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Glenbuchat Heritage

58 Clashnettie, Symon Family and Queen Victoria
The Glenbuchat Image Library
58 Clashnettie, Symon Family and Queen Victoria

Clashnettie, The Symon Family and Queen Victoria.

The Photograph above shows:
1. Cover of Mary Symon’s ‘Birthday book alonf with the signature of Dr Profeit
Click for more details about Dr Profeit
2. Signature od Abdul Karim ‘The Munchie’, Queen Victoria’s Indian Servant.
3. Signature of Victoria Melitia aged 6 third child and second daughter of Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia. She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Emperor Alexander II of Russia.
4. Signature of Victoria Melitia now aged 13 and calls herself ‘Princess of Russia’
5. Balmoral Tartan
6. Picture of Mrs Christina Symon


In 1886 Alexander Walker, the gardner at newe Castle published a book of 196 Fiddle tunes.

Click for more details about Alexander Walker

Amongst the names of the tunes. which ranged from the names of famous people, friends of the Forbes family and famous places, was a tune called ‘Clashnettie’. Claschnettie is a small weavers croft near Sir Charles Forbes’s shooting lodge at Deskry and seems quite insignificant to warrant a tune.

Click for details about Clashnettie

There was also the suggestion that Archibald Symon, the weaver there, wove cloth for the Queen Victoria at Balmoral. Again it was wondered why Balmoral tartan was being woven here and not on Deeside.

The discovery of an entry on the Internet about the sale of a Birthday book kept by Mary Symon of the Shop at Crathes provided a lot of clues. Details of the book and the relationship of the family with Queen Victoria are noted later.

The clue lies in part of the text that described the birthday book.
“Mary Symon, the original Owner of the Birthday Boook, was the daughter of John and Christina Symon, each members of a family who were well known and respected by Queen Victoria.. Mary’s mother, who died in 1898, has been described as a ‘prudent trustworthy and faithful’ friend of the monarch. Christina Symon was the proprietor of a village shop in the village of Crathie, at the gates of Balmoral,who had the monoply of selling the grey Balmoral Tartan used for kilts and and also Victoian tartans, often purchased by Royal Visitors.’

This then explains the Symon family connection with Queen Victoria and the Balmoral tartan. What then was the connection with Archibald Symon, the weaver from Clashnettie?

The fact that Archibald Symon had the same family name as the Symons of Crathie seems to indicate a possible link. There were however a large number of ‘Symons’ in the Crathie area at that time.

It was difficult to link Archibald Symon of Clashnettie with the Symons of Crathes because of peculiarities in the family tree and also that many of the available family trees were incomplete. The best I can manage is as follows.

John Symon was the second cousin of Archibald Symon of Clashnettie as their fathers were brothers. It is not surprising therefore that the Symons of Crathie did not share out the weaving work to his uncle in Clashnettie.

Francis Symon b 1758
Margaret Clark b 1758

Donald Symon b 1782
Jane McDonald b 1783

Donald Symon b 1876
Isabella Rattray b 1876

John Symon 1814-1876
Christina Edmonstone 1814-1898


Helen Symon (Nee Symon) 13 Jul 1779 d 1855
John Shewan 1782 - 1851

Archibald Symon b 1809
Charlotte Hay b 1821

Mary Ann Symon b 1850

The following entry in the ‘The Scotsman’ of Saturday 26 September 1896 highlights Mrs Symon’s relationship with the visitors who came to Balmoral.

“The Emperor and Empress yesterday walked unattended to Crathie village and paid a visit to Mrs Symon ' s shop, where the Empress was familiarly known in her girlhood. Their Imperial Majesties entered into conversation with Mrs Svmon, the Emperor being introduced by his Royal consort, and chatting away in the most affable ' manner. Before leaving, their Majesties made purchases of photographic views of the district, tartans, and shawls.”


Mary Symon, Christina’s daughter kept a ‘Birthday book’ of visitors to the shop at Crathes.
The following extract taken from the Auction House – Autograph Auctions which was auctioning the book in 2017 describes in detail the wide variety of titled people that Mrs Symon met in her Crathie Shop.

Auction Oct 2017 (https://www.autographauctions.co.uk)
Text from Auction catelogue


“Victoria & Abdul and John Brown!
Victoria: (1819-1901)
Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 1837- 1901.

The personal 12month leather bound Birthday Scripture Text Book of Mary Symon of Crathie, near Balmoral, published by the Book Society, London 8 W. Mack of Bristol, c.1875, containing over 150 signatures including Queen Victoria and an interesting and important selection of the monarch's family and household, as well as other individuals known to Mary Symon.

In the tradition of all such Birthday Books the signatures appear alongside the date of the subject's birth and include (in chronological order)
Evelyn Henrietta Leigh (1858-1939, Lady Allington, second wife of Henry Strut, 18th Baron Allington) Hugh Brown (1838-1886, Keeper of Her Majesties Kennels, brother of John Brown who also served as an attendant to the Queen after John's death. Interestingly, Hugh Brown was born on 21st December although has added his signature alongside 2nd January, this being the date of his baptism), Prince Albert Victor (1864-1892, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, son of King Edward VII and grandson of Queen Victoria. The Prince was considered a suspect in the Jack the Ripper serial killings), Mary Symon (her signature appearing alongside the date 21st January and her entry dated October 1875 in her hand, providing an indication of when she first started acquiring the signatures, reasonably assuming that she was amongst the very first to sign her book), Hermann Sahl (d.1896, German Secretary & Librarian to Queen Victoria), Louise, Princess Royal (1867-1931, Duchess of Fife, daughter of King Edward VII and granddaughter of Queen Victoria), Albert, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein (1869-1931, Grandson of Queen Victoria), Cecilia Leila Hay (1860-1935, Lady Webbe, daughter of the Earl of Errol), Annie Symon (sister of Mary), Isabella Profeit (1867- , Wife of Dr. Alexander Profeit, Her Majesty's Commissioner upon her estates at Balmoral), Lizzie Stewart (daughter of Donal Stewart, Forester at Balmoral, and a friend of Mary Symon. Stewart and Symon were the subjects of a watercolour made by Queen Victoria at Balmoral in September 1850, the Queen recording in her Journal 'l_ittle Elizabeth Stewart sat to me for a sketch, really a beautiful child with such rosy cheeks, large brown eyes & thick fair hair), Prince Leopold (1853-1884, Duke of Albany, son of Queen Victoria who tragically died at the young age of 30), Princess Viktoria of Prussia (1866-1929, Daughter of Frederick III, German Emperor, and Victoria, Princess Royal. Granddaughter of Queen Victoria), lsmay Fitzroy (1863-1952, Wife of Lord Charles Edward Fitzroy), Princess Beatrice (1857-1944, Princess Henry of Battenberg, daughter of Queen Victoria), Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein (1867-1900, Son of Princess Helena and the favourite grandson of Queen Victoria.

The Prince died at the young age of 33 from enteric fever whilst serving in Pretoria with Lord Roberts VC in the Second Boer War), Fleetwood Edwards (1842-1910, British Lieutenant- Colonel, Groom-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria 1880-95 and Keeper of the Privy Purse 1895- 1901), Prince Arthur (1850-1942, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, son of Queen Victoria. Governor General of Canada 1911-16), Mary Biddulph (a nurse [?] present at the Christening of the future Queen of Spain, Princess Victoria Eugenie, the first Royal baby to be delivered at Balmoral Castle, Queen Victoria recording in her Journal on 23'“ November 1883 '. . .the Baby was brought in by Mary Biddulph, who handed her to me. The sweet Baby looked beachful in the old Christening Robe. . .. '), Valentine Browne (1825-1905, 4th Earl of Kenmare. British Courtier and Politician, Lord Chamberlain of the Household 1880- 85, 1886), Queen Victoria (1819-1901, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 1837-1901. The Queen has dated her signature 215‘ June 1877, just one day after the 40"‘ anniversary of the beginning of her reign on 20"‘ June 1837), Jane Spencer, Baroness Churchill (1826-1900, English Peeress, Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria 1854-1900, the longest serving member of the Queen's personal household), King George V (1865-1936, King of the United Kingdom 1910-36), Princess Victoria (1868- 1935, Daughter of King Edward VII and granddaughter of Queen Victoria), Moulvi Sir Rafiuddin Ahmed (1865-1954, Indian Muslim Barrister, Journalist & Politician, a close friend of Abdul Karim, the Indian Secretary to Queen Victoria. Ahmed was a prominent member of the Muslim Patriotic League which introduced greater self-government to British India), Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia (1860-1917, German Princess, wife of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught), John Symon (father of Mary Symon), Hafiz Mohammed Abdul Karim 1863-1909, Indian Attendant to Queen Victoria, known as ‘the Munshi'. The Queen and Karim enjoyed a close platonic relationship, leading to friction within the Royal Household, a fictionalised version of which was made into the film Victoria & Abdul, Mortimer Sackville-West (1820-1888, st Baron Sackville. British Peer and Court official who held several high appointments within the Royal Household), Prince Henry of Battenberg (1858-1896, German Prince, husband of Princess Beatrice), Muhammad Bakhsh Shakh (Indian Attendant to Queen Victoria, the little known associate and compatriot of Abdul Karim who was largely overshadowed in his lifetime by Karim's popularity and celebrity), Alexander Profeit (1834-1897, Scottish Physician & Commissioner to Queen Victoria at Balmoral), Princess Marie of Edinburgh (1875-1938, Queen of Romania 1914-27), Charles Robert Spencer (1857-1922, 6*“ Earl Spencer. British Courtier and Politician, Groom in Waiting to Queen Victoria, 1886 and Lord Chamberlain of the Household 1905-12), Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1876-1936, British Princess, later Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna of Russia, Granddaughter of Queen Victoria and Emperor Alexander II of Russia), Maud of Wales (1869-1938, Queen of Norway 1905-38, consort of King Haakon VII. Daughter of King Edward VII and granddaughter of Queen Victoria), Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, consort of King Edward VII), John Brown (1826-1883, Scottish Personal Attendant and favourite of Queen Victoria, the exact nature of their relationship the subject of great speculation and controversy, which served as the inspiration for the film Mrs Brown, 1997), Henry Ponsonby (1825-1895, British Major General and Royal Court official who served as Queen Victoria's Private Secretary from 1870-95), Ethel Henrietta Mary Cadogan (Extra Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria) and many others. The Birthday Book is bound in dark blue leather with gilt stamped title and Symon's initials (‘MS.') to the front cover, and with five raised bands to the spine and all edges gilt. A remarkable collection of signatures providing many examples of the individuals most closely associated with Queen Victoria and the Royal family during their visits to Balmoral in the latter quarter of the 19th century. Some extremely light, minor age wear and some light foxing throughout, otherwise VG it is highly exceptional to find autographs of Queen Victoria and arguably the two most important, and certainly controversial, men in her life (following the death of her consort and husband Prince Albert in 1861) Scottish ghillie John Brown and Indian servant Abdul Karim, together within one collection and the trio of signatures are of the utmost desirability.

There are a number of signatures within the Birthday Book that would appear to be from members of the same families who were known to Mary Symon, with the surnames of Brown, Beaton, Gordon, Henderson, Leys (possibly a relative of John Brown, whose mother's maiden name was Leys), Robertson, Grant, Stewart, Profeit and others appearing on one than more occasion within the book on different dates. Positive identification of such signatories may reveal some interesting stories, as is the case with the signatures of the Profeit family members. Dr. Alexander Profeit (1834-1897) is perhaps the most significant member of his family to have signed the Birthday Book - appointed first as Surgeon, and later Commissioner to Queen Victoria at Balmoral, Profeit was a close aide to the monarch with whom she freely corresponded. indeed, the Queen trusted him so deeply that she judged it safe to disclose personal matters in writing to Profeit, some of them relating to her beloved highland Servant, John Brown.

Dr Profeit died in January 1897, having served the Queen for twenty-two years, and left some 300 letters from Queen Victoria preserved in an old tin box which he had wished to remain private. However, Profeit’ s son George used the letters to effectively blackmail Queen Victoria’s son in 1905, writing to the then King Edward Vii and demanding a large amount of money in return for the letters. Sir James Reid (1849-1923) British Physician in Ordinary to Queen Victoria, and the signatory to John Brown's death certificate, acted as an intermediary between King Edward Vii and George Profeit, and delivered the letters to the King, at the same time noting in his diary that they were ‘most compromising’. Sir James Reid’s signature does not appear in the present Birthday Book, however there is an entry by a certain Dr. Alexander Reid, who was living and practicing near Balmoral at the same time, although would not appear to have been related to Sir James.

(Dr Profeit was the Doctor at Towie and Glenbuchat before he moved to Crathie and then became Queen Victoria’s Commissioner.)

Mary Symon, the original owner of the Birthday Book, was the daughter of John and Christina Symon, each of them members of a family who were well known and respected by Queen Victoria. Mary's mother, who died in 1898, has been described as a ‘prudent, trustworthy and faithful' friend of the monarch. Christina Symon was the proprietor of a shop in the village of Crathie, at the gates of Balmoral, who had the monopoly of selling the grey Balmoral tartan used for kilts and also Victorian tartans often purchased by Royal visitors.”


Balmoral tartan (Sample in picture above)

The Balmoral tartan, in red and grey, designed by the Prince, and the Victoria tartan, with a white stripe, designed by the Queen, were to be seen in every room: there were tartan curtains, and tartan chair-covers, and even tartan linoleums.

Above is the original Balmoral tartan as designed by Queen Victoria's husband. Prince Albert in 1853. While predominantly grey with overchecks of red and black the background contains threads of black and white yarns twisted together to achieve the appearance of the roughhewn granite so familiar in Royal Deeside. It is worn by HM Queen herself as a skirt and several members of the Royal Family but only with the Queen's permission. The only other approved wearer of the Balmoral Tartan is the Queen's personal piper (the Estate workers and Ghillies wear the Balmoral Tweed). D W Stewart wrote in 'Old and Rare Scottish Tartans' (1893), 'Her Majesty the Queen has not only granted permission for its publication here, but has also graciously afforded information concerning its inception in the early years of the reign, when the sett was designed by the Prince Consort.' There is also a smaller sett that was woven for the children's clothes. Checked against original cloth sample woven by Kinloch Anderson, holders of the Royal Warrant.


Literary Extracts. The Queen and Her Deeside Shopman. 1870
(By an Old Commercial, in Caledonia Magazine.)


The late John Symon, general merchant, Balmoral, was a very quiet, respectable, plodding pawky, canny individual. So canny Careful in that he actually required a whole day to select from samples ordinary parcel which most buyers could have selected with ease in a couple of hours. But if the worthy old merchant was slow buying, he was always jure and prompt paying. When I first made his acquaintance in 1862, he had very small house and shop, having narrow, low windows, with small panes oi glass, similar to the other cottage windows that district. The premises stood on the Balmoral estate. and consequently, belonged to Her Majesty, by whom they were remodelled and renewed prior to 1870 (the date to which this refers). Symon's house and shop were situated the east entrance to Balmoral Castle, and commanded fine view of very long avenue leading to the Royal residence.

One autumn evening in the above year saw the writer Mr Symon's shop door, with a trap containing six hundredweights of drapery samples, from needles to broadcloth, representing one of the largest dry goods establishments Scotland. After the usual preliminary talk business was commenced, and the old gentleman went through books of buttons, cases of cottons, flannels, linens, dresses, and tartans, making his selections warily, as usual, from 9 a.m. till about noon, assisted by his wife and one or two daughters, when one of his daughters said, “Oh! here's the Queen comin'." had idea there was so much " smedduin " or activity in Symon until I saw him bundling up and stowing away the samples he had been looking over. "Come awa', min, an' help me to get them oot o' the road," he said to me. I had been a little soured at him keeping them all exposed and mixed up, so I stepped outside and left him to clear them as best he could.

My trap was standing unyoked about twenty yards from the shop, and taking my stand beside it I observed Her Majesty and the Princess Louise coming along the avenue followed by the stalwart John Brown, who was clad in Highland costume of dark brown, and a Glengarry cap. A few yards behind carriage, drawn by a pair of greys, followed. I observed when the Queen turned and addressed John Brown, he doffed his cap while replying. The Queen and the Princess Louise entered the shop, John Brown remained outside, while the carriage was ordered to take a turn round by the distillery. In a little Mrs Symon made her appearance at the front door, and beckoned John Brown, who entered, and after staying in long enough to swallow "high twal," came out smacking his lips and took his station beside me.

While were having some general conversation, the Queen made her appearance at the shop door with a poodle, which she made stand on its hind legs, spin, walk etc,. She then re-entered the shop and remained there for about half-an-hour, when she emerged with the Princess, and was followed by John Brown. They went off in the direction the carriage had taken. On entering the shop, I was accosted by Mrs Symon with a long Scotch screed, somewhat as follows: "I sis-sure you! you micht think muckle o' yersel' the day. I never heard the Queen or ony ither bodie speerin' sac muckle aboot onythiug or onybodie fat she speared aboot you, an' your button books, patterns, patches, and swatchee a' lyin' aboot there, fa' you were, and far you cam' frae. She was astonished at hearin' you cam' frae Glesca' a' the wye.' "Why did you not call me in to assist you selling a parcel to Her Majesty?"

I said. " Gae wa', in," said she, tossing her dress cap and making the ribbons and flowers in it flutter, "you travellers are nae better than common hawkers." I admitted the fact, but reminded her that—
" An honest man, though ere sac puir,
Is king o' men for a' that."

I asked her, although dealing with Royalty, if the text did not apply her case—" As the driving of nail between two stones so is the evil buying and selling." "She never saw that in the Bible," she replied. “Well it is in the book adjoining it, the Apocrypha," I said, and after little more banter I spent a couple hours to good purpose. I found the old merchant was grand fettle, after having sold the Queen large quantity of different materials, which were to be gifted away by Her Majesty the aged, infirm, and poor around her much loved Highland home.


Mrs Symon’s death in 1898 was recorded in the Aberdeen Press and Journal

Aberdeen Press and Journal - Saturday 05 February 1898
THE QUEEN'S OLDEST FRIEND ON DEESIDE. THE LATE MRS SYMONS


Balmoral. On Monday last the grave closed Symon, of East Balmoral, one of the most valued friends of Her Majesty. Mrs Symon died on the previous Thursday in her 85th year, to the great regret not only the members of the Royal family, of whom she had known since their childhood but of the officials and tenantry at the Castle, and of the inhabitants of the district by whom she had been regarded as a warm friendly kindly neighbour. The deceased was a native of the district, was married to Mr. John Symon. merchant East Balmoral, Queen came Balmoral, and the little shop from which the business has been so long conducted was frequently the scene Royal visits, for Her Majesty had regarded Mrs Symon as a personal friend for period of nearly 50 years, and always found her prudent, truthful and faithful.

Mr Symon died about 20 years previously but Mrs continued to run the business, in which she is now succeeded by her daughters. Up to the last she continued to receive evidences of the regard and esteem, which she was justified. The funeral of Mrs Symon was one of the largest ever seen the district. Mr Sibbald, minister of Crathie, short service the house and also it in Crathie Churchyard. Mr. lames Forbes, Her Majesty’s Commissioner, represented Princess Henry. The coffin and on the grave were a a number of wreaths received from members of the There were ones from Her Majesty, Prince and Princess of Wales one from Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, one from Princess Louise, Marchioness of Lorne; one from Princess Henry of Battenberg, and one from Sir Dighton and Lady Probyn. There were also many other friends and neighbours.

Mrs Symon was a great favourite with members the Royal Family. The sons and daughters had been in the habbit of visiting the shrewd, kindly old lady since they were boys and girls, and they all had for her the greatest respect, while, already stated, they looked upon and always treated Mrs Symon as a dear and intimate friend. Mrs greatly missed in the district, where her service and assistance were often gladly avail was excellent woman of business and carried on the shop with great success alter death.


Aberdeen Press and Journal - Wednesday 16 February 1898
THE LATE MRS SYMON.


This is a portrait of the late Mrs Symon, of East Balmoral, who was the Queen’s oldest friend on Deeside, and one whom Her Majesty honoured with her confidence and regard to a degree which few outside the immediate circle of the Royal family have enjoyed.

It was the privilege and distinction of this peasant woman to have many confidential chat and friendly gossip with the Queen-Empress, who never failed to pay an early visit to Mrs Symon’s shop when she arrived at Balmoral. Mrs Symon was a very shrewd, sensible woman, and never made any fuss when the Queen came to see her, which no doubt constituted one of the attractions of her society to the Royal visitor. There was no sham about the worthy dame, but a great deal of quiet dignity and practical wisdom. It was Mrs Symon’s fixed idea that Balmoral alone was the Queen’s real home, and it is said that when Her Majesty paid a farewell call on her faithful friend before leaving for the south the good woman would inquire, in her homely, unstudied phrase. When wall Your Majesty be comin’ hame again?”—meaning when would she be returning to Deeside.

The Queen and Mrs were both in the bloom of young womanhood when they first became acquainted, and they saw 50 summers and winters pass, during which their friendship continued to grow stronger as their sorrows increased. Mrs Symon was greatly liked by all the Queen’s family, all of whom she had seen grow up from infancy to manhood and womanhood. The Queen will greatly miss her old friend when she conies to Balmoral, and many in the district will miss her too. for she occupied unique position on Upper Deeside.


Death of Queen Victoria
Aberdeen Press and Journal - Thursday 24 January 1901


….There now only one retainer the Balmoral estates who was there when Her Majesty came her highland home in 1848. That is George head forester, who was then a young man employed about, the It is years ' ago this week since Mrs Symon died, she being the onlv other retainer who was at Balmoral when Her Majesty came. Mrs Symon was then a young married woman, residing at East Balmoral. Between Her Majesty and Mrs Symon there sprang up a bond of the closest friendship, which lasted for about half a century till the death of the latter.

The anxiety which Her Majesty evinced when Mrs Symon was lying ill is still remembered. Manv were the telegrams of inquiry she sent from the south to Balmoral at that time, desiring news from time to time daily as to her friend's start© of health. When at length the end came, the funeral srranuements were all carried out in everv detail under Her Majesty's instructions.

One of Mrs Syroon's daughters »till carries on the general merchant's at Easter Balmoral. which her mother kept for so manv years. It was always one of the first places visited when the arrived at Balmoral, and one of the last to which she repaired before she left. Miss Svmon, to whom Her Majestv wished an affectionate good-bve in November, was greatlv affected when the sad news from Osborne It may be mentioned that Mary Symon and Stewart (already referred' to), they were then known, were the only children on the estate who were about ages with several members of the Royal Family in their voung days, and they frequently played and ramped about with the young Princes and Princesses. ….





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