A piano from Sir Walter Scott

On my mother’s side of the family, through the Dodds line, we reach the Usher family of Toftfield, an estate near Darnick, Melrose, Roxburghshire. The Usher family were close friends and neighbours of Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford. Here’s the obituary of my 5xg-aunt, recording part of that association:

Kelso Chronicle, 12 January 1894

DEATH OF A LOCAL LADY – On Christmas Eve, at Laverock Bank Terrace, Trinity, Edinburgh, there passed away at the age of 67 [should be 87], Agnes Usher, widow of Mr John Cunningham, architect in Liverpool. She was the eldest daughter, by his second marriage, of Mr John Usher, formerly proprietor of Toftfield, Huntlyburn, Melrose. Miss Usher was born at Toftfield. When young, she was a good deal taken notice of by Sir Walter Scott. On one occasion, when Sir Walter was on a visit to her father’s house, he was much pleased with her singing, observing, however, that the pianoforte in use was no great instrument. He sent over next morning the grand pianoforte at which his daughter had learned music; and it has been in the family ever since. In consequence of the migrations of the Cunninghams, unweildy as it was, it was conveyed to the United States, and afterwards to and from South Africa. A few years ago it was made into a harpsichord and presented to her daughter on the occasion of her marriage. Mrs Cunningham was (as will be gathered from the above) a sister of Mr John Usher, late of Stodrig.

Agnes herself recalled that Sir Walter Scott had been fascinated by her and her sister Mary, who were identical twins, and he could not tell them apart as young children. Later, as a sixteen-year-old, she travelled in a stage coach with Sir Walter, travelling to Galashiels, but he did not recognise her, and she was too shy to introduce herself.

About vivdunstan

Academic historian, genealogist, former computer scientist, and Doctor Who fan.
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4 Responses to A piano from Sir Walter Scott

  1. Pingback: Sitting on Sir Walter Scott’s knee | Viv's Ancestry Blog

  2. Kirsty says:

    Hi Viv, I had just been searching for information on the lost piano from Scott’s time living at Abbotsford and I came across your blog post! Fascinating stuff. Do get in touch if you’d like to share any photographs or further information with us.

  3. Robin says:

    As a teenager, one of my schoolfriends had the most amazingly carved piano that no one was allowed to touch as it had ‘once belonged to Walter Scott’; could this be the missing piano?

    • vivdunstan says:

      I’ve no idea! Maybe! I’ve no idea what happened after the story above, even if it stayed in the family. It could have passed onto other owners. It would be wonderful if it survived, and wasn’t lost over time. Where was your schoolfriend living? The Cunningham family ended up in the Edinburgh area, but had Liverpool connections as well. Of course that was a long time ago, and descendants could easily have lived elsewhere. Or a totally different family might have owned it by then. You should email your story to Kirsty above at Abbotsford House. Email Kirsty@scottsabbotsford.co.uk She has been trying to find out what happened to the lost Scott family piano and would be fascinated to hear this. Thanks!

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