Obituary: Rachel Peterkin, county councillor and Justice of the Peace

Born: 2 April, 1916, in Edinburgh. Died: 22 November, 2014, in Elliscombe Park, aged 98
Rachel Peterkin: The driving force behind the establishment of the award-winning Fife Folk MuseumRachel Peterkin: The driving force behind the establishment of the award-winning Fife Folk Museum
Rachel Peterkin: The driving force behind the establishment of the award-winning Fife Folk Museum

Rachel Peterkin, who has died aged 98, co-founded an award-winning museum during a long and productive life marked by a strong sense of public service and a passion for gardening.

With her ability to absorb information, respect for all and innate common sense, she served as a county councillor in Fife and was the driving force behind the establishment of the Fife Folk Museum.

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Born Rachel Mary Watson into an Edinburgh legal family in 1916, her birth coincided with a Zeppelin raid on the city.

Her father, the Hon Adam G Watson, was an Edinburgh lawyer and both her grandfather and his brother were Law Lords.

Her mother Gwendolen was a daughter of Sir Richard Lodge, the distinguished historian whose siblings included the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, the mathematician Alfred Lodge and Eleanor Lodge, the first woman to be awarded an Hon D. Litt from Oxford University.

Just two years after her birth, her mother died during the great flu epidemic of 1918.

Educated at Sherborne School for Girls, she married the son of a Forfar doctor William Conon Grant Peterkin, known as “Co”, at St Giles’ Cathedral in 1937.

The couple moved to Fife and began married life together in St Andrews, where Co worked as a solicitor with Pagan, Osborne and Grace.

At the outbreak of war Co, who was a talented cricketer for the Grange Club in Edinburgh, joined the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry and was attached to the 15th/19th Hussars. On his way to France he was captured in Belgium early in 1940 and was held as a prisoner of war.

Their first child, Dinny, was born in May 1940 and first met her father on her fifth birthday at Leuchars Station when he came back from PoW camp in 1945.

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After his return, two more daughters, Hilary and Elisabeth, followed and the family moved to Ceres in 1947.

There at Hillside House, Rachel was able to indulge a passion for gardening, which she inherited from her father.

A beautiful garden was created over a period of time from two fields which she purchased in addition to the existing lang rigg garden. Later this was regularly opened to the public under the National Gardens Scheme.

Her enthusiasm for horticulture did not diminish with age and in her 80s she planted a mini arboretum.

An unusual feature of the garden was a bunker, a birthday present for her husband so that he could practise his recovery shots for R&A medals.

Her desire to contribute to the community saw her become a county councillor in the days when local authorities were served by unpaid volunteers rather than political apparatchiks. As a councillor, she devoted much time to planning and health issues. She was also a Justice of the Peace.

Her interest in local history and intimate knowledge of Fife was to leave a lasting impression with the establishment of the Fife Folk Museum in Ceres.

In 1962 she and Jack Playfair set up the Central (now Cupar) and North Fife Preservation Society.

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When the derelict tollbooth, or Weigh House, in Ceres was gifted to the Preservation Society by the Mitchell family in 1964, she became determined to transform it into a museum.

The building was renovated and the Fife Folk Museum opened in 1968.

In 1972, she succeeded Jack Playfair as chairman of the Central and North Fife Preservation Trust. As chairman of trustees, she sourced grants, masterminded expansion and recruited curators.

Over the years, a shop and a workshop were added and the collection of artefacts grew. By the 1980s, the museum had garnered several awards, including a Civic Trust Commendation, the Tenant Caledonian Community Award and a European Heritage Award.

The museum remained an abiding interest for the rest of her life. In old age, she was always on hand to offer sensible and welcome advice to those who took over the day-to-day running of the venture.

Recently she had donated her husband’s military uniform for an exhibition on the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry.

In her younger days, she was a good golfer and was a past chairman of the St Rule Ladies Golf Club, St Andrews. She was also a member of the St Andrews women’s curling club. Her husband died in 1978 aged 68 while playing golf on the Old Course at St Andrews. In 2010, she left her house and garden to be nearer her family in Somerset.

She is survived by her two younger daughters Hilary and Elisabeth, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Sadly, her eldest child Dinny was to pass away in Austria just 36 hours after her own death.

Rachel Peterkin’s funeral service took place on 15 December in Somerset, but a family burial will be held in Kemback, Fife, on Monday, 12 January.