Obituaries: Raymond Morris, Englishman who became Scots medievalist

Raymond Morris, medievalist. Born: 4 August 1930 in Walsall, Staffordshire. Died: 28 August 2022 in Balgonie, Fife, aged 92

A native of Staffordshire, Raymond Morris believed he’d been born in the wrong place
A native of Staffordshire, Raymond Morris believed he’d been born in the wrong place

Raymond Morris was the delightfully eccentric and highly talented Englishman who arrived in Scotland as a teenage National Serviceman and died a laird – in the process completely reinventing himself.

From earliest days in Staffordshire, Raymond believed he’d been born in the wrong place. He took first steps to rectify this by enlisting in the Gordon Highlanders for National Service. By the time his long life ended, this constant kilt-wearer had become not just a walking encyclopaedia on heraldry, chivalry and clan matters but, as a craftsman of the first order, had restored a castle, as well as creating and furnishing several homes in the Scots architectural idiom.

In so doing, he discovered that he possessed ownership to two titles. In the Scots tradition, he was Morris of Eddergoll, thanks to his restored mill near Aberfeldy, and when he, his wife Margaret and son Stuart took over ruined Balgonie Castle in Fife in 1985, he became Morris of Balgonie – with Margaret styled Lady Balgonie.

Idiosyncratic and engaging, when asked what he’d like to mark his 80th birthday, Raymond replied: “Lady Godiva in the castle courtyard”. Come the day in 2010, the exceptionally long-haired Heike Williamson appeared on a grey.

Morris’s military service was in Germany with the British Army of the Rhine, straddling the 15-month Berlin Airlift from June 1948. His regimental kilt became “my working kilt”, though his habitual apparel was the Morris of Balgonie sett, a tartan recorded in 1987.

Raymond Stanley Morris of Balgonie and Eddergoll became an accomplished leather carver, his output running from clan crests to sporrans. He learned as an armourer to fashion dirks, and he painted coats-of-arms.

The Laird, his Lady and Balgonie Younger – as Raymond, Margaret and son Stuart became known – developed the castle in a manner both suited to the 17th century and to his own outlook as a modern medievalist, with his fastidious historical research marking him out as 30th laird. He was a founder member of the Scottish Castles Association, readily giving of time and talent to help others restore tower houses.

He and his family created Balgonie as a centre where practical heraldry could be celebrated. He decorated ceilings with coats-of-arms of his predecessor lairds, with guests becoming used to seeing a laird up a ladder, paintbrush in hand. Typically of his artistic munificence, he painted two score coats-of-arms of dignitaries of the Order of St Lazarus on the walls and ceiling of St Vincent’s Church in Edinburgh. He developed a “household”, reviving ancient offices such as falconer, piper, harper, mistress of the robes and captain of the guard. Those so honoured had their painted shields mounted on a stairway. His skills as a stonemason saw a decorated courtyard that included a replica of the Stone of Destiny.

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While studying agriculture at the former East of Scotland College, the future Balgonie met fellow student Margaret Stuart. Married life began near Monikie in Angus, but it was in a later home in Acharn on the south bank of Loch Tay that his skills were tested when in 1965 their son Stuart was born – with Raymond aiding the delivery due to the doctor being late.

Three years later the couple bought the nearby derelict mill of Eddergoll, restoring it as a home, with a craft shop in an old kiln. What became Raymond’s workshop was created through Margaret mixing tons of concrete to form the ground floor. A half-acre rubbish dump became a garden regularly opened for charity, while a garden shed saw new life as an aviary for budgerigars – offspring of which could be found in almost every house in the village.

When in 1974, the oil shortage and three-day week made it near-impossible for local people to make the 16-mile return trip to Aberfeldy for haircuts, Raymond and Margaret arranged for the hairdresser to come to the mill, with men enjoying haircuts in the workshop, and ladies having theirs done in the family living room.

The move to Balgonie Castle was a bold step, for Raymond knew that the 14th-century keep surrounded by courtyard buildings dating back four centuries would never see completion in his lifetime – it remains a work in progress. But he viewed the place as his stewardship, the restoration of an important piece of Scotland’s built heritage, adding his names to previous lairdships of notables such as Sibbald, Lundie and Leslie.

Within four years, the ancient chapel had been reinstated in time for the first wedding on the Glorious Twelfth. Margaret, such a constant support to Raymond, had her favourite corner in the chapel for every ceremony. Poignantly, her own funeral took place there on the 25th anniversary of the first nuptials. Practising Christians, Raymond and Margaret hosted monthly chapel services, friendly occasions based on songs of praise.

Heraldry and chivalry remained mainstays in his life. Having recorded arms at age 29, he embraced his motto “Truth and Chivalry” with vigorous example. He could have added “and Courtesy”, for his encounters with visitors and friends were marked by innate good manners, not to say gallantry.

Raymond Morris of Balgonie was a master of ceremonial, and in younger days at investitures of the Order of St Lazarus in St Vincent’s in Edinburgh he cut a magnificent figure, tall with dark beard, holding the sword of the order in procession.

Years ago, he fashioned his own coffin, painting on his name, followed by his year of birth, and it became a custom each New Year for him to change the year for his death.

He is survived by his son Stuart, a historian, daughter-in-law Kelly and step-grandchildren.

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