Today, most family snaps are stored digitally on smartphones or hard drives, or posted to cloud-based social media platforms. Go back a generation and there will be boxes in a cupboard somewhere stuffed with folders marked Supasnaps or Boots containing actual photographs printed from actual negatives. There may be some Polaroids kicking around (examine those at your peril) or, older still, crisp black and white images with zig-zag borders, as if they have been cut out with pinking shears. Somewhere in the attic there’s probably a shoebox of old slides and the wherewithal to project them, if only you had a stretch of wall without a flat-screen TV or an IKEA shelf hanging off it.

Examples of daguerreotypes in the typical family archive, however, there will be none. Not in a shoebox, not in the attic. Likewise calotypes, cyanotypes or photographs made from images captured on glass negatives or using laborious wet-plate techniques. Photography, at the dawn of the art form in the mid-19th century until the advent of the mass-market Box Brownie in the early 20th century, was an expensive business. It needed more money, time and space than most working people could afford. It was a rich man’s hobby and so it was rich men – and one or two rich women – who first took it up.

The point isn’t lost on Ludovic Lindsay, scion of the aristocratic Lindsay family and nephew of Robert Lindsay, 29th Earl of Crawford, whose family seat is 16th century Balcarres House in Fife’s East Neuk. For the purposes of a new book, The Lindsays Of Balcarres: A Century Of An Ancient Scottish Family In Photographs, Lindsay has sifted through and selected from a cache of black and white images, 3500 in all, which had lain undisturbed for 70 years in a cupboard at Balcarres. A keen photographer and sometime producer of documentaries, he has assembled an engaging survey of aristocratic life between 1840 and the end of the Second World War, but one which also tells the history of photography and the part played in its development by families such as his. “The British aristocracy were the first to indulge in this new technology,” he writes. “The country house was the perfect environment for photography to blossom.”

The first humans to be photographed are the unknown pedestrians captured by Louis Daguerre in 1838 on Boulevard du Temple in Paris. The first Lindsays to be snapped weren’t far behind: James Lindsay, known as Lord Bal, commissioned a series of daguerreotypes of himself, his family and his staff around 1840.

Twenty years later he was photographed again, this time with his grandson, James Lindsay. Later the 26th Earl, James was known as Ludovic and his own journey through the family history is charted extensively in the book. We see him photographed with Mark Twain during the American author’s visit to the Houses of Parliament in 1907. Or barefoot and wearing a sarong on the deck of his boat, the three-masted, 245-foot Valhalla, moored off Malacca at the time the image was taken in 1908. Or dressed in the regalia of the Knights Of The Thistle ahead of George V’s coronation in 1911. It’s that image which adorns the front cover.

HeraldScotland:

Ludovic Lindsay, far left, with Mark Tawin, centre

Artist, soldier and playwright Sir Coutts Lindsay, whose mother was descended from the famous Coutts banking family and who founded London’s Grosvenor Gallery to champion the Pre-Raphaelites, was another early enthusiast of photography. A friend of the pioneering Julia Margaret Cameron, he built a studio at Balcarres. She photographed him in 1865 and the image, an albumen print from a wet collodion glass negative, shows him in profile, swathed in velvet, hair unkempt and long in the Bohemian style.

Nestled among the family portraits and the pictures of the Lindsay’s many properties – Balcarres itself, Haigh Hall near Wigan, Lord Bal’s Grosvenor Square pad – are some startling images which stand in their own right. One shows a small boy, standing holding the reins of a horse on which a man in full military uniform sits, sword hanging by his side. Taken in 1907 it shows Field Marshal Lord Francis Grenfell (after whom Grenfell Tower is named) and his son, Pascoe. Another image, taken at Elie in 1892, is of Emily, Countess of Crawford, with her sons Lionel and Eddie. She leans forward under her umbrella, frozen in time, as the three of them watch their dog baulk at crossing a rock pool.

HeraldScotland:

Lady Emily is just one of many colourful and spirited women in the story. Other include Lady Omega, a gifted artist, Lady Mary, mother of future MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller, and Lady Harriet, who helped found the British Red Cross and was a friend of Florence Nightingale’s.

Forgotten but thankfully not lost, the Lindsay family photo albums are a fascinating and valuable archive.

The Lindsays Of Balcarres: A Century Of An Ancient Scottish Family In Photographs by Ludovic Lindsay is out now (£60, Pimpernel Press)