Slave trade, Harris tweed and some pottery pigs...

The famous 'Pineapple' on Dunmore's estate.
The famous 'Pineapple' on Dunmore's estate.
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Here’s a local history quiz question for you.

What connects the emancipation of the slaves in the American colonies, Harris Tweed and a bunch of expensive Victorian pottery pigs and frogs?

John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore.

John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore.

One more clue: The same story involves the nation’s juiciest folly.

I’ve just realised that when this reaches the pages of the Falkirk Herald there will be a couple of photographs which will certainly give the game away.

So I’ll tell you that the answer is, of course, Dunmore.

John Murray the 4th Earl of Dunmore bought the lands of Elphinstone next to Airth in 1754, mainly to exploit the coal reserves which lay under the estate, which he now called Dunmore.

He was a favourite at court and was given the lucrative post as Governor of the colony of Virginia which was like a licence to print money.

At first he was popular but when the colony rose in rebellion in 1775 he was in charge of the redcoat forces which tried to stop the American Revolution.

One trick he used to upset his new enemies was to make an official offer to all slaves that if they ran away from their masters and joined the British Army they would be freed from slavery when the war was over.

This was not done because he was particularly keen on equality – he had 56 slaves of his own in his house in Williamsburg.

However, the very existence of ‘‘Dunmore’s Proclamation’’ is seen by some scholars as part of the process that eventually led to freedom for many, though not the poor souls who trusted him and ran away.

What happened to them when he jumped on a ship and set off for home is anybody’s guess.

When he did get home with all his cash he spent a fair chunk of it on the great stone pineapple which sat on top of a garden entrance in his estate.

He seems to have been a very vain man and when his wife saw a small stone pineapple in a garden in Rome, she asked if she could have one. He no doubt replied: “You’ll have the biggest one in the world, my dear”. Hence the folly we all admire today.

It was the influence of the 6th earl’s wife, Catherine Herbert, that brought about the distinctive Harris Tweed industry.

Some of the old Earl’s cash had been used to acquire Harris (as one does) and she was greatly impressed by the work of the hand loom weavers there.

Her influential friends in the south and in Scottish society were greatly taken by the jackets, etc., and Harris Tweed was soon required wear for the hunting, shooting, fishing brigade.

And the pigs and frogs?

The next Countess, Gertrude, began to take an interest in the little art pottery at Dunmore run by a very talented ceramic artist called Peter Gardner.

The lady of the big house introduced her friends in English high society to Peter’s creations. Soon business was booming and Dunmore pottery, especially the animals, became a must-have item in stately homes.

I’m sure I spotted a Dunmore frog on a sideboard in Downton Abbey.

The stuff is still highly prized by collectors and fetches high prices.

There is a nice collection in Callendar House and at the Smith Art Gallery in Stirling.

Sadly, the 7th earl spent all his remaining cash entertaining the future King Edward VII who frequently billeted himself at Dunmore Park.

He would bring a whole squad of his chums and Dunmore had to feed and look after them them for weeks on end.

It proves that having posh friends can very much 
be a double-edged 
sword!