Women's Fashion | Wry Society

The estate tweed

A bespoke family tweed is a mark of Highland high class – as long as one doesn’t bump into the previous lady of the lodge.

August 11 2010
Adam Edwards

David McGregor had a successful career in the City when he inherited the rundown Glenkirk Lodge from his Uncle Lachlan. He had known the estate well as a child and had subsequently spent a week or two there every summer since, enjoying a rag-bag of salmon fishing, stalking and a few grouse.

However, when he eventually became the laird of the 10,000 acres, with its lodge, pair of cottages and corpulent gamekeeper, he soon realised that it was a mixed blessing. His widowed uncle had, in his latter years, foregone the sporting life for the sauce, leaving the estate in disrepair and deteriorating very fast.

Despite this flawed legacy, David was determined to return the land to its former glory. He dug heavily into his finances to rebuild the sporting side with a brace of secondhand Land Rover Defenders, a new gamekeeper and a seasonal underkeeper. His grand Hampshire-bred wife, Annabelle, refurbished the lodge with the help of a London interior decorator and as a final fillip to the project David ordered 60 metres of traditional “Glenkirk” tweed.

A bespoke “estate tweed” is the exclusive uniform for both the employer and his employees of the windswept Scottish sweeps of moorland, scrub and heather. The tweed is akin to the regimental tie or the school crest and it can be traced back to the feckless 19th-century Highland chiefs, who sold or rented out their estates to well-off Englishmen interested in shooting and fishing. They in turn had been encouraged north by Sir Walter Scott’s novels that romanticised the Highlands, Landseer’s painting that immortalised the “stag at bay” and the new road and rail access.

Some of the first of these Sassenach pioneers were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In 1853, when the Queen laid the foundation stone to Balmoral Castle, Albert insisted that the estate’s keepers, stalkers and ghillies (many of them the children of deposed clansmen) all wore the Balmoral tweed, which was designed to give the perfect camouflage to those who wore it for sporting activities on the Aberdeen hills.

The Glenkirk tweed, which had been updated by David, also made its wearer invisible when “on the hill” – a soft green woollen check with bright lines of rust and white running through it.

However, it was not just the sporting staff who wore the working suits (each one needing five metres with an additional waistcoat, breeches and “Sunday best” trousers). David had a shooting suit made in the tweed, a matching flat cap and a couple of spare sports jackets for wearing at social events around the district. Meanwhile, Annabelle insisted on both a stalking and a fishing suit (activities in which she rarely participated), a couple of tailored suits for town (despite it being bad form to wear an estate tweed south of the border), plus a specially designed matching coat for her shivering lurcher.

The McGregors and their staff now resembled a platoon of Majors in mufti. And they wore their togs with pride – particularly Annabelle, who thought the colour suited her complexion. So much so that she continued to wear the tweed long after she had separated from David.

The couple’s subsequent divorce two years later left her with the London house and David, who had remarried Lady Fiona Campbell, living full time in Glenkirk Lodge. He worked part time in Edinburgh’s Princes Street (he had quickly become part of the Scotia Nostra) and was a member of the respected New Club, where he took his second wife in her brand new Glenkirk tweed suit for a buffet lunch. And that was where Fiona was introduced to Annabelle, who had flown up from London that day as a guest of her new partner, associate member Duncan Ramsey. And for the occasion she had worn her former family’s tweed.

“Have you two met?” asked Duncan, coughing with embarrassment.

“I don’t fraternise with former staff,” said Lady Fiona frostily, and she swiftly turned on her heel.

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Scotland