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26 Aug 2020

The Russell dynasty and their unique contribution to the National Trust for Scotland

Written by Caroline Borwick, National Trust for Scotland Trustee
A view of the entrance to Pollok House, seen from the surrounding woodland.
Pollok House, where early discussions about the foundation of the National Trust for Scotland took place
Three generations of the distinguished Russell family have given their dedication, passion, knowledge, vision and love to the National Trust for Scotland; each deeply relevant and innovative in their own time.

The Russell ‘legal beagles’ were, for over 70 years, the wise, dependable hands that guided the National Trust for Scotland from its inception. The fledgling organisation grew from the vision of a few passionate men in 1931 to become the organisation that now touches so many hearts around the world as we care for Scotland’s unique heritage.

Arthur Russell drew up the legal papers to establish the new body and continued as legal adviser to the Trust until 1951. In the summer of 1935 Arthur was dispatched to Glencoe with an allowance of £1,500 to negotiate the purchase of the Torren Lot, which included Signal Rock (the Trust’s objective). In order to ensure that they were at the auction on time, the 21 year old George Snr drove his father and set up camp the night before. Over dinner they happened to dine with a Dr Sutherland, and arranged a deal whereby he was given a clear run to buy Torren and then would give Signal Rock to the National Trust for Scotland for free. This allowed Arthur to purchase the massacre site for a mere £1,350 – along with the Clachaig Inn – one of many astutely negotiated purchases that the Russells’ advice brought about over the years.

A view of a snow-capped, pyramid-shaped mountain in winter. A river runs in the foreground. A walker in a bright orange coat walks beside the river.
Buachaille Etive Mór, Glencoe

George Snr took over as legal adviser from his father in 1951 and served until 1982. My family’s path intertwined with theirs at this point, as my father Jamie Stormonth Darling served as Secretary/Director to the Trust for 34 years. The ‘Three Wise Men’ – George Russell, David Wemyss and Jamie Stormonth Darling – led the organisation with a shared passion, integrity and determination to set the foundations of the organisation we have today. Their mutual deep friendship lasted throughout their long lives. Together, they dedicated 109 years to the National Trust for Scotland. Lengthy telephone calls and indecipherable missives were a fixture in our lives as children. ‘Wussell’s on the phone’ was a constant cry, as George Snr could not say his ‘Rs’. The counter-balance of George’s incisive, calm and sage advice with Jamie Stormonth Darling’s ‘idealist in a self-propelled fighting vehicle’ (as he has been described) was incredibly powerful. ‘Manners maketh man’, their old school motto, characterised them both.

Three older men stand outside a stone house on a sunny day, all smiling and looking at the camera.
George Russell Snr, Lord Wemyss and Jamie Stormonth Darling

George Jnr (as he was known to us as children) continued in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps when he served on the Council of the National Trust for Scotland, offering advice, guidance and support. George is currently undertaking an epic challenge of cycling across the US to raise funds for the Trust. This is the most recent example of his family’s loyalty and commitment to the cause of caring for and sharing the unique natural and built heritage of Scotland.

Three generations of generosity, integrity, astute advice and kindness along with a dedication to Scotland is remarkable. The National Trust for Scotland owes much to the Russell family.

Safe journey, George Junior!

A man rides a mountain bike with fully packed paniers and a little omega-shaped sign at the back, reading National Trust for Scotland Love. He is riding along a tarmac road beside some houses.
George setting off on his epic cycle ride

For those in the UK who would like to put some power in George’s pedals to help the National Trust for Scotland at this vital time, please donate at his JustGiving page.

If you live in the USA, please visit his Fundly page to make a tax deductible gift.

We’ll be sharing weekly blog updates from George’s journey on the Pedalling for Scotland page.

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