The Elizabeth Murray Charitable Trust
The Elizabeth Murray Charitable Trust has its roots in a generosity of spirit and a deep connection to the land of Scotland, running through several generations of a family. This is their story.
Elizabeth Murray, nee Grant, was born on the 21st April 1904 and died on the 19th June 1993.
Elizabeth in 1982 near her cottage at Brachkashie
Elizabeth's mother was Caroline Philips from Cheshire, England. Her father, Frank Grant, was a younger brother of the clan Grant of Glenmoriston, from the north side of Loch Ness. He lived in Cheshire and ran a textile business. They had ten children; Elizabeth was one of the eldest and had to take on responsibilities early in life.
As the family grew, Frank bought Knockie Lodge, near Whitebridge on the south side of Loch Ness. This was a small farm between two lochs which had a considerable acreage of heather and birch woods. At first this was a summer home and the whole family migrated up from Cheshire by train to Inverness, then by horsedrawn 'bus' to Loch Ness and a ferry boat down the loch. They were finally dropped, by dinghy, at a tiny landing on the near-perpendicular wooded shore. A steep zig-zag farm track would take them up (babies and luggage in the farm wagon, the rest walking) for a mile or so. They would pass a favourite picnic place by a waterfall and would ford the end of Loch nan Lann at 'the stepping stones'. These stepping stones were a fine place for setting night-lines for trout and watching waterfowl. After another mile or so the they would arrive at the big white house, the home fields and the stone dairy with big bowls of milk and cream.
Elizabeth's daughter Helen remembers childhood visits there in later years when the access was by road, via Whitebridge, and her grandfather, Frank, was a quiet, wise, calm figure who taught her and her cousins many great things – how to handle a boat and a gun, how to clean a fish and prepare grouse or chicken for the kitchen. Caroline was known as 'grannie' and was by then a formidable little figure in her wheelchair, who ruled her kingdom, instilling manners and 'right ways to do things'. Together they presided over huge family meals, all homegrown; cream and porridge, trout and veggies, duck and rabbit pie, grouse, mutton and venison. There were gas lamps and peat fires in the 'public' spaces and candles in the chilly bedrooms.
In the early 1920s, Elizabeth married Charlie Murray of Loch Carron, and went to live in his parents' home on Loch Kishorn, Wester Ross. This was a much bigger and less friendly house: a little white farm down by the sea, a few fields and huge stretches of treeless rock and heather running from Kishorn to Shieldaig and Torridon – where there was a small vestige of the old Caledonian Forest which used to cover this landscape.
Early in their marriage, Charlie and Elizabeth started building their own house, two and half miles inland on a peat bog below the lovely Applecross mountains. From these mountains came a waterfall which Charlie used to power his own electric plant. The pipes for this had to be hauled up the hill by pony and there was a small dam and two constantly humming turbines made by the inventor of the steam turbine, Charles Parsons. The equipment was brooded over by Mr Mac, a taciturn cockney engineer who was trained by Parsons and who also ran the all-electric workshop and looked after everything mechanical, including cars. Both Elizabeth's own mother and her husband's were great gardeners and for Elizabeth gardening was like a natural instinct. She knew all the Latin names and would arrange beautiful flowers in every room, all year.
Elizabeth's daughter, Helen, was born there in 1928, the only 'only child' among the great gang of Grant cousins who came in twos and threes all summer long to visit 'dear Aunt Elizabeth' by the seaside. Elizabeth could not have the six children she wished for and instead she became mother to all the world.
Into the peat bog, Charlie and Elizabeth planted 80,000 trees – fenced of course against deer, sheep and rabbits. Helen remembers the year she was suddenly walking under trees instead of over them and hearing songbirds.
By the Depression years of the early 1930s Charlie's parents had died, leaving their 'White Elephant' house stuffed with 'treasures'. Very tough times ensued. Charlie tried unsuccessfully to sell the old house and at least some of the landscape. Elizabeth tackled the huge attics, rooms full of family portraits and heavy furniture – dutifully concerned that each single object should go its correct route. Witnessing this, Helen developed a furious dislike of 'heirlooms' and a deep distrust of 'stored up money'. Years later, it was this distrust which led her to refuse any inheritance from her mother. Instead, they set up the Murray Trust.
Meanwhile Charlie and Elizabeth were extremely active in all kinds of social efforts to improve the lot of what they saw as an ageing, depopulating, tragic and beautiful country. Both served on the County Council (driving 100 miles to meetings on the single track gravel road to Dingwall). Charlie started Loch Carron Hand Weavers to give some jobs and skills to young folk. He tried for years, and failed, to have the Minch closed to trawlers, in order to preserve the herring stocks for the local fishermen who landed their catch at the railhead at Kyle of Lochalsh. Elizabeth was busy with the Womens Institute, and Highland Home Industries as well as constant local folk dancing and drama – the latter tactfully inserted into the Free Presbyterian environment. One of her sisters married Harry Beresford-Peirse of the Forestry Commission, who had some small success in mitigating the short-term destructive sitka spruce plantings. Helen remembers mealtime conversations about raising the quality of hillsides: balancing cattle, deer and sheep; balancing grass, trees, arable land and water.
Then came 1939 and World War II. Charlie was frustrated when he was denied enlistment in his beloved Navy because of a childhood head injury and he went to England to seek some useful engagement in the War Effort. In Scotland, he also organised the local Home Guard and welcomed Navy folks from the Kyle Naval Base.
Elizabeth continued faithfully managing the home front: milking the two Kerry cows, keeping bees, organising local women to collect and dry sphagnum moss and pack it into gauze medical dressings. Charlie learned to knit and made caps and scarves for sailors. Elizabeth kept open house with bountiful meals round the big table for naval folk and the commandos who came to train in the area. During these years Elizabeth's parents died and several of her brothers and brothers-in-law were killed – it always seemed to be Elizabeth who could 'pick up the pieces'. The house seemed to be always full of people in some kind of 'temporary' trouble.
The bright spot in the Murrays' lives at this time was that Charlie's excursion to England led him to the doctors Scott Williamson and Innes Pearse of the Peckham Health Centre. They were pioneer thinkers about Health with a capital 'H'. Dr Scott Williamson defined it as 'mutual synthesis between organism and environment' and tried hard to have the incipient National Health Service truthfully titled the 'National Sickness Service'.
The 'Peckham Doctors' became great friends of Charlie, Elizabeth and young Helen. They put Charlie in touch with Eve Balfour who had just published The Living Soil, was converting her Suffolk farm to the experimental Haughley Research Farms and was beginning to found the Soil Association. Eve and Charlie never met, but their correspondence (later destroyed in a fire) was life-changing for both of them. Charlie swallowed the 'organic idea' whole – body, soul and spirit, and fed it to Helen. Elizabeth faithfully embraced the new ideas and the new friends. Charlie talked of moving the family to Suffolk to work with Eve when Helen had finished school. But in the summer of 1945 he suddenly died. Elizabeth, as always, 'picked up the pieces' and she hoped that Helen would in time do something with what she and Charlie had made.
Helen spent two years at Haughley Research Farms with Eve Balfour and then returned to live with Elizabeth and become the Scottish representative for the Soil Association, getting to know all the Scottish members and reporting on their work. She then went to Edinburgh for a couple of years to do a Diploma at the College of Agriculture in the hope it would help her to develop a project back home. After finishing her studies, Helen and her mother, along with a neighbour, set up a seaweed collecting scheme. The seaweed was shipped by truck to Nairn where Alec McInnes, a Soil Association member, dried it and processed it into a mineral supplement for cows.
Helen then discovered the anthroposophical Camphill movement and went to be part of the Yorkshire community for a year, followed by another two years at Haughley and then a decision to join Camphill. There she met her husband, who was moved to Camphill USA in 1962. Elizabeth, meanwhile, managed to sell her house and moved to York Road in Trinity, Edinburgh. True to form, she became the Scottish representative for the Soil Association. She was not too keen on her only daughter disappearing off to Camphill in America, but with her usual faithfulness did supportive things for Camphill in Scotland. She was also called in by the Findhorn Community to witness the miraculous growth of veggies in their sandy trailer park.
As Elizabeth got older, and her sister and other family moved away from Edinburgh, Helen worried about her living alone, despite York Road being a strong neighbourly community and the Macmillans next door looking out for her. She refused to have anyone except Helen live with her but did not want the culture shock of moving to the USA. Every time Helen visited Elizabeth she wanted to go to a tiny and primitive cottage she had bought from her brother when he sold the Knockie family home. When Helen suggested improving the cottage to make a permanent home she rose to the idea and they started designing with an Inverness architect and soon a new little house was on the way.
The loch near Elizabeth's cottage
Meanwhile, Helen urged Elizabeth to consider her Will. Helen herself did not want to inherit so they hit on the idea of forming a Trust to help work that Charlie would have liked continue into the future. Elizabeth had fun recruiting as trustees all the fine and interesting folk she had gathered around her in Edinburgh. She wanted the cottage to 'stay in the family' so she willed that to the one cousin who specially loved Knockie – though sadly he died a few weeks after Elizabeth. All else was willed to the Trust – mainly the value of the house in York Road.
The cottage was still being re-built and Elizabeth still living alone in York Road, when she suddenly went blind! By one of those amazing knots of destiny, a Camphill colleague of Helen's had just reached the end of a road and was able to come immediately to be her companion. Sarah Jane Lavington lived with Elizabeth until she died.
The Elizabeth Murray Trust was established by Elizabeth and her neighbours in 1985. The Trust chairman is Harvey Macmillan, 1 York Road, Edinburgh, EH5 3EJ. Please note that the Elizabeth Murray Trust is not currently supporting projects other than the Future Farming Award and is not open to applications for funding.
The Elizabeth Murray Charitable Trust