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A Floors Family Story

20th April 2023

Earlier this month, we were delighted to welcome Ian and Shelley Tilston to Floors Castle. Though we are not yet open to the public, Shelley brought with her a great story (as well as an excellent dog), to share with us.

Shelley’s Grandfather, Fred Bray, began working as a chauffeur for the 8th Duke of Roxburghe, the current Duke’s Great Grandfather, in the Summer of 1914, aged just twenty years old. Pictured below are the notifications from Rolls Royce that Fred was proficient in operating the vehicle, and had been awarded a rather grandly named ‘medallion of efficiency’.

The image below shows Fred in the Rolls Royce, in the courtyard at Floors Castle which remains remarkably unchanged over one hundred years later.

A lovely aspect of this story is that Fred, through his employment, met the love of his life and the girl he was to marry. In the image of the Maids below (centre), taken around 1916, is the lady in question, Elsie Hemmings, who was employed as a Kitchen Maid. The kitchen, like the courtyard above, is still very much in use today and has changed very little. It was not all that unusual for those engaged in domestic service to meet in this way, as opportunities for socialising and meeting new people were limited for those in such occupations. The motor car, at least for the majority, was a relatively new addition to the world of the big house, and a Chauffeur was a distinctly exotic and exciting addition to the household staff.

The 8th Duke was wounded in the early stages of the Great War, and invalided home. It was Fred that collected him from hospital in London and brought him home to Floors Castle. Fred was to join the war effort himself in 1916, and the Duke had some simple yet effective advice for his young Chauffeur, ‘whatever you do, do not join the infantry’. This was sage advice indeed, and with the Duke’s recommendation, stating in his reference that Fred was, ‘a capable driver and mechanic, and was sober and reliable’, he managed to obtain a position as a driver in the army. Due to his expertise, Fred’s war ended well, and he was able to return home and marry Elsie, before being demobilised in 1920. Together, Fred and Elsie had three children, the youngest of whom, Norman, is Shelley’s dad.

It is always great to meet people that have a special attachment to Floors Castle, and huge thanks to Shelley and Ian for taking the time to share their story with us.