Imagine, you are a Scottish man. You are going out today, and so you are dressed in your finest, including your finest kilt. The only problem with kilts though is that there is nowhere to keep you belongings - they don't come with pockets after all. You have an old sporran which you wear to keep your belongings in, but you would really like a new one, with silver trimming. Just as you are getting ready to go, your wife hands you a parcel and tells you to open it. There, lying inside is the most beautiful sporran you have seen.
When I took this sporran to show the children, their reactions were quite amusing. It didn't take long for the children to work out that the sporran was some sort of bag, but the girls were horrified to think it might be some sort of women's handbag saying it was 'disgusting'. The boys were almost as horrified at the idea of a 'handbag for boys', but when the realised it was worn very differently, curiosity won out over horror and many of them tried it on. The most amusing reaction though was one of the older boys who suggested it was 'armour for sensitive regions'.
Sporrans, or the small belted bag which is worn by Scottish men around their waist and over their kilts, have a remarkably long history. As early as the 12th century Scottish warriors from the Highlands were described as wearing shaggy cloaks, being bare legged and carrying a small bag, then known as a scrip. Kilts were a normal sort of dress, though they were a little different to those which are worn today as they were quite large, fell to slightly below the knee, were held in place at the waist with a belt and actually fastened at the shoulder. They were the perfect article of clothing for the highlands though as they were very warm, dried out quickly when they got wet, could be unwrapped and used as a cloak or even a blanket, and left the legs free for movement.
Kilts did have one drawback though - unlike trousers, they had no pockets in which to keep belongings so the sporran was created to fulfil this role. Early sporrans were much simpler than the beautifully ornate ones we tend to see. These early sporrans were simply pouches made of fur or leather, which closed with a drawstring. They were fastened to the belt of the kilt and could be used to carry all sorts of things. From the late 17th century though, sporrans began to be made with ornate metal clasps, like the one I showed the children. Many of these early sporrans had brass clasps, though silver clasps were occasionally used for clan chiefs. The clasps were ornately decorated and some are almost works of art in themselves. Today, sporrans are still worn with the kilt, and carry everything from car keys and mobile phones to sandwiches and tissues. Traditionally though, what was kept in the sporran was a matter for the individual, and often it was very secretive. In fact, there is one on display in Scotland which has pistols mounted inside which are designed to shoot anybody who tries to open the sporran without permission!