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Young & Trotter; Young, Trotter & Hamilton; Young, Trotter, Hamilton & Trotter; Young & Trotters (1747-1805)

Young & Trotter; Young, Trotter & Hamilton; Young, Trotter, Hamilton & Trotter; Young & Trotters

Edinburgh, Scotland; upholsterers, cabinet makers, undertakers and carpet manufacturers (fl.1747-1805)

Thomas Trotter and Robert Young were first recorded in 1747 providing upholstery for William Hall of Dunglass [GD206/3/2/5/27].  There is a billhead from this time which they used on their earliest accounts, for instance to the Countess of Cassillis dated 1747 [Scottish Record Office, GD25/9/18/23]. This depicts a pelican feeding its young surrounded by a border of acanthus leaves, and their warehouse is declared as being ‘at the Pelican within the Head of the Luckenbooths opposite to the Tolbooth’.

Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
Sebastian Pryke

Advertisement for Young & Trotter Upholsterers, Edinburgh Evening Courant, 9 March 1765.

This was at the heart of the High Street of Edinburgh and was to remain as their warehouse for the next thirty-six years, after which it was taken over by Francis Braidwood, another cabinet maker. In the following year, 1748, they first advertised in the Edinburgh newspapers offering a large assortment of upholstery goods [Caledonian Mercury, 29 February 1748]. These adverts often carried the pelican engraving as an eye catcher. Little is known of the training of either member of the partnership, and little of their family background, other than that Trotter’s father was a merchant; research is further complicated by other members of the Trotter clan with similar names and professions. Thus Thomas Trotter the upholsterer, whose son William ultimately succeeded him, had a cousin Thomas who was a merchant, who also had a son William with whom he worked. To confuse matters even further the cousins often seemed to have worked for the same patrons, and frequently undertook funerals together; for instance, at the funeral of the Earl of Breadalbane in 1782 Young and Trotter’s account included £3 4/ 8d for ‘Seed & plumb Cake, Bisket & short bread’ provided by William Trotter & Co [SRO, GD112/15/444/78&81]. A portrait of a Thomas Trotter is known (Scottish National Portrait Gallery) and is inscribed both ‘Merchant & Burgess’ of Edinburgh and, in a much later hand, ‘a maker of fine furniture’; it could be either man (Thomas the upholsterer being a member of the Merchant Company like his cousin).

One of the most curious aspects of the careers of Robert Young and Thomas Trotter is that neither man appears to have been a member of the Incorporation of Wrights. They must have come to an agreement with the Incorporation in order to practice their trade and take on apprentices, but it is extraordinary that such a successful firm never appears in its minutes or accounts. This lack of political involvement certainly never harmed their ability to win municipal commissions as the furniture for Register House, the Assembly Rooms and the Holyroodhouse bears testament.

In 1750 Young and Trotter had hung ‘2 Rooms wt black Cloth’ at Hopetoun House for the funeral of the Dowager Countess of Hopetoun [National Register of Archives (S) 888/147/401] which was carried out by Alexander Peter. Spotting an opportunity, two years later they entered into a partnership with the upholsterer James Caddell with the intention of carrying on ‘the BUSINESS of UNDERTAKING for FUNERALS... as practised at London’ [Edinburgh Evening Courant, 8 June 1752]. A Directory of Edinburgh in 1752, ed. Gilhooley (1988) records Young & Trotter, upholsterers, at Byre's Close and 'The Pelican', Luckenbooths and also the partnership of Young, Trotter & Caddel, upholsterers and funeral directors of Luckenbooths.  This latter partnership only lasted two years, but Young & Trotter continued to offer undertaking as one of their services (as did Caddell), carrying out lavish funerals for, among others, the Earl of Cassillis in 1775 at a cost of £234. This was supervised by Robert Young whose time was charged at a guinea a day [SRO, GD25/9/9].  Another funeral was for the Earl of Breadalbane in 1782 at a cost of £207.

In 1763 Young & Trotter once again went into partnership with a third party, this time a William Cheap, with the purpose of making carpets ‘of that kind called Scotch Carpets and also the Axminster kind made on the same principle with Turkey Carpets’. They established a ‘Manufactory… where they have Erected Seven Looms for Scotch Carpets and Three Looms for the Axminster kind’, as well as leasing a dyeing house; and ‘as the Petitioners [are] not less aware of the importance of Taste and propriety of design than of Beauty of Colours… [they] Resolve to… call in Pattern Drawers &c’. They also took on at least four apprentices. All this entailed an apparent investment of £1400 and they petitioned the Trustees for Promoting Fisherys [sic] & Manufactures in Scotland for further financial assistance (the outcome is unknown). However, they subsequently advertised wares ‘on the same principle as the Persian carpets’ and of the ‘kind usually called Scotch carpets’ [Edinburgh Evening Courant, 27 February 1764].  The enterprise was clearly a considerable success and in 1769 Young, Trotter and Cheap’s Carpet Manufactory ‘wanted Six Girls, from ten to fourteen years of age, to be taught to work Axminster or fine Persia carpets’ [Caledonian Mercury, 19 April 1769].

Young & Trotter are first known to have provided furniture, as opposed to upholstery, in 1754, supplying ‘10 Fine Mohogony Chairs wt fluted Backs’ to Captain Dalrymple of Stair [SRO, GD 135/2238/83] but it was not until 1773 that they actually called themselves Upholsterers and Cabinet Makers [Edinburgh Advertiser, 2 March 1773]. This development had been preceded by the opening of their new wareroom on the south side of Princes Street in September 1772 which was run by Robert Young.


The Young, Trotter and Hamilton warehouse on Princes Street, c. 1795. From a contemporary print.

They were the first cabinet makers to have a shop in the New Town and had been building workshops on this site, sloping steeply away from Princes Street, since 1770. With the opening of their ‘Cabinet Warehouse’ they had everything ‘PRESENTLY IN TASTE’ the occupants of the New Town could possibly want and all virtually under one roof. Their stock included furniture for Libraries, Halls, Dining Rooms, Drawing Rooms, Bed Chambers and Dressing Rooms, and they also had a ‘compleat assortment of Upholstery Goods, at their ware house in the Luckenbooths, as Carpets, Blankets, printed Papers, and all different kinds of Silk, Worsted, and washing stuffs in use for furniture’ [Edinburgh Evening Courant, 20 February 1773].  The upholstery warehouse, which was Thomas Trotter’s prime concern, remained at the High Street. A letter of 1781 has a note saying that Trotter was available either at his ‘shop in the Luckenbooths’ from ten till eight, or after that ‘at his house in Gosford’s Close’. Trotter’s seal survives on this letter; it is a full profile of a standing horse with opposing legs raised and a pronounced tail and the motto is festina lente [NRA(S) 888/75/4].  Nevertheless, both partners wrote and signed letters relating to all aspects of their business.

Young, Trotter & Hamilton

Young and Trotter further expanded in 1790 when their competitor William Hamilton retired (announced in the Edinburgh Evening Courant on 11 March) and they went into full partnership with his son James, the latter selling that stock of his which was surplus to requirements and disposing of his warehouse [Edinburgh Evening Courant, 19 March 1791]. The new company of Young, Trotter & Hamilton commenced on 26 April 1790 and must have been the largest establishment of its type in Edinburgh. In 1796 a measure of their standing was indicated by a fascinating letter from Robert Young to Secretary of State and Edinburgh MP Henry Melville (later Viscount Melville), in which he asked Melville to withdraw ‘the application of our Company to be appointed Upholsterers to his Majesty’ as ‘My name having stood rather prominent in the Chamber of Commerce’s Address to the King… I should be sorry to put it in any persons power to connect the discharge of such a duty with any Reward either Honorary or Emolumental’ [SRO, GD51/6/1137]. Either way, the following year they berated their competitors with the claim that their large warehouses were ‘stocked with a most EXTENSIVE and ELEGANT Assortment of CABINET and CHAIR WORK of all kinds’, and that ‘THEIR STOCK of CHINTZES, CALICOES, BORDERS and DIMITTIES for Furnitures, SELECTED from the First Manufacturing Houses in the Kingdom, will be found AT LEAST EQUAL to any in this Country, and will be afforded on AS LOW TERMS as by any PERSON WHATEVER; as also their BLANKETS, COUNTERPANES, and other articles of Furniture. The EXTENSIVE STOCK they employ in the Trade enables them to prevent being either outdone in VARIETY or PRICE’ [Edinburgh Evening Courant, 2 December 1797].


In 1797 a further partner was added in the person of Thomas Trotter’s son William, the firm now becoming Young, Trotter, Hamilton & Trotter [Edinburgh Evening Courant, 15 April 1797].


In September 1801 James Hamilton died and subsequent accounts were made out in the name of ‘Young & Trotters’ for the ensuing four years until on the 11 May 1805 it was announced in the Caledonian Mercury the William Trotter had ‘succeeded to the Old Establishment’ of Young & Trotters, of which he ‘had been for nine years the Junior Partner’. A letter of 19 March 1805 requested payment of an account on behalf of William Trotter and Robert Young ‘due to the late Company of Young & Trotters which was dissolved at the term of Martinmass last’. This suggests that Thomas Trotter may have died, thus prompting Young’s final retirement in favour of his partner’s son [NRA(S)2940/219].

The success of these partnerships is beyond dispute. They existed in one form or another for over fifty years, a remarkable length of time and testimony not only to its success but also to the partners’ health. As early as 1768 in a letter to Lady Lauderdale they were able to state that ‘we have a Sum standing in our Books shamefully great for a Tradesman in this Country’ going on to express the traditional cabinet maker’s and upholsterer’s lament that ‘We have very large sums to pay & are very much strained to collect sufficient for our indispensible calls’ [NRA(S)832/59/50].

Accounts from the firm survive for over fifty patrons including the marquesses of Graham and Tweeddale; the earls of Cassillis, Dumfries, Hopetoun, Lauderdale, Traquair and Panmure; the Lords Arniston, Hailes and Milton; the baronets James Clerk, William Forbes, John Hall and Alexander Kinloch; and the lairds of Ardwall, Balbirnie, Boqhan, Cairnfield, Drummelzior, Freswick, Kemnay, Kilbagie, Langton, Largo, Menziesfield, Moncraig, Newliston, Prestonhall, Saughton and Stair, as well as accounts for the Assembly Rooms, Holyroodhouse, and Register House. 

One of their earliest significant recorded commissions was for upholstery and decorations for the Earl of Dumfries between 1750 and 1753; this came to over £100 and presumably related to the Earl’s Edinburgh property. They were subsequently paid over £725 for upholstery work at Dumfries House, Ayrshire, [NRA(S)631/A720, 653, 656 & 666].  Significant accounts survive for the Earl of Hopetoun between 1762 and 1789, amounting in total to about £1500 [NRA(S)888/147]; for Thomas Hog of Newliston, West Lothian, for over £300 between 1765 and 1793, which may include the bed now at the Georgian House in Edinburgh [NRA(S)1141/27&28]; for Sir James Clerk for his new house at Penicuik, Midlothian, for over £800 between 1768 and 1770 [SRO, GD18/1730 & 1758a]; for Lord Glenorchy between 1765 and 1777 ‘for work done at Taymouth’ and his apartments at Holyroodhouse, coming to over £150 [SRO, GD112/21]; for Lord Adam Gordon, for refurbishing his apartments at Holyrood, almost £200 between 1776 and 1790 [SRO, E342/10]; for Charles Watson of Saughton between 1779 and 1792, for about £350 [SRO, GD150/3309,3314,3330]; for James Stein of Kilbegie in 1787 for over £256 including drawing and dining room furniture and upholstery [SRO, CS230/SEQNS/S/19]; for Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo for his new house in George Street, Edinburgh, including 10 guineas for a sideboard (sold Sothebys, London, 28 March 2017, lot 308); for Lord Mountstuart in 1788 for dining and drawing room furniture for Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute, over £212 including carriage and sending a cabinet maker and upholsterer to the island [NRA(S)631]; for Robert Dundas of Arniston, over £180 between 1788 and 1800 [NRA(S)3246/Vol74]; for the Earl of Cassillis for furniture and upholstery at Culzean, Ayrshire in 1793, £244 6/ 9d [SRO, GD25/9/10]; for Robert Hay of Drumelzier between 1794 and 1795, over £75 [NRA(S)2720/727]; for Patrick Home of Wedderburn, Berwickshire, in 1798, £85 for a bed and other upholstery [GD267/3/4/6]; for General Fletcher-Campbell of Saltoun Hall, between in 1801 and 1804, £536 6/ mostly for curtains, carpets and upholstery [NLS, MS16893/103-109]; for the complete furnishing of Cairnfield House, Morayshire, for Adam Gordon in 1803 at a cost of £414 16s [NRA(S)2940219]; for David Kiloch of Gilmerton, East Lothian (see below); and for David McCulloch of Ardwall between 1803 and 1804, £291 14/ [NRA(S)231/1032] Some of this survives at the house.

The firm’s earliest significant municipal (or professional) commission came in 1774 when they were asked to make furniture for the new room of the Advocates’ Library, in Parliament Square. This was the most learned and august body in Scotland, and it is significant that Young and Trotter were chosen to make their new furniture, including a ‘fine liberary table with 3 drawers fitted with accomodations for writing and 8 plain drawers, with panelled feet and brackets’; this was eight feet long and almost five feet wide, covered in green cloth, and came at a cost sixteen guineas. The next year they supplied and furnishings for Trinity House in Leith [SRO, GD226/4/6] and by the time the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh’s New Town were nearing completion in 1786 it must have seemed natural to call in Young and Trotter to make the furniture, the final account for which came to some six hundred pounds [SRO, GD1/377/40/1/60]. None of this seems to have survived, or at least not in the Assembly Rooms, but the accounts give some idea of the scale of the commission. Two ‘large piers with Broad Borders & burnished Gold Frames £47 12/ 6d’; four ‘elm cabriole Sophas’ fifteen feet long with a pair of accompanying benches, a further twenty eight sofas and thirteen benches of various slightly smaller sizes, thirty seven ‘elm oval back Cabriole Chairs’ and four elbow chairs, all upholstered in ‘best brown Linen’ and supplied with ‘buff and red stripe Cotton slips’; an ‘Elegant Chair for Lady Directress in Carvd and burnished Gold covered with Crimson Tabaray and brass naild  £7 9/ 6d ‘, with a slip for this ‘of Green Linen lind with Flannell’ and ‘a Half Circular Mahogany Table’; seventy six rush-bottomed chairs, fifteen mahogany tea tables, six mahogany card tables, fifteen mahogany tea trays, sixteen hand boards, thirty two pairs of mahogany, brass and silver candlesticks, seven benches for the orchestra,  two oval pier glasses, and all the curtains. In short, everything a fashionable Assembly Rooms needed. The only drawback to this spectacular and very public commission was that the architect had specified the number and sizes of the sofas, only to change his mind later, which meant that Young and Trotter found themselves with six very large sofas ‘lying on their hands’. Despite this, they continued to work at the Assembly Rooms for at least the next ten years.

Undoubtedly the greatest public building in the New Town then, as now, was Register House. This had a troubled building history, but when the first areas were ready for furnishing in 1790 the Lord Register turned to Young, Trotter and Hamilton to provide furniture, including library tables, writing desks, stools and chairs, and an Axminster carpet.  The account came to one hundred and twelve pounds which included sixteen pounds and six shillings for ‘A Square Table for the Board room of Mahoy top covered with green Cloth 12ft long 6ft wd and 3ft high’ [SRO 4/71]. This was surely the table for whose design Robert Adam charged the Lord Register one and a half guineas: ‘To a design for a table for the Great room or Lord Registers room with the working drawings & Ornaments at large’ [SRO 4/73]. If so this makes Young, Trotter & Hamilton perhaps the only Scottish firm to make furniture to Adam’s design. There is some evidence to suggest that they made furniture to his designs for Culzean, but it is only secondary. They certainly did make furniture for Culzean. There is an account for £244 dated 1793, which includes a large bed, ‘8 Drapery back Elbow chairs Rush bottoms neatly painted @ 20/’, and ‘8 Bamboo Elbow Rush Bottom’d Chairs neatly painted @ 20/6’ [SRO, GD25/9/10/5]. Adam designed pier glasses for the house which bear comparison with a pair that the firm made for Gilmerton House, East Lothian. These ‘2 Square Pier Glass frames finished with glass Borders, the frames in Burnished gold for your mirrors £3 15/’ were made for Sir Alexander Kinloch in 1801. The firm later added ‘2 carved Top ornaments… in Burnished Gold @ 13/9’ [NRA(S)2595/129]. 

Young, Trotter & Hamilton’s finest moment, however, came in 1796 when they were asked by the British Government, in the guise of the Chief Baron of the Exchequer for Scotland, to fit up and furnish the Royal Apartments at Holyroodhouse as accommodation for the deposed French prince the Comte d’Artois, heir to the French throne, and his son. The apartments had been long neglected and needed completely overhauling and redecorating, as well as filling with furniture. The account came to just over £2,613 and a substantial proportion of this furniture still survives in the Royal Collection at Holyrood; it is undoubtedly the great monument to the firm. This commission was comprehensively recounted by Margaret Swain in Furniture History (1992), which transcribes the relevant sections of the account, relates the background and illustrates many of the pieces; the accounts themselves are held in Edinburgh University Library [Laing MSS La.II.488/29ff23-46]. 

This was an enormous commission, and time was at a premium. That Young, Trotter and Hamilton were able to complete the work to everyone’s satisfaction is testimony to the scale of their business. In Swain’s words, ‘old tapestries were taken down in five rooms, to be cleaned and repaired, and were re-hung in three rooms, the others laid aside. Chimneys were swept, walls repaired, cleaned and hung with canvas before being papered. Carpets were made up and laid, curtains and pelmets made for windows and bedhangings. Bed and table linen, china, glass, brushes and besoms, door mats, powdering cloths and servants’ aprons were all delivered. High quality mahogany furniture was supplied for the Comte... and his staff, while good but suitable furnishings were provided for his [retinue]... a private chapel was set up at the end of the picture gallery, and a billiard room completely fitted out’. The whole works took only four months, and ‘to Scottish eyes at least, the rooms must have looked elegant and up to date, with fresh new wallpaper, good mahogany furniture, chintz bedhangings and matching curtains and chair covers. To the Comte d’Artois and his suite, recalling the splendour left behind, it must have appeared stark and spartan... Once described as the ‘most gay, gaudy, fluttering, accomplished, luxurious, and expensive prince in Europe’, he could scarcely have been expected to appreciate the understated qualities of Edinburgh mahogany furniture.’

This furniture was provided at short notice, and must therefore have come from stock, so it is an excellent guide to the finest furniture which Young, Trotter & Hamilton made at the time. It is essentially made of mahogany, with lightly carved enrichments, and occasional sprinklings of inlay. The dining room, with its crimson moreen curtains, was equipped with a ‘large sideboard with a cellaret drawer lined with lead and drawer containing lead cistern to lift out and in, & 3 other drawers the legs neatly moulded and voluted ornament with carving ... in the centre 7ft 6ins long   £12 12/.’ The elaborate brass rail with ‘neatly turned pillars and vases double branches for candles &c’ cost a further three pounds and fifteen shillings. There were eighteen carved ‘drapery back’ chairs which make an interesting comparison with painted ‘drapery back’ chairs made for Culzean two years earlier. Of the inlaid furniture, a typical example is the ‘large mahogany wardrobe in two parts’ made for the Comte’s bedroom, ‘the under part containing 1 long and 4 short drawers on thirmed feet, the upper enclosed with doors neatly wrought with oval pannels and brass astragals with six slidding trays good locks and mounting £20 15/’. This wardrobe can be compared with the ‘mahogany wardrobe containing 3 long drawers and 4 sliding Trays 3ft 10 Inches long’ which Young and Trotters also made for Gilmerton House 1801. The account for Gilmerton came to over four hundred pounds and included furniture and upholstery for the Hall, Drawing Room, Dining Room, Library and bedrooms. As well as the pier glasses and wardrobe some of the other pieces mentioned in the account can still be identified in the house (although others have been dispersed at auction) and all together provide a valuable comparison and foil to the furniture at Holyrood. Among these items are the ‘6 Mahogany Hall chairs with oval backs and seats @35/6’ for each of which Kinloch was charged an extra eight shillings and sixpence for having his ‘Crest and motto’ painted; the ‘mahogany Octagon Pembroke table ornamented with crossbanding and stringing 3 Cannisters in drawer’ at three guineas; a ‘Mahogany Bureau with a prospect door good locks and mounting 4ft long’ which cost £9 18/; a ‘claw footed linen airer @9/6’; a ‘large square dressing Glass with Boxes’ also three guineas, the price presumably reflecting the cost of the glass; and two chests of drawers.  There was also a ‘Mahogany Secretary with a press under the Secretary Drawer containing 2 shelves and 2 Drawers, inclosed with 2 bound doors, a Bookcase above inclosed with 2 Gothic doors Glazed Pediment cornice &ca’ which cost seventeen pounds, and a ‘Handsome large square Pier Glass the frame richly carved and finished in Burnished Gold’ at sixty five pounds, a very considerable sum, no doubt in part attributable the price of the glass. In the Drawing Room were six bamboo chairs, a pair of bamboo sofas ‘painted white and finished in Burnished Gold’, and even bamboo window seats. This furniture must have been on the one hand exotic, while on the other, handsome and dependable, as the surviving pieces show [NRA(S)2595/129&142].  The furniture supplied to David McCulloch of Ardwall bears close comparison.

In 1988 the Fine Art Society in Edinburgh acquired an easy chair whose legs have the form of the traditional Scottish cockpen chair. On its being reupholstered it was discovered that the internal canvas backing had ‘Young & Trotter’ stamped on it, suggesting that the firm had made the chair. Another entirely different chair, but with similar stamped canvas, came up for sale at Sotheby’s on the 12th July 1991. Sotheby’s described the chair as a ‘painted tub chair ... the arm supports and legs painted in dark green on white’.  It is of note that Young & Trotter made ‘6 Barrell chairs painted white with green ornaments’ for Sir Alexander Kinloch in 1801.

By Sebastian Pryke

Sources: Bamford, ‘Dictionary of Edinburgh Wrights’, Furniture History (1993); Brown, Building for Books: The Architectural Evolution of the Advocates Library 1689-1925 (1984), p. 53; Pryke, ‘At the Sign of the Pelican’, Regional Furniture (1992), pp.10-21; Pryke, ‘Fancy Finishes - Painted Chairs in Scotland’, Country Life (15 August 1991), pp. 46-47; Pryke, ‘A Study of the Edinburgh Furnishing Trade Taken from Contemporary Press Notices, 1708-1790’, Regional Furniture (1989), pp. 52-67; Pryke, ‘The Extraordinary Billhead of Francis Brodie’, Regional Furniture (1990), pp. 81-99; Pryke, ‘Furnishing the House 1754-1760’, Dumfries House; An Architectural History, RCAHMS (2014); Christies, Dumfries House, sale catalogue (2007); Pryke ‘The 18th century furniture trade in Edinburgh’, unpublished PhD thesis, St Andrews University (1995); Swain, ‘Furniture for the French Princes at Holyroodhouse’, Connoisseur (January, 1978), pp. 27-35; Swain, ‘Furniture for the Comte D’Artois at Holyrood, 1796’, Furniture History (1992), pp. 98-128; Sotheby’s, London, Two Great Scottish Collections, sale catalogue (28 March 2017).