The Black Watch tartan, associated with the British infantry regiment of the same name, has a long and interesting history. Alternatively known as Grant Hunting or Government tartan, Black Watch tartan was worn first by the six “watch” companies that once patrolled the Highlands. General George Wade, with authorisation from George I, formed these six companies in 1725 following the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. The Black Watch, as they would come to be known, were employed to rid the Highlands of criminals, rebels and to deter fighting between rival clans.
The original six companies consisted of three from Clan Campbell and one from each of Clan Munro, Clan Fraser of Lovat and Clan Grant. The tartan itself was produced by over 60 weavers in the Strathspey area which was home to Clan Grant. The dark blue, black and green plaid that we know today as Black Watch is believed to have been a tartan of Clan Grant originally, hence the alternative name Grant Hunting. Given that half of the six original companies were Campbells though, the origin of the plaid may belong to this Clan.
The companies of the Black Watch were later expanded to ten and then merged into a single regiment. The uniform at that time consisted of a 12 yard plaid of tartan, a scarlet jacket and waistcoat with buff facings and a blue bonnet. The plaid was a garment fastened at the waist and draped
over the shoulder which doubled as a blanket and also sheltered the soldiers from the rain. Even as the 43rd regiment, they were known colloquially as the Black Watch, a name that’s origins are in dispute. One of the most popular theories is that they were named because of the dark tartan of their uniform, the Black Watch tartan we know today.
The regiment would see many changes throughout the years but their iconic tartan remained. The Black Watch would be on the front line beginning with the French Wars in 1745 and would feature heavily in both World Wars as would their kilts. The kilt was officially banned as combat dress in the first year of WWII as it was deemed impractical for modern warfare. It is believed that it was last widely worn during the evacuation of Dunkirk in May of 1940.
In 2006 all six army regiments that existed in Scotland were merged to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland. This new regiment was given the Government tartan as their own, meaning that for at least 270 years this iconic tartan has been worn by Scottish soldiers serving all over the world.