In The Secret of Lanark Island, my main character, Kate Hamilton, is encouraged by her partners in the antiques business to shop for Tartanware because “prices are going up.” This is true. Tartanware, manufactured during the Victorian era in Mauchline, Ayrshire, Scotland, is now highly collectible.
Queen Victoria is usually credited with popularizing Tartanware, wooden items decorated with Scottish tartan patterns. At first the patterns were hand painted; but in the early 1840s, William and Andrew Smith, the largest manufacturers of Tartanware, developed an ingenious inking machine which reproduced the tartan patterns on paper, which was then glued onto the wood and sealed with layers of shellac.
Ironically, it was Victoria’s great-great-grandfather George II who (following the end of the Jacobite rebellion at Culloden in 1746) attempted to stamp out Highland culture forever. The clan chiefs were stripped of their power and the wearing of tartan was banned. The ban was lifted in 1782 by George III, who may have learned a thing or two about the futility of wielding naked power from the American Revolution.
By the end of the eighteenth century, English attitudes toward Scotland were changing; but it was the publication in 1814 of Sir Walter Scott’s novel Waverly, with its romanticized portrayal of life in the Scottish Highlands, that captured the public’s imagination. King George IV visited Scotland in August of 1822 and famously attended a reception at Holyrood Palace in full Scottish kilts, his flabby knees modestly covered with pinkish stockings.
Twenty years later, George IV’s niece Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert made their first trip to the Highlands. So enthralled were the royal couple with the wild beauty of the Highlands that they purchased Balmoral Castle as a summer retreat. Victoria’s life-long love affair with all things Scottish sparked an intense interest in Tartanware. In addition to being wildly popular as souvenirs, Tartanware was also used extensively in homes. Among the most popular items were sewing accessories, egg cups, napkin rings, and whisky glass holders.
Tartanware was produced in Mauchline right up until 1933 when a fire destroyed the machinery used to print the tartan patterns. Now it is prized by collectors, the most valuable patterns being the intense reds, blues, and greens of such tartans as Stuart, Prince Charlie, McBeth, Albert, and Caledonian.
Queen Victoria’s love affair with Scotland may have turned into something quite literal. New evidence claims that Victoria, after the death of her beloved husband Albert, had an affair with her Highland ghillie John Brown, married him in a secret ceremony, and had a child with him. If you’re interested, check out the recent article in The Daily Mail. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/z7cNl5