Obituary: Jane Durham

Jane Durham's awareness of the importance of preserving those things from the past which express cultural identity had its first tangible success in the battle to save and re-use the early-19th century Tain Academy, which was organised by the Tain and Easter Ross Civic Society. She went on to bring her vitality to the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland (formerly the Scottish Georgian Society), chairing the Highland group and assiduously scrutinising planning and listed buildings applications to ensure that unnecessary damage to buildings and landscape was avoided.

She was born Jane Paterson in Easter Ross, Ross and Cromarty, in 1924, into a farming family. The county became the centre from which her life spread out to embrace many environmental, cultural and conservation causes to which she brought unbounded vigour, freshness and enthusiasm. In 1947 she married Lt-Cdr Phil Durham, but their life with the navy was cruelly curtailed when he contracted polio. It was to Easter Ross that they returned and from 1957 their house, Scotsburn, became the hub of their farming and family life. Jane Durham cut her campaigning teeth over the plans to build the British Aluminium smelter at Invergordon; that battle was lost and her childhood home obliterated but it was a turning- point in her life.

Durham's deep instinct for the Highlands became the springboard for her service to the cultural and natural heritage of the area. Essentially self-taught and with a clarity of vision and an open-mindedness which could on occasion startle, she acquired an extraordinary knowledge which she generously shared with students, scholars and friends alike. Her interests ranged from pre- history to the early Christians to agricultural development and the vernacular. She took enormous pleasure in investigating any visible remains of monuments and buildings, however fragmentary or remote their situation.

Above all she wanted others to share these enthusiasms which led her towards causes and organisations embracing the same ideas and to which she gave unstinting support and powerful stimuli, the latter sometimes uncomfortable to the complacent. Her active participation as a member and for a term chairman of the Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group opened the eyes of many to the importance of the rural culture of the Highlands.

It was her own small restoration business, set up in the early 1970s with Patsy Siriacs, which gave her first-hand experience of the eccentricities of old buildings and the problems associated with bringing them back to life. As a result she was a valuable and practical trustee of the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust, whose rescue of the Cromarty Old Manse was particularly close to her heart and led to further conservation initiatives in that place with the Cromarty Trust.

Through the early Christian carved stones at Shandwick and Nigg, the archaeological work at Fearn Abbey and the Old Parish Church at Tarbat, and the presence of the Collegiate Church at Tain, Durham's interest in the early Christian history of the Highlands was fired. By her efforts committees were formed, people were brought together and plans thrashed out, all with the aim of making the ecclesiastical history of the Highlands better understood and explained to as wide an audience as possible.

The beauty and significance of the early carved stones moved her deeply and at the time of her death she was pursuing the future care of the Hilton of Cadboll stone. It was a natural progression to be at the forefront of the movement to establish a Scottish Redundant Churches Trust and it is significant that two Northern Scottish churches from St Peter's Sandwick, in Orkney and Ardclach, Nairn could be among the first to come to the Trust.

Durham was a great enabler and her fearless insistence in going straight to the top of any organisation, however august, which she felt could further her particular cause, brought her to the notice of people beyond her local sphere and in turn brought many people from elsewhere in the UK to Scotsburn. This enthusiasm ultimately brought her the appointment she valued deeply, that of a Commissioner on the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. She served the Commission for ten years (1984-94) and brought her local knowledge, and particularly her concern for the archaeology of upland regions under serious threat from the march of commercial afforestation, to bear on the Commission's programme of work. But it was not simply her concerns for the survey and recording aims of the Commission but her care and understanding of the staff which made her contribution so outstanding.

For all these achievements and for many more not recorded here, she was appointed MBE in 1995. Her unstinting work, all undertaken in a voluntary capacity, has touched the lives of many throughout Scotland and beyond.

Jane Mary Stow Paterson, conservationist: born Easter Ross, Ross and Cromarty 26 May 1924; MBE 1995; married 1947 Lt-Cdr Philip Durham (three sons); died Easter Ross 1 April 1997.