Sir Alan Hume

Saviour of Edinburgh New Town


Alan Blyth Hume, civil servant and conservationist: born Broxburn, West Lothian 5 January 1913; Under-Secretary, Scottish Home Department 1957-59; Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office 1959-62; CB 1963; Under-Secretary, Ministry of Public Buildings and Works 1963-64; Secretary, Scottish Development Department 1965-73; Kt 1973; Chairman, Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland 1973-81; Chairman, Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee 1975-90; married 1943 Marion Garrett (one son, one daughter); died Edinburgh 21 February 2006.

Alan Hume was one of a very small group who rescued the Georgian New Town of Edinburgh, one of the jewels of northern Europe, from falling into decay. For 15 years, 1975-90, he was Chairman of the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee, and before that spent eight crucial years as Secretary of the Scottish Development Department.

It was Hume's capacity for understanding, discipline and friendship which made this self-effacing man such an effective chairman. His friend Desmond Hodges, the dynamic Secretary of the New Town Conservation Committee, recalls Hume's ability to "shepherd into position" people who might make a contribution. As a civil servant, he was held in the highest regard by Robert Matthew and other leading architects, a situation which was rare, if not unique.

Alan Hume was born in 1913 in Broxburn, West Lothian, where his father, soon to become the headmaster of Bonnyrigg School in Midlothian, was a teacher at Broxburn High School. Hume was deeply affected by the loss of his 11-year-old sister to meningitis. Taking first class honours in History at Edinburgh University, he entered the Civil Service in 1936 and found that he was in a reserved occupation during the Second World War. In his spare time, he was a volunteer ambulance driver in the west of Scotland just as there were fearful air-raids on Clydebank and other targets.

Hume's first senior post was as Under-Secretary at the Scottish Home Department in 1957, dealing with delicate police matters at a time when crime was rising to an unprecedented level. Two years later, he was promoted to Assistant Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office, working with the formidable Sir Douglas Haddow. After a period as an Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, Hume went in 1965 to take charge of the Scottish Development Department, which was dealing with the setting up of the British Motor Corporation Truck and Tractor Division at Bathgate, the Rootes factory at Linwood and, above all, the huge steel works at Ravenscraig.

The motor industry had come to Scotland against the better judgement of Sir George Harriman, boss of Austin, and other industry leaders such as George Turnbull. Hume tried very hard, along with colleagues such as Gavin McCrone, to attract the ancillary industries which would have made Bathgate and Linwood viable. The components suppliers steadfastly refused - for understandable reasons, citing economies of scale - to leave the Midlands.

My first meeting with Alan Hume was one of considerable antagonism. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I persuaded the then chairman, Douglas Houghton, to summon the Scottish Office to account for the unsatisfactory contracting arrangements for the building of the New Town of Livingston, then in my West Lothian constituency. Haddow and Sir David Lowe, chairman of Livingston Development Corporation, were incandescent with anger at the trouble I had caused them. It was characteristic of Hume that he should be far more measured in his response to the tribulations of democracy, and develop not only a courteous relationship but friendship.

On his retirement at the age of 60, in 1973, he became Chairman of the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland. He was extremely competent - a steady hand at the helm supporting the scholars who worked for the board. He had an abiding interest in Scotland's heritage and worked hard to preserve Pictish sites, castles, abbeys and industrial monuments.

Hume rendered huge service, too, in various capacities, to Edinburgh University, serving on the Court, where he worked closely with his great friend the Rev Professor John McIntyre. Brenda Moon, the university librarian of the day, remembers Hume's considerable wisdom in dealing with the affairs not only of the library but of the bibliographical treasures in its possession.

Until his 92nd year Hume not only drove a motor car but continued fly-fishing, setting aside every Monday for the river bank or fishing boat.

Tam Dalyell

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