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Tiny antique soldiers hidden beneath the floorboards in Stirling's Royal Palace

2 October 2009

Toy solders discovered under the floor of the royal palace at Stirling Castle

A squad of five hand-carved soldiers and fragments of two tiny wooden horses have been discovered during the major refurbishment work in the royal palace at Stirling Castle, due to re-open in 2011.

Just 4.5cm high, the soldiers are dressed in red jackets and busbies, similar to those worn by some units of the British Army in the 19th century.  A plasterer discovered them concealed beneath the floor on the first floor of the palace in an area which was used by the army for several centuries.  Initial examination suggests that they could date from around 1830 to 1850, possibly later, and may have been children’s toys, or used by adults for gaming.

Richard Welander, head of the Historic Scotland collections unit, said: “These unusual little hand-made figures are full of charm and appear to take us back to the era when Stirling Castle was an important military base.”

“Even though the carving is quite crude, the painting appears to be a good representation of the uniforms worn by Guards regiments of the mid-19th century.  It was a real surprise to come across them, as they were concealed beneath floorboards which were being removed as part of our £12 million project to refurbish the castle’s royal palace.”

“While it’s difficult to say how they got there, they may have been deliberately hidden from view by their owner or maker – someone who, for reasons we will probably never know, was unable to come back and collect them. It is yet another fascinating discovery as we take the palace to a spectacular re-opening in April 2011, as part of the overall Stirling Castle experience.”

A small spherical bottle stopper, shaped like a marble, and a pair of scissors were found close to the figurines. There is a long tradition of model soldiers being used as toys or for gaming, but they are relatively unusual discoveries in an archaeological context.

Pictures are available showing Richard Welander with the soldiers and also of a costumed performer in 19th-century army uniform holding the figurines.

Notes for editors:

  • The soldiers are now undergoing conservation by Historic Scotland in order to stabilise the materials, especially the paint, in order to inhibit deterioration.

  • It is hoped that further research will tell us more about the soldiers and their possible origins.

  • The area in which they were found was on the first floor of the palace, which had been in use by the military from the 18th century.

  • The work being carried out in the palace will return the royal apartments on the ground floor to how they may have appeared in the 16th century. The work on the first floor, where the soldiers were found, will create a new gallery for the display of the Stirling Heads and exhibitions on the Renaissance.

  • Historic Scotland has 345 historic properties and sites in its care. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae. For further details visit:  

  • Historic Scotland’s Mission is to safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and to promote its understanding and enjoyment.

  • Historic Scotland is delighted to be supporting the 2009 Year of Homecoming with a series of initiatives including family trails, spectacular events and the creation of a Homecoming Pass for heritage attractions in association with other heritage organisations.

For further information

Rebecca Hamilton
Marketing and Media Manager
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8685 / 07788 923871