Jim Irving, his wife Parry, and their children Michael, Sarah and Peter, came to live in Oundle in the 1950s. Jim had been appointed to manage Smith’s Brewery and the family lived in Brewery House in North Street.
Angela Hudson (nee Taney) of Benefield Road was a brewery employee at the time. She recalled, “Mr Irving was the manager, always the gentleman and immaculately attired.
“The brewery was a very happy place to work and employed a lot of people. Every year we had an outing to seaside.”
The unexpected closure of the brewery in 1962 involved overseeing the sale of the many inns in the region that had belonged to the brewery. Jim was offered a directorship elsewhere, but decided to remain in Oundle.
His wife Parry ran a very successful ladies dress shop in property they owned in Crown Court in the Market Place until her death in 1997.
Jim became a stalwart of the cultural scene in Oundle when in 1958 Tony and Dorothy Thurlow formed Oundle Gilbert & Sullivan Players, and invited Jim to be the founder chairman, a position that he held for the next 20 years.
He was a driving force behind the creation of the new society and worked tirelessly in those early years, ensuring the success of the Players. He later served as President and Vice-President.
Jim involved the whole family in the life of the Players, onstage and backstage. His wife Parry’s dress shop was well placed to be the box office in the run-up to show week.
He kept a keen interest in the fortunes of the Players to the end, and although unable to actively participate, he thoroughly enjoyed hosting the Sunday lunchtime celebration of another successful show week completed and put to bed.
On retirement in 1981 Jim also volunteered to manage the membership of the Friends of the Snowdonia National Park Society, and used his experience as an administrator to the great benefit of that organisation.
When the Smith’s Brewery buildings, with the tall chimney near the corner of Black Pot Lane, were demolished, the changes inspired Jim to make an album of many before and after photographs, which was the first contribution to a long career of helping to record Oundle’s history.
When the Oundle Historical Society was founded in 1983 he traced the map made by George Cuming in 1824 for the Oundle Improvement Act and with the names of householders added by Margaret Gale, this important document was really the start of the movement which led to the foundation of the Oundle Museum.
Again, Jim’s experience was very valuable in discussions about premises and governance for a museum in Oundle, and in 1994 the museum was able to open in an upstairs room in the old Drill Hall in Benefield Road.
He kept in close touch with the East Midlands Museum Service to find out how other museums in the region solved their problems. Particular interest was given to the care needed in acquiring, registering and conserving artefacts for the collection.
When the possibility arose of moving the museum to the Court House, Jim was much involved with others in detailed discussions. A grant of £50,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund was made available specifically for the museum and Jim was in his element with the detailed drawings and designs for display cabinets.
The present lay-out of the museum owes much to that meticulous planning. As the collection grew, his record keeping ensured the museum would be accredited to a national standard that enables the museum to get loans of artefacts from other museums, and to apply for grants.
As he became older, and he went to the museum office often until he was 96, the onset of deafness meant he could no longer take part in committee meetings.
Last year during a town meeting he spoke with great conviction about the need for the museum to stay in the Court House.
Active to the end, Jim was often called upon to attend major events in town as an honoured guest, including the re-opening of the Talbot Hotel, and the opening of the Nene Valley Brewery in 2012.
Jim was delighted to see the brewery industry revived, exactly 50 years after the last brew was made at Smith’s.
In honour of his career, the brewery named a new brew after him, the Jim Irving Pale, which won a silver medal at Peterborough Beer Festival, the second largest beer festival in England.
Jim Irving died in November 2013, aged 97. He was a remarkable man and a very generous friend.
Written with contributions from Ioan Thomas and Paul Weetman