James 'Mac' Henderson

Rugby internationalist and businessman

Born: 1 May, 1907, in Elphinstone, East Lothian.

Died: 5 March, 2009, in Haddington, aged 101.

HE COULD honestly boast that every time he won a cap for Scotland he was on the winning side. Although James Henderson won just three caps, he was a member of the all-conquering 1933 side that won the Triple Crown and played regularly for Edinburgh Academicals, Dunbar Rugby Club and, while in New Zealand, for Waipukurau Rugby Club.

He was a speedy wing-forward and played alongside his two talented brothers, Ian and Ronnie, for the Accies. Ian, the youngest of the triumvirate, was a prop and earned 14 Scottish caps between 1939 and 1948, while Ronnie was never capped for rugby but played cricket for Scotland.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There is little doubt that had Henderson not been badly injured in a Barbarians match at Cardiff in 1933 he would have been capped more. As it was, the ligament injury to his knee on that Baa-Baas' Easter tour put an end to his playing career. With typical modesty Henderson, more than 6ft tall and of sturdy build, lamented: "It wouldn't have been so bad, but the boy I was tackling was the smallest player on the pitch."

Apart from being an eminent farmer in the Borders, Henderson, along with his wife, Janet, started the celebrated Edinburgh restaurant Henderson's Salad Table 47 years ago. It was inspired by Janet's commitment to healthy eating – many years before it became fashionable – but the concept of home-grown produce caught on quickly and the farm shop in Hanover Street proved hugely popular. The business thrived and is now run by three of his children – Oliver, Catherine and Peter – expanding into a restaurant and, more recently, an art gallery, in Janet's name.

James McLaren Henderson – always called "Mac" by generations of friends and family – was born on his father's farm in East Lothian and attended the Edinburgh Academy as a boarder. On leaving school he played for the recently founded Dunbar RFC but while apprenticed to an accountant's firm in Edinburgh he joined the Accies, which was to remain his principal club throughout his playing career.

In 1928 Henderson moved for three years to New Zealand, where he worked on sheep stations. The rigorous life of sheep shearing and tough training made Henderson a far fitter man. Henderson said of his time in New Zealand: "The rugby was quite different, I remember. Back then, forwards in Scotland didn't tend to pass the ball; we dribbled it about the field. But when I went to New Zealand, the climate made it different. It was warmer and drier, the pitches were harder, and forwards passed the ball a lot more."

On his return to Scotland in 1930 he bought Ugston Farm near Haddington and for many years farmed more than 1,000 acres. He was a regular member of the Accies team from 1931-33 and his proven ability around the scrum made him a strong candidate for an international cap. So it was no surprise when he was selected to play against Wales, England and Ireland in 1933.

It was after that season that Henderson went on tour with the Baa-Baas to Wales and sustained his injury. So at the early age of 25, he committed himself to farming and becoming a keen supporter of the international team and the Accies.

Ralph Lutton, a club historian, said: "Mac was a wonderful man with much style and presence. He was kindly and generous natured with a keen sense of humour. He loved the game and was of the old school of rugbymen, retaining an affection for the amateur game."

Henderson's started out as a shop but Henderson and his wife chose the location with a canny eye. Not only were there offices close by but Hanover Street became known for its "healthy eateries", especially with the Laigh Coffee House across the road. Henderson's sold excellent salads – all fresh and home grown – and some of the finest home-baked scones, pancakes and breads.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The shop soon expanded to become a small restaurant and has expanded further with the creation of Whigams Wine Cellars in the West End, which is owned by Henderson's son Nicholas.

Originally, the family Ford Consul was pushed into service to transport the fresh produce from suppliers but that was soon replaced by a second-hand Bedford van. A bakery based on Henderson's wholefood and vegetarian produce – especially the brown loaves and rolls – was opened in Canonmills in 1964, followed five years later by Henderson's Bistro on Thistle Street.

Mac Henderson was always modest about these successes. He was a successful farmer, sportsman and businessman. He was devoted to his family and took much pleasure in their ability to run the family enterprises. That gentle and amiable spirit remained into old age, and he was much lauded as the oldest living Scottish intenationalist.

He was interviewed when the BBC's Grandstand broadcast the 125th anniversary Calcutta Cup match in 2004, and was guest of honour at last year's 150th anniversary of the Accies club at Raeburn Place and photographed holding the Calcutta Cup – which he had helped to win 75 years before – with Mike Blair, Scotland's captain. In a glorious aside he told Blair: "It's a bit heavier than I remember it."

To mark his 100th birthday in 2007, the Scottish Rugby Union held a lunch in his honour at Murrayfield. There was also a family celebration at Henderson's.

Mac Henderson was himself a fine example of healthy living and eating. He maintained a moderate lifestyle, remained active all his life and always ate fresh fruit and vegetables. "All things in moderation," he often said. "Fresh air, exercise and avoid too much stress," was his recipe for a long life.

Janet died in 1973 and he is survived by their six children, one son having predeceased him.