David Maxwell Fyfe was a successful mid-twentieth century lawyer and politician. He wrote of his final elevation:



‘To have become Lord Chancellor of Great Britain with no advantage of wealth, station or influence

is something of which I hope my children are proud.’



Nevertheless he further wrote that..



I would describe my role as that of an actor given a small walking-on role in a mighty drama:

few people may notice him but he sees a good deal’



For a short period, between the late autumn of 1945 and the early winter of 1950,

Maxwell Fyfe emerged from the shadows to become centre stage in the shaping of the world that was to come. Although in opposition in parliament, and at times at loggerheads with the establishment,  

Maxwell Fyfe played a role first as prosecutor memorably cross-examining Goering

at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials,

and then as the driving force behind the European Convention on Human Rights.



I have always been haunted by my grandfather.

He described himself as a Victorian.

As he was born only a year before the end of that extraordinary reign,

this may seem a hopeful claim.

However, the shadow of the Victorian age lies squarely across the twentieth century.

It wasn't, after all until the mid-1960s that Britain had a Prime Minister

who wasn't forged in that era.


So, this then, although set in the late 1940s, is a Victorian ghost story.



So who was David Maxwell Fyfe? He was the creation of the land that bore him.



I have always been a romantic, and for me the past is peopled with brave and generous spirits.



I dreamed I saw the Albion

Of ancient history

A sceptred isle

A precious stone

Set in a silver sea

Possessed by giants

And knights so bold

A mythic treasury

So fair this golden land

So free


So natural is the fairness of this land

That human hand should strive to be so fair

To rich as well as poor

For that is natural law

Impartial justice free as air


No man or island of itself

Entire and solitary

Exists alone

But is one part

Of one great unity

For each and all

Must live in peace

That Albion may be

A green and pleasant land

And free



And he was forged by his past. Maxwell Fyfe was his mother's only child.

She, Isabel was born and brought up in Dornoch.



To me the old tales were very close.





Uncle Hugh’s report to the Napier Commission



Hush, hush, time tae be sleepin'

Hush, hush, dreams come a-creepin'

Dreams o' peace an' o' freedom

Sae smile in your sleep, bonnie babe

Once our valleys were ringin'

Wi sounds o our children singin'

But nou sheep bleat till the evenin'

An' shielings stand empty an broken




'I have been elected a delegate for Creich, as I am the executor of the late Donald Fraser,

farmer and miller at Migdale, who was evicted under exceptionally painful circumstances in 1877.

In 1785, the late John Fraser, on his return from the American War, where he had served,

took the mill and lands of Milton of Migdale.

In the following year the estate was purchased by the late distinguished agriculturist, George Dempster.

The crofters were encouraged to build good houses and fences.

If they made good efforts to improve their holdings, a most satisfactory form of tenure was granted to them.

The result of this was that a number of the Migdale tenants succeeded in obtaining in 1798

a perpetual lease of their holdings.

The original tack is in my possession. It granted perpetual tenure.



Hush, hush, time tae be sleepin'

Hush, hush, dreams come a-creepin'

Dreams o' peace an' o' freedom

Sae smile in your sleep, bonnie babe



In 1802, George Dempster was succeeded by Mr William Soper Dempster, who adopted a different policy.



And who were the traitors who bound you  

Your loyal chiefs, who forced chains around you  

This land bleeds silent without you

Never to wait your return  ...



John Fraser died in 1810,

and was succeeded in terms of the tack by his son Hugh (who) occupied the farm until his death in 1876. During his occupancy the farm was greatly improved.

But the policy of the estate officials was now to reverse the liberal policy of George Dempster.



Where was our fine Highland mettle,

Our proud men, brave hearts in battle?

Now stand, cowed, herded like cattle

Soon tae be shipped owre the ocean



Hugh Fraser was lured into renouncing his perpetual tenure for a life tenure,

though the dreadful consequences were not to follow until 60 years had elapsed.

The splendid tack of 1798 became a dead letter.



Hush, hush, time tae be sleepin'

Hush, hush, dreams come a-creepin'

Dreams o' peace an' o' freedom

Sae smile in your sleep, bonnie babe



When Hugh Fraser died in 1876,

Mr Walker who had acquired the estate by purchase in 1872

raised an action of removing against Donald Fraser, the heir at law.



We stood, wi' heads bowed in prayer

While factors laid our cottages bare

The flames fired the clear mountain air

An many lay dead in the mornin'



Decree of removal was obtained to take effect on 15th October 1877.



No use pleading or praying

All hope gone, no hope of staying



The shock was so great, and the idea of removing so unexpected,

that Fraser's health gave way, and he died broken-hearted on the 14th October 1877,

the day before he should have had to remove from the home of his fathers.



Dreams o' peace an o' freedom

Don't cry in your sleep, bonnie babe

Don't cry in your sleep, bonnie babe



I hold that it is monstrous that in our country there should exist a system of land laws

whereby such a chain of events as those narrated above could be at all possible.



To live within touching distance of the clan, close to the old stories,

stretching back to the rewriting of Scottish history in 1745.

It's hundreds of years from the present, and is of little interest to many now. Is history dead?



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