Elizabeth Girling

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Elizabeth Girling
Elizabeth Aytoun

7 March 1913
Died24 March 2005 (aged 92)
Alma materOxford University
Known forSpanish Civil War veteran; political activist; charity campaigner

Elizabeth Jean St Clair Girling (née Aytoun; 7 March 1913 – 24 March 2005)[1] was a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, a political activist and a charity campaigner.

Early life and education[edit]

Elizabeth Aytoun was born 7 March 1913 in Birmingham, UK, to Dorothy Henderson and Rev Robert Aytoun, an Old Testament scholar.[1] Her father died when she was seven, and Edward Cadbury became her guardian.[2] Cadbury funded Girling's education, and she attended St Leonards School in St Andrews, followed by Oxford University, where she studied English Literature; one of her tutors at Oxford was J R R Tolkien.[3]

While at Oxford, Girling became a communist and would go on to work for both the League of Nations Association and Transport and General Workers' Union after graduation.[3]

Spanish Civil War[edit]

Girling travelled to Spain in 1937 to join the resistance against General Franco's uprising.[2] Based in the Pyrenees, her main responsibility was caring for children evacuated due to the war.[2] While in Spain, she met Frank Girling, then a Cambridge student working for the International Voluntary Service for Peace.[4] They married in 1939.[4]

Activism and charity work[edit]

Having left Spain, Girling opened the family home, Ashintully Castle, to refugees from Eastern Europe and London during World War Two,[2] while Frank was posted first to the east coast of Scotland and subsequently to India.[4]

After the war, the couple moved around England, Frank's work as a social anthropologist and academic taking them to university cities including Cambridge, Oxford, Leeds and Sheffield, before eventually settling in Edinburgh.[3]

Girling remained a committed socialist and was a firm supporter of the Labour party.[3] She founded the Partisan Coffee House in Victoria Street, Edinburgh, in 1959 which would become a well-known meeting place for left-wing intellectuals and artists throughout the 1960s.[1]

Girling was also a campaigner for improved services for allergy sufferers in Scotland, and was a founding member of the Lothian Allergy Support Group.[3] Representing this organisation, she petitioned the Scottish Parliament to establish specialist clinics for allergy sufferers in Scotland.[5]


  1. ^ a b c Ewan, Elizabeth; Pipes, Rose; Rendall, Jane; Reynolds, Siân (2018). The New Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. Edinburgh University Press. p. 161. ISBN 9781474436281.
  2. ^ a b c d Maclean, John Ross (2005-05-04). "Obituary: Elizabeth Girling". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Elizabeth Girling". www.scotsman.com. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  4. ^ a b c "Frank Girling". www.scotsman.com. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  5. ^ "Public Petitions Committee". Retrieved 31 May 2019.