Obituary: Patrick Cadell CBE

Patrick Cadell CBE, archivist. Born: 17 March, 1941, in Linlithgow. Died: 11 June, 2010, in Edinburgh, aged 69.

PATRICK Cadell may have fallen into archives by chance but his passion for the past and an ability to charm decision-makers has ensured he leaves an enduring legacy across Europe. As Keeper of the Records – a post once held by one of his ancestors – he made an immense contribution to archives in Scotland and abroad.

He took a lead promoting archives in the Council of Europe and his fluent French made him a great asset to the international world of archives. His ability to switch seamlessly between languages was much admired. At home, he guided Scottish manuscripts and records into the 21st century by promoting the digital revolution and launching the Scottish Archive Network – or SCAN project – with a national online catalogue and digital images of the early Scottish wills.

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His enthusiasm for and knowledge of his subject and Scottish heritage meant he was in great demand as a speaker and entertaining guide to Scotland.

The son of Col HM Cadell of Grange, OBE, and Kirstine Nimmo, Cadell was educated at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh. He graduated with a BA in History from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1962 before spending two years in France working as a teaching assistant.

When his father told him to get a proper job, Cadell returned to England and started work in the Information Service at the British Museum in London. He also joined the choir and orchestra of the organisation which, at that time, encompassed both the British Museum and British Library. Due to his musical interests he was invited to apply for a vacancy in the manuscripts department when someone with musical knowledge was needed to catalogue collections such as those associated with Vaughan Williams and Ethel Smyth. As a result he became an archivist.

But he returned north of the border as soon as possible – to the National Library of Scotland, where he held the post of assistant keeper of manuscripts from 1968, becoming Keeper from 1983 to 1990. He took over the role as keeper of the records of Scotland in 1991 and was a strong supporter of local archives, working tirelessly to encourage local authorities to set up or expand their facilities and to raise the profile of archives. He promoted the first comprehensive report, An Archival Account of Scotland, and managed the planning and construction of Thomas Thomson House, a state-of-the-art building for the national archives in Edinburgh, which opened in 1995.

He also took a lead in the furthering the cause of archives in the Council of Europe and in the European Union, where he was joint editor of a milestone report in 1994 for the Council of Ministers. As secretary of the European board of the International Council on Archives, of which he was latterly an honorary member, he helped to forge new links with archives in Eastern Europe.

Cadell was honoured by France and made an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He was made a CBE in 2000. He served as chairman of the Society of Archivists from 1997 to 1999 and was appointed Bailie of the Abbey Court of Holyrood. He was also proud to have been president of the West Lothian (his home county) History and Amenity Society.

Cadell wrote a number of books, including The Iron Mills at Cramond, The Abbey Court and High Constables of Holyrood and contributed to a variety of publications including The Water of Leith.

His influence on Scottish archives continued well after he retired in 2000, as did his active promotion of Scotland's heritage. As a member of the Scottish committee of the Heritage Lottery Fund he helped to promote major projects including the Heritage Hub in the Borders and he was active in the development of the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness.

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George MacKenzie, the current Keeper of Scotland's records, said Cadell had a great enthusiasm for archives, which he could communicate effortlessly to all.

"He was able to deploy persuasive arguments that commanded attention from decision-makers and inspired admiration among colleagues across the profession," he says.

Outside work Cadell continued his musical interests, playing the piano and oboe, and singing in a number of choirs, including Jubilo. He was also an elder of Greenbank Church and a water diviner.

In retirement he was the respected, calm and unruffled chair of a variety of organisations including the Significance Panel of The National Audit of Scotland's Museum and Gallery Collections and the Scottish Local History Forum.

He was also involved in myriad other Scottish heritage and records organisations, was a Trustee of the European Ethnological Research Centre and a member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

He loved walking, particularly in the Pentlands, where he said there was nowhere he would rather be.

Married to Sarah King in 1968, with whom he had a daughter Sophie and two sons, Alexander and William, he was widowed 1996. He is survived by his children and his second wife Rachel.