Monday, 10 June 2013

'Scribbling and Writing Nonsense'

In the last few weeks I have begun to take an interest in the numerous window etchings we have in the house, and have enjoyed searching for them; they aren’t always easy to spot, you have to catch them at the right angle and in the right light- photographing them was particularly tricky!

Window etching is an early form of graffiti; diamond tipped pens were produced for the purpose and an elegant hand was required, therefore it is hardly surprising that those whose names appear in this way are often the wealthy and aristocratic.

The words are difficult to make out, so click on the images for a better look.

My favourite etching so far, it reads:

Elizabeth Phelips
always scribbling and writing

Elizabeth Phelips (1750-1841)

I am struggling to make out the words on this etching from our stewards library. There is definitely the name ‘Phelips’. Also, part of it appears to be in Latin; ‘Gaudeo equis Canibis(ing?)’ roughly translates as ‘I am happy with horses and dogs’, perhaps a hunting reference?

If anyone could shed any further light on it that would be wonderful!

Plenty more still to come!


  1. One of the window inscriptions in the Long Gallery appears to have been written from the outside, so you have to hold a mirror up in order to read it! The date is 1962 or some time around then -- presumably when there was scaffolding up for repair work. If I remember correctly it's one of the windows to the left of Room 4.

  2. There are words etched into 2 panes of glass in the window of the bathroom in the House Flat. They are '1618 Edwd Trigg June 7 Spes'.

  3. I've seen one or two of the older window scribbles at Montacute and find them fascinating. You say diamond tipped pens were produced for the purpose, yet I cannot recall seeing similar graffiti at other houses.

    Do you know where else these inscriptions occur?


  4. Thank you for the contributions, I'm hoping to get together a list of all the etchings in the house and identify the people who created them, and their connections to the house.

    I have researched window etching on the internet and there doesn't seem to be much documentation of it; a couple of famous names came up; Mozart wrote on a window pane in the attic of his lodgings in Frankfurt, Germany, and Robert Burns etched some lines of poetry in a room in a pub in Dumfries, Scotland.

    Having spoken to a few people, they are sure that they have seen them before in other places, although they can't recall where. They would also have used diamond rings for the same purpose. I think that it may be quite rare to have the amount of window etchings that we have here, but generally I think you are less likely to spot most of them unless you are looking for them.

  5. Hi Hannah, thank you for your kind message on my blog. I am an artist/historian and currently working (with the help of the BP Travel Award from the NPG) on researching Jacobean portraiture, textiles and lace....I loved visiting Montacute, studying the portraits and even seeing the samplers collection. All brilliant, hope to be back!

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