Mount Stuart and its Archives

This is an article on the family home of the Bute family who owned fantastic amounts of property including Cardiff Castle, paid for by the local coal industry. This is from Saturday’s i paper:

Tucked away down a winding corridor inside Mount Stuart, a sprawling 19th century neo-gothic mansion off the west coast of Scotland is a climate controlled windowless room where only a handful of people have ever been. Inside is a line of white bookshelves which hiss and slide quietly along their runners at the touch of a button….

The house made global headlines last month when a 1623 copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, one of the most sought-after books in the world, was discovered hidden in its extensive collection. Staff at the mansion have now revealed that its greatest historical secrets may still lie ahead: it is, they say, “a genuine treasure house”. A small team of on-site archivists are currently grappling with the enormous task of cataloguing the Bute Collection, one of the foremost private repositories of artwork, valuable documents and artefacts in the UK. Over the years, as the vastly wealth family sold their estates around Britain, the contents of the houses were sent to Mount Stuart and have remained there ever since.

“The family consistently married amazingly well,” says Adam Ellis-Jones, director of the Mount  Stuart Trust. …IN a thousand years they never threw anything away, and because they were such remarkable collectors, there must be endless treasure here.”

One of the most recent discoveries in the collection is a golden garter that once belonged to King George III. Letters found in the archive reveal how John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute, who was appointed First Lord of the Treasury in 1762, was given the garter as a present by the king, who removed it from his own leg as a sign of their friendship.

Thanks to the family’s penchant for record-keeping, staff were also able to work out that a portrait of King George wearing the very garter in question was looking down at visitors from one of the many stately rooms. “That’s part of the magic of working here – these things seem to just slot into place,” says Alice Martin, the rust’s head of historic collections. “There’s a receipt for every book, every carpet, everything.” …

What was initially believed to be a “small and insignificant signet ring int eh Mount Stuart collection is now being viewed in a new light after the discovery of a letter written in 1912 by the 4th Marchioness of Bute, in which she claims it belonged toMary Queen of cots. Tantalisingly, staff believe that the crucial document proving the ring’s authenticity may be somewhere in the archive…

A quick tour of a small part of the house reveals historically significant artefacts lurking in almost every room: silver from Elizabeth I’s dining table, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s sporran and duelling pistols and he ceremonial drinking vessels of the ancient Stuarts. .. It takes about 6 hours to visit every room in the house, including its 19 attics, which have yet to be fully explored. …

While the steady stream of discoveries that looks likely to be made  at Mount Stuart in the coming months and years will no doubt excite academics and historians, the Trust is also hoping the extra publicity will persuade more visitors to come to Bute. Despite its remarkable architecture, 300 acres of gardens and picturesque setting, the house only attracted 20,000 visitors last year.

Far less remote than most of Scotland’s islands, Bute used to be a popular holiday destination for Glaswegians, but since the dawn of cheap package tourism its status has hugely declined along with its population. It has become, Ellis-Jones says, a “forgotten island. This is abut trying to breathe some life into a place. We need to make discoveries like these relevant but also work for wider community, bringing benefits and confidence.There’s a bigger job to do than just academic discovery – the social outcome is what’s driving our ambition. “

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