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Who Loves Edinburgh

Mr Peter Carmichael Millar OBE, WS - An appreciation

Posted on 30 Mar 2020 by DJ JS

We've just learned of the recent death of Mr Peter C. Millar OBE, WS, one of the most instrumental figures in the history of our Association and of Edinburgh's emerging conservation movement in the early second half of the 20th century. We would like to share a few words of appreciation for his long, distinguished and active life.


Peter Carmichael Millar OBE, WS (19 February 1927-16 March 2020) was a widely respected solicitor, war veteran, Deputy Keeper of Her Majesty’s Signet and one of the most significant figures in the history of Scotland’s oldest conservation society, The Cockburn Association.

A son of the manse, Peter attended Aberdeen Grammar School, before spells at the Universities of Glasgow, St Andrews and Edinburgh. Like many of his generation, his education was interrupted by military service during World War Two. He joined the Royal Navy in 1944 and stayed in the service until his discharge in 1947 when he resumed his legal studies.

His education complete, Peter became a Writer to the Signet and he married Kirsteen Lindsay Carnegie in 1953. He became a partner in the law firm Messrs W. & T.P. Manuel the following year, when he also took up the position of Honorary Secretary of The Cockburn Association shortly before the Hon. Lord Cameron became its Chair.

Like Peter, the much older noted jurist Lord Cameron had also served in the navy, seeing active service during the First World War and then at Dunkirk and the D-Day Landings in the Second. Perhaps it was this shared background that made the two men such a successful partnership in the decade that followed? Poet, journalist and historian George Bruce described how the pair brought the Cockburn Association back “into play in the affairs of Edinburgh again” after many years of it lacking “a sense of mission”.

It was during their stewardship at the helm of the Association that Edinburgh became embroiled in a series of small but notable conservation crises, beginning with the University’s determined, destructive redevelopment plans for George Square in the late 1950s. As several other local and national amenity societies emerged, the pair successfully re-established the Association as the primary civic platform for the city’s residents to voice their concerns about heritage and conservation issues in the Scottish capital, a role that it cherishes and maintains to this day.

Peter served as the Cockburn’s Honorary Secretary for nine years, until 1964, when he became Clerk to the Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet. He went on to hold partnerships in the legal firms of Aitken, Kinnear & Co and then Aitken Nairn WS and in 1983 he became the Deputy Keeper of the Her Majesty’s Signet, a post he held until 1991.

He was also actively involved in a variety of other civic roles including participating on the boards of the Church of Scotland General Trustees from 1973–85; the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, from 1983–91; the Medical Appeal Tribunals, from 1991–99; Pension Appeal Tribunals, 1992–99 and the Scottish Child and Family Alliance, later Children in Scotland, from 1992–95.

He and Kirsteen were strong supporters of the arts, latterly as patrons of the Festival Theatre Trust. In 1960, he was the Treasurer of a Committee set up to honour the memory of the poet Edwin Muir and from 1972-78 he was Honorary Secretary of The Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club and then again briefly in 1986. He was also director of the Friends of the Royal Scottish Academy from 1991-2000 and of the Edinburgh International Festival Society 1991-1994. In 1978, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s 1978 Birthday Honours in recognition of his extensive civic and legal work.

In his precious spare time he enjoyed music, hill-walking and golf. He belonged to the town’s New Club, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society.

He is described by his close friend and former Vice-Chair of the Cockburn Association Bill Cantley as “a first class citizen” who possessed “a keen sense of responsibility in participating in public life and affairs” who made a “considerable contribution to the survival of the Cockburn Association in his time”  while remaining “quiet” and “unassuming” about his many achievements.

At the time of his death, aged 93, in a care home where he had moved with Kirsteen in their beloved Cramond, the pair had been happily married for 66 years. He is survived by Kirsteen and their children Alison, Neil and Alastair (his daughter Anne had sadly predeceased him) and his grandchildren Rory, Lewis and Struan. Due to the nature of the current public health emergency, only a small private cremation was held with a full celebration of his remarkable life planned for when the circumstances allow.

On behalf of the Cockburn team in Trunk’s Close, our Trustees and members, our current Chairperson, Professor Cliff Hague, offers our sincerest condolences to Peter’s family and friends at this difficult time. Cliff also extends our most heartfelt thanks for all his strenuous efforts on our city’s behalf, recording for posterity in our organisation’s annals that “Peter Millar made exceptional contributions to the life of this city. His commitment to the preservation of the beauty of Edinburgh through his service to the Cockburn Association is something that we still benefit from today."