A presentation by Iona Kielhorn
Wednesday 9th March 2022 at Elgin Town Hall
Iona Kielhorn entertained and informed members with a fascinating personal insight into the life of her grandfather Ramsay MacDonald, first Labour Prime Minister in 1924 and again in 1929, and then leader of the National Government from 1931 to 1935. The lecture was illustrated with a wide range of family and official photographs from Macdonald’s childhood, his early career and his life in Parliament. She began by showing a picture of the two room cottage in Gregory Place in Lossiemouth where James MacDonald was born, and contrasted it with an image of his state funeral in Westminster Abbey, attended by royalty.
This was not a lecture about the Labour party or the politics of the inter-war years, but the story of Ramsay Macdonald, the devoted son, husband and father. He was born in 1866, the illegitimate son of Anne Ramsay, whose surname he adopted when he embarked on a career in politics to distinguish him from another James MacDonald active in the trade union movement. He was educated at the Free Church School in Lossiemouth and later at Drainie parish school. His mother was a powerful influence in his life and encouraged him to leave Lossiemouth and seek his fortune in the south. He left at the age of 19, but returned to Lossiemouth throughout his life. He went first to Bristol and then London, where he became involved in radical politics and soon joined Keir Hardie’s Independent Labour Party. He married Margaret Gladstone in 1896. The marriage was a very happy one and the couple had six children including Malcolm who also became a politician, Ishbel who became her father’s companion after the death of her mother and Joan, Iona’s own mother.
In 1909 after Margaret’s death he built a house in Lossiemouth for his mother and children – the Hillocks in Moray Street, where Iona still lives and which she lovingly preserves as a memorial to her grandfather. In the house are letters, papers, books and furniture, some of which the Madonalds had in Downing St.
Her grandfather had wanted to build his house on Prospect Terrace with its fine sea views, but because of his socialism and pacifism during the war was refused planning permission. He was also denied admission to the Moray Golf Club for the same reason, and so played golf at Spey Bay. Iona’s talk was enlivened with anecdotes like these – how he hired his suits for formal occasions from Moss Bros, how he read aloud to his children from Walter Scott and other classics, how he and his wife loved to travel. He was also a close friend of Kurt Hahn, founder of Gordonstoun, and was instrumental in getting him out of Nazi Germany in 1933.
Ramsay Macdonald died, at sea, while on holiday with his daughter Sheila in November 1937. His ashes are buried at Spynie graveyard.