Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Celebrating a Great Scot: David Lumsden

I can’t tell you how often I come across something and think to myself “I must ask Lumsden about that”, and then suddenly realise that no such thing is possible anymore. I only had the privilege of knowing this gentle giant of a man towards the end of his life, but am grateful even for that relatively short friendship. Below is the address given by Hugh Macpherson at the Thanksgiving Service for the Life of David Lumsden of Cushnie that took place at St. Mary’s Church, Cadogan St., London on Monday, 27th April 2009. May he rest in peace.

It is difficult to mark the passing of such a remarkable personality as David Lumsden. We have done with the requiems and the pibrochs and must now look forward to celebrate an extraordinary life lived to the full.

David was a man of many parts and passions. He was a renaissance man with a wide variety of interests, and if he did not know the answer to any particular question, he certainly knew where to look it up, and in a few days there would be an informative card in the post. He had a lively curiosity and sense of adventure.

Perhaps the ruling passion in his younger life was that of rowing. He rowed at Bedford School and when he went up to Jesus College Cambridge, he joined the boat club, eventually becoming Captain of Boats. There were, I think, eventually eight “oars” on the walls of his various houses. I think that David was one of the few people I know who went to Henley to actually watch the racing, and when one went into the trophy tent his name could be found on some of the trophys. The expedition to Henley was one of the fixed points of David’s year.

He travelled round the country rather like the “progress” of a monarch of old. This progress encompassed the Boat Race, Henley, the Royal Stuart Society Dinner, the Russian Ball, spring and autumn trips to Egypt, the Aboyne Games, the 1745 Commemoration, the Edinburgh Festival, and numerous balls and dinners, including of course the Sublime Society of Beef Steaks.

Rather like clubs, David and I had a “reciprocal” arrangement: When I was in Scotland I lodged with him, and when he was in London he lodged with me, and I can tell you that there were many times when I simply could not keep up with his social whirl, in fact once or twice I distinctly fell off! I remember one particularly splendid and bibulous dinner at the House of Lords at which we were decked in evening dress and clanking with all sorts of nonsense — after many attempts to hail a taxi, David turned and said to me “You know we are so drunk they won’t pick us up. We’ll have to stagger back.” And so we wound a very unsteady path back to Pimlico, shedding the odd miniature en route.

At Cambridge, David also formed a lasting friendship with Mgr. Alfred Gilbey, Catholic Chaplain to the University, who was to have a lasting influence on David’s faith and life, and, I think, introducing him to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, where he eventually became a Knight of Honour & Devotion.

David’s faith was an important part of his life. When he was in London he would attend this church on a Sunday morning to hear the 11.30 Latin Mass, which finished conveniently near to the opening time at one of his favourite watering holes in the Kings Road.

After Cambridge, David joined the London Scottish Territorial Army regiment, and was enrolled as a graduate trainee by British American Tobacco. BAT sent him off to Switzerland to polish up his already considerable linguistic ability. This of course pointed to a career in the export division of BAT, which started in the Congo, where he was caught up in civil unrest and had to catch a plane out, with a shoot-out worthy of a Wild West movie. His subsequent travels took him to Hong Kong and Japan. He particularly liked Japan, where of course he was a giant! A large part of his life was spent travelling behind the Iron Curtain. He acquired fluency in Russian and some of the other Eastern European languages, adding to his German, French, and Italian.

There were also work projects in India, which David relished, as of course he was born in Baluchistan (which is now part of Pakistan). One of his more amusing eccentricities was that on his British driving licence, when it came to “Place of Birth” he entered “Empire of India”. David’s father, Major Harry Lumsden, was continuing the family military tradition, serving in the Royal Scots in India when David was born. There is a long and distinguished Lumsden connection with India. In 1846, Lt. Gen. Sir Harry Burnett Lumsden raised the Lumsden Guides, a cavalry and infantry unit. In 1847, Sir Harry became rather tired of having his redcoats shot at, and devised a new uniform to blend in with the lighter surroundings. This became known as ‘khaki’, which derives from the Persian, meaning ‘dusty’, and remains as desert battledress today. There is a rather poignant resonance in these days, as the Lumsden Guides saw action in Afghanistan, particularly in the Helmand province. There was also a regiment called the Lumsden Horse, raised in Calcutta in 1899 by Col. Dugald Lumsden. So it is clear that travel and adventure were embedded in David’s genes.

David’s most lasting legacy is to the architectural heritage of Scotland. From his boyhood, he immersed himself in the history of Scotland and its architecture. His special enthusiasm was for fortified towers and castles. His other great hobby, heraldry, ran in parallel with this, often with a castle or tower telling its history in heraldic carving as well as in its structure.

When he retired from BAT, David was able to devote his time and energy to restoration projects. The first Lumsden of Cushnie, Robert, was granted a charter of land by King James IV in 1509. Cushnie House was built on that same land by Alexander Lumsden in 1688. By the time that David retired in 1970, the house had fallen into disrepair. David was able to acquire it and “put it back in the housing stock”, as he used to say. Encouraged by this, he went on to acquire Tillycairn Castle, built in 1540 by Matthew Lumsden. There was a considerable amount of heraldry in the stonework which David lovingly brought back to life. This was a major restoration project, as the castle had been roofless for many years. Then followed Liberton Tower in Edinburgh, which had retained its roof but was used to keep livestock in, and Leithen Lodge in the Borders which had trees growing out of the roof and was a candidate for demolition. In each case, it is doubtful if the buildings would have survived but for David’s timely intervention.

Travelling round Scotland with David was an education. He knew almost every tower and castle, and was hot on the trail of the owners with a view to gaining permission to seek funding and carry out restoration. I once went with him to visit a ruined tower. As we were examining the great ruin, he said “You know, this sends shivers down my spine”. During the course of these renovations, David, along with the late Hugh Ross, Kenneth Ferguson, and Jessie Pettigrew, set up the Castles of Scotland Preservation Trust, which continues to do important work in restoration and preservation in Scotland.

David revelled in the more traditional side of life in Scotland. He was a representative of the baronage of Scotland and appeared at the Kirking of the General Assembly in Edinburgh and in the St. Andrew’s Day Parade. He looked magnificent in his scarlet baronial robes with ermine trimmings. The ermine was specially brought from France — no nylon or rabbit here!

In 1996, David was created Gairoch Pursuivant of Arms to the Countess of Mar. He was one of the four private pursuivants in Scotland and delighted in the role. The Mar tent at the Aboyne Games was famous for its hospitality. David would have been especially pleased that Lady Mar chose to appoint David’s nephew, Hugh de Laurier, as Gairoch Pursuivant to succeed him. By a strange coincidence, Hugh was christened in this very church.

David had always the good fortune to live in large and beautiful houses. That was also the good fortune of his friends, as David was a king and generous host. He once remarked that big houses need to be filled by lots of people enjoying themselves. Well we certainly did!

David was a big man in every sense. He did not seek the spotlight, and was content to work quietly behind the scenes, bringing people together and reconciling differing views, as many people in the clubs and societies that he belonged to will testify. He had a life-enhancing spirit which brightened many lives.

There is a quotation which I think fits today perfectly: “It is wrong to mourn the men who die — rather, we should thank God that such men lived”.

Let us then continue to celebrate the life of a great Scot.

This post was published on Monday, July 13th, 2009 8:08 pm. It has been categorised under Heraldry People Scotland and been tagged under , , , .
vickie ahearn
4 Aug 2009 5:53 am

Just found out i’m a Lumsden/Fenton. Came from the Australian connection. Its great to actually see our relo’s in picture and story.Thanks.

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