Jamie Scarlett (1920 ~ 2008)
James Desmond Scarlett was born in London in 1920 and educated
at various private schools. Joined R.A.F.V.R. in March 1939 and
served in the R.A.F. in a technical capacity from the outbreak of
war until February 1946, picking up various useful accomplishments
on the way.
After demob, trained as a quantity surveyor, preserving a degree
of sanity by indulging in serious photography and learning to fly
light aircraft. A chance encounter during a holiday in Perthshire
in 1962 re-kindled a latent interest in tartan and led - through
the Scottish Tartans Society - to a long and fruitful collaboration
with D.C.Stewart which ended only with Stewart's death.
Since 1977 he engaged in in-depth analysis of the tartan art form
and in the reconstruction of the old styles of tartan weaving, and
in the reconsideration of the problem of military tartans in the
light of recently discovered information.
Amongst numerous booklets and papers, his publications
The Tartan Spotter's Guide (1973)
Scotland's Clans and Tartans (1974)
How to Weave Fine Cloth (1981)
The Tartan Weaver's Guide (1985)
Tartan, The Highland Textile (1990)
Brian Wilton, Director
of the Scottish Tartans Authority was a friend and colleague of
Jamie Scarlett and was with him when he died in Inverness in 2008.
The following was the funeral address he delivered at the Requiem
Eucharist for Jamie at Inverness Cathedral on 4th June
"Whilst my coming into Jamie's life was only in the last decade,
my frequent contacts with him - by phone, e-mails and visits -
proved enriching to us both. To me because I had instant access to
one of the towering figures in the world of professional tartan
research and to Jamie because it demonstrated that even in his
twilight years, he had an immense amount to offer to historians and
Our joint experiences in the RAF proved another shared interest
and I liked nothing better in our many phone calls than to joke
outrageously with him and have the reward of hearing his rare
Very appropriately I happen to be wearing a black kilt today.
This was said to be a Victorian invention to be worn at times of
mourning. Jamie dismissed that with his usual irrefutable logic by
asking how many people could afford to have a black kilt hanging in
the wardrobe just waiting for the next funeral. Well Jamie, I'm
glad that I had one because I think it marks your passing in the
most appropriate fashion.
Those of you who visited Jamie in his croft at Moy may have
noticed that he was no domestic goddess and according to his little
sister Margaret (little sisters always tell tales on elder
brothers!) that was very evident from the early days of his
interest in tartan. Whilst still living at home he built a loom in
his bedroom and the banisters were forever festooned with hanks of
wool in all states of preparedness. His experiments with dyeing
those wools, meant that he frequently commandeered his mother's
pots and pans for boiling up his witches' brews of colouring agents
and then he would leave the dirty pans for someone else to clear
up. Uncharacteristic of Jamie's usual excellent attention to
detail, was to learn that having built that loom in his bedroom,
when he came to leave home, he found it was too big to get out
through the door.
Jamie married late in life - his beloved Meta in 1972 - and in
1976 he gave up quantity surveying and devoted himself entirely to
the study of tartan. His scholarly output was prodigious and his
many books on the subject were joined by countless articles and
home-produced booklets. What amazed me was that his output hardly
diminished with advancing age and he was forever inundating me with
new work to add to our archives. As a humorous aside. Jamie - or
Jim as his family know him - granted me Power of Attorney and we
joked about my stepping in to help search for them if Jamie ever
lost his marbles. What I discovered was that his marble collection
was very much bigger and better than mine and he had no intention
of losing any of them. So I'm pleased to report that I never had to
unleash my powers.
Jamie will certainly be sadly missed. As another tartan doyen
from the United States e-mailed: "He was the Dean of Tartan
Scholars and invented the term "tartanology.". He was the last link
between the 19th & 20th century fathers of early tartan
research D.W. and his son D.C. Stewart."
So very many people have expressed their sadness at Jamie's
passing and I would like to read just three from individuals who
didn't meet him until comparatively recently, all of them connected
with the bill going through the Scottish Parliament to establish an
official tartan register.
The first is from Michael McElhinney, The Scottish Government's
Head of Manufacturing Policy:
"While I only met Jamie a couple of times and on work on the
tartan register, he made an immediate impression with his
impressive knowledge of tartan and his passion for the subject. His
welcoming hospitality and sense of humour made the trip up the A9
seem shorter. I subsequently read some of his works and this served
to confirm my initial impression, that Jamie was indeed one of
Scotland's leading tartan academics."
George MacKenzie Keeper of the Records of Scotland, wrote:
"Jamie Scarlett was one of the foremost authorities on tartan, and
will be much missed. His scholarship, which shines through his
notes and publications, will both help and inspire us as we work to
establish the Register of Scottish Tartans."
Alison Diamond, the project officer at the National Archives of
Scotland had this to say:
"I have read a lot of his books over the last few months and have
learned a huge amount from them. I was looking forward to being
able to draw on his vast knowledge and practical experience as the
Register developed. He'll leave a huge hole in the tartan world.
Hopefully we can create a register that he would have approved
As most of you may know, about 10 years ago, Jamie was awarded an
MBE for his outstanding contributions to Scottish Heritage. A
lesser man might have become a little puffed up about that, but
Jamie never did and I always marvelled at his willingness to modify
some of his long-held views in the light of subsequent research and
discussion. Talking of what made a good researcher, he said they
needed an enquiring mind and an ability to smell a rat. His
self-effacing attitude was best typified by his saying that he
never believed anything he saw in print . . . even if he'd written
His humorous asides and his often acerbic comments on the many
tartan myths that circulate, will long be remembered. But one of
his cleverest and funniest outputs had nothing to do with tartan at
all. Most of you will know that between Inverness and Perth, there
are two high altitude spots on the A9 that frequently become
blocked with snow - the Slochd and Drummochter Pass. Jamie penned a
couplet many years ago which read. "When the Slochd is blochd,
Drummochter is blochter!" Years later, in a folksy Scottish
magazine he read that very same couplet which was described as an
'old Highland weather saying.'
Jamie's favourite tipple was a good malt whisky and in parting and
in celebration of a very special person, a very worthwhile life and
mercifully, a very peaceful end, I lift an imaginary glass and say
to Jamie "Slainte, Here's tae ye . . . wha's like ye!"
Brian Wilton, Director, Scottish Tartans Authority.