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The little known Moray LGBTQ+ historical figure who built a Church, founded a charity and married a woman in 1800's Aberlour

By Abbie Duncan

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IN recognition of LGBTQ+ History Month, The Northern Scot is shedding light on one of Moray's little-known LGBTQ+ historical figures.

Margaret Macpherson Grant donated funds to build St Margaret's Church in Aberlour.
Margaret Macpherson Grant donated funds to build St Margaret's Church in Aberlour.

Historically, Scotland's LGBTQ+ community has faced immense challenges, particularly before the 20th century, as same-sex relationships were not only frowned upon socially but were illegal for much of history.

Given the social stigma and legal status of LGBTQ+ relationships, it is perhaps unsurprising that many voices remain unheard and it is difficult to find stories of LGBTQ+ people in Scottish history.

This is especially true for areas outside of cities like Moray, however research in the National Library of Scotland did bring attention to one notable Moray figure who a researcher for the organisation described as 'almost certainly queer'.

Margaret Macpherson Grant was born in Aberlour as Margaret Gordon Macpherson on April 27, 1834. She is perhaps best known for founding St. Margaret’s Church in the village and for her investment in the Aberlour children's orphanage which is still in existence today as the Aberlour Childcare Trust, however the Moray heiress also lived an unconventional life for the time.

She was known to have a 'wife' named Charlotte and the relationship resulted in a strange and widely reported legal case.

Margaret inherited her wealth from her childless uncle, Alexander Grant of Aberlour, who made his fortune through Jamaican plantations. He received substantial compensation upon the abolition of slavery in the 1830s and at the age of 20, Margaret inherited his vast fortune, along with his home, Aberlour House.

After gaining her inheritance, Margaret often visited London where she had been left property by her uncle and in 1864 she met Charlotte Temple, the 22-year-old daughter of a Wiltshire landowner. The two formed a close friendship and in the autumn of that year Charlotte came to visit Margaret in Aberlour, staying until the following spring. A few weeks after Charlotte returned to her parents’ house, Margaret returned to London and visited Charlotte’s parents where she begged them to let Charlotte live with her permanently, promising that because of her love for Charlotte, she would make her the heir to her fortune.

According to disapproving comments in the Aberdeen Weekly Journal after Margaret’s death in 1877, the two loved and cared for one another. The newspaper said: "Something like a marriage had taken place between them. Each pledged herself to celibacy; Miss Grant ‘married’ Miss Temple, placing on the latter’s marriage-finger a suitable ring."

The newspaper added: "Miss Temple not only reciprocated the extraordinary affection, but likewise manifested similar extraordinary proofs of it – she termed herself ‘Wifie’ in her letters to Miss Grant, she addressed the latter as ‘Jamie’ and in short, a lot of remarkable tomfoolery went on between the two.”

Public records of their lives at this time show that the pair spent time on salmon fishing and grouse shooting expeditions and enjoyed entering stock into local agricultural shows.

Despite being described as “very masculine in appearance and manly in dress”, Margaret’s wealth and charitable giving afforded her respect from the local community, despite her strong willed nature, which was helpful to maintaining her wealth but uncharacteristic for a woman of the time.

The pair's 'marriage' to one another came to an abrupt end however, when in December 1875, Charlotte became engaged to marry a man.

Following Charlotte's marriage, Margaret revoked her will and died months later without an heir, her fortune was left to her cousins. Charlotte contested the settlement, claiming that Margaret was not in her right mind at the time and attempting to assert her legal right to the inheritance, with the pair's love for one another being examined through the legal case.

Through the legal case a compromise was agreed, whereby Charlotte was allocated £10,000, most of which she exchanged for a watch she had previously given to Margaret, and Margaret’s diamond brooch.

On Margaret Macpherson Grant David Harrison, Chair of Pride in Moray committee said: “It is fantastic to hear that there is a notable Queer person within the area of Moray. She founded a children’s charity that is still in use today and shows the incredible contribution that the LGBTQ+ community makes throughout history that isn’t always well known.

"People such as Margaret Grant should be celebrated more for her contributions as often successes like this often get buried due to their sexuality. I wonder how many more people like Margaret are still to be found within our community?“

Margaret has several lasting legacies in the north-east of Scotland, she paid for the construction of St Margaret’s Church which still stands in Aberlour today and her commitment to helping disadvantaged children is still evident in the values of the Aberlour Childcare Trust.

However, maybe it is time to readdress Margaret's legacy to recognise her important place as a LGBTQ+ historical figure, which has been unrecognised and unacknowledged for hundreds of years.

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