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Glenbuchat Heritage

5 Alexander Walker and The Great Exhibition
The Glenbuchat Image Library
5 Alexander Walker and The Great Exhibition

Click for Alexander Walker Introduction

The Great Exhibition sometimes referred to as the Crystal Palace Exhibition in reference to the temporary structure in which it was held, was an international exhibition that took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 11 October 1851. It was intended to show off all of Britain’s Commerce and Industry and was organised by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, husband of the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria.

Alexander was an inventor and with his interest in surveying and making measuring instruments, he developed surveying equipment. There appears to have been a nationwide call for exhibits for the exhibition and Alexander had obviously entered his instruments to be considered at local competition to be chosen to represent the work of the area. Alexander has two entries, an instrument for Levelling and Surveying and a Roller for Walks (? Walk ways) and a self-calculating instrument for Levelling, Surveying, taking Heights and Distances etc. The newspaper article above outlines the types of ‘Article of Industry’ forwarded from Aberdeenshire and Banffshire.

Alexander went off to the Great Exhibition in 1851 no doubt making use of the train to London, which had reached Aberdeen by 1850. While in London Alexander came to the attention of his future employer and patron, Sir Charles Forbes of Newe, possibly because he was playing his fiddle at some of the Scottish events held during the exhibition. Sir Charles thereafter employed him as a gardener and musician at Castle Newe. Sir Charles at the time also had a house in London at No 3 in Fitzroy square.

J. Murray Neil who wrote The Scots Fiddle: Tunes, Tales & Traditions of the North East and Central Highlands also tells us more about Alexander Walker:
“Very little is known of his musical progress until 1850 when he was sought out after conducting the band at the Lonach Gathering ball by Sir Charles Forbes of Castle Newe and Edinglassie, who was impressed by his musicianship. Sir Charles was to play a considerable part in gaining recognition of Alexander's musical talents and through his influence he was provided with the opportunity to conduct the band for Scottish reels at a prestigious ball which was held at the Guild Hall in London in 1851 at the time of the Great Exhibition. The ball was attended by the Royal Family and over one thousand five hundred guests.
Alexander was subsequently employed as a gardener at Newe by Sir Charles and he often accompanied his employer to Balmoral Castle where he was a member of the orchestra. It was during this period that he was encouraged by Sir Charles to publish his compositions which he eventually did in 1866 under the title of A Collection of Scottish Strathspeys, Reels, Marches etc. and which were dedicated to his patron. His compositions reflect local place names, with titles such as The Braes of Letterfourie, Lonach Hall and Ben Newe.”


Alexander met Sir Charles Forbes in London when he went down for the Great Exhibition in 1851. The article above refers to the fact that Alexander played at a number of balls. There were a number of balls and events in London that year which Queen Victoria attended, one at Buckingham palace and one at the Guildhall. (Newspaper report above) There was also a Scottish ‘Fete’ (like a Highland Gathering) in Holland Park in Islington. (Bewspaper report above) At the Fete and at the Balls there was Scottish dancing and pipe music but no mention of Alexander Walker by name. There was however a familiar name at the Scottish Fete namely Duncan McKercher (see tune ‘Mr. Duncan McKerracher’)

The one Ball at which Alexander most likely played at, however, was probably the Highland Military, Naval, fancy and full-dress ball held at the Guildhall in aid of Caledonian Asylum and Scottish Hospital. Capt. Charles Forbes (Later Sir Charles) was a Patron of both societies and was also was present and it is likely he was involved in the organisation and therefore enlisted Alexander Walker for the music. Queen Victoria was not present but The Duke of Wellington, the victor of the battle of Waterloo, was.

A contemporary report states:

“On Wednesday, the 23rd July 1851, a Highland military, naval, fancy and full-dress ball was held in the Guildhall in aid of the funds of the Caledonian Asylum and Scottish Hospital. It was well attended, and there was a goodly muster of costumes, Scottish and otherwise. His Grace The Duke of Wellington honoured the company with his presence, and remained for some time. During his stay, the children of the Caledonian" Asylum, clad in tartan, and headed by their juvenile pipers, appeared in the hall, and defiled before the Duke, who seemed much pleased with this new style of review. Two of the girls, as they passed, presented their nosegays to his Grace. The children then assembled at the entrance, and during an interval in the dancing sang very sweetly the popular Scottish ballad of “Auld Lang Syne." The festivities of the evening were kept up with proud spirit, a large number of the patrons of the two societies bring present. Among the company we observed Cluny McPherson, of Cluny; Lord James Stewart, S'n J. H. Maxwell, Sir Jadíes M'Kcnaie, o'
Scaw c11 ; Captain Chas. Forbes, Mr Moffatt, M.P.; Mr Christopher, M.P. ; .Mr James Duke, .ALP ; the Hon. Captain -Scarlett, Mr Charles M'Kenzie, Mr Eneas Macdonald, and others. Angus McKay, the Queen's piper, was in attendance, and helped the Highlanders by his music to dance the reel of Gorum. The whole suite of rooms in the Guildhall was open, and displayed the same decorations as on the occasion of her Majesty's recent visit to the city.”


The Caledonian Asylum was launched by members of the Highland Society of London in 1815 to provide a home and education for Scottish children in London who had been orphaned in the Napoleonic Wars. John Galt, the novelist, became secretary to the Asylum in 1815. The first Asylum was at 16 Cross Street, Hatton Garden, London from December 1819 until 1828 when it relocated to Copenhagen Fields, Islington. Its long residence in Islington resulted in the naming of Caledonian Market and the Caledonian Road. In 1852 Queen Victoria became Patron and the Asylum was renamed the Royal Caledonian Schools, although legally it was and still is the "Caledonian Asylum". At that time it catered for about 70 boys and 50 girls. The Asylum's band occasionally played at charitable and other events
The society was governed by the King as Patron, HRH the Duke of Sussex President, the Dukes of Gordon, Athol, Montrose and Wellington Viscount Melville Lord Lynedoch, Sir Charles Forbes Bart and Lord Saltoun Vice Presidents Viscount Glenorchy, Lords Strathaven and Stuart Alexander Grant Esq and twenty two other distinguished and active gentlemen.

6. Alexander Walker’s move to Newe Castle





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