Tributes paid to Robin Fleming CBE

Robin Fleming being awarded Honorary Life Membership of The Lewis and Harris Piping Society in 2013 (Photo courtesy of The Lewis and Harris Piping Society).

Tributes have been paid to Robin Fleming CBE who died peacefully at his Oxfordshire home on June 26 aged 87. Robin was a family patriarch and a non-executive director of a well known private banking firm, Robert Fleming & Co., whose headquarters are in London’s Mayfair. The firm had been founded by Robin’s grandfather. In 2000 it was sold to the Chase Manhattan Bank.

Robin, whose love of piping stemmed from his school days at Eton where he received his first piping lessons, inherited the spectacular 80,000 acre Blackmount estate – near Glencoe – many years ago. It remains the bulk of the family’s property.

Robin Fleming served in the Royal Scots Greys, and joined his family’s merchant bank in 1958. He served as High Sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1980 and was appointed a deputy lieutenant of the county a decade later.

Among those paying tribute were members of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society, organiser of the annual Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE invitational competition. Fleming sponsored the event for a number of years and in 2013 was made a Life Member of the Society. His sponsorship ran for eight years before community wind farm organisation, the Point and Sandwick Trust (PST), took over in 2017.

Dr John Smith, chairman of The Lewis and Harris Piping Society, said: “Members of The Lewis and Harris Piping Society were saddened to hear of the death of Robin. He was a most generous sponsor of The Donald MacLeod Memorial Competition at a time when the Society were struggling to find sponsorship to maintain the competition in Stornoway. He was a charming, polite and unassuming character, totally unostentatious. 

“He originally undertook to sponsor the competition for five years but continued for another three because we were struggling to find another sponsor until Point and Sandwick Trust came along.

“His very generous sponsorship meant that the competition survived in Stornoway, its natural home, and with PST’s continuing support, despite lockdown and pandemics, we are very hopeful that the competition will survive – although perhaps not in its customary form – this year.”

Following the withdrawal several years ago of headline sponsorship by Tennent Caledonian Breweries there had been fears that the competition would have to be moved to the mainland to save costs but Robin Fleming’s anonymous involvement ensured the competition could remain in Stornoway.

Pipe Major Iain Morrison described Robin Fleming as “a true gentleman” and recalled how his involvement with the Society came about. “I was at the Northern Meeting one year, about 2004,” he said, “and was talking to Jimmy Banks, Scots Guards, and I was telling him that we were looking for sponsorship.

“Jimmy knew Robin very well because he was his personal piper for any events he had … Jimmy says to me, ‘Why don’t you write this guy?’ and gave me his number. I got in touch with Robin, explained the predicament the Society was in and he responded, saying, ‘Right, we will sponsor you for five years to the tune of £5,000 a year every year’.” Robin’s sponsorship actually lasted for eight years until the Society found a replacement sponsor in the form of Point and Sandwick Trust.

Morrison recalled one occasion at the Donald MacLeod competition when one of the pipers played the classic 2/4 March The Duke of Roxburgh’s Farewell to Blackmount Forest. “Someone turned to Mr Fleming and asked: ‘Do you know that tune?’ His response was: ‘I know it very well. I own it.'”

Looking north over part of the Blackmount estate with Stob Ghabhar towering aove Loch Tulla. The West Highland Way passes near here.

Robin Fleming was also a supporter other piping events over the years, and he was also a long-term subscriber to the Piping Times. In the May 2015 edition he had a letter published in response to an article that had appeared in the January edition:

“Our family has owned Black Mount since the late 1920s, so, as you can imagine, I was very interested to read Jeannie Campbell’s article … about the Breadalbane Pipe Band. As a matter of interest, we had our own little pipe band at Black Mount some 20 or 30 years ago, when, on occasions, we were lucky enough to have Pipe Major Ronnie MacCallum who came up from Inveraray to help us. Often he used to bring Robert Stewart with him. That was in the days when Stuart Liddell’s father and mother were at the Inveroran Hotel.

“Anyhow, towards the end of Jeannie’s article, she mentions that the Breadalbane’s estate extended from Aberfeldy to the west coast at that time [the late 1800s]. In view of that I thought some of your readers might be amused to read an old poem which has been kept at Black Mount for many years and which describes life in those far off days. The Ben Mor mentioned is, I believe, on the island of Mull.

From Kenmore to Ben Mor
The land is a’ the markisis *
The mossy howes
The heathery knowes

an ilka bonny park is his

The bearded goats
The toozie stoats
and a’ the braxy carcases –

Ilk crofters rent
Ilk tinkers tent
and ilka collies bark is his

The muircocks crow
The pipers blaw
The ghillies hard days work is his

From Kenmore to Ben Mor
The world is a’ the markisis.

Robin Fleming was a cousin of Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books, and of travel writer, Peter Fleming. He was made a CBE in 2013 for his charitable work.

* the Marquess’ – John Campbell, 1st Marquess of Breadalbane.