As a boy, I used to wear a kilt every Sunday at school, despite living in Sussex! At the age of eighteen, I went to my first highland ball and saw dress sporrans for the first time. These huge and extraordinary items were worn by the eldest attendants of the ball and some of the sporrans were upwards of 200 years old, passed from father to son. I immediately thought, 'I’ve got to have one of these'. Not being able to buy one, this thought then turned to 'I've got to make these'.
I have created a collection of twenty masterpieces that revive the tradition of goat and horse hair sporrans, but with a contemporary edge. My passion for cloths and products that have a deeper meaning and a cultural significance is brought to life through manufacturing sporrans. Each sporran has significance; Llyr of the Mere, for instance, uses pearl shell. Llyr is a Brythonic god of the sea and Mere is from the ancient Cumbrian for "lake". I like that the names of the sporrans reflect their provenance.
Designed for a client who loved how oak leaves were each uniquely different.
Bringing together many processes from around Britain; Metal smithing in Cumbria, leather work from the north of England, tanning goat pelts in the western isles of Scotland and sourcing beautiful hand made passementerie.
The Renaissance (14th to 17th century)
Before pockets were developed, a girdle pouch was suspended by a belt or girdle worn around the
waist. Renaissance men would use these to hold spices, herbs and money. Less importantly for highlanders when pockets developed, the need for girdle pouches was reduced. Instead, pouches filled with sweet smelling materials or confections known as “swete bagges” were used to overpower bodily odours and showcase wealth.
Kenneth Sutherland, 3rd Lord Duffus wearing a simple sporran of soft leather with draw strings. 1734.
Probably the purest form of sporran used simply as a purse.
Highland army on the march in Flanders 1743. Simple leather sporrans are visible hanging around their waists.
17th or early 18th century sporrans from a collection in the National Museum of Scotland.
Leather pouches with varying degrees of ornate brass cantles. It is said that the cantles design evolved as a symbol of wealth.
Sporran worn by Sir Alexander MacDolald of Sleat. 1775.
The beginnings of what we recognise as a day sporran. Its a leather pouch with a brass cantle.
The hanging cords appear similar to the draw strings in the painting of Lord Duffus, however here they are possible no longer functional but decorative.
This could be the origin of the ornate tassels we see on later sporrans. A fashion hang over.
Interesting depiction of a sporran worn by soldier of the 42nd highland regiment. Who is taking snuff. These types of carvings were used for tobacconist shops.
Quite an unusual shape by today standards. This probably has more to do with it being a sporran for practicable use. The white and black pouch appears to be Ermine fur, decorated with gold tassels and the mask could be a wild cat. Alternatively, as these carvings were made by an artist for advertising businesses, it might have been an artists impression of a badger sporran, up until recently worn by the The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
Water colours from the book, The Highlanders Of Scotland by Kenneth Macleay commissioned by Queen Victory.
This painting depicts Sergt. James Sutherland, Adam Sutherland and Neil MacKay.
All are wearing goat hair sporrans. The impressive length of the hair is difficult to find in the feral highland goats of today. These sporrans are certainly less practical than a simple leather pouch.
I imagine that the long hair style developed as a fashion, but perhaps it was a natural development from the use of the hair on hide animal pelts in early military sporrans, as seen in the wood carving of a 42nd Highlander.
Water colour of a member of clan Buchanan.
From R.R McIan’s illustrated book The Clans of the Scottish Highlands published in 1845.
R.R McIan was an actor as well as a painter, his
theatrical character is reflected in the very romanticised imaginings of these Highlanders.