A FORGOTTEN "treasure trove" of secrets and valuable artefacts from the houses of some of Scotland’s largest landowners has been unveiled after lying untouched for more than two centuries within the premises of an Edinburgh law firm.
Clients visiting the offices of Anderson Strathern in North Castle Street would be ushered past an innocuous looking bookcase on their way to the offices of the senior partners.
Little did they realise that beyond the Victorian bookcase a secret passageway led to an archive which gives a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek into the workings of Scotland’s grand estates.
Its contents range from the original plans of Mount Stuart, home of the Marquess of Bute, to a political pamphlet from 1832 arguing that placemen and pensioners are not fit representatives for the County of Roxburgh, as well as fascinating documents and jewellery. The "treasures" were unveiled as the partners of the law firm prepared to move to new premises in Rutland Square.
Robin Watt, partner with Strathern Anderson who is supervising the transportation and dispersal of the archive, described it as an untapped treasure trove and admitted that it did bring a tear to the eye when he thought of all the history that lay behind it.
Mr Watt said: "Traditionally, we would pay all the bills of the very large estates, so we would know every detail of their expenditure, right down to how much they spent on wine and what the chambermaid was paid.
"Furthermore, if one was going abroad for a few months, rather than give their valuables for safekeeping to somewhere as common as a bank, they would lodge their silver and jewellery with us. Similarly, if someone died the valuables would be brought here rather than keep them in an empty house."
Referred to as the "ghost attic" by senior partners, it is said that a young lady dressed in green haunts the staircase. The room, which is scrawled with graffiti from junior clerks dating back to 1888 and 1915, contains many items that have not been seen for nearly 200 years.
It reads: "Captain George Elliot holds a Sinecure Office of 300 a year, another place under the government to the amount of 2500", and goes on to say, "Are such men fit to represent us in Parliament! No! No! No!"
A lot of the archive has been returned to its original owners and cannot be disclosed due to client confidentiality, but a 1969 issue of the Times reporting the moon landing gives a taste of the gems hidden in the archive.
There are also two original Matriculation of Arms, dating back to the reign of George II, written in Latin on pig skin.
Andrew McLean, archivist for the Bute family who travelled to Edinburgh to collect some of the artefacts, said the law firm had been the family’s representatives since the 1850s.
He said: "We found some original plans for Mount Stuart House and some original contract drawings by the architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson which are very significant in terms of Scottish architectural history."
In 1877, the 3rd Marquess of Bute ordered the complete rebuilding of Mount Stuart after the old house was destroyed by fire.
What Sir Robert created was a Gothic palace which fused powerful architecture with intricate details and lavish designs.
But the house was never completely finished, and Mr McLean said that the new-found plans have shed fresh light on what could have been.
Mr McLean said: "They have shed some new light because a lot of the original plans for the house altered as they went along, and so various parts were not built."