A Chat with James D. Scarlett, MBE
Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Q: Welcome, Jamie, from the readers of The
Family Tree. I have always spoken highly of your wifes book
In The Glens Where I Was Young. Is it true that there is now
another printing of Metas book available to the public? Please tell
us the cost and how to order a copy.
A: Not quite true. The printers gave us
quite a lot of loosely sewn page sets with the original bound
copies. When the hardbacks ran out, I found I had 12 packets of ten
unbound and got these bound as paperbacks with a new cover. Copies
can be ordered from me and, for those who can pay in sterling, are
priced at £13; the bank charges £5 to convert dollars to pounds,
making it $30 in round terms, so if anybody who does not have access
to sterling wants a copy, it might be worth investigating getting a
sterling draft at your end. Unicorn are putting the book on CD, and
I expect it to be available in this form in the fall. This is not my
favourite way of reading a book, but it is better than nothing and
will keep it in being. I have supplied amended pages, as for a
second edition, but do not know if Unicorns system will permit use
of them. I also have a project for binding six copies in silk in
Metas own tartan that I designed for her, but that is another
story, and they will not be for sale. I certainly want a second
edition and there is a need for it, but I find publishers almost
impossible to deal with; they are dilatory to the point of
discourtesy and appear to think that if they sit on a letter for six
weeks and then send an irrelevant stock reply, I will think that
they have given the matter some consideration. Of the two who
responded to my approaches, one asked for a copy of the book, which
he did not acknowledge, and the other told me that it was "only of
local interest", which was why it was written in the first place.
"Local interest" has actually extended from Australia to Zululand,
and many of the letters in between.
Q: What prompted Meta to write this beautiful
book about her growing up in the Highlands of Badenoch?
A: She loved her homeland and was deeply rooted
in it, the continuance of people who had been there as long as the
rocks. Meta was almost a compulsive writer and had been gathering
material for years with the idea of putting something together in
honour of the people of Badenoch. There had been no particular
thought of publication, but it happened that Dr. Grant, who had
founded the Highland Folk Museum in Kingussie, came upon the
manuscript of a series of quite prestigious lectures she had given
long ago at a time when a publisher I was working with was
complaining that he could not get material worth publishing. We
brought them together and the first fruit of the co-operation was Along a Highland Road. This covered Strathdearn, which
straddles the A9 from Slochd to Daviot, and paralleled what we were
doing for the next stretch of the road to the south. This seemed a
promising start to a series, and we thought we could find people who
could stretch the coverage north and south, so we began to plan for
publication. But it did not work out, and after much delay and
frustration at the hands of publishers, we decided to go it alone.
The result has been very gratifying, and it has become a classic.
Q: What has been the response to your recent book
on military tartans? What feathers did you ruffle among the "old
guard" about their sacred tartans?
A: Virtually none. One reader pointed out an
error in the caption to the inserted picture on page 15, rifles not
having been invented in 1731, but that is all. The old guard will be
totally complacent in their belief that they know all about it and
will not wish to consider any new research. I am not really
bothered; the research has been done and will keep. Some day,
someone will pick it up and carry on where I left off, as I myself
have done with the work of my predecessors. The biggest hurdle I
have to jump always is the public resistance to the truth about
tartan. Attempts to put the record straight or even to point out the
weaknesses in the tartan tales are met with disbelief or hostility.
Jamie and Frank at the Macintosh
Memorial in Moy
Q: Why were Black Watch soldiers Farquhar Shaw
and the two McPhersons singled out to be executed in 1743 at the
Tower of London? Why just the three of them?
A: I dont think there has ever been any
suggestion that they were anything but scapegoats. The Black Watch
mutiny has had most publicity, but I think all the permanent
Highland regiments had mutinies as a result of the Government
breaking faith with them or being believed to have done so. Probably
there was some language difficulty and some high ranking English
officers who frequently failed to realize that the men they were
dealing with were their equals or better, socially and
intellectually, but it added up to the same thing.
Q: As far as you know, did Bonnie Prince Charlie
ever wear a tartan or kilt before coming to the Highlands in 1745?
A: I dont know, but I doubt it. I would expect
that he wore ordinary gentlemens town dress until he found campaign
dress was all that he could get to replace it and better, anyway, in
Q: How did you come to write The Tartans of
the Clan Chattan? Why was it necessary to write a book regarding
a confederation that all too few people know about?
A: It was all rather complicated. I had done
several articles over the years about the tartans of the constituent
Clans for the Clan Chattan Association Journal and then, as a result
of various members of the Clan Mackenzie Society embarking on
"research" into the Mackenzie tartan, I did a leaflet for them. This
seemed a good idea, so I did a few more "on spec", but it did not
catch on; then with the CCAs 70th anniversary coming up
and wanting to pay some personal respect to the late Mackintosh, it
seemed proper to combine all the ideas and previous work and give
the CCA a book about its own tartans and patterns associated with
them. The average clan society member has swallowed whole all the
myths and outright lies about tartan and has no conception of how
interesting the truth is, so I feel I have done them a service as
Q: Does Lord Lyon play a part in registering
tartans or is that now done with a tartan association?
A: There is a great deal of mis-conception about
this business of "registering" tartans. The Lord Lyon records
sealed patterns for Chiefs, Heads of Families and certain Corporate
Bodies only and they become the official patterns for the
name. The Scottish Tartans Authority records every tartan that comes
its way in an ongoing historical record. Neither record gives any
protection to the pattern except that it is an offence under the law
to deviate significantly from the Lyon Record, but the Authority
does keep a record of patterns whose owners wish them to be kept
private. Designers of new tartans frequently claim copyright on
their designs, but I do not think this holds any water. Frequent
revisions to copyright law intended to make it more comprehensible
only make it less so, and my understanding is that it still applies
only to "literature or works of art", and nobody has yet convinced
the Law that tartan is Art.
Q: What part did the Highland Council play in
publishing The Highland People?
A: They just published it. I had re-written Scotlands Clan and Tartans as a "primer" for potential
visitors to the Highlands by agreement with a well-known publisher
who returned it unread when he found that I wanted four pages of
colour. I then tried it on another, sending the usual return
postage, and after 18 months received a letter of rejection and a
demand for return postage; this provoked a fairly robust reply and,
while I was wondering what to do next, a friend, a solicitor who
works for the Highland Council, suggested that I should try the
Tourist Board. They passed it to Peter Reynolds, Senior Reference
Librarian who, all unbeknown to me, was working up a nice little
operation on short-run publications on local matters by local
authors, and off we went. The distributors we used let us down
badly, and at this particular time the Highland Council was
re-organising itself every couple of months. Peter got tired of
re-applying for his own job and took early retirement, and his
successor was of far lower caliber, so the books just gathered dust.
The Tartans Authority was planning to take them over and actually
got some, but there is only one man to do the work of a dozen, so
things move slowly.
Q: What is on the back burner for you in writing
another book? If there is another one, do you care to tell us what
the subject will be?
A: I usually have a few things rolling around in
the back of my mind, but that does not necessarily mean that I am
doing something about them. I am working very happily with the
Administrator of the Scottish Tartans Authority, helping to solve
problems and make plans. As the last survivor of the old Scottish
Tartans Society, my knowledge of what has gone before is valuable,
and he does not suffer from prejudice against research, as do the
purely "trade" sections of the Authority. There is quite a lot to be
put on paper in various guises, and I am thinking about a little
book on making a simple handloom for students who want to find out
about the practical aspects of tartan, and perhaps another to show
them how to do the weaving. One thing I can be sure of, and that is
that something will turn up.
Q: Thank you for your cooperation and the
courtesies you have extended to me during our chat. Is there a final
word you would like to leave with our readers?
A: I once taught a lady in the south of England
by correspondence to weave the material for a kilt for her husband,
but I have never had a face-to-face conversation across a table as
wide as this. Its been fun. (7/17/03)
Jamie with his late wife Meta and Frank
Shaw at the Tomatin Inn
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