Obituary: Robert Maxtone Graham, entrepreneurial laird’s son who loved a good party

Robert Maxtone Graham
Robert Maxtone Graham
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Robert Mungo Maxtone Graham, entrepreneur, genealogist and socialite. Born: 1931 in London. Died: 3 December, 2017, aged 86.

Robert Maxtone Graham, who has died aged 86, was a member of the Faculty of Advocates. With a First from Cambridge, considerable powers of application and a quick wit, he would surely have prospered at the ­Scottish Bar had he chosen to take that course.

However, in the late 1950s he chose to leave Scotland and took up legal positions, first at ICI in Cheshire, and later at Pfizer in Sandwich, Kent, before becoming an entrepreneur and a rescuer of beautiful old buildings.

He found working for big businesses too limiting for someone of his energy and ­initiative, so in the early 1960s he founded Maxtone Graham & Co in Sandwich, a successful estate agency.

He created one of the first antique markets outside ­London, the Malthouse in Hythe, Kent, which is still flourishing 44 years later. ­Later in his career he became a planning inspector, deciding planning appeals, a quasi-judicial role in England.

His knowledge and love of Scottish history were ­profound and his own family’s place in that history was his special interest. His father was the 16th laird of Cultoquhey in Perthshire, and Maxtone ­Graham, a skilled genealogist, knew every detail of the ­family’s role in Scottish affairs. He created leafy handmade trees as wedding presents for many friends.

His grandfather, James ­Maxtone Graham, founded the firm of chartered accountants Maxtone Graham & Sime in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, which became one of the most respected firms of accountants in Scotland, merging with others to become one of the big four accountancy firms.

Maxtone Graham’s mother was of a distinguished family in Fife by the name of Anstruther. From that surname she took the pseudonym of Jan Struther. Under this name she wrote the Mrs Miniver pieces for The Times, thus unleashing a publishing phenomenon. The pieces were collected into a book that sold well in Britain and went on to be a bestseller in the USA. MGM snapped up the rights, and converted the book into a classic wartime movie, starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon.

Born in London in 1931, ­Robert Mungo Maxtone ­Graham was evacuated to the USA during the war years, before completing his education at Stowe and then ­Cambridge. As a young man about town in Edinburgh in the 1950s, the parties he organised became legendary. In 1956, backed by a few friends, he hired one of the Queensferry ferryboats for the whole night and threw a party for 400 people.

Champagne flowed, reels were danced through the night, and the ferry, skilled in going several times each day from north to south, ventured into unknown waters upstream. Photographs of the party appeared the following day in the national press headlined: “We’ll show ‘em! Scottish Social Life as Gay as London’s”.

Ever the archivist, Maxtone Graham kept a record of all the guests who had been aboard. Based on this, a 50th anniversary celebration of the ­Ferry Boat Party was held in the courtyard of Maxtone ­Graham’s Edinburgh flat in 2006 – and was also covered by the press, including The Scotsman.

The much-loved Gainsborough portrait in the Scottish National Gallery of The Beautiful Mrs Graham was bequeathed to the gallery by the heir of her husband, ­Thomas Graham, later Lord Lynedoch, on the condition that it never leave Scotland.

In 2003, the gallery held an exhibition around this painting, in which the Gainsborough portrait was reunited for the first time with the ­portrait of Mrs Graham’s husband which is kept at the Perth Museum. Maxtone Graham was able to lend to the exhibition one of Mrs Graham’s dresses, together with her walking cane.

In 1962, Maxtone Graham married Claudia Page-Phillips, nee Tannert. They lived happily in Sandwich for 57 years, and worked together in all of Maxtone Graham’s ­ventures.

They had one daughter, Ysenda, an author and regular columnist in Country Life.

CAF