Duncan McLaren

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Bust of Duncan McLaren, Edinburgh City Chambers
Duncan McLaren Memorial
The Mclaren monument, St Cuthberts, Edinburgh

Duncan McLaren (12 January 1800 – 26 April 1886) was a Scottish Liberal Party politician and political writer. He served as a member of the burgh council of Edinburgh, then as Lord Provost, then as a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Edinburgh constituency.


Born in Renton, Dunbartonshire, Duncan McLaren was the youngest of ten children of John McLaren and Catherine McLellan. Apart from two years of schooling, he was self-taught. After school, he was apprenticed to a merchant in Dunbar. In 1824, he set up his own business as a draper in Edinburgh. He became a member of the town council in 1833. He became treasurer in 1837 and found that the royal burgh’s finances were in ruin and that the Scottish capital was bankrupt. His work extricated Edinburgh from financial ruin. In 1835, he pioneered free education for all classes and started a building programme of thirteen schools.

He was elected Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1851. McLaren was a Liberal and supported the anti–Corn Law campaign of John Bright, the opening of the Meadows to the public, and the establishment of the Industrial Museum (now the National Museum of Scotland). McLaren was also a governor of the Heriot Free School trust.[1]

In 1865 he was elected one of Edinburgh’s two Members of Parliament, a position he held until he retired 16 years later. At Westminster he proved a conscientious and intelligent representative, and acquired a position of so much authority on questions related to Scotland that he was called "Member for Scotland".[1]

Duncan McLaren was married three times - the third being Priscilla Bright (sister of John Bright and Margaret Bright Lucas), whom he married in 1848, and they lived together in Newington House, Edinburgh, from 1852 until his death in 1886. He is buried (together with most of his family) in St Cuthbert's Churchyard in the heart of Edinburgh. His huge monument lies against the east wall of the first south extension to the graveyard, immediately below Edinburgh Castle.


McLaren married three times.

Firstly, in 1829, he married Grant Aitken[1] (1805-1833). Following her death he married Christina Gordon Renton (1813-1841). Finally, in 1848, he married Priscilla Bright (1815-1906), who outlived him by twenty years. All three wives are buried with him.

He was the father of Charles McLaren, 1st Baron Aberconway, John McLaren, Lord McLaren, Walter Stowe Bright McLaren (all three being Members of Parliament), Helen Priscilla McLaren (wife of Andrea Rabagliati) and Agnes McLaren.

Artistic Recognition[edit]

A full-length portrait of McLaren by George Reid RSA hangs in the Old Council Chamber (now called the Diamond Jubilee Room) within Edinburgh City Chambers.


    • Mackie, John Beveridge (1888). The Life and Work of Duncan McLaren. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons (2 vols).

 Boase, George Clement (1893). "McLaren, Duncan". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 35. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Adam Black
James Moncreiff
Member of Parliament for Edinburgh
With: James Moncreiff 1865–68
John Miller 1868–74
James Cowan 1874–81
Succeeded by
James Cowan
John McLaren