A true champion of the Royal Burgh

The town of Selkirk has lost one of its true champions following the death of Jim Newlands.

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 11:25 am
Jim Newlands

A former provost of the Royal and Ancient Burgh, Mr Newlands died at his Mavis Bank home on Saturday, July 24. He was 83.

There were few, if any, aspects of life in the Selkirk community to which Jim did not make a positive contribution.

His style was always to lead from the front, be it teaching in the classroom, presiding at the Sheriff Court, captaining Selkirk’s rugby team or taking a leading role at the town’s Common Riding.

Jim, a former standard bearer and deacon of the Hammermen, loved the Common Riding.

The son of Galashiels bus driver John Newlands, himself the oldest of 10 children, and his wife Barbara (née Nichol), who hailed from Selkirk, Jim was born on November 20, 1937, in his family’s Curror Street home.

Educated at Knowepark School and Selkirk High School, he left at the age of 15 to take up an apprenticeship with Adam Purves Engineering in Galashiels.

Rugby was one of Jim’s life-long passions, and he captained the Selkirk Youth Club team that won the Border Semi-Junior League title in 1956.

Called up for National Service in 1958, he joined the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and served with the regiment in a still-divided Berlin.

A reunion of Selkirk Rugby Club’s past-captains, with Jim Newlands in the back row, third from right. Standing, from left – M. Craig, D. Piercy, W. Hamilton, K. Johnston, G. Marshall, D. Phaup, A. Pearce, A. Laurie, J. Newlands, P. Tomlinson, I. Johnstone. Seated – L. Walker, T. Henderson, S. Roberts, B. Duffy, I. Tait, G. Downie, A. Little.

His prowess on the rugby field saw him selected for the KOSB team that lifted the Army Cup in 1959 – the first time it had been won by a regiment stationed in Berlin. He went on to represent the British Army of the Rhine side against a French Army team.

Jim’s duties in Berlin included guarding Nazi detainees in Spandau Prison, and on one occasion he was part of the bodyguard assigned to protect former Prime Minister Clement Attlee when he visited the city.

After returning to the Borders, Jim married the love of his life, Esther Innes (known to all as Bunty). She had moved to Selkirk from Golspie at the age of 12, when her mother took up the position of cook and housekeeper for Sir Samuel Strang-Steel at Philiphaugh House.

The couple were married in Selkirk’s Heatherlie Church on October 20, 1962. Jim’s best man was boyhood pal Billy Fleming, and exactly a year later he would take the same role at Billy’s own wedding.

Jim Newlands pictured during his time as Selkirk’s Honorary Provost. Alongside him is Senior Burgh Officer Andrew Heatlie.

Jim, who played at number eight, captained Selkirk Rugby Club’s 1 st XV in season 1961/62, and team-mate Bert Duffy remembers him as an inspiring skipper: “Jim was a good all-round player and led by example. His enthusiasm for the game never waned.”

Jim entered the teaching profession after taking a degree at Napier University, going on to lecture in engineering, first at Dalkeith’s Esk Valley College and then at Galashiels College of Further Education.

In 1969 he enrolled at Moray House to obtain additional teaching qualifications, graduating with honours.

He spent the next 19 years as a teacher at Galashiels Academy, initially teaching mathematics before switching to technical teaching. He was promoted to assistant principal teacher in 1979.

His next teaching post was at Selkirk High School, where he joined the technical education department, rising to become principal teacher in 1986. He retired from the profession in 1996.

Away from the classroom, one of Jim’s greatest passions was Selkirk Common Riding, and in particular the role in its history played by the Selkirk Incorporation of Hammermen.

He cast the Hammermen’s flag in 1981 – the Incorporation’s tercentenary year – and served as deacon from 1983 until 1989.

The Incorporation’s current deacon, Alan Tough, had nothing but praise for his predecessor.

He said: “Jim was someone everyone in our organisation looked up to, and along with Campbell Bunyan was one of the Hammermen’s two life members.

“He re-invigorated the Incorporation at a time when the number of active members had begun to dwindle.

“He was someone everyone respected, and his passion and enthusiasm for the Hammermen can still be felt in the Incorporation today. Jim leaves behind a legacy that will endure long into the future.”

Provost of Selkirk from 1997-2001, Jim’s oratory skills and extensive knowledge of local history and folklore saw him in great demand. As provost, he took a central role in Alastair Moffat’s 1999 Border TV documentary on Selkirk Common Riding, “The Long Riders”.

Later that year he gave the oration at Flodden – the same year that he was sworn in as an Honorary Sheriff of the Selkirk Court – and also delivered Jethart’s Redeswire address. He was also principal speaker at Melrose Festival’s abbey ceremony.

Selkirk’s current honorary provost, Keith Miller, said Jim set an incredibly high standard for others to follow.

He said: “His knowledge of Selkirk and its history was unrivalled, and over the years he proved a wonderful ambassador for the town.

“He was someone you could approach for advice or help, and he would always take the time to sit down and listen to what you had to say.

“Along with Stewart Roberts and Jack Cruickshank, Jim was one of the three Honorary Sheriffs who together commissioned the gold chain of office which Selkirk provosts now wear at official common riding functions.”

Known for the passion and erudition of his “Immortal Memory” toasts, in 2000 Jim was invited to give the opening speech at the World Burns Federation’s conference at Peebles Hydro.

Always a keen writer, as well as compiling “The History of the Hammermen”, he co-authored “Flo’ers of the Forest” with Walter Elliot and Dr John Gilbert, and wrote the novel “Return To Dunsdale”, set in the time of Flodden.

Jim somehow managed to find time for a 10-year spell as Sunday School teacher at the Congregational Church; to become a founder member and reader for the Borders Talking Newspaper for the Blind; as well as to serve as an SSAFA armed forces charity case worker, helping to make old soldiers’ lives more comfortable.

His affection for the KOSB never wavered throughout his life.

As well as chairing the annual reunions, he regularly attended the regiment’s Minden Day celebrations at Berwick, on one occasion being presented to Princess Anne.

Above all, however, Jim treasured his family, telling Bunty their love ‘would echo down through the corridors of eternity’.

He was tremendously proud of the achievements of daughter Jane (born in 1965) and son Gordon (born 1968).

Jane’s work as a public financial management consultant saw her spend three separate spells in Afghanistan, while Gordon won the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association 400m title in 1992 and 1993 – lifting the trophy formerly won by legendary runner Eric Liddle, Liberal Party leader Menzies Campbell, and double European gold medal winner Brian Whittle.

Jim also doted on granddaughters Lynsey and Emily, the former becoming a teacher and the latter representing Scotland at hockey over 20 times.

There cannot have been many Souters who have done as much to promote and enhance the wellbeing and stature of the Selkirk community, or to pack so much into their lives, as Jim Newlands.

Plain-speaking, fair-minded, and whose integrity and expertise won him respect throughout the Borders and beyond, his was a life well lived.

Jim would often remark that if he ever got to stand in front of the Almighty’s celestial throne - ‘I’ll thank him for letting me live my earthly life here in Selkirk’. There seems little doubt this wish will have been granted.

Mr Newlands is survived by his wife Bunty, daughter Jane and son Gordon, daughter-in-law Helen and granddaughters Lynsey and Emily, to whom deepest condolences are extended.

The funeral service will be held at the Borders Crematorium, Melrose, on Friday, August 6, at noon.