Forgotten Achiever

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Lady Susan Grant Suttie was an important figure of Prestonpans life and was certainly responsible for preserving the Grant Suttie Dynasty when it could have been easily destroyed. Unfortunately her achievements occurred when there was a Victorian propensity to ignore female accomplishments and there is no biographical record of what she did.

Lady Susan Harriet Innes Ker was born in Floors Castle on 13 November 1837, to James, 6th Duke of Roxburghe and his wife Susana. The Floors Castle holds a 19th century painting by Henry Wyndham Phillips of Lady Susan and her sister Charlotte. In the summer of 1857, Lady Susan Married James Grant Suttie, heir to Sir George, 5th Baronet of Balgone and Prestongrange. They set up at home at Chirnside, where daughters Susan and Harriet, and then son George were born in 1859, 1861 and 1870 respectively. Their third daughter, Victoria Alberta, Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, was born in 1867 at Broxmouth, Dunbar, the summer Roxburghe residence.

On 10 April 1878 at Dunbar, their daughter Susan married Sir John Hamilton, the future 11th Earl of Stair. Two months after her father in law Sir George died, Lady Susan’s husband James, died of typhoid. Before his death, Sir John had become 6th Baronet, with automatically inheriting his father’s movable estate of £46, 609, 11 shillings and 8 pence. Sir George had heavily entailed Prestongrange to ensure the financial future of all his children.

Sir James had a personal estate of some £15,000 and named Lady Susan as sole Executrix, appointing his brother in law James and friend Major Dawson as additional tutors and curators to his children. His son, now Sir George, still only eight years old, became prima facie heir to the Prestongrange estates. However his father’s sudden death, with his grandfather’s estate unresolved, created many legal queries.

The prevailing rules Succession were much more primitive that the current Succession [Scotland] Act 1964.

Legal battles
Sir James siblings and accomplished solicitor Robert Dunbas of Arniston continuously fought the legacies of provision for which there was insufficient cash. This created tension between the trustees and Lady Susan, who was taking care of her son’s interests. There is a myth this led to the Prestongrange becoming controlled by lawyers. Legal issues didn’t exclude Lady Susan whose legal team included kinsman John Brown Innes, W.S. He became leader and chaired all meetings regarding settlement. Sir John Hamilton’s siblings and Lady Susan attended every meeting.

Lady Susan would become involved in the negotiations and her signature, Susan H Grant Suttie is on the top of all related minutes and legal documents. In her absence, minutes were sent to her for approval, when she would note the document ‘I entirely concur in the above agreement, Susan H Grant Suttie’ before being returned and countersigned by ‘Roxburghe, Dawson and Innes.’ By 1879 there was still no resolution and Lady Susan decided to take advice from the Accountant of Court. By the spring of that year, the Tutors and Curators of the Heir were handling all bills and invoices relating to Prestongrange Estate.

Conflicting interests prevented any civilised resolution and it was left to the Court of Session to provide a solution. On 12 May 1881 they reduced all legacies for all the Grant Suttie siblings. An ante nuptial agreement drawn up by Sir George in 1857 before his son’s marriage to Lady Susan, granted her an annual income of £2000 per annum from Prestongrange Estate, which continued during the protracted negations. This was an emotional period for Lady Susan. Her father died on 23rd April 1878 and her grandchild John James Dalrymple was born on 1 February.

Her family didn’t immediately move into the residence at Prestongrange. Sir George had neglected the mansion and left it in a mess. In 1881 only six servants worked in the residence, but by 1891, there were 18 servants and Lady Susan, with daughter Victoria Albert and son George, lived in Prestongrange House. Her son’s frequent absences forced her to become head of the Prestongrange household. She became actively involved in the activities of the Prestonpans Parish Church,  supporting the local sick and unemployed.

Charity Work
Records  show her role with the ‘Fortnight Holiday Children, where she and some friends arranged seaside holiday breaks for deprived children from nearby Edinburgh. She also became involved in the 1887 Coffee House and the Recreation Centre. Her most controversial involvement was for the New Town Hall, for which £1000 was raised from a fair convened at Prestongrange. Her genuine interests in people’s lives saw her being initiated and becoming the first chairperson of Prestonpans Women’s Guild. She was eventually made president of the local YWCA and member of the School Board.

One of her proudest moments occurred in 1895, when she was elected Parish Councillor for Prestonpans Landward area. This was an unusual occurrence during a male dominated Victorian era, but no newspaper editor felt it deserved the coverage in his or her paper. She would remain a Parish Councillor for the remainder of her life. In 1896, her daughter, Victoria, married Prestonpans Minister, George Stuart Smith, and they had daughters, Victoria Alberta and Susan Isabella. When Victoria died on 5 January 1900 following the birth of her second daughter, it was effectively left to Lady Susan to be mother as well as grandmother to the young children.

When Lady Susan died at Prestongrange on Saturday, 16 October 1909, the Sunday morning service the next day was shortened and the evening service was cancelled. The church bell tolled twice in her memory that Sunday afternoon. On Thursday 21 October she was buried at Dunbar. Her coffin was carried from Prestongrange to Prestonpans station, from where a special train carried the coffin. The pallbearers at Dunbar included her sons-in-law, Sir Neil Menzies, Bart-the second husband of her daughter Susan and George Smith, her grandson Viscount Dalrymple, her nephew the Duke of Roxburghe, plus Lord Charles Innes Ker, Mr Robert Grant Suttie, Lord Montgomerie and Mr John Russel carried her coffin from the station to the churchyard.

The burial service was at Dunbar and attracted hundreds of people, including a large Prestonpans representation, together with many aristocrats. There was also a large female presence. During this period woman didn’t normally attended burials. The rest of her family are probably buried at Dunbar, rather then at Prestonpans, because of their links with Broxmouth. However, when the Prestonpans Parish Church was re-opened following marvellous 1911 renovations, internal changes included a memorial plaque for Lady Susan.

Lady Susan left personal estate of £10, 267, 3 shillings and 3 pence. Her daughters Lady Susan [late Dame] Menzies and Lady Harriet Cooper were her joint Executrices. Her son Sir George never spent much time at the Prestongrange House and it remained empty for long periods before being sold.

Sir George never married nor had any sons to inherit his role. There were, however, many children from Lady Susan’s daughters’ marriages, such as John James Dalrymple, Earl of Stair, Beatrice Susan, Countess of Eglinton and Winton, and Lady Marjorie Dalrymple, all children from the dual marriages of Susan, Lady Menzies; Hilda and other daughters of Victoria Alberta Smith. Prior to her death, Lady Susan already had five great grand children.

Lady Susan was the real resident of the Prestongrange House, and bizarrely the first post-Reformation owner of the residence had been Mark Ker of the same Roxburghe family as Lady Susan.

Article originally published in East Lothian Life

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