The Scottish Scene
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 2 Dec 1954, p. 93-106
Wemyss and March, The Earl of, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The National Trust for Scotland: a private organization and charity. Concern with the preservation of an important part of the Scottish scene, for the past, and also the present. The special aim to try to bring alive, or keep alive, all that is good and worthy in our past, or at least in the physical, tangible aspects of our past, for purposes up to date and relevant to the needs of this movement. Activities of the National Trust for Scotland. Membership. Seeking public support. Setting an example which, it is hoped, will be followed by others, including corporations, Councils and government. The type of building which is causing the greatest concern at the moment, due to its fragility: the small house architecture of a characteristic Scottish style, dating from the early 18th or 17th centuries. Features to look for. Details of a current project in the central portion of the town of Dunkeld. Keeping an eye on the beautiful country of Scotland, with some specific sites the Trust is hoping will not be marred. The preservation of botanical specimens. The big country houses and gardens. Conditions of preservation. The factor of a family connection, with example; the Castle of Crathes. Details of other country house properties, and gardens. Saving Scotland's national heritage.
Date of Original
2 Dec 1954
Language of Item
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Full Text
An Address by THE EARL OF WEMYSS AND MARCH Chairman of Council, National Trust for Scotland
Thursday, December 2nd, 1954
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. James H. Joyce.

MR. JOYCE: It is a great pleasure--and most appropriate following St. Andrew's Day--to welcome as the speaker to this meeting The Right Honourable The Earl of Wemyss and March, LL.D., Chairman of the Council of the National Trust for Scotland.

Born in 1912, the son of the late Lord Elcho who was killed in action in 1916, Lord Wemyss was educated at Eton and at Balliol College, Oxford. His great grandfather founded the London Scottish Rifle Volunteers, which is affiliated with the Toronto Scottish. Later he studied Agricultural Law and factoring in the estate offices of his immediate predecessor and first Chairman of the Trust, the late Sir lain Colquhoun of Luss.

In 1937 Lord Wemyss was appointed Assistant District Commissioner in Basutoland. His military experience gained earlier as a territorial soldier with the Lovat Scouts stood him in good stead three years later when he joined the Basutoland Pioneer Troops, and served with them in the Middle East, including a period with the Eighth Army and Staff appointments at G.H.Q. Middle East and Tripoli.

With the administration of his estates in East Lothian, Peebleshire, Selkirkshire and Gloucestershire, he combines a great deal of hard work in the cause of Scotland and her ancient traditions. In addition to heading the Council of the Trust, he also acts as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland, and as Chairman of the Marie Curie Memorial Foundation in Scotland.

Lord Wemyss' full style and title is "12th Earl of Wemyss and March, Viscount Peebles, Lord Elcho and Methil, Baron Douglas of Neidpath, Lyne and Munard, Baron Wemyss.

He will speak to us on "The Scottish Scene".

LORD WEMYSS: It is a great honour that you should have asked me to come and speak to you at your luncheon today and I esteem that, because my wife and my Secretary and I came to Canada, mainly to speak to the people of Scottish interests and affiliations, and as this Club of yours has not a Scottish label, perhaps an excuse is needed for me coming to speak to this Club. Possibly St. Andrew's Day may form that excuse or part of it. Possibly also it would be admitted that the Empire Club had something to do with the linkup between the nations of the British Commonwealth in which the Scottish people have not been entirely unconcerned. Indeed, the Scottish people have heard about quite a lot of other countries in the Commonwealth and most other countries in the Commonwealth seem to have heard about them. It wasn't always so.

I remember hearing an old Minister in the Highlands who even thought that the Almighty had to be appraised of the existence of England, because in his prayers every Sunday he first of all prayed for Queen Victoria and her Ministers, and all her people . . . then he would go on to say, We pray Thee also, Oh Lord, for the happiness and prosperity of the neighbouring country of England which lies, as Thou knowest, Oh Lord, some three hundred miles to the south of us.

Well, I think our horizons have widened a bit since then and in some ways at least among some of us, our sense of obligation has widened too, and that is the body in particular which I have the honour to be the Chairman of, which is called the National Trust for Scotland, and which has undertaken the obligation of preserving in Scotland as much as possible of our national heritage; our national heritage in the shape of old and interesting buildings, and beautiful countryside, and that is the particular aspect of the Scottish scene with which I am concerned and about which I am going to ask leave to speak to you briefly today.

The National Trust for Scotland, which is concerned with the preservation of this important part of the Scottish scene is in a sense concerned with the past, for obvious reasons, and yet it is vitally concerned with the present, because our special aim is to try to bring alive, or keep alive all that is good and worthy in our past, or at least in the physical, tangible aspects of our past, for purposes up to date and relevant to the needs of this movement.

We are preserving as much as we can, not as picturesque ruins, not even as interesting museums, but preserving things in a living form. The most obvious example is that a property which was built as a house, should if it is possible continue to be used as a dwelling house, and that is our aim which we achieve entirely by the support of our members. Because, strange as it seems, with this title,--The National Trust for Scotland" and strange though it may seem to some people for other reasons, it is not the government nor any branch of the government, nor department of the government which is undertaking this vital job. On the contrary, it is a private organization and a charity of which any person, any individual or any Club or City Council, County Council or organization of any kind can be and is welcome to be a member, a subscribing member.

We are approaching seven thousand members now and although they are mostly in Scotland itself, we have a large number outside, and the fee for membership which we are proud to say has never increased since the Trust was founded in 1931, although most other things have doubled or trebled in those twenty-three years, the fee is still ten shillings for individual members ... approximately $1.50 ... and we are proud that it has been kept so low.

In addition to the strong support of our membership which we look upon as enlightened public support, we are proud also to number many worthy men and women of substantial position in the country, of great brains and intelligence, and busy people, too, who in spite of being so busy are willing to put aside a considerable portion of their time to work for the objects of the Trust, voluntarily, and gratuitously, either as members of our Council which is the central directing body, about thirty or thirty-two strong, that meets two or three times a year, or as members of the various committees that run the Trust.

With this public support and with this fine membership of Council and committees we flatter ourselves that we are in a strong, independent position, and we are not tied up with any particular party, any religious party or local affiliation of any kind, so in the case of a controversy about the preservation or the destruction, for example, of a building whether a house or a church or a castle or some wee cottage or anything at all, we can take an objective view, and try and speak out if we think it necessary to speak out, from the national point of view, not any local or sectional point of view.

We are trying to preserve such things as, I have mentioned and I will give you just a few examples, either by becoming the owners of the property ... that is what I call direct preservation ... or else what is even more important, indirect preservation, by setting an example and setting a fashion for other people, whether the other people be the owners of such property or whether they be the local authorities, the Councils and corporations or government departments that have influence and maybe have funds which they can use in the right way to lend their weight and their influence on the side of historic preservation or the maintenance unspoiled of our beautiful countryside.

But in order to set an example in this fashion, we have, as I mentioned just now, got to do something about it directly ourselves, and up to date in our twenty-three years we have acquired something like sixty properties. They are nearly all over Scotland. They are various in type, very different in age. The oldest of them, which is the circle of Druid Stones of Clava, dates from about 2000 B.C. and the newest which is an example of the work of Sir Robert Lorimer, the Scottish architect, dates from only 1905 or 1910. In between we have many different types of property.

The type of the moment which is causing us the greatest concern, because it is apt to disappear almost over night, is the small house architecture of a characteristic Scottish style, most of which dates from the early 18th or the 17th centuries and we don't think, as many people do, that an old cottage, stuck away somewhere, neglected and falling down, is just an old cottage. If it has, as so many of them do, some form of architectural interest or dates from a period from which we haven't very many examples preserved, we try and lend our weight when called upon and when able, to maintaining these places, and not allowing them to be swept away just as so much stone and mortar. It is all too apt to happen. Progress and development in these last fifty years has been rapid, indeed. Change has come . . . industrialization . . . new roads, new everything. There is literally not time often for people to sit back and think now on what ought to be kept of our past in the redevelopment of this town, this village or that.

Without something such as the Trust it does happen, and has happened regretfully often, that everything of interest in a town is swept away. Where we can get in and do a job, or persuade others to do it, we try and work on the principle of preserving the exterior, the attractive features of the exterior and doing up the interior with all modern conveniences for an up to date family to live in it. Our tenants who live in these old houses are very content and not only that, but in every case I think they are proud to be in such an interesting house, a house which draws the eyes of all passers by, and enhances and will continue to enhance the attractions and the interest, and the tourist potential, and the trade potential, too, into the bargain, of whatever village or town it is in.

Some of the attractive features we particularly look for are the delightful red tiled roofs and the projecting gables. Those of you who have not visited Scotland have probably seen them in pictures. There are too few left, probably seen them in pictures. There are too few left, and it is all the more reason to hang on to what we have got.

We have had a good many controversies in the past about this type of house. For example, we have a house in Edinburgh which many years ago was going to be pulled down because it was, it is true, a verminous and derelict slum. Admitting that, we nevertheless said it ought to be restored and kept as a house and not just pulled down and something else built new from the ground up. Through the generosity of a local Edinburgh lady we were able to do this and we were more right than we knew. We knew it was an interesting building . . . we didn't know how interesting. We knew nothing at that time of the internal decorations, the painted walls and ceilings, hidden under plaster, and centuries of dirt. We knew nothing of some of the attractive features of the outside, hidden behind a shoddy shop front. All those things have since been exposed and there is the house standing today, one of the principal ornaments of the Royal Mile of Edinburgh, called Gladstone's Land . . . eight stories high, one of the original skyscrapers, built long before they thought of that in New York.

In more recent years we saved the oldest house in Aberdeen, called Provost Ross's House. He lived in 1710, in the days of Queen Anne. One of our Inland Revenue officers, one of the taxation boys, after we acquired the property, rang up the office and told us he would be terribly glad if we would tell him if Provost Ross was still occupying his house. He wasn't, of course, but the interest still remains, and with the support, which could only be won after a long debate, of the Aberdeen City Council and of many generous contributors, we have now restored this house which was literally tottering to its ruin. We found there again, more interest than we knew, we found a date stone, 1592, stuck away in the fireplace. And there it stands now, one of the principal ornaments of that great city.

I could go on endlessly about old houses, but I had better go to something else. Before I do so, I would like to say that our latest "little house" project is in the central portion of the town of Dunkeld, in the Perthshire Highlands, which was all built at one time around about 1700 for the very good reason that it had all been burned down at one time, just after the battle of Killiecrankie. Well, it was all built up after this fire and stands there today as a perfect little group of planned homes, an open square with attractive little houses around it, leading into a narrow street, Cathedral Street, at the far end of which you see the greatest window of the medieval Gothic cathedral ... beautiful, attractive and interesting, all three, but very derelict, owing to many years of uneconomic rents, and one must confess, of apathy, it had fallen sadly into decay.

Here again a certain amount of controversy had to be gone through but at the end of the day we have acquired some of these houses and we are taking them in hand and restoring them as modern living accommodation which will be as good as you can get and moreover, will be attractive and interesting as well. And here is another point which is sometimes lost sight of ... it will be in the middle of the town, close to the shops and everything else, instead of miles away in the suburbs.

We have much need also to keep an eye on the beautiful country, the beauty spots if you like of Scotland. The Scots are a romantically minded race, and very often they sing the glories of the bonny banks and glens, and all that, but they are a practical race, too, and are just as apt as any other race or country to shove up a filling station or a shack or a bungalow of some description where they think they are going to catch the tourist or the passerby. This might happen and has happened in such a way as to mar the scenery of some attractive place. So we have stepped in in a few instances to prevent this happening. Invariably with public support in the locality, we have taken over some of these places and such desecrations, as long as we are in possession will never happen now. Among others, some of these spots are battlefields. They are not necessarily picturesque, and the earliest of the battlefields which I am going to mention briefly is nothing but three ploughed fields now on the outskirts of Stirling, but it has a name which stirs any Scottish heart and I think our English friends have heard also the name of Bannockburn ... or am I mistaken perhaps?

Well, Bannockburn is where we won that freedom in 1314, and Bannockburn was where the local Town Council was going to build a new housing scheme in 1920 something. So a National Committee had a fund raised to stop that happening, as a result of which we, the Trust, were asked to take over and are now the owners of these three fields which the historians say include within their limits the essential crisis areas of that successful battle.

I mentioned Killiecrankie a minute ago. That was a battle in 1689 where the Highlanders defeated the army of William III, and the Earl of Claverhouse was killed with a silver bullet. It is a picturesque place, too, and we have that in safe keeping and are there to prevent any filling stations or undesirable development spoiling the scene.

The Glenfinnan Monument stands where Prince Charles raised his standard at the beginning of the Rising . . . August 19th, 1745, to be exact ... in the West Highlands. It is a picturesque place.

And, lastly, the Battlefield of Culloden, where the Highland Clans went down fighting before the army of the Duke of Cumberland. There--it is a more accessible place than Glenfinnan or Killiecrankie--the Trust has stepped in, in some respects too late. Before we came on the scene ... before, indeed, we were invited ... some of these filling stations that I have mentioned had been built and what is even worse the public road had been allowed to run through what is literally a sacred cemetery where the Highland Clans lie buried in their common graves. Buses and motor cars were all too apt to turn off the road and run on top of the graves. This has been prevented in some degree but this just emphasizes my point that some national body has got to look after these sites and has got to be publicly supported in doing so to prevent this sort of thing ever happening again.

We have several large areas of high ranging country in our ownership and keeping, and I think I told you that we were most concerned of all with the little houses, because they are apt to fall down over night. We are concerned with all houses because if they are not kept in repair they are apt to fall down sooner or later, but why, you might ask, should we be concerned with the ancestral hills which do not generally fall down . . . not within millions of years. The answer is because we feel the necessity, and there is a public demand for wide open spaces where people, to their hearts' content, can climb and walk and enjoy themselves without hindrance from sporting interests or any other type of opposing idea.

We have no political plank against private ownership or sporting interests ... quite the contrary. Many of our keenest supporters are private landowners, but we are aware that especially in the shooting season there is difficulty over members of the public enjoying themselves property of the National Trust for Scotland there is no upon the high places of the country. At least on the doubt at all as to whether you may visit and enjoy the place or whether you may not ... the answer is you may whenever you like.

There may be some additional reasons. We have some interesting botanical specimens on the top of Ben Lawers. We have historical reasons for looking after the scenery around Glencoe because of the Massacre that took place there in 1692, but the wide open space is the main reason we have for acquiring some of this mountain country; through the generosity, mostly, of one of our supporters, a man who was the lover of the high places himself and believed that others should be given the same privileges. Among others who enjoy these privileges are the hardy skiers and winter sports addicts in the winter time. We encourage them as much as we can. We have little in the way of tourist hotels to cater to such people in Scotland . . . all the more reason to give the land for them to enjoy themselves upon it.

Finally, there is one whole chapter of our work which needs something to be said about it alone, and that is the problem which confronts us in Scotland, as it does in England too, of the big country houses and gardens. Some of our country houses are of great architectural and historical interest. Some of our gardens are of outstanding beauty and scientific interest as well. But in these modern times, with the crushing load of taxation and the even more crushing load of death duties, because that strikes at a time that cannot be foreseen, it is becoming difficult, and it has in many cases become impossible for the owners to maintain these places in the manner in which they should be kept. That is why we have worked out what we call our country house scheme, and when I say "house" you must understand me to include house and garden. We are able if two or three important conditions are fulfilled, to take over a country house and garden as owner, and maintain it for all time.

The first condition and the most difficult that must be fulfilled is that somebody has got to produce the money. We have got to guarantee to do it for all time, and therefore in budgeting we have got to play safe.

The second condition is that the house or garden really must be of national importance ... architectural, historic, or otherwise.

If those two qualifications can be fulfilled, and if the owner is willing and interested, we will take over the place; and the most important point, we will wish and encourage the owner who hands over his property to go on living there as long as he wishes, as long as he lives, and his sons, his descendants or other heirs, for all time after him.

After all, one of the most interesting things about a property or a house is the long family connection which in many cases it holds.

Just to give you a concrete example of that point, and of all the other points which are important in our country house scheme, I am going to tell briefly the history of one . . . the lands of Leys, whereon is Crathes Castle, about sixteen miles west of Aberdeen in the valley of Deeside. In 1323 these lands were granted by King Robert the Bruce, to a certain Burnett, one of his supporters. The family of Burnett and his direct descendants have been the occupants of that land and I can show you today the ancient Charter of King Robert the Bruce, and the ancient horn of tenure . . . the horn hanging in the Great Hall which is the symbol of tenancy-in-chief, or chief ownership from the Crown. From that day, unbreken to this day, they have been in occupation of that land.

Secondly, in the late 16th century, they built Crathes Castle, desiring to have a more commodious home than the one they had previously enjoyed on a defensive little island in the marsh. They built Crathes Castle in the most up to date and modern way in 1590-something. It has a wonderful sheer wall, just like the defensive walls the nobility and gentry had been building up and down Scotland for the last 250 years, and on which there was in the early days a defensive parapet on top, from which the occupants could pour down abuse, stones, boiling oil, or whatever the house provided, arrows and musket bullets, on unfriendly neighbours who tried to get in below.

Below the parapet there is nothing much but small windows and somewhere a small entrance door. That is exactly what the family of Burnett of Leys had, but in order to have a spacious and gracious building or house, they brought up the wall to a certain point, using corbelled granite, granite being the local stone. On top instead of the defensive parapet you find a fascinating cluster of towers, round towers, square towers, each having spacious rooms, wherein the modern landowner of 1596 could sit and enjoy the amenities of life.

The internal decorations are interesting in the Castle of Crathes, too, and another good reason for wishing to preserve the place. The painted ceilings here are the finest in Great Britain, painted in natural earth colours, what is called tempera, and hidden for many years by later plaster ceilings.

To carry on the story, in the reign of Queen Anne, a new wing was built on the Castle. Even in those days there was no finishing of development ... the house has been an organic whole from the beginning up to now. An attractive new wing was added in the reign of Queen Anne and another in the reign of Queen Victoria, which makes the present house.

And again, beginning in Queen Anne's reign, the wonderful garden which surrounds Crathes Castle with magnificently clipped yew hedges, and shrubs' which will grow practically nowhere else, and colourful gardens and borders are there, and are admitted by most people to be one of the finest gardens in the country today, and are looked after as the pride of her heart by the lady who represents this ancient family which has been there since 1323 and we hope will be there as long as time lasts. She lives there . . . she is protected and her family after her are protected from the load of taxation which would undoubtedly crush them in time. The public has admission . . . members of the Trust are admitted free . . . by a small payment two or three days a week.

That is how in the Castle of Crathes we are fulfilling our mandate to preserve something for the benefit of the nation.

I mustn't go on forever, Mr. President, but before I finish I just want to mention two others, very briefly, or three others of our country house properties.

We have an actual Royal Palace called Falkland Palace, where the hereditary keeper has made us his deputy keeper and given us the responsibility, with a fund behind us, of maintaining this royal palace for all time. Falkland Palace is where in 1402 David Stuart Duke of Rothesay was starved to death, as you can read in Scott's novel, "The Fair Maid of Perth". It is the place where James V died and the place where a certain Stuart Princess was born at the end of the 16th century who has a Canadian connection. She was Princess Elizabeth Stuart, elder sister of Charles 1, and she became later the Queen of Bohemia, known to history as the Winter Queen, or the Queen of Hearts, and one of her sons was that gallant cavalry leader, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, the first Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company which in Scotland claims to be practically the founders of Canada.

Some of you may have heard of Culzean Castle which stands on the coast of Ayrshire, and where after the last war we were proud to offer to General Eisenhower an apartment for his life. That is why the President of the United States is our honorary tenant on the floor of Culzean Castle and why I felt myself obliged, as well as delighted, to ask permission to call upon him the other day when in Washington, D.C., not to collect the rent, because he doesn't' pay any, but merely to convey the good wishes of the Trust, and the hope that if and when his present duties permitted, he would pay us another visit, a third visit.

I mentioned gardens. We have a garden called Inverewe on the far northwest coast of Scotland ... the same latitude as the north of Labrador, yet owing to our gulf stream which makes such a mild climate at sea level, it is possible, provided shelter can be made, and it has been made, to grow some wonderful plants here that even in the south of England you will not find growing in the open air. Inverewe is where Osgood Mackenzie started his garden, something like ninety years ago. If any of you can get hold of a book called "A Hundred Years in the Highlands" you can read all about this garden, and it is exceedingly interesting folklore and history of the northwest Highlands of Scotland.

All these properties I have mentioned, and many others I have not mentioned, without the National Trust for Scotland would either have disappeared already or would now be in many cases on the road to dissolution. So I do ask you to agree that it is desirable and necessary that something should be done, that somebody should do this work, and we are the people of the body of private people whose membership is open to all. It is not a government department, although the Government helps in various ways. We are the people who are trying to do for Scotland this vital work, but when I say for Scotland, I don't mean that in any narrow sense. We preserve or try to preserve for the benefit of the nation, and the nation of all Scotland, and Scotland has extended her people far and wide . . . the nation is not those few million only who live north of England, it is a far wider family than that and we welcome and we commend ourselves to the support of all our friends, even if they have no Scottish blood in their veins whatever, in England and overseas and, above all, in the great countries of the British Commonwealth, in which our little nation has done so much.

That is the work we are doing, and that is the wide family we are seeking to help, by preserving for them, those of them who live today, and those who will form the generations of the future, something at least of our national heritage.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. H. T. Jamieson.

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The Scottish Scene

The National Trust for Scotland: a private organization and charity. Concern with the preservation of an important part of the Scottish scene, for the past, and also the present. The special aim to try to bring alive, or keep alive, all that is good and worthy in our past, or at least in the physical, tangible aspects of our past, for purposes up to date and relevant to the needs of this movement. Activities of the National Trust for Scotland. Membership. Seeking public support. Setting an example which, it is hoped, will be followed by others, including corporations, Councils and government. The type of building which is causing the greatest concern at the moment, due to its fragility: the small house architecture of a characteristic Scottish style, dating from the early 18th or 17th centuries. Features to look for. Details of a current project in the central portion of the town of Dunkeld. Keeping an eye on the beautiful country of Scotland, with some specific sites the Trust is hoping will not be marred. The preservation of botanical specimens. The big country houses and gardens. Conditions of preservation. The factor of a family connection, with example; the Castle of Crathes. Details of other country house properties, and gardens. Saving Scotland's national heritage.