Labour founder Ramsay MacDonald’s home set to open

VISITORS will get a rare glimpse into the private life of Scottish-born former Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald when his family home is opened to the public next month.
James Ramsay MacDonald with two of his children. Picture: ContributedJames Ramsay MacDonald with two of his children. Picture: Contributed
James Ramsay MacDonald with two of his children. Picture: Contributed

MacDonald, known in the north of Scotland as the Lossiemouth Lad, had a chequered political career but went on to be the first Labour leader to enter No 10 Downing Street.

Now his family home in Moray, called The Hillocks, is being opened to the public by his granddaughter, Iona Kielhorn, who still lives there.

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Built for MacDonald’s growing family in 1909, it was always treated by him as a haven from metropolitan politics.

The Hillocks, Lossiemouth. Picture: SubmittedThe Hillocks, Lossiemouth. Picture: Submitted
The Hillocks, Lossiemouth. Picture: Submitted

It was also the place he would work late at night, by the light of a green-shaded oil lamp, forming his first Labour administration in 1924.

The Hillocks is still home to many interesting artefacts from his days in power, including furniture from No 10 and some letters from the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian leader, and Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.

Kielhorn is allowing people to come to the house and 
see where MacDonald lived while escaping the stresses of ­politics in London during national Open Doors Day next month.

She said: “The house is more or less the same as it was back when Ramsay was alive.

“He built the house for his mother to look after his six children while he was abroad.

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“Two were born in Lossie and the older ones started school there. In 1910 his mother Annie Ramsay died and in 1911 his wife Margaret died.”

She added: “Certain elements of Lossie did not admire him and he was not allowed to build The Hillocks on Prospect Terrace as he had wanted – as apparently ‘Red bastards don’t build up here’.”

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MacDonald’s stand against Britain’s entry into the First World War also saw him expelled from Moray Golf Club, and the word traitor was smeared in white paint on an outside wall of his home.

This ban was not lifted till 1929, when MacDonald was prime minister for the second time, but he refused to return and continued playing golf at Spey Bay.

His granddaughter said much of the furniture in the house was taken by MacDonald to No 10 – as the responsibility for furnishing and staffing Downing Street in those days was entirely that of the incoming prime minister.

Most of the maids and kitchen staff of the time were recruited from the Lossiemouth area, mainly because MacDonald liked hearing his hometown accent.

Kielhorn added: “The Hillocks wasn’t particularly big, given the size of the family, and most of the time the children slept on the veranda with the housekeeper. They were quite hardy.

“But there are loads of stuff for people to see and I will be giving people tours if they wish.

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“There are odd things all over the house. I open a drawer and find a letter written in pencil asking to meet at 2pm, signed by Mahatma Gandhi.

“There is also a telegram from George Bernard Shaw refusing a knighthood, saying he should know better than offering it to a fellow socialist.”

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Ironically, MacDonald went on to refuse similar offers from Clement Attlee.

Kielhorn said there are many pictures around the house from MacDonald’s days in power, as well as family portraits including of her own mother, Joan, who married Alistair MacKinnon at a large wedding hosted at Chequers in 1932.

MacDonald’s school books are also still at The Hillocks, a tribute to the schoolmaster in Drainie School who recognised his exceptional talent, and encouraged him with extra coaching in the hours both before and after school.

During his years as Labour leader, MacDonald flew from Croydon to Lossie, landing on farmer Mustard’s field in Muirton.The pilot would then collect fuel with a bucket from a garage on the junction of Elgin Road and Inchbroom Road for the return journey.