On 14th April 1746, two nights prior to the Battle of Culloden, Bonnie Prince Charlie enjoyed a lavish meal at Culloden House. In attendance were several Lords, Clan Chiefs, French Commanders and Officers of the Irish Picquets.
They gathered around the grand dining table, which was covered in fine tableware belonging to Duncan Forbes, 5th of Culloden, Lord President of the Court of Session. Charles had taken command of Culloden House three days prior to the battle, causing Duncan Forbes, a loyal Hanovarian, to flee as the Jacobite army marched closer to his Culloden estate and home. Forbes initially fled north, then to the Isle of Skye, while Charles Edward Stuart took up residence in his home.
While Charles and his dinner guests enjoyed a four course meal, washed down with French Claret and Champagne, the Jacobite soldiers were exhausted and starving outside. There had been a mix-up in the delivery of oats from Inverness, so all they were given to subdue their hunger was one biscuit each. This did not bode well for what these poor brave men were to endure over the following days…
Meanwhile, the menu enjoyed indoors was as follows:
Rack of Lamb wi’ a Skirlie Crust
Neeps and Tattie Cakes
Dunlop Cheddar with Bannocks
You can obtain the recipes for these from the book: The Course of History: Ten Meals that Changed the World, which documents this historic meal. Or you can of course search for the more modern equivalent of the recipes online. They are all easy to find.
Seemingly unrelated, on 20th October 2020, we were searching online, when we discovered an item for sale by a reputable Antique Dealer.
“Rare Antique Pewter Meat Domes, belonged to Lord President Duncan Forbes, 18th Century”
We are keen collectors of historical Scottish items, and we have an ever-growing collection of pieces which hold meaning for us. So of course we snapped them up, and the precious domes arrived a few days later.
We love Culloden House, we live just a stone’s throw from it, we visit there regularly on our tours (and when we’re not on tour). In fact it was the first place I (Di) worked when I came to the Highlands in 1990.
Culloden House also features strongly in our Culloden Experience: Virtual Tour, which we delivered for the first time on 24th October, just four days after purchasing the domes. A rather wonderful co-incidence, to be honest. Yet there was more to follow. One of the ladies on that virtual tour told us about this book, which featured that famous meal. So, of course, we purchased the book…
You see, there is every possibility that these domes were used during that famous meal. In fact, there is very little reason to think they wouldn’t have been.
Pewter was extremely popular between 1600-1800. Towards the end of the 18th Century, it began phasing out in favour of other metals.
The meat dome, or cloche, as it’s called, bears the Forbes Family Crest, in just the same way that it’s portrayed on many of Duncan Forbes’ old paintings. An eagle, with the motto “Spermit Humum”. Below is a screenshot of the bottom of a very old painting of Duncan Forbes, 5th of Culloden and Lord President of the Court of Session. He owned Culloden Estate and was resident in Culloden House through the time of the ’45 rebellion. The eagle is at the top of the crest. The crest and motto also stands proudly on the wall of Culloden House itself.
So we decided to spend some time discovering who actually made these domes. After some rather enjoyable research, we found him. Thomas Simpson. Then his life unfolded before our very eyes…
THOMAS SIMPSON – His Pewterer Touch mark is a waist-length figure of a man with “SIMPSON” above and “SUPER FINE” below with curved reserves above and below on underside of Well.
Thomas Simpson initially undertook his Hammerman apprenticeship in Edinburgh from 1721. If you look under the date on the left at 1721, you will find him. He was apprenticed to John Weir.
Thomas Simpson qualified as a Pewterer in 1728 and became a member of the Incorporation of Hammermen in Edinburgh.
From the below text, you can see that the Incorporation of Hammermen was an extremely important group. The incorporations were and are trade organisations whose members are or were ‘craftsmen’ or ‘tradesmen’ manufacturers, known as ‘freemen masters’ of their particular trade. Thomas was part of this group. They mention in para 2 that in 1697 Sir George Mackenzie was received into the group in the presence of Sir James Dalrymple of Stair, who was the Lord President of the Court of Session at that time. This was Duncan Forbes’ role in later years. Thomas would, without any doubt, have known Duncan Forbes. Some very interesting information in the last paragraph about the Duke of Cumberland too!
In 1757 and 1758 Thomas Simpson was elected ‘Deacon to the Trades of Edinburgh’, an incredibly important role and one which could only be held by men of good standing. Each trade elects a Deacon – an office dating back to an Act of Parliament in 1424. Their role was originally one of quality control; to ensure the products of their respective trade matched up to the standards expected of the craft. Below is a list of Deacons to the Trades of Edinburgh between 1751 and 1762. The role still exists today.
In 1757 Thomas Simpson became the ‘sole engraver’ to the Edinburgh Mint, as recorded by the Minutes of the Edinburgh Mint. Incidentally, we left the item below that listed too (no 154), because Kilravock Castle is very near Culloden Battlefield. Not only that, but Duncan Forbes married Mary Rose, from that very same family and estate.
By 1773, when he was a fairly aged gentleman, Thomas became ‘Head’ of a shop in Halkerstone’s Wynd, and then in 1780, he became ‘Head’ of another in Bridge Street. Both shops were in Edinburgh.
On 23rd January 1785, Mr Thomas Simpson sadly passed away. He is noted in the Historical Chronicle on that date as “Regretted, as a good man and a good citizen, Mr Thomas Simpson, Pewterer, late Convener of the Trades of the City, and engraver to the Mint.
During our research we found so many items relating to him. They included receipts for pewter items purchased by Churches and other such establishments in the mid 1700s. He was highly regarded and very active in Political circles too, a very busy and successful man by all accounts. By the time we had finished our research, we had developed quite a fondness for our Thomas, and felt very honoured to have purchased these beautiful meat domes. We will treasure them…
It is my intention to make the meal that Bonnie Prince Charlie had at Culloden House on the evening of 14th April in 1746, and perhaps use the dome to keep the meat warm…
Earlier in 2020 we also purchased a valuable first edition Purchasers Catalogue for the sale of ‘The Valuable Contents of Culloden House’ dated 1897. This incredible book documents the majority of items in the house at that time and includes many photos of the interior of Culloden House in 1897 and some pictures of the battlefield too. The book lists so many pieces which were found on the battlefield. These all went up for auction, and the catalogue includes photos of some of them. It really is a fascinating read. This auction was held when the Culloden Estate was sold, shortly after the last Duncan Forbes, Laird of Culloden, had passed away on 8th April 1897. The Forbes family had lived there for 271 years in total. The very last Duncan Forbes, direct descendent to Duncan Forbes 5th of Culloden, was the gentleman responsible for erecting the Cairn and gravestone markers on Culloden Battlefield in the 1800s.
It is extremely likely that our meat domes were part of this very same auction sale, sold within the ‘Kitchenalia’, which unfortunately wasn’t listed separately in the catalogue.
Culloden House has the most fascinating history… there is so much to be found for those who wish to look…
If you’d like to learn more about Scottish history, then come and join us on one of our Virtual Tours listed below: