in a chest were, ‘a purple sattin foot cloth embroidered with gold 4 ¾ yds purple sattin wt Indian figures & flowers’ – a foot cloth being a carpet – , ‘Furniture of a four posted bed, the Curtains of a rich light blue Sattin, embroidered with gold & silks, & lined with buff Persian & fringed at bottom, the upper & under pane of blue silk, the roof, headcloth & inside panes of buff persian’, ‘One piece of scarlett sattin with Indian figures & flowers’, ‘Twelve large & four small pieces of scarlett silk embroidered with gold’, and ‘Two pieces of Scarlet silk with Chinese temple’s [sic] & and figures embroidered wt gold silk’.[5] This sounds very opulent and makes me wonder if Lady Alva was planning to create a Red Room featuring an eastern theme.

It seems Lady Alva also owned some of the Drawing Room’s furnishings in her own right. For this room, the inventory lists ‘2 Soffas & eight Cabriole chairs covered with Indian silk with a set of Chintz slips lined and a set of blue strips’, ‘Four mahogany French elbow chairs covered sewings with Chintz slips to each, two of the slips lined’, and ‘Two mahogany [Ditto] chairs covered with sewings presently finishing at Messrs Young, Trotter, Hamilton & Trotter & without slips’. The Trustees agreed to pay for the work on the last of these items when they were ready.

Another room’s set of bed textiles seems to have been as Lady Alva left them. The ‘Green Bed Chamber’ featured

A Sett of green & gold Stuff curtains for a four posted bed lined with pink, with pink quilted…headcloth, outside & inside festoon sattin & [test] vallans ale [sic] fringed, a green figured window curtain, lined with yellow silk & fringed likewise painted & gilt cornice for the for the bed & window curtain.[6]

Silver and Silverplate

The inventory for metal objects is described as ‘Silverplate & plated Articles lying in the house… at the time of Lady Alva’s death….’[7] These items were deposited in the Royal Bank for safe-keeping on 6 October 1797 – about a month after Jean Stirling died.

The Lamonts of Charlotte Square would have found much to envy in their near neighbours’ collection of silver. First listed was an epergne with its own wainscot case. This was followed by a bread basket, several sets of candlesticks and candle snuffers, mustard and pepper boxes, cups and tumblers, three sets of a dozen dining knives, forks, and spoons, serving spoons of various types including gravy spoons, sets of desert spoons, and additional dozen of ‘three pronged forks all silver’, and a dozen ‘silver handled knives’. Serving implements included a ‘fish trowel’, a ‘Carving knife and fork’, and a ‘pair of sugar tongs’ to go with ‘a sugar spoon, one sauce [spoon] [and] thirteen tea spoons’.[8]

The plated articles were candlesticks and snuffers found throughout the house. In all, the silver and silver plate was valued at just over 354 pounds with a weight of 945 ounces. (Just over 59 pounds or just under 27 kilograms.) The Trustees admitted that these metal items ‘did belong to Lord Alva’ rather than to Lady Alva.[9]

The Alvas also had an extensive collection of paintings and prints. See Lord and Lady Alva’s Georgian House: Paintings and Prints

[1] Sara Pennell, ‘Making the Bed in Later Stuart and Georgian England’, in John Stobart and Bruno Blondé (eds), Selling Textiles in the Long Eighteenth Century: Comparative Perspectives from Western Europe (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=rxZvBAAAQBAJ&pg=PT45&lpg=PT45&dq=linen+marking+georgian&source=bl&ots=3Tx_-m7gBl&sig=AqXu7eypxMOy9pSD-Xa9NDI-yDM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8IFwVJrPJtThaqbzgagI&ved=0CDoQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=linen%20marking%20georgian&f=false.

[2] NLS MS 5114, f. 16. [3] Signet Library Session Papers 465:2. [4] NLS MS 5114, f. 17. [5] NLS MS 5114, f. 18-18v. [6] NLS MS 5114, f. 19. [7] NLS MS 5114, f. 22. [8] NLS MS 5114, f. 22 v.

[9] Archibald Fletcher, Information for Mrs. Christian Carruthers, otherwise Erskine, Relict of the deceased John Erskine, Esq. Advocate, and others, Trust-dispones of the Honourable James Erskine of Alva, deceased, one of the Senators of the College of Justice, and of Dame Jane Stirling of Achyle, the second wife of the said Honourable James Erskine of Alva, Defenders; Against Mrs. Isabella Erskine, otherwise Tytler, youngest lawful daughter procreated of the Marriage between Lord Alva and Mrs. Margaret McGuire, his first wife, now Spouse of Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Tytler, late of the Elgin Fencibles; and the said Colonel Patrick Tytler, for his Interest, and their Attorney, Pursuers (6 September 1804)., p. 6.

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