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Murray [née Herbert], Catherine, countess of Dunmore (1814–1886), promoter of the Harris tweed industry, was born on 31 October 1814 at Arlington Street, St James's, London, daughter of , and his second wife, Catherine, only daughter of Semyon Romanovich, Count Vorontsov, Russian ambassador to the court of St James's. Her father was English, and her mother was of Russian descent.

Catherine Herbert married Alexander Edward Murray, sixth earl of Dunmore, on 27 September 1836, at Frankfurt am Main. They had four children: Susan Catherine Mary (b. 7 July 1837), Constance Euphemia Woronzow (b. 28 Dec 1838), (b. 24 March 1841), and Alexandrina Victoria (b. 19 July 1845). Catherine was sometime lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. Following the death of her husband in 1845, she inherited the Dunmore estate of some 150,000 acres, on the Hebridean isle of Harris.

Lady Dunmore took an active interest in the Harris estate. The potato famine of 1846–7 brought great hardships to the Scottish highlands and islands, and Catherine offered financial assistance to those of her tenants wishing to emigrate. This took the form of free passage, together with an allowance to maintain the emigrés until they could support themselves.

Although her offer was not accepted by any of the people on her estate, Lady Dunmore was commended for these ‘relief’ operations. More importantly, at a time of such severe economic difficulty, Lady Dunmore was instrumental in the promotion and development of Harris tweed, a sustainable and much-needed local industry. She recognized the quality of the tweeds made by the women of Harris, and perceived the sales potential of the fabric. The Murray family tartan had been copied in tweed by Harris weavers, and proved a great success. The first full-length cloth was made into suiting for the Dunmore estate keepers and ghillies. Lady Dunmore then introduced her friends to the advantages of Harris tweed for outdoor wear, and endeavoured to widen the market. This she achieved through establishing a scheme to improve the quality by removing irregularities in the cloth, and so bring it in line with machine-made cloth. Dyeing, spinning, and weaving for Harris tweed were all carried out by hand, which often resulted in uneven quality. Lady Dunmore organized and financed training in Alloa for a number of Harris women to learn how to weave more intricate patterns. She also aimed to devise new blends of natural, more subtle dyes in contrast to the traditional pronounced checks.

By the late 1840s the London market was established. Improvements in Harris tweed encouraged by Lady Dunmore, together with her promotional skills, led to a significant increase in sales of tweed. So too did the increasing popularity of sporting activities in the highlands.

Indeed, the fabric was particularly suited to the demands of outdoor pursuits, being warm, relatively light, and shower resistant. Handmade tweed produced in the Outer Hebrides, and elsewhere, became known as Harris tweed. Legal action was taken against sellers of cloth using this trade name for cloth woven outside the Hebrides, and the term is now commonly applied only to that produced on Lewis and Harris.

Catherine, countess dowager of Dunmore, died, aged seventy-one, on 12 February 1886, at Carberry Tower, Inveresk, Musselburgh, and was buried at Dunmore, Stirlingshire. The Harris tweed industry owes its development and subsequent success substantially to her action and inspiration.

Christine Lodge

Sources  

Scots peerage, vol. 3 · W. R. Scott, Report to the board of agriculture for Scotland on home industries in the highlands and islands (1914), Cd 7564 xxxii · Notes on the historical development of the Harris tweed industry and the part played by the Harris Tweed Association Ltd, 1961, Highland Region Archive, D190 · J. McNeill, Report to the board of supervision on the western highlands and islands (1851) · F. Thompson, Harris tweed: story of a Hebridean industry (1969) · The Scotsman (13 Feb 1886) · d. cert.

Wealth at death  

£1748 10s. 7d.: confirmation, 13 July 1886, CCI