WITH the death of Baroness Elliot of Harwood, Scotland has lost one of

its most colourful political and social figures of the century. She was

just days short of her 91st birthday.

Born into a distinguished Glasgow industrial family, the Tennants of

St Rollox, she was the widow of the Rt. Hon. Walter Elliot, former

Secretary of State for Scotland and MP for Kelvingrove, once strongly

tipped as a future Prime Minister. Indeed, No. 10 would have been highly

familiar ground to Lady Elliot because of a peculiar set of


Through her father's first marriage, she was half-sister to the

brilliant Margot Asquith, wife of H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister in the

early part of the century. Margot, who was her senior by 39 years, would

regularly welcome the little sister from Scotland who would find herself

playing in the nursery at No. 10 with Margot's son Anthony, later to

become the distinguished film director.

In her later years, Lady Elliot told me of a childhood visit when she

had to push her way through suffragettes as they demonstrated outside

the Prime Minister's front door.

She herself later advanced the cause of women by example, both as

British spokesman at the United Nations and as the first woman member

ever to speak in the House of Lords.

Delightfully, she also found her way into the Guinness Book of Records

for a statistic which was hard to believe. You were inclined to question

her memory when she told you, in the 1990s, that her father had been

born in 1823. But it was true. Sir Charles Tennant, a former Liberal MP

in Glasgow, was indeed born in the reign of George IV. But the last

three of his 15 children were conceived from his 80th year onwards. The

double life-span of more than 170 years was therefore one for the record


The Tennant family were originally farming neighbours of Robert Burns

in Ayrshire. When they moved into industry in Glasgow, their premises at

St Rollox became the biggest chemical complex in the world, symbolised

by the famous Tennant Stalk. Lady Elliot's grandfather invented

bleaching powder and that family firm eventually became the founding

basis of ICI.

The family home was in the then fashionable West George Street,

Glasgow, but K. Tennant, as she was popularly known, was off to

finishing school in Paris, before returning to the London scene of the

1920s, a member of the Asquith household and a debutante presented at

Court to King George V and Queen Mary.

Her political interest took her to the London School of Economics,

mainly to hear Lord Beveridge and Harold Laski, but she also became a

popular hostess, both at the Asquith home and at the Westminster

townhouse in Lord North Street which remained her London base for the

rest of her life.

Young bloods who graced her dinner parties were men like Harold

Macmillan, Robert Boothby, Archibald Sinclair, Noel Skelton and Oliver

Stanley. As a Liberal of good connection, she knew every Prime Minister

from the time of her own brother-in-law, Mr Asquith, to whom she was

devoted. Because of his rows with Lloyd George, she inherited a family

dislike of the little Welshman.

A change in her political hue was hastened by her affection for Walter

Elliot, an up-and-coming Conservative. A member of the family which ran

the Border auctioneers of Lawrie and Symington, young Walter had met

tragedy when his first wife was killed on their honeymoon during a

climbing accident in Skye.

She married him in 1934. It was a formidable partnership which would

surely have reached highest office but for Walter's loyal support of

Neville Chamberlain in his attempts to avoid war. Their lives ran

between their Westminster home and the Harwood estate, near Hawick,

where Walter collapsed and died in 1958.

When his widow failed to retain his seat at Glasgow Kelvingrove, her

old friend, Harold Macmillan, gave her the peerage which enabled her to

become the first woman member to speak in the Lords.

She was an eloquent and charming woman, the British voice to condemn

the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary at the United Nations in 1956.

Back home, she continued to attend the Lords until recent weeks,

always preferring to walk round to Westminster until a broken hip

necessitated a taxi. She suffered a second mishap at the opening of

Parliament in November but was already planning her return. Weekends

were spent back in the Borders.

All three of her father's children by the second marriage reached the

peerage. Sister Nancy married Thomas Dugdale (the Minister of

Agriculture who resigned in 1954 over the Crichel Down affair) who

became Lord Crathorne; and sister Margaret became Lady Wakehurst, whose

husband was Governor of Northern Ireland from 1952 until 1964.

The Elliots had no family and their nephew, Andrew Lubbock, who took

over the farming and business interests, is due to inherit the estate.

Other relatives include Sir Iain Tennant, who became Lord Lieutenant

of Morayshire, and Anthony Tennant, who followed Scotland's Lord

Macfarlane as chairman of Guinness. He appreciated the coincidence that

his great-aunt was gracing the company's book of records.