Scotland’s Silver Glen

The Silver Glen lies approximately 1 km to the east of the town of Alva, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, and takes its name from the silver that was mined there in the early 18th century. The story of the silver mine is a remarkable one. The deposit, the richest deposit of native silver ever found in the British Isles, was discovered just as the Jacobite rising of 1715 was breaking out.

It was Sir John Erskine of Alva (1672-1739) who owned the mines and lived with his wife Lady Catherine in the House Of Alva.

Sir John joined his rebellious cousin the sixth Earl of Mar. It was ‘Mar’ who went on to head the Jacobite rising of 1715 against the Crown. By November, Mar had raised a 10,000-strong army, outnumbering his opponent’s forces, and a battle commenced at Sheriffmuir, just to the north-east of Dunblane in Perthshire, against troops of the Duke of Argyll. Following a decisive retreat, the Jacobites were routed, and ‘Mar’ and Sir John Erskine of Alva fled to France to evade imprisonment. ‘Mar’ appears to have been deformed and was called the “crooked backed count”. According to a contemporary he had an insinuating and courteous deportment and his conduct in regard to affairs showed him to be a man of good sense, but bad morals always making his politics subservient to his personal interests.During Sir John Erskine of Alva’s absence, his second wife, Lady Catherine, was left to handle his affairs, including the silver mine that Erskine had operated in secret since 1714. It was recorded that: “John Erskine’s Lady then employed four men that diff’d the ore out of the mine for about three months in which time they dug out of the mine… about forty tons of ore to which was brought to Sir John Erskine’s house and there packed in pipes, hogs head and other casks which they buried in the bank to the north west end of the house” 

It is likely that some of the silver had earlier been smuggled to France to build up funds for arms and wages to pay Mar’s rebels for the November 1715 uprising.

On the advice of Lady Catherine’s brother-in-law, John Haldane, a plan was hatched for Erskine to inform the palace of the mine’s existence and it was argued that as he had the best knowledge of the mine he be allowed to return and resume mining with ten per cent of the revenue going to the Crown. This secured a pardon and George I granted permission for Sir John to return to Scotland to excavate the silver at the mine with all possible encouragement given to explore the venture. As head of the London Mint, the potential of a new supply of silver came to the attention of Sir Isaac Newton.

As for locating the 40 tons of silver said to have been already excavated, a site on the northwest side of the house was identified where it was found that six inches of soil lay on top of the barrels of ore. As they began to exhume the barrels, it was found that the soil was loose and had previously been disturbed, and only a few pieces of ore were found. Sir John indicated another area in the garden where some of the ore was still buried and six small casks were quickly uncovered, but the contents consisted of little more than worthless rock from the mine. Sir

John Erskine of Alva died in 1739 after a fall from his horse. His notorious cousin ‘Mar’ had died in Exile five years before.

A Garden Footnote:

The Erskine cousins, ‘Alva’ and ‘Mar’, were both keen gardeners.

Sir John Erskine of Alva employed John Harley as his Head gardener and a fine tombstone to Harley and his wife Mary Verity survives in the oldest part of Alva Churchyard:

On the Alva estate this tree once grew:

Alva’s cousin ‘Mar’ was a man of wide interests and abilities. He involved himself in designing buildings and in the aesthetics and planning of landscapes. In 1702 he drew up this extraordinary, and rather wonderful plan for Alloa [sadly, it was only ever partly realized]:

It is said that during his exile ‘Mar’proposed plans for the improvement of Scottish architecture and for a redesign of Edinburgh and its gardens.

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