The Scottish Castles Association Council considered several nominations for the 2008 award. Our unanimous choice was SCA member Francis David Charteris, Lord Wemyss the 12th Earl of Wemyss and 8th Earl of March. Over the years Lord Wemyss had been active in the drive for the conservation of our historic heritage and had attended SCA tours all over Scotland and also in Ireland. He had encouraged us to visit several of the castles held within his Earldoms and had personally hosted SCA visits to Elcho Castle, Neidpath Castle and to Gosford House. Sadly, the Earl passed away in December 2008.
An important chapter in East Lothian's history closed with the death of noted landowner and conservationist, the Earl of Wemyss and March. The Earl was just a month short of his 97th birthday when he died on the 12th December 2008 in an Edinburgh hospital following a brief illness. As tributes were made to his outstanding work in preserving the nation's heritage, flags were flying at halfmast at his home at Gosford House.
David Francis Charteris, became 12th Earl of Wemyss and 8th Earl of March when he succeeded his grandfather to the hereditary title in 1937. His father, Lord Elcho, was killed in action in 1916. Lord Wemyss, who was educated at Eton and Oxford, was awarded an Hon LLd by St Andrews University in 1953. He served in the colonial administrative service in Basutoland between 1937 and 1944 and was a member of the Queen's Bodyguard for Scotland, The Royal Company of Archers. He served during the Second World War with the rank of major in the Union Defence Force with Basuto troops in the Middle East.
After the war, he returned to Scotland and took on a wide range of responsibilities., He was greatly interested in Scotland's historical heritage and was chairman of the National Trust for Scotland from 194769 and president from 19671991. He also chaired the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments from 1949.
He was Lord Clerk Register of Scotland from 1974 and was created a Knight of the Thistle in 1966. He was Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on three occasions in 1959, 1960 and 1977. This in addition to many other responsibilities in the church and with charities. In East Lothian, he was Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant from 1967-87.
Lord Wemyss was instrumental in securing the future of Haddington House, which in 1966 was sold by the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton to the Hamilton and Kinneil estates to form part of The Lamp of Lothian Project. Lord Wemyss was also, for many years, a trustee of the Lamp of Lothian Collegiate Trust where his input was greatly valued. The Earl made a huge contribution to raising awareness of the importance of Scotland's heritage of building and landscape.
Gosford House has been the family seat of the earls of Wemyss and March since the 18th century. The family also owns 62,000 acres of land in Haddington, Peebles, Perth and Gloucestershire, as well as Stanway House, Gloucestershire, and Neidpath and Elcho castles in Scotland. Lord Wemyss married Mavis Gordon of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1940. She died in 1988. By her he had two sons and two daughters. The elder son, Lord Elcho, died in 1954 as a result of an accident, while the younger daughter, Caroline, was born and died in November 1946. His second son, Lord Neidpath, succeeds to his father's titles. His surviving daughter is Lady Elizabeth Benson. Lord Wemyss married his second wife, Shelagh Kennedy, in 1995 and embarked on the restoration of Gosford House and the research and co-ordination of its art collection.
Today, the Robert Adam designed mansion contains one of the finest private collections of paintings in Scotland, including masterpieces by Botticelli, Rubens and Murillo, and a magnificent series of family portraits by Ramsay, Raeburn, Kneller, Reynolds and Romney.
As chairman of the National Trust for Scotland, Lord Wemyss campaigned for houses of historical importance to be exempted from death duties. He also argued that disused railway lines should be adapted for the use of cyclists and walkers.
Lord Wemyss was elected vice-president of the East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists' Society in 1949, an office which he continued to hold until his death. Stephen Bunyan the current president of the Society, said: "He will be greatly missed by all who knew him and who benefited from his friendship, wisdom, interest and generosity.
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