“A perpetual state of honeymoon” – snapshots from a Victorian marriage – 5th March 1867

This letter written by Malcolm Murray MacGregor to his wife is largely concerned with the couple’s search for a suitable property for their family as part of their proposed move to living permanently in Scotland. It seems that on the birth of their second child, Margaret, they had decided that they wished to raise their children in Perthshire, where Malcolm spent much of his childhood at the family estate of Edinchip near Lochearnhead. Photographs of the estate can be seen on the website of the agent that currently offers it as a holiday let here.

In this letter, we learn more about the criteria that the couple require in any prospective dwelling. Initially, Malcolm says that he is planning to visit Callander to look at villas there. He is not optimistic on this score, saying that ‘I doubt their being sufficiently large to put us up as I expect they have been built for people with grander notions but fewer servants’. The issue of room for the servants that they require crops up again and again in letters sent around this time. It would appear that the Murray MacGregors had a large household, despite continually worrying about saving money, a subject that is also discussed frequently in this series of letters.

Continuing on this theme, Malcolm lays out the minimum that they require later on in the letter:

‘I have come to the conclusion that we require 10 sitting rooms and bedrooms combined, all of which must be sufficiently detached to allow of their being used separately i.e. Drawing & Dining room & 8 bedrooms or Drawing & Dining Room, Room for me & 7 bedrooms besides necessary offices [by which he means kitchen, bathrooms and toilets].’

As you can see, by modern standards, that is a very large house, and this gives us an idea of how comparatively ‘cash poor’ the couple are, it is all very much relative, and is really in comparison with the kind of backgrounds they have both had and what they were used to when growing up.

Malcolm mentions going fishing, which appears to have been a normal way of passing the time. He also finds a pet rabbit ‘a tame one belonging to Peter Marshall… it was quite white with very pink eyes – and did not seem to mind being in my arms and being stroked…’

Malcolm makes a joke about the hyacinths and his spelling and then shows concern about his wife’s health. It seems likely that she was run down after the birth of her second child:

‘I hope you will consult Mr Baker about the sensations you speak of – and if you are ordered porter [a mild, dark ale] you might ask Evan to get you some…’

Porter and stout were frequently suggested as a pick me up for people suffering from tiredness owing to iron deficiency.