Behind the scenes of The Officers Mess

After immersing yourself in the captivating personal stories, historical objects, and the remarkable events spanning the 225-year history of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum, your museum journey may seem to be drawing to a close as you make your way towards the exit. Yet, just as you approach the staircase that will lead you out, you spot one final  small staircase pointing you towards ‘The Officers Mess’.

The Officers Mess
Photo Credit: John Pow for The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

The space in where the Officers’ Mess is today holds a rich historical significance, dating back to the medieval era when the King’s Old Building served as a royal residence, when this would have been the kitchens. In more recent history, maps from our collections reveal that the Officers’ Mess once functioned as the Barracks store and later as the Royal Army Service Corps store in the 1950s.

This area was also known to have served as an anteroom, where recruits would learn about the regiment and its history. Some recruits would also come to take their oath and sign their enlistment papers in this area.

The Argylls Officers’ Mess was a ‘home’ to junior officers, and a place to entertain visitors. Through its silver and pictures, it kept the traditions and history of the regiment alive. The Argylls were always noted for, and took pride in, the friendly hospitality and happy atmosphere in their Mess wherever they were. The Officers were responsible for the upkeep of the Mess, ensuring it remained the show piece of the Regiment.

 The Officers Mess set for entertaining guests
Photo Credit: John Pow for The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

Back in the present day, you step into The Officers Mess, you’ll notice a barrier that restricts full access to the room, allowing only a glance inside. Nearly every item within this space has earned its place as an official museum object, making it all the more remarkable but meaning that great care needs to be taken in this room. Amidst this treasure trove, a select few objects have been singled out below for a closer inspection.

Sergeant James Cobb’s Grandfather Clock

This long- case grandfather clock was presented to the museum by Mr J Cobb MBE whose forebear was Sergeant James Cobb of the 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders), and a native of Brechin.

 Sergeant James Cobb’s Grandfather Clock
Photo Credit: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

Sergeant Cobb enlisted into the 93rd in 1841. He served around the globe including Canada and Crimea. In Crimea he was involved with the Battle of Alma and Balaklava.  He was severely injured during the assault of Sebastopol in 1855. On evacuation to the hospital it is said that Florence Nightingale took particular interest in his treatment. And having returned home received a visit from Queen Victoria who presented him with a silk handkerchief – which went on to be a prized possession of his.  He received medals for his service, including a medal for valour from Napoleon III having raised the alarm about Russian attacks on Balaklava.  After leaving the army he lied in Arbroath and was regarded as the “Father of the Regiment”. He died in 1912.

Regimental Headquarters signatory book

Resting on a table within the Officers Mess, you’ll find this guest book. It was presented by Lieutenant Colonel J. Stirling and Lieutenant A. Stirling back in 1984, and it saw its inaugural use in August 1985. Within its pages, you can find the signatures and notes of numerous distinguished visitors, among them the late Queen Elizabeth, who visited the museum and Stirling Castle on multiple occasions.

Regimental Headquarters signatory book 
Photo Credit: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

Queen Elizabeth, also holding the role of Colonel in Chief of the regiment, occupied an entire page with her signature, a testament to her significance. An entry from her visit in 1986 reveals not only her signature but also a glimpse into her dinner menu for the evening. The meal comprised a starter of Cold Avocado and Chive Soup with Toasted Oatcakes, followed by a main course of Scottish Salmon en Croute, served with Fresh Mayonnaise, New Butter Potatoes, and a Crisp Green Salad. For dessert, there was the delightful pairing of Scottish Strawberries and Fresh Cream, followed by a serving of coffee.

While this meal may cater to particular tastes, we hope that those in attendance savoured every moment of this dining experience.

Regimental Headquarters signatory book open to the page of Queen Elizabeth’s signature
Photo Credit: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum
‘The Guard Room’ William Kennedy

One of the walls in the room, this stunning piece can be seen hanging. From 1887 entitled “The Guard Room, Stirling Castle”  by William Kennedy (17 July 1859 – December 1918), he is known as prominent member of a group of artists known as the Glasgow Boys. Kennedy established a studio in Stirling and painted rural landscapes, as well as boldly-coloured depictions of soldiers at Stirling Castle – as can be seen here. This oil painting shows the interior of the Guard Room at Stirling Castle an Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders soldier preparing to go on sentry duty and another soldier sleeping between duties. The Officers Mess is home to several other Kennedy pieces, such as ‘In Camp’

The Guard Room’ William Kennedy
Photo Credit: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum
Bronze Statue Copy

This Boer War Memorial statue can be found sitting on the window sill of the room. It is  a copy of the large statue erected outside of the walls of Stirling Castle in 1907, commemorating the men of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who were killed during the South African War 1899 – 1902. The figure depicts a private in the uniform and equipment worn during the campaign.

Bronze Statue Copy
Photo Credit: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

Cigar lighter
Cigar Lighter from the 1st Battalion
Photo Credit: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

This unusual looking objects is a gold mounted table cigar/cigarette lighter from the 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders presented to the Officers Mess in 1904 by Lieutenant C.N. MacDonald. The orb is attached in such a way that when the lighter is carried the flame always remains in a vertical position. A wick was placed in the orb and lit when brought to the dining table. And yes, these were often made with real animal horn. It is interesting to note that even though this was presented in 1904, it has The Argyllshire Highlanders badge engraved on it – a reminder of one of the antecedent regiments.

Close up of the inscription of the cigar lighter showing The Argyllshire Highlanders badge
Photo Credit: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

The Officers Mess is open to the public to view during opening hours of the museum. This room may be closed for private hire. If you are interested in hiring out The Officers Mess, please email museum@argylls.co.uk.

Written by Caitlin Meldrum, Museum Assistant