Mystery of James Scott’s lost clocks

Selkirk Clock
Selkirk Clock
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Mystery still surrounds the fate of four astronomical clocks created over 100 years ago by ‘Selkirk’s mason astronomer’ James Scott.

The self-taught astronomer and mathematical genius, who was born in Midlem in 1844, built a total of five clocks which showed the movements of the moon, sun and planets in his Selkirk workshed, including the 8ft high Jupiter Clock.

After Scott died in 1928, the timepieces were entrusted to Selkirk’s Town Council, and displayed for many years in the Royal Burgh’s Town Hall. Then, after the reorganisation of local government in 1975, all trace of the clocks was lost.

Following TheSouthern’s article about James Scott last December, many of his descendants contacted the paper with the results of their own investigations, but most had hit a brick wall in the mid 1970s.

One relative, Isobel Blair of Peebles, was told by museum staff at the time that Scott’s clocks had been “mysteriously misplaced” (which she took to mean ‘destroyed’). After her decades of searching, she still sounded a hopeful note: “They must be in somebody’s house somewhere”.

Selkirk historian Walter Elliot heard a tale that the clocks were buried beneath the town’s Knowepark School, when the roof above the cellar in which they were stored in 1940 collapsed.

A story heard by another of James Scott’s descendants, Dave Bunion of Selkirk, told a different, but still tragic, end for the masterpieces.

Once the clocks were removed from the Royal Burgh’s Town Hall, Mr Bunion was told, they were taken for storage in the ‘black shed’, which sat on the riverside of the Ettrick Water, near the crossing point of the horseriders at Selkirk Common Riding.

When the time came for the regeneration of the riverside area, a builder called Burt Lawrie was sent to demolish the black shed, and clear its contents.

“Everything was dumped as scrap, deadweight,” Mr Bunion was told by a friend who worked with Burt Lawrie: “What could burn was burnt, and what couldn’t be burnt was thrown on the skip. The clocks were just removed without anybody being told.”

However, everyone was surprised to learn the happy news that at least one of Scott’s clocks, the Equation of Time machine showing the difference between solar time and Greenwich mean time, had survived in storage at Scottish Borders Council’s Museum Service HQ – but curators in the museum service today know little about it, or how it got there.

“The clock pictured in TheSouthern was the first one I’ve seen,” Mrs Blair said: “We didn’t know that any of the clocks still existed. It was out of the blue.”

If anyone has any more information about James Scott’s four other clocks, please email sandy.neil@jpress.co.uk.