Kenneth Newis

Civil servant and conservationist
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Kenneth Newis, civil servant: born Manchester 9 November 1916; staff, HM Office of Works (later Ministry of Public Building and Works) 1938-70, Private Secretary to the Minister of Works 1948-49, Assistant Secretary 1949-59, Under-Secretary 1959-69, Director of Management Services 1969-70; MVO 1958, CVO 1970; CB 1967; Under-Secretary, Scottish Development Department 1970-73, Secretary 1973-76; married 1943 Kathleen Barrow (two daughters); died Edinburgh 19 November 2006.

Edinburgh has benefited hugely from a succession of civil servants, retired senior officials of the Scottish Office, who have devoted the autumn of their lives to the fostering of the arts, and the maintenance and enhancement of the fabric of the city. Few have rendered wiser and more constructively energetic service than Kenneth Newis. He was a highly influential member of the Historic Buildings Council of Scotland from 1978 to 1988 and an active vice-chairman of the Cockburn Association, 1986-94, the de facto guardians of the New Town, a World Heritage Site, and the old town of Edinburgh.

The long-term chairman of the Cockburn, Lord Cameron of Lochbroom, recollects Newis as a conscientious member of the Cockburn and a champion of what the society stood for - quality in the conservation of one of the great cities of Europe.

But perhaps Newis's crowning achievement was his activity as moving-spirit-in-chief in the restoration of the Queen's Hall (the former Hope Park Chapel, built in 1823), and the promotion of the packed-to-capacity 11am concerts during the Edinburgh Festival, featuring the Amadeus String Quartet and other groups of world-ranking quality, and wonderful artists of the day such as Victoria de Los Angeles and Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Newis's hobby was the building of harpsichords. He was chairman of the Queen's Hall from 1977 to 1991 and its president from 1991 until his death.

Ken Newis and his wife, Kathleen Barrow, herself a former civil servant of 63 years, enhanced the cultural life of the Scottish capital. Among the most active leading Methodists in the UK, they persuaded church and Buckingham Palace to acquiesce in the change of name from Hope Park Chapel to Queen's Hall, a much more appropriate nomenclature for an important concert venue. Newis, chairman of the Friends of Scottish Churches' Council, was a pioneer in the work of finding appropriate use for redundant ecclesiastical buildings.

Newis was grateful to his father, a Manchester school headmaster, for sending him to Manchester Grammar School, before the Second World War the most rigorous educational hothouse in Britain. Winning a major scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge, where he read Classics, Newis attracted the attention of the historian and great Master of St John's, Ernest Alfred Benians, and the Senior Tutor, the economist C.W. Guillebaud.

At the time when Newis graduated in 1938, Benians and Guillebaud and other Fellows of St John's thought that there was no higher calling for their clever graduates than a career in public service. Guillebaud recommended the then unsung Office of Works.

Newis's Second World War turned out to be doing crucial work in the front line of the London Blitz. He had a lifelong capacity to keep calm, keep his head and cope. These qualities brought him into contact with a great figure in the wartime East End, the Mayor of Poplar, Charlie Key, who in 1941 had been made regional commissioner for a London civil defence region. When Key later became Minister of Works and needed, in 1948, a new Private Secretary, he asked for Newis. The combination of East End politician and Cambridge scholar was a huge success.

Newis was thrown in at the deep end. Prosecutors from the Lynskey Tribunal tried to pin a charge of corruption on Key. Newis believed rightly that Key was entirely innocent, and defended his boss with impressively calm good manners. Key made sure that Newis was promoted to become an Assistant Secretary in 1949, at the age of 33.

Immersed in the preparation for the 1953 Coronation, where Works was the lead department, Newis became ever more involved in the multi-faceted problems of the royal palaces. On the recommendation of the Queen's Private Secretary Sir Alan Lascelles, Newis was appointed MVO in 1958, being advanced CVO in 1970.

After a short spell, 1969-70, as director of management services in the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, Newis was offered promotion to Under-Secretary of the Scottish Development Department, with the prospect of the plum job of Secretary to the Department until his retirement date at the age of 60 in 1976, when he became so active in the life of Edinburgh.

Tam Dalyell

Comments