David Learmont: Inaugural curator at the National Trust for Scotland who transformed a host of prestigious properties

David Learmont was the first holder of the position of curator in the National Trust for Scotland.

A gifted man, of demonic energy, dedicated to the aims of the Trust, and of good, if controversial taste, Learmont was never in the inner councils of NTS headquarters at Charlotte Square, in the way that the curator in England was central to the decision-making of the English Trust. He was a "doer". He loathed sitting in long-winded committee meetings. He was on the proverbial road, at properties, often preparing for public viewing houses that had been allowed to become chaotic and shabby.

David Murray Learmont was born in Hovingham, where his father was a doctor; among his patients were the great Yorkshire family of Worsley. Childhood familiarity with their beautiful house, full of treasures, gave him a love of furniture and elegant objets d'art. After school at Sedbergh, at the time under the inspirational headmastership of Bruce Lockett, Learmont went to Switzerland to learn the culinary arts at the celebrated Hotel School at Lausanne. Among his life-long abilities was that of being a superb cook.

Returning to Britain, he applied for posts in the private sector of primary schooling, and was appointed a master at Isleden Court preparatory school and spent 12 happy years there from 1955 to 1967. When he was passed over for the headmastership he went to Dulwich College prep school, between 1967 and 1970, then came to the notice of the long-term director of the National Trust for Scotland (later Sir) James Stormonth Darling. He became a founder member of the Furniture History Society.

By 1970, Stormonth Darling and his chairman, the Earl of Wemyss, a shrewd judge of character, were becoming impatient with scholars and dilettantes. They wanted as their first curator a man who would actually roll up his sleeves and get down to work in presenting the properties – which NTS was acquiring thick and fast from a Scottish aristocracy whose next generation, as Wemyss acidly put it, "were deserting their posts". Stormonth Darling and Wemyss took a chance on Learmont and his wife, Ann, a descendent of the Granville family who had been alongside William Wilberforce in the anti-slavery campaigns. Learmont was to fulfil their requirements for the next 27 years.

During the 10-year period in which Lester Borley was director of NTS (Borley having succeeded Stormonth Darling), it did not matter that the curator was absent from important committee meetings since Borley himself, later the driving force in the British section of Europa Nostra, supplied the scholarship and expertise in art which was sometimes necessary in putting the curatorial case.

He did not claim to be a scholar of the calibre of the curators who worked in the English Trust. But as an "action man", leading the dedicated team of Christopher Hartley and John Batty, he achieved necessary transformation at an array of houses, ranging from the mighty Culzean Castle on the Ayrshire coast to the House of Dun, Kellie Castle and Falkland Palace in Fife. He also turned his attention to the great Aberdeenshire properties such as Castle Fraser, Crathes Castle, Craigievar Castle and smaller properties such as Hugh Miller's Cottage in the Cromarty Firth Black Isle and the little houses at Dunkeld in Perthshire. One of his many triumphs was setting up the fascinating kitchen of the Georgian House, near NTS headquarters, in Edinburgh's Charlotte Square.

Learmont had a particular gift, invaluable in a curator of National Trust for Scotland houses, of an absolutely outstanding eye for the right carpet. As NTS's first curator, he was asked to furnish – or in Scots parlance, "find furnishings" – for rooms in recently acquired houses that had either been neglected, or had lost contents to the extended families of previous owners. Learmont's astonishing capacity to remember the ambience of many rooms and their exact dimensions was a tremendous attribute in his many, many visits to Edinburgh sales rooms on behalf of NTS.

He was responsible for a great deal of outstanding acquisitions. His detractors would mutter that, "David is a first-class interior decorator" and would use the somewhat derogatory term "Learmontising" to describe what they perceived as the stereotyping of the interior of NTS properties. In my opinion, and that of my wife as property managers at the House of the Binns, given by my mother in 1944, this was unfair. Learmont's aim was to show NTS houses as the sort of homes in which people would wish to live, surrounded by paintings, and plenishings of cultural and historic interest and importance.

Learmont also had an asset that perhaps can be misinterpreted, but was, in fact, an inestimable benefit to NTS. He charmed elderly ladies, with a cocktail of teasing and respect. But he was genuinely, and not synthetically, charming. One result was that NTS was bequeathed a lot of serious money in the form of legacies which the trust would not otherwise have had.

David Murray Learmont, curator, National Trust for Scotland, 1970-1997: born Hovingham, Yorkshire 19 June 1935; married 1960 Ann Granville Sharp (two sons); died Malleny, Midlothian 21 July 2009.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little