Contributed by guest blogger Liz Miles:
My family has owned Pool House in the little Highland village of Poolewe for years. We ran it as an upmarket hotel, but it has such interesting stories that we wanted more people to enjoy it, so now we offer tours to show off its Victorian heritage and we serve afternoon teas.
Pool House is full of antiques and of course I have my favourites, one of which is the stair bannister; I know that sounds strange but it is a peculiar feature with a fascinating story. Peculiar because it was carved by a young Victorian lady, who took four years to (almost) complete it. Minna Amy Mackenzie had run away from her husband, Osgood Hanbury Mackenzie, and her young daughter, Mary Thyra as well as from their their magnificent baronial house across the bay in Poolewe Garden, which Osgood had created.
Minna stated that “her husband has treated her with much neglect and unkindness and that the differences between them had principally arisen from pecuniary matters relating to the manner in which her funds were settled on her by her marriage-contract”.
She took sanctuary in Pool House, which at the time was leased by her very wealthy father Sir Thomas Edwards-Moss. Minna claimed that her husband cared more for his mother than he did for her and that even the servants disliked her. Osgood tried to divorce her, claiming “abandonment”, but Minna fought him tooth and nail because, as a divorced woman, she would have been socially ruined. The battle even went to the House of Lords, who decided that the couple should remain married; this was a scandal in Victorian Britain!
I am not sure why Minna remained at Pool House nor why she carved the banister in the first place.
I see her as a rather tragic figure, sad and lonely and I wonder if she worked on the bannister to pass the time, carving a Lancastrian rose to remind her of her family home at Roby Hall in England, or perhaps to annoy her husband, who was a Highlander. Minna passed away on 19 August 1909 and was burried at Aigburth St Anne, Metropolitan Borough of Liverpool, Merseyside, England.
It was only a couple of years ago that I realised that she had actually left the carving unfinished. Did she have to leave the house? Was she reluctant to complete it, knowing that she had no other task? And, in any case, how did she learn this skill? Most Victorian young ladies learned how to sew or play an instrument but wood carving......?
When I or my sister, Mhairi, take visitors on the tour we make a point of showing them the carving. I hope one day I shall be able to point it out to you.
P.S. You can visit Poolewe Garden, just a mile away – magnificent!