Spotting Scottish Monograms

We know monograms are all around us in London because we see them all the time... from centuries-old aristocratic monograms on gates and buildings to modern monogram logos used by companies and brands... not to mention all the monogramming on accessories and linens in shops and home.

So imagine our delight when we set off on holiday in Scotland and stumbled across gorgeous monograms with fascinating stories behind them everywhere we visited.  It was fascinating to see how monograms have been used for centuries to mark pride of ownership...
- by medieval artists and artisans who signed their work with their initials
- by principals and statesmen who wanted to leave their mark on churches and universities in the 16th and 17th centuries
- by builders of castles and stately homes in the Victorian era
- and by modern businesses and institutions in their logos

    Each monogram has a story that is distilled down to just a few initials.  You can easily overlook them but once you see the monogram, you can't help but wonder what led to it's being there.  

    Here are some of the more interesting monograms, and their stories, that we loved stumbling across in Scotland. Please let us know if you have found any others yourself!  

    The PH Monogram or Martyr's Monogram at St Andrews University

    The PH Monogram at the centre of St Andrews University dates back nearly 500 years.  Ask any student and they'll know to not step on the “PH” set in stone outside the busy entrance to St. Salvator’s Quadrangle. A misstep could result in failing exams or, if a final year student, the loss of your entire degree. 

    What would bring such bad luck to hardworking university students for centuries? Patrick Hamilton was an influential Scottish abbot and lecturer at St Andrews who brought the reformist teachings of Martin Luther to Scotland. Because these teachings were heretical in Catholic Scotland at the time, he was sentenced to death by the archbishop in 1528.

    Hamilton was burnt at the stake outside St Salvator’s chapel and the University quadrangle.  The university, rather than encouraging free speech, supported the Church's decision. As he slowly burned, Patrick Hamilton is said to have unleashed a curse on the future students of St Andrews who set foot in the place where he died. His initials were set in stone in honour of his martyrdom at the very spot and are now known as the Martyr's Monogram.

    Behold the power of a monogram... 

     PH Monogram, martyr's monogram at St Andrews University
     St Salvator Chapel at St Andrews University


    St Mary's College, St Andrews University

    St Andrews, which was founded in 1413, is the third oldest university in the United Kingdom, behind Cambridge and Oxford.  St Mary's College is the oldest college building still standing and dates back to 1539. It was extensively remodelled in the 1620s under Principal Robert Howe, whose initials DRH (Dominus
    Robertus Howe) appear on its wall, as well as the gate to the College. 

    We love the way monograms were, and continued to be used, on important building to commemorate the person who commissioned it.  It's a monogram leaving a mark in a big way. 

    Entrance to St Mary's College with the monogram of Principal Robert Howe


    Monogram of Principal Robert Howe on St Mary's College St Andrews University

    St Mary's College, Founders Tower, St Andrews University


    Font Style Inspiration

    While not actually monograms, we couldn't help but notice how many of our favourite letter font styles we spotted as we toured the Fife Coast. We know that font styles have character and personality which gives a monogram that extra special touch. And it's true for signage too.  Check out the Algerian font used on this cute little boat in Anstruther harbour...  

    Algerian font style on boat in Anstruther harbour

    And our letter font called Curly used for the ice cream shop by the harbour...

    Ice cream parlour sign in a font style called Curly

    But we digress... back to the monograms.


    Monograms in the Highlands

     As you travel up to the Highlands, you see far fewer people and the homes are farther and farther apart, with villages separated by miles of hills and heather. The communities near Balmoral, however, are the exception, as for hundreds of years people have flocked to the summer home of the British Royal family and prosperity followed. 

    Balmoral Castle has some great examples of beautiful royal monograms, starting with the entry gates built by George V when he renovated the castle at the turn of the 20th century.  The gates feature the monograms of George V and his wife Queen Mary.

    Entry gates to Balmoral Castle with the monograms of King George V and his wife Queen Mary


    Inside the castle itself, you can see the monograms of successive Kings and Queens on the ceiling of the ballroom.   

    ceiling of Balmoral Castle ballroom with monograms on the ceiling

    Another castle about two hours north of Balmoral was the home of Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American steel magnate who was one of the richest men in the world in the early 1900s.  He bought a small home on a large estate north of Inverness and transformed it into a modern steel-reinforced castle. 

    We love that Carnegie infused the building with both his own and his wife's monogram. They can be seen in the stained glass windows in the grand staircase...

    stained glass windows at Skibo Castle with the monograms of Andrew Carnegie and his wife


    You can also see them all over the exterior of the building...

    Skibo Castle with the monogram of Andrew Carnegie

    Skibo castle with the monogram of Andrew Carnegie


    So naturally monogrammed accessories and linens are right at home here...

    Monogrammed wax canvas Pimlico Wash Bag from Initially London


     V&A Museum in Dundee

    Given how extensively Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were the original purchasers of Balmoral Castle, have impacted the Highlands communities around Balmoral, we can't help but think how happy they would have been to know thet the Victoria & Albert Museum chose Dundee, a port city 45 minutes from the castle, as the site for a new branch of the V&A Museum.  

    V&A Museum in Dundee 

    We stopped in the museum to admire the architecture of this remarkable building, as well as to see an exhibit on the story of tartan fabrics.  Which was fantastic.

     Tartan exhibit at the V&A Museum in Dundee


    So you can see how monograms have been used all over the UK and for hundreds of years as a way to show pride of ownership and design.  We are delighted to carry on the tradition of monogramming in a very modern and creative way.


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