It is sometimes hard, if you'll pardon the pun, to get to the bottom of bucket lists. By which I mean, their origins are sometimes obscure. I've always loved travelling, for example, but can't really pinpoint the moment that generic enjoyment gave way to the ambition to visit all 193 UN-recognised countries. My desire to track down every Prime Ministerial grave, similarly, is of uncertain provenance.
I think it may have started with Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Facebook tells me that I posted a few pictures of his largely-forgotten grave in Meigle churchyard more than 11 years ago. I remember it attracted only a few likes and even some ribaldry from a close friend who found both the journey and photographs rather ridiculous. Naturally, he had never heard of Sir Henry, and had no desire to rectify that gap in his knowledge.
Campbell-Bannerman is one of six former Prime Ministers who rest on Scottish soil. His grave, not far from his old home, Belmont Castle, notes his achievements: MP for the Stirling Burghs, twice Secretary of State for War, 'at once Leader and Father of the House', and, finally, 'First Lord of the Treasury and Prime Minister up to within a few days of his death'. Sir Henry didn't quite die in office, but he did die at 10 Downing Street, 19 days after relinquishing office.
If he's remembered at all these days, it's for two reasons: first, as leader of the Liberal Party when it secured an historic landslide in the General Election of 1906 and, secondly, prior to that electoral triumph, for creating a political storm when, in a speech to the National Reform Union in 1901, he described the concentration camps established by the British during the Boer War as 'methods of barbarism'. (I included this speech in a volume of Great Scottish Speeches
I edited several years ago.)
Four years after I visited Meigle, following a speaking engagement at Aberdeen University (my alma mater), I caught a train to Elgin where the then MP for Moray, Angus Robertson, kindly gave me a whistle-stop tour of his constituency, which encompasses the coastal town of Lossiemouth. Ramsay MacDonald, the UK's first Labour Prime Minister and a much-maligned (by his own party) socialist politician, had a deep connection with Lossiemouth, where he was born and lived.
I remember seeing his modest home, still – I think – occupied by a MacDonald, and his movingly modest headstone in Spynie churchyard. His final years were rather sad. At the 1935 General Election, Ramsay was defeated in Seaham by Manny Shinwell, a fellow Scot, but a seat was soon contrived via a by-election for the Combined Scottish Universities seat in January 1936 (the Establishment also wanted to prevent an SNP candidate becoming an MP, but that's another story).
Already in poor health, MacDonald's collapsed more dramatically later that year. Ramsay was deeply affected by the death of King George V shortly before the above by-election, and a sea voyage was recommended to restore the former Prime Minister's health (he had given way to Stanley Baldwin, long de facto premier, the previous year). This prescription was, to say the least, unsuccessful, for MacDonald died on board the liner MV Reina del Pacifico on 9 November 1937.
His funeral was at Westminster Abbey a couple of weeks later. Like many other former premiers, MacDonald has the honour of a commemorative plaque in the abbey but not a burial. Rather, his ashes were buried alongside those of his wife Margaret at Spynie back in Morayshire. I remember the kirkyard being small, hilly and rather beautiful. The headstone simply lists Margaret, Ramsay and their son Malcolm, himself a politician and diplomat – the last British governor of Kenya.
What of the others? The 3rd Earl of Bute is buried on his eponymous island, close to the magnificent and eccentric Mount Stuart. For some reason I only have a wide-angled photograph of a dozen or so Butes outside St Mary's Chapel near the coast, but he's certainly among them. There's little to see, meanwhile, of Lord Rosebery, who's interred at Dalmeny Kirk near South Queensferry. The church itself is architecturally interesting, but Gladstone's troubled successor is hidden away in a private family crypt.
Arthur Balfour, as I've written before for the Scottish Review, rests at Whittinghame in East Lothian, close to where an ancestor still resides. His grave was cleaned up a few years ago, but its obscurity still belies the status and legacy of the statesman it contains. Last, but not least, is Lord Home, the UK's most recent (deceased) Scottish premier. I was supposed to visit his grave in Lennel churchyard, Coldstream, earlier this year with my father, but it was disrupted, not by COVID-19 but a storm. It'll have to wait – I'm not in any rush.