Sunday, 3 July 2016

Life's Little Day: A Twentieth Century Source

Anna Maria Diana Wilhelmina Pickering was born in London in 1965 and lived to be 99.  During the course of her long life she wrote many, mostly non-fiction, books.  Her husband was the Anglo-Scot Charles Goodbarne Stirling.  Her autobiographical work Life’s Little Day published in 1924 contains two sections relevant to the legends of Glamis Castle which are of interest because they correlate with another printed source.

  Stirling’s book gives a verbatim record of the account of Miss Virginia Gabriel, who visited Glamis in 1870.  Lord Halifax also included this account, but it was not quoted directly and had evidently been transmitted to him by Mrs Maclagan.  His version was published post-mortem in 1936.  I have to admit that I do not know whether the autograph copy of Gabriel’s account still exists somewhere, but presumably the written summary of Mrs Maclagan was the basis of the hand-written account copied by Lord Halifax and published after his death.

   Several details are added to the summary in Halifax’s book.  We get the information that the chaplain in the castle asserted that the longer he remained in the building the stranger he felt.  And in the anecdote where the estate factor, Mr Ralston, is identified in one of the initiates of the terrible family secret (and tells the countess that she is lucky not to know the secret), we learn that Ralston had attended some theatricals in the house when a sudden snow storm blew up and he insisted on going home making the gardeners and stable hands carve out a path for him to go home through the drifts.

   Also told is the story of the disturbed night suffered by the three couples on the Clock Landing, the encounter with Beardie, plus mention of the experiences of the Dean and Bishop of Brechin.  But there is an addition to the tale of the Archbishop of York’s wife Mrs Maclagan having a strange dream about Beardie and the fireplace at Glamis while staying at Tullyallan Castle. Mrs Stirling compares the figure in the dream with an actual figure of an old man with a long beard apparently captured in a photograph of the chapel at Glamis by Miss Cavendish Bentinck.  This was a relation of Nina Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck (1862-1938), who married the Earl of Strathmore in 1881 and was the mother of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and grandmother of the present Queen.

   The story of this photograph occurs in an earlier part of the book.  After Nina’s wedding to the earl her sisters, twins  (Ann) Violet and Hyacinth, were constantly pestered whether they had heard any details about the ‘ghostly Mystery of Glamis’.  Their stock answer was that Nina always insisted there was no mystery.  But one of the twins told Mrs Stirling that she had left her camera exposed in the chapel in the hope of getting a good picture of the interior. She then locked the door, put the key in her pocket and went away for some time.  There was only this single key to the chapel.  (But why had she even bothered to lock the door?)  When she developed the photo there was an image of a shadowy form of an old man with a beard kneeling at the altar.  Beardie?  Someone else?

    It would be interesting to actually see this picture, but there has been no modern publication of it as far as I know.  Miss Stirling would have none of this apparently supernatural photography however and gives instances where faulty equipment and forgery have fooled others in this area.  Despite this, her work is replete with anecdotes which seemingly show she had an interest in the otherworldly thread which is woven into the fabric of life.