James Graham is buried in Lawnswood Cemetery far from his birthplace in Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire. His parents were agricultural labourers and he was orphaned at the age of six. Graham was sent to live with his uncle Robert Graham in Lincolnshire. At the age of nineteen his uncle and aunt died and Graham moved to London to make a living as a school teacher. In the evenings he took lessons in commerce, modern languages and economics and in his holidays took trips in Europe learning about their systems of education.
In 1893, aged only 24, The West Riding Technical Institution Committee employed him as an Inspector for Modern Languages and Commercial Education. His reputation grew steadily and in 1905 Graham was made Secretary for Higher Education in Leeds. Two years later, as Leeds Education Committee took control of much of the education needs of the city he was made Secretary for Education, a much-expanded role. He was an expert linguist and was acknowledged as an authority on both commercial education and educational finance. Graham survived the criticism levelled at him during the City of Leeds Training College debacle, in which Winifred Mercier and nine women teachers resigned. The fallout meant a reorganisation of the Education Department at Leeds and Graham emerged as Director of Education in 1918.
Perhaps foremost in his achievements was being the driving force behind the formation of Leeds Training College, along with Alderman Fred Kinder and he also played a significant role in the establishment of Carnegie College of Physical Training although he died before the project was brought to completion.
Graham married his French wife Marie Thorbee Guathrie in 1891 and they had one daughter Irene Marie Antionette Graham in 1895. He also had a liaison with his assistant Sally Hartnoll and had another daughter by her, Marie Hartnoll in 1917. He ensured that Marie was schooled, and she also became a school teacher in later life.
Graham died in 1931 at the Hotel Russell in London while attending an education conference. Some who worked with him described him as brusque, but he was an efficient administrator. His one formal qualification was an honorary doctorate from Leeds University awarded in 1927. Among his friends he was known as ‘Jimmy’ and considered a raconteur with a sensitive side that manifested itself in charitable schemes such as ‘Boots for Bairns Fund’ and Children’s Day pageant an echo perhaps reflecting his own early struggles as an orphan.
I am indebted to Dr Paul Shotton, James Graham’s great grandson for additional Information.
Author: Keith Rowntree