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Why was this historic chair submerged in sea water?


Investigations are currently underway on an item in the care of High Life Highland’s Highland Folk Museum. A historic chair with a carved panel-back has proved an intriguing and mysterious part of the museum’s collection.

Originally given by a donor from Edinburgh and currently kept in High Life Highland’s collections store at Am Fasgadh, the chair probably dates from the 17th or 18th century. It features a carved lion and unicorn on a crest, with a crowned heart motif that may refer in some way to the Clan Douglas. The chair is badly worn and looks like it may have been immersed in sea water for a time.

The investigations

Tantallon Castle near North Berwick, a stronghold of the Douglases from 1374 to 1699, was sacked by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in 1651 and many of its contents were thrown into the sea. The evidence is circumstantial but certainly worth investigating, which is what experts at the Regional Furniture Society are helping museum staff to do.

Images of the chair-back have been sent to Edinburgh to the Court of the Lord Lyon – the heraldic authority for Scotland, dealing with all matters relating to Scottish heraldry and coats of arms.

Rachel Chisholm, curator at Highland Folk Museum, said: “It [the chair] has been in our collection, probably for over 30 years, and we are very intrigued as to why it was immersed in water for so long.”

Highland Folk Museum, Kingussie Road, Newtonmore P20 1AY; website.

Images: Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock by William Borthwick Johnstone (1804-68) © Hospitalfield House; chair © HFM/C Black


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