James (Jimmy) Percival Best (1883-1967)
A good all round naturalist, with a particular interest in Botany (more specifically the site of the May Lily), J.P. Best first joined the Society in February 1945. He sat on the committee from 1955 to 1967 and was also the recorder for Fungi from 1963 to 1966. In addition, he served as treasurer on the committee responsible for the production of ‘The Natural History of the Scarborough District’ (Volume 1 published in 1953 and Volume 2 published in 1956). A well accomplished photographer, two examples of his work (the Dwarf Cornel and the May Lily) were reproduced in Volume 1 of the above mentioned work.
Although coming from a Yorkshire family, Jimmy was born in London where his father was a practicing veterinary surgeon. In 1894, the failing health of his father brought the family back to Scarborough where relatives lived. Following the death of Jimmy’s father, his mother entered the hotel business to support her family of two sons and two daughters.
Jimmy attended Gladstone Road Junior School which he left at the age of 13 and found employment as an assistant in the business of Mr Butlers Optician of Huntriss Row. It was here that an early interest in photography was nurtured, as a result of which, he prepared a ‘photographic darkroom’ under the staircase of his home in Raleigh Street.
His employer, soon realising his quality, encouraged Jimmy to accept an apprenticeship with a firm of engineers based in Gateshead. After five years, he became an engineer on the Newcastle Tramways and later, at Bishop Aukland. His primary interest in engineering had always been mining, as a consequence of which and in response to an advertisement in ‘The Times’, Jimmy applied for the post of engineer to a tin-mining company operating in Nigeria. The rest of his professional life was peppered with a variety of adventurous assignments including mining and dredging for tin in West Africa and dredging for gold in the remote rivers of South America interrupted only by an interlude of cotton growing in Iraq.
Jimmy never married, so, after retiring at the age of 44, he came to live with his mother and sister, in a bungalow on Woodland Ravine, which he had had built a year or two previously. He held the office of warden for ‘The Archaeological Society’ and was their photographer, his photographic records of architecture and natural history, received the highest acclaim and earned him many national awards.
As well as all this, Jimmy was keenly interested in gardening. His health and activity were phenomenal, indeed his death came only a day or two after a walk into Raincliffe Woods and he had, infact, been busy in his ‘darkroom’ until 10pm the night previous.