Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Rare Archive Photos

An archive of historic photographs owned by the Storrier family, has recently been made public. My friend Andrew went to investigate today, and took some rough preliminary smartphone shots of the ones featuring Balintore Castle and Balintore House.

Before they are scanned in high resolution, I thought you would very much enjoy the following preview images. These are, to put it simply, quite wonderful and give a glimpse of Balintore Castle in its full 19th Century magnificence with a full retinue of servants. I had often tried to imagine the scene in my head. There are some surprises - the sheer number of servants for a start. When people asked me the question, I guestimated the full compliment of servants at Balintore to be around 12. In one of the photos, there are 12 women servants and that's just for starters and not even counting the men.

I can't quite work out if there are any castle guests in the photos, or whether these are purely servants and gamekeepers. Can anyone make any identifications of role (from costume) or indeed if anyone can put any actual names to the faces, that would be even better!

I think I can identify the cook (ample figure and not wearing a customer-facing lace cap!); the footman (light jacket with tails), and I love the wee "grouse boy" who is holding three grouse, each of whom is half his size! Obviously, the photos will bear further study - I think I can spot a pair of identical twin maids flitting between the photos.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Easter Tiling

I took a fortnight's break before Easter with the intention of tiling the walls and floors of Balintore Castle's kitchen wing. Sadly, the delivery of both sets of tiles were late so the floor tiles arrived with just 4 days of my holiday left, and the wall tiles will arrive on the very day I leave the castle.

It's very frustrating, but I have been trying to make the best of my remaining time, and
instead of celebrating Easter I have been tiling furiously - aided by my friend Andrew and my cousin Ann.

The choice of floor tile for the kitchen is an interesting one. I went for black riven slate as this is a natural material like the original flagstones. These flagstones have long since been removed but it would cost around £400 per square metre to replace. There is now underfloor heading taking up some of the original flagstone depth, so I had to go for something thinner which will also help with heat transfer. It is important that the kitchen still has the quality of a work space so rougher riven un-calibrated slates seemed the natural choice.

The downside of irregular slates soon became apparent, trying to align them vertically or even to get them to fit into a regular grid is a nightmare. Ann cut up a large cardboard box to form cardboard spacers: these have some "give" so worked better than plastic spacers which would have been inappropriate.

Anyhow, the picture below shows the almost completed kitchen tiling  - it is a large area! 

almost completed tiling in kitchen

While waiting for the tiles, I was able to seal the mahogany worktops that Gregor had constructed from fantastic quality mahogany shelving I bought at an architectural antiques auction in Manchester. Gregor has been concerned that his worktops would get stained or water-marked, so I sealed the worktops in the scullery and the kitchen that surround the various sinks. The seal was some kind of oil, that recommended being applied between 20 and 30 Celsius. That was not going to happen at Balintore: the puddles round the castle are still frozen! :-) Anyhow, I applied 2 coats as recommended and this has brought out the wood well.

You will see that the unit doors are the doors from the Nottingham Natural Museum that I got from an architectural yard in (guess where?) Nottingham. These feature in an earlier blog entry here.

sealed worktop in kitchen

sealed worktop in scullery

Friday, 30 March 2018

Lyell's Boulder

One of the greatest local luminaries is Sir Charles Lyell (1797 to 1875), who essentially established geology as an academic field of study and introduced a number of theories that are now the bedrock of the discipline. Lyell was a contemporary and friend of Darwin, and one of the first heavyweight academics to lend credence to Darwin's "Theory of Evolution". Lyell was accorded the honour of being buried in Westminster Abbey as I detail here.

Sir Charles Lyell

When I say local, I mean ne plus ultra local: Sir Charles Lyell owned the plot of land where Balintore Castle now stands, prior to the sale of the Balintore Estate to David Lyon.

I had the story told to me by my friend Andrew, that just before dying Lyell insisted on being taken for one last time to a boulder on top of Meams Hill just to the north of Kirriemuir, which I regularly drive past. Andrew and I have often pondered climbing the hill to find it.

Apparently, the boulder was some remnant of ice-age transport that proved that an ice age had actually occurred. Lyell crawled from his carriage on all fours, almost blind by this stage, just so he could touch the stone.

Anyhow, upon recent interrogation by a local historian it transpired that I had no idea where Andrew got his information. Anyone with an interest in history should check their sources, so I checked back with Andrew. The Lyell story can be found in the 'Regality of Kirriemuir' by Alan Reid, 1909. The book was limited to a print run of 650 copies, after which the printing plates were destroyed. I include photographs of the two pages that tell the tale below:

Lyell's boulder story: part 1 of 2

Lyell's boulder story: part 2 of 2

Comte de Berteux

My favourite Balintore Castle shooting tenant is the Comte de Berteux (1834-1913), who leased the building for a number of seasons.  I know about 1887 due to an entry in an American society magazine "Truth" and he was also in residence  between 1893 and 1896, as his name appears in this Scottish Post Office Directory for the period.

This just predates the shooting record of a previous blog entry, which is a shame as it would have been nice to cross-reference the historical records.

Anyhow there is no doubt that the French count, from the 1866 caricature below by Antoine Bisetsky, was the very definition of a playboy, strutting around just like one of the many cock pheasants he must have shot at the castle. He was a race-horse owner, a member of the English Jockey-Club and a friend of Edward VII. With Balintore only 30 miles away from Balmoral, I am seeking evidence of a visit by Edward to Balintore. 

the younger Comte de Berteux

Below is a later 1903 cartoon of the Gordon Bennett (upper right), and the count (lower left) by Georges Goursat (1863 – 1934). The count may be considerably older but his profile is unmistakable. To have known the notorious hell-raiser Gordon Bennett (1841-1918) who owned the New York Herald and was one of the fabulously wealthy elite of the Belle Époque, is a sure sign our count was a bad boy par excellence!

the older Comte de Berteux

By now, dear reader, I hope you are as enamored of Count Léon Tresvaux de Berteux of Balintore Castle as I, and hopefully you will remain on first name terms: "Blog reader, Léon; Léon, blog reader".

Friday, 23 March 2018

Balintore's Victorian Spreadsheet

Those of you who think the spreadsheet began around 1979 (in the era of VisiCalc) are urged to read on.

Scans of historic Balintore Estate documents have recently fallen into my hands, and these constitute a meticulously-kept and continuous record, in spreadsheet form, of game-bagged at the estate between the years 1896 and 1928.

Monarchs may have come and gone (Victoria, Edward VII, George V); wars may have come and gone (Second Boer War, WWI, Irish War of Independence); and the Downton Abbey supernova may have waxed and wained (1912-1926); but nothing interfered with the shooting season at Balintore or the accurate recording thereof. The copperplate, to my eyes, betrays the same diligent hand at work throughout.

My understanding is that a single shooting tenant would rent out the castle and the estate for the entire season, and the "Remarks" column of the tables suggests this is the case as it presumably contains the name of the tenant for that year. I am particularly fond of the 1922 tenant: a delightfully named Colonel Courage.

I was unfamiliar with the term "Blackgame", but apparently this is the Black Grouse which the numbers indicate is much rarer than the more familiar Red Grouse.

The Woodcock is by far the rarest bird. I know it is shot in Glen Quarity to this day, and that Italians seem to be the keenest to do so. There are assuredly many disappointed Italians. I can only assume that this small bird must be disproportionately delicious.

I once dined in a restaurant called "La Bécasse " in Nice. I was unfamiliar with the word so I looked it up.  Not only is Bécasse the French word for Woodcock, but it also means "the hunt" so synonymous must the activity and the bird be to the continental mind.

A scientific training rendered it impossible for me not to graph the data. Given the radically different numbers for the different species, the data was best displayed by grouping the game types into three separate graphs: the "most shot"; the "least shot" and the ignominious "middlingly shot".

The spreadsheet may be found here, and the infinitely scalable SVG file for the graphs may be found here. The scanned historic tables are appended below, followed by the three graphs and finally followed by the Python code to produce the graphs.

numbers bagged 1896 to 1906

numbers bagged 1907 to 1917

numbers bagged 1918 to 1928

import pandas
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
coloured source produced by
pygmentize -O full,style=emacs -f html -l python -o analyse_spreadsheet.html

def safe_integer_conversion(arg):
        return int(arg)
        return 0  # if no integer is in the cell return 0

csv_name = '/home/david/Documents/qt_code/shooting_spreadsheet/Shooting Spreadsheet - Sheet1.csv'

df = pandas.read_csv(csv_name)
x = list(map(safe_integer_conversion, df["Date."]))

colours = [ "blue", "red", "brown" , "green", "yellow", "black", "orange", "cyan", "magenta", "gray"]
omit_columns = ["date", "total"]
colour_index = 0

use_columns= [col for col in list(df) if not any([o in col.lower() for o in omit_columns])]
column_average = {}
for col in use_columns:
    data = list(map(safe_integer_conversion, df[col]))
    column_average[col] = sum(data) / len(data)

number_of_graphs = 3

items = list(column_average.items())
sorted_items = list(reversed(sorted(items,key = lambda a: a[1] )))
items_per_graph = int(1.0 + (len(sorted_items) / number_of_graphs))

plt.suptitle("Game Killed on Balintore Estate")

colour_index = 0
for figure in range(number_of_graphs):
    item_slice = sorted_items[figure * items_per_graph:(figure + 1) * items_per_graph]
    group = [ e[0] for e in item_slice ]
    subplot = 100 * number_of_graphs + 10 + figure + 1
    plt.ylabel("number killed")
    for col in group:
        y = list(map(safe_integer_conversion, df[col]))
        colour = colours[colour_index % len(colours)]
        game = col.replace("-","").replace(".","")
        l1, = plt.plot(x,y, 'o-', label=game, visible=True, color=colour)
        colour_index = colour_index + 1

Thursday, 22 March 2018

1963 Balintore Gamekeeper Terms and Conditions

Forget your free gym membership, and free medical insurance: if you want the ultimate "terms and conditions" of employment, then may I refer you to the 1963 "letter of offer" sent to engage the Balintore Estate gamekeeper. 

The letter speaks for itself, but I can't resist itemising at least a few of the perks: a terrier allowance; a retriever allowance;  an un-roadworthy Landrover; 2/3 of a suit annually; and free electricity as long as it comes from the water turbine plant at Balintore and not the electrical mains for which the gamekeeper would have to pay personally.

There is anecdotal evidence that the castle's turbine was still operating in the 1980's, but it is great to see from the historical record that it was definitely up and running in the 1960's.

The letter was sent on the 18th Feburuary 1963 to Mr. Neil McLean by R.P. Thorburn, the estate factor, on behalf of Lord Lyell (1939-2017) who only died relatively recently. I got hold of the letter via a friend of Balintore, Jerry Singer, via Mr. McLean's son, who apparently would be very happy for it to appear in the blog. Everyone in the chain has my deep gratitude.

letter page 1: Balintore gamekeeper terms and conditions
letter page 2: Balintore gamekeeper terms and conditions

was speaking to the current Balintore gamekeeper only yesterday. I will have to ask if his terms and conditions still have the same charm. In 1963, Mr. McLean, if it is in any doubt, could not resist this charm onslaught and did accept the position.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Princess Diana's Bike!

Every week or so I check the website to see what items are coming up in local auctions that could be useful for fixing up Balintore Castle. I put on a few low but genuine bids online, but 9 times of 10 nothing comes through. It's a nice hobby, and a way of furnishing the castle that won't break the bank.

This weekend, I spotted there was an auction on Saturday with some interesting items in the Masonic Hall in Thame (an 18 mile drive away) so I put on a few commission bids. Some of the auctions are also "live" on the Internet, so sometimes I check-in while they are in progress to see how things are going.

Anyhow, the prices being achieved at the Thame action were much lower than usual, for whatever reason and there were quite a high proportion of "by's" i.e. items that did not sell. I had already won an Art Deco cloakroom sink and mirror for £6 ! Given the low prices and that I had already had one item to pick-up, it made sense to put on a few extra bids while the auction was live. Live bids have the advantage that other people cannot see these in advance. 

In this manner, I also managed to win a collection of Victorian curtain poles for £18. Content with my haul, it was time to drive over to the auction to pick up the items. The auction was still in progress when I arrived. The masonic hall is tiny, and I don't think the number of people at the auction broke double figures at any stage. In any case, the two male auctioneers had a good double act going, that entertained and counteracted the low prices and low attendance - not that many more people could have got into the hall.

Princess Diana's Bike

At one stage a non-descript sit-up-and-beg bicycle came up for sale. The estimate was a crazy £500 to £1500, but then I twigged why. It had once belonged to Princess Diana. Eventually, the bike realised an incredible £9200. I naturally assumed the winning Internet bidder was in the Far East, and I wondered to myself "Who can afford an item like this?".

Later, when I went to pay for my items I realised that the man in front of me in the queue was the new owner of the bike. So I then knew exactly who could afford an item like this! He had driven in, like myself, to pick up his item. The buyer was a South of England businessman: I think I detected a Scottish accent. In his conversation with the auctioneers, it was agreed that news about the sale could appear in the press but that his name would not be used. The auctioneers expressed their delight that the bike was staying in the country and not heading off to the Far East.

As the man trundled the bike out of he showroom, the auctioneer was in a such a good mood that he couldn't resist shouting out "Make sure you make all the proper hand-signals!". For in truth, this one sale had, presumably, on its own turned the fortunes of this rather "slow" auction around.

That's what I love about auctions, you see different views of the world that you would never usually be aparty to.