Although coming from a Yorkshire family, James Percival Best (1883-1967) was born in the Walworth district of London where his father had a veterinary practice. In 1894 the failing health of the father brought the family to Scarborough where relatives lived. On the father’s death the mother entered the hotel business to support her family of two sons and two daughters.
Jim attended the Gladstone Road School and left at the age of 13 to assist at the business of a Mr Butler, optician, of Huntriss Row. It was here that an early interest in photography was encouraged and a dark-room prepared under the stairs of the family house in Raleigh Street. His employer soon realised the quality of young Jim Best and encouraged him to accept an apprenticeship with a Gateshead engineering firm. Five years later, at the age of 21, he became an engineer on the Newcastle tramways and later with those of Bishop Auckland. His main engineering interest however had always been in mining and one day an advertisement in The Times caused him to apply for the post of engineer to a tin-mining company in Nigeria and the rest of his professional life was occupied most adventurously in mining and dredging for tin in West Africa and in dredging for gold up the remote rivers of South America, with an interlude of cotton-growing in Iraq.
Jim Best never married and on his retirement in 1927 at the age of 54 he came to live with his mother and sister at the house in Woodland Ravine which he had had built a year or two before. His main interest after retirement was in photography, an art in which he excelled; his photographic records of architectural and natural history subjects received the highest acclaim and many national awards. He brought this gift to the service of our Society and many of our excavations have been graced by a brilliant series of progress photographs taken by him.
He was also keenly interested in natural history with a particular interest in Botany (more specifically the site of the May Lily) and gardening; his knowledge of archaeological matters will long be remembered by all who knew him. His work as a member of the Society’s Wardenship scheme was outstanding, and an example to us all. He was a regular visitor to all our excavations and one of the most faithful attenders of the social evenings and outings.
His health and activity were phenomenal - he could walk most of us off our feet - he had been busy in his dark-room developing a film at ten o’clock on the night before he died and had walked to Raincliffe Woods and back only a day or two previously.
Adapted from an article by Frank Rimington which was published in Transactions 11, 1968