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Anger as cathedral plans sale of gift left by tycoon

HE was one of a generation of mercantile philanthropists who were said to have enriched ­Glasgow with generous bequests to the community.

DESCENDENT: Dr Scott Hepburn.
DESCENDENT: Dr Scott Hepburn.

Now a descendent of whisky magnate Charles Hepburn has complained that one of the country's most famous cathedrals is to sell a carpet that has decked the courts of kings and which the benefactor left in his will to the ancient place of worship's Kirk Session.

Dr Scott Hepburn, the tycoon's great nephew, said he believes the 300-year-old Coronation Carpet on which Edward VII was crowned in 1902 should be kept in Glasgow Cathedral despite it needing repairs and maintenance.

The consultant at the Western General Infirmary in Glasgow is launching an attempt to halt its sale and said the Friends of the Cathedral - a multi-faith group not connected with the Kirk - had offered to take responsibility for the carpet.

The Church of Scotland said the cathedral initially planned to pay to keep the carpet from ­deteriorating further but was advised its charity status would not allow funds to be spent on conserving "family heirlooms and artefacts".

It said it only reluctantly decided to sell the carpet - a ­decision made unanimously by the Kirk Session - after two museums declined to take it.

The Kirk said the carpet had lain unseen in the Lower Chapter House as it could not afford insurance to put it on display, and added that any funds raised from its sale may be put towards a scholarship.

The carpet is due to go up for auction at Lyon and Turnbull on Wednesday, and is expected to fetch £10,000 to £15,000.

One elder resigned from the Kirk Session over the sale and said she was appalled at the ­decision by the cathedral, where Reverend Dr Lawrence ­Whitley is minister,

Charles Hepburn made his fortune by creating one of the most famous blends of whisky, Red Hackle, and when he died in 1971 bequeathed much of his vast collection.

Among a number of the other objects Mr Hepburn gave to the cathedral is the clock that sits above the great west door.

Dr Hepburn said: "My ­great-uncle was quite a benefactor to the city of Glasgow and he gave a few things to the cathedral, but in particular the carpet. I told the Church this really does not sit well with us and we do not support the sale of it. I think it is very much selling off the family silver.

"I think people should know if they are giving gifts to the cathedral this is what they can expect. Nothing is sacred."

The cathedral said no formal approach was made to its session clerk.

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: "Every effort has been made to maintain the carpet and the Kirk Session initially voted to expend the necessary funds to stabilise the deterioration in the carpet's material.

"After seeking guidance from the Scottish charity regulator, OSCR, the Kirk Session was informed its charity status was not consistent with it spending funds on the conservation of family heirlooms and artefacts.

"As the carpet was a gift, this is not a decision which has been easy or taken lightly and the process of investigation has taken several years.

"The Kirk Session is investigating the possibility of using any profit from the sale towards establishing a Charles Hepburn Memorial Choral Scholarship."

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