Elspeth Campbell

A Northern Times article in 2011 listed the names of some of the local women who were involved in what must have been the trip of a lifetime to London.

Mrs Robert Bell, from Rhilochan, Rogart, a grand-daughter of Mrs Donald Sutherland, was, as a young girl, invited by the Duchess Millicent to go to London for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897

Elspeth washing fleeces 1955


She was part of a team from Sutherland who worked for Duchess Millicent at Sutherland Home Industries and who were invited to go to the Duchess’ London home, Stafford House, for the jubilee celebrations and to give a demonstration of spinning and weaving at the Earls Court Exhibition.

Other Highland girls from the area making up that party were the late Miss Christina Ross from Craggiemore, Rogart, and the late Mrs Donald Ross, Lairg, formerly Miss Maggie Mackay of Muie, Rogart. They were accompanied by girls from Harris and Shetland.

Mrs Robert Bell from Rhilochan

We will take a closer look Mrs Robert Bell, from Rhilochan, who demonstrated her skills at the Earls Court Exhibition. The former Elspeth Campbell was born in 1876, to Crofter John Campbell and wife Catherine Sutherland.

In the 1881 census we can find 3 generations in the same house at Banscol:

  • James Campbell, Lotter, born Golspie, abt 1800 (Widowed) – Elspeth’s paternal grandfather, who had been evicted from Aberscross in 1819.
  • John Campbell, Farm Labourer, born Rogart, abt 1851 – Elspeth’s father
  • Catherine Campbell (nee Sutherland, born Rogart, abt 1851 – Elspeth’s mother
  • Elspet Campbell, born Rogart, abt 1876
  • Donald Campbell, born Rogart, abt 1877 – Elspeth’s brother; and
  • Margaret Campbell, born Rogart, abt 1878 – Elspeth’s sister

Ten years later, in the 1891 census Elspeth was employed as a Domestic Servant in the home of shepherd Hugh McKay at Polly in Clyne. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to locate her in the 1901 census, which would have preceded her marriage.

Sutherland Home Industries


Sutherland Home Industries shop, Golspie


The late 19th Century saw a revival of cottage crafts that accompanied the growing interest in an arts and crafts movement in Britain and Ireland.  A number of regional craft associations, organised, sponsored and promoted by British women grew up across the British Isles although there were differences between the large English-based Home Arts and Industries Association and other home arts organisations in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

The Sutherland Home Industries (subsequently Highland Home Industries) was reconstituted in 1886 by the Marchioness of Stafford, later Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland (1867-1955), who was the chief patron and she endorsed a relationship between work and morality, also recognised the significance of consumption and market.

The patrons of such industries also understood the value of spectacle, the usefulness of advertising and the efficacy of exhibition.  How and why they adopted these strategies to promote and sell cottage crafts for the benefit of rural workers is detailed in a number of books such as Janice Helland’s (see below).

The old, wooden, Home Industries shop was in Golspie, and it looks very similar today. If you look closely you can see a woman at work on her spinning wheel.

We don’t know how or when Elspeth came to be involved in working for the Duchess’s rural enterprise but she must have been a skilled craftswoman to be selected as a model spinster for the Earls Court Exhibition. She would have been around 21 in the year of the Jubilee

Marriage and children

Nine years after Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, in 1906, Elspeth Campbell married Robert Bell in Dingwall. Both of them were relatively mature for a first marriage – Robert was 35 (a Crofter) who gave his address as Rhilochan, Rogart; Elspeth was 31, occupation Housekeeper, gave her address as Garvault, Rogart.  Elspeth’s sister Maggie witnessed the marriage.

One may wonder why they married in Dingwall, when both were residents of Rogart? And when did Elspeth give up working at the Home Industries? Could she have been both a Housekeeper and worked from her home producing high quality goods?

Mr & Mrs Robert Bell of Rilochan at their golden wedding

Fifty years later the couple celebrated their own Golden Wedding, when this picture was taken.

Robert Bell died a couple of years later, in 1958 aged 86 and his beloved wife Elspeth died in 1960, aged 84. Both are interred in St Callans new graveyard.

Elspeth and Robert were the grandparents of Bertie Boa, Sciberscross through their daughter, Helen Bell (1907-1987).






Thanks to Cath Boa, Sciberscross and Elspeth MacPherson for donating pictures.

References: Janice Helland (2007) British and Irish Home Arts and Industries, 1880-1914: Marketing Craft, making Fashion