Obituary: Robert Brydon, historian and author

Bob Brydon. Picture: Contributed
Bob Brydon. Picture: Contributed
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BORN: 9 December, 1930, in Edinburgh. Died: 21 May, 2014, in Edinburgh, aged 83.

Robert Brydon was an extraordinary Edinburgh figure who will be remembered by many friends and colleagues around the world. He was born on 9 December, 1930, in Portobello, where he spent his formative years. He died in Edinburgh on 21 May, 2014.

Living in Portobello, Bob was never far from the sea, and it was the sea that was to become an enduring interest for him. With the beachcombing instinct of a young boy, he became a treasure-hunter from an early age. After the outbreak of the Second World War, he could be found collecting uniform badges and other items from German soldiers in return for broken biscuits.

With his National Service, his interest in the sea and the war came together. He served in the Marine Craft section of the RAF based in Bridlington, whose aim was to conduct air-sea rescue missions for pilots forced to come down over the sea. Ironically, Bob himself had to be rescued from the North Sea on one occasion, when the boat he was in drifted onto a sandbank at night in January.

Another adventure after National Service set up a lifelong interest, when he volunteered for an archaeological dig on St Kilda in his 20s, working alongside Alec Warwick, who pioneered the preservation of St Kilda. During the dig Bob discovered the remains of an aircraft on the remote island, another clue to what awaited him in later life.

After a stint in the family printing business he set up his own antiques business in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge and was instrumental in saving St Stephen’s Street from demolition and helping to revive the fortunes of the area in the post-war years.

His eye for treasure stood him in good stead as an antiques dealer. He was particularly interested in items of military history, and in ethnic artefacts from around the world.

Bob was also a storyteller, a philosopher, a mystic and a historian. He was president of the Theosophical Society of Edinburgh, exploring comparative religion and “belief systems”.

He was a founding member of the Commandery St Clair of the Grand Priory of Knights Templar in Scotland, and was also their archivist. The inauguration took place in Rosslyn Chapel in 2006. Long before this, however – and before Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code had put Rosslyn on the map – Bob was advocating to bring the plight of the decaying chapel to the world. He created a small exhibition of artefacts to help visitors learn about Rosslyn’s connections to the wider world.

He led specialist tours of Rosslyn Chapel for many years, and was considered one of the top experts on the chapel, its symbolic iconography and the Sinclair family. Bob led a research project on the Sinclairs and their connection with Prince Henry Sinclair of Orkney, and contributed to several books on the subject.

Bob brought Marianna Lines in on the project to assist with interpretation of stones both in Scotland and the US, which enabled her to further appreciate his wide span of knowledge and to enhance her study of decoding ancient stones.

He also contributed his historical knowledge to several books, including one investigating the death of Prince George, Duke of Kent in a plane crash near Dunbeath in Caithness in 1942. Bob loved a mystery, and the story of the crash which killed King George VI’s youngest brother was intriguing not only because of its royal victim, but also for the suspicion that Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, was on board at the time.

Bob was credited as the main contributing researcher to the book, Double Standards: The Rudolf Hess Cover Up, in which he is described as a military historian and a researcher of numerous documentary scripts. But Bob also had a personal interest in the story: the Sunderland flying boat involved in the crash was the same model he himself had flown in while in the RAF at Bridlington in his years of National Service.

Another field of interest brought together Bob’s love of history, treasure and the sea. In the 1990s a team of Scottish and American divers set out to find the wreck of the ship, The Blessing, which sank in the Firth of Forth in 1633 carrying many of King Charles I’s priceless possessions while he was visiting Scotland on his coronation tour. Bob was involved in original research for the investigation, and contributed to the film of the expedition made by Discovery.

An expert in masonic history, ancient history and ethnology, Bob’s wide scope on life also included a keen interest in the fairy lore and gypsy lore of Scotland. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and was a founder member of The Pictish Arts society, formed in 1988 in Edinburgh.

Historian, researcher, author, treasure hunter, Knight Templar, Pict: Bob Brydon was a treasure of a great man. His depth of spirit, his understanding of the ancient wisdoms, and his enthusiasm kindled the spirit of all who met him. His energy had no bounds.

What he achieved could be said to be beyond the realms of this world, for his fathomless legacy lives on.

Author Simon Cox wrote in tribute to Bob: “Truly one of the best human beings I ever met, and many of the best evenings I will ever experience were spent listening, debating, and learning magical wonderful things that Bob was the sole custodian of.”

Another friend spoke of Bob as “a great teacher to the thousands of Truth Seekers he turned the light on for”.

He is survived by his brother Ian, his wife Lindsay Nisbet, and his son Mike.

A quatrain from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a great favourite of Bob’s, was shared at his funeral in Edinburgh on Saturday, 31 May:

Ah, moon of my delight who knowest no wane

The star of heaven is rising once again

How oft hereafter rising shall she look

Through this same garden after me in vain.