Obituary: James Arnold, former director of the New Lanark Trust

Iain Macdonald looks back on the life of a key figure in the resurrection of a historic site of British co-operation

Jim Arnold, who served as director of the New Lanark Trust from 1974-2010, was one of the people most responsible for the resurrection of New Lanark, arguably the birthplace of British co-operation.

It is hard to believe that he has been taken from us. Jim had been associated with New Lanark since 1974 and was its first director from then until 2010.

Jim Arnold at the gates of New Lanark

The work he undertook from a semi-derelict village to Unesco World Heritage Site inscription was quite astonishing as recognised by his many awards including an MBE and an honorary doctorate and degrees from the Universities of York, Strathclyde and the Open University.

In 1987 he was presented with the Europa Silver Medal, a major European conservation award for the restoration of New Lanark. He was undoubtedly one of the most important figures in industrial heritage in the UK, if not the world.

As a committed co-operator, he passionately believed in preserving the memory of Robert Owen and highlighting the relevance of his work today. Jim believed that, as a father figure of cooperation, trade unionism and the Labour Party, Owen’s relevance could not be more important to the co-operative and labour movement today.

However Jim didn’t just operate at the dizzy heights of Unesco. During the 1980s and 1990s, I persuaded Jim to support the revitalisation of co-operative democracy in Scotland by serving on the CWS Larkhall committee, (later the Lanarkshire Area Committee) one of many such committees in a Scotland largely abandoned by the CWS of the day and a mockery of serious democratic involvement. With Jim’s commitment and others like him, we dragged the CWS into the 20th century, returning the co-op to its members, where it remains, more or less, today.

After retirement, Jim stayed on in New Lanark always ready with advice and help for his successors. He was also a member of the advisory board of Co-operative Development Scotland. Jim and his colleague Lorna Davidson were also founder members of the Utopian Studies Society of Europe

Quite recently Robin Stewart, Graham Melmoth and I enjoyed a very pleasant evening with Jim in the New Lanark Hotel, which is in itself, a testimony to the work of Jim Arnold.

Jim is sadly missed but he remains forever a giant in the history of industrial heritage, New Lanark and the co-operative movement.

  • Dr James Edward Arnold, MBE, MA, MUniv, DUniv, BA, Cert Ed, FRSA, 16 March 1945 (Glasgow) – 19 February, 2019 (New Lanark)
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