A remarkable life - tribute to a proud Sheffield trade union stalwart and family man

Well known trade union leader, plumber and proud family man Jack Illingworth has died, aged 94.

Friday, 11th June 2021, 12:36 pm
Anniversary, Jack Illingworth and Barbara his wife of 72 years

Jack was born on September 13, 1926 on the Norwood Estate, Sheffield, into a strongly socialist family.

His mother Ada was active in the local Labour Party and Co-Op Women’s Guild. Father Alf was a machinist and AEU member at Firth Browns Engineering Works as well as a stalwart of the company sports club Atlas and Norfolk.

Jack was the youngest of three children with elder brother Clifford and sister Connie 13 and 11 years his senior.

Obituary Jack Illingworth Union Leader Sheffield

Ada enlisted young Jack’s help in distributing copies of the Sheffield Forward the local Labour newspaper around the estate.

Along with thousands of other Sheffield schoolchildren he was evacuated on August 31, 1939 just before the outbreak of War to the small village of Woodhouse Eaves in Leicestershire - only to return when the anticipated bombing of the local steel industry didn’t happen until later the following year.

He followed his father Alf and started work at Firth Brown’s in Sheffield in 1940 initially as Office Boy and then Apprentice Plumber where he met Barbara his wife of 72 years - after a courtship largely in the nearby Peak District - they were Married in 1949.

Son Stephen was born in 1952 - but with nowhere to call their own they eventually lived in the front half of Jack’s aunt Elsie’s on Owler Lane Sheffield for several years before getting the keys to a new council house in 1956 on the Gleadless Valley Housing Estate where daughter Pauline was born in 1957.

SHOP STEWARDS AWARD Right, Sheffield Hallam graduate Steven Whysall(33) is presented with the Firth Brown Shop Stewards Award by Jack Illingworth(left), former chairman of Shop Stewards. Looking on is David Eaton, Director of School of Engineering. Pictured at the Cutlers Hall. November 21 2001

Fulfilling his ambition by becoming an apprentice Plumber Jack immediately joined The Plumbing Trade Union - he was elected as Shop Steward for the Plumbers Shop in 1955 and became Chairman of the Shop Stewards Committee in 1956 alongside his close friend George Caborn as Convenor - succeed by George’s son Richard Caborn (later to serve as Europe MP and as Member of Parliament for Sheffield Central and Minister in the Blair Government).

It was through his father Alf in the machine shop that Jack first came into contact with the engineering workers shop steward George Caborn who carved himself a significant niche in Sheffield’s Labour history.

Jack listened to the deals they were talking about and the huge steps forward that George negotiated on behalf of his members - of how he conducted himself in meetings and convinced men to follow and& support him.

The formidable well organised Firth Brown’s Shop Stewards Committee was held as the a model for modern industrial relations with Management and amalgamated Trade Unions working with mutual respect for the benefit of The Company - the 6000 Employees and their families.

Jack Illingworth

During the Miners Strike in the mid 80s hungry miners from the picket line were invited to the Firth Brown works canteen for lunch as guests of The Shop Stewards Committee with the blessing of Managing Director Don Hardwick - A kindly gesture they never forgot.

When Princess Margaret visited the company in 1985 The initial instinct of Union Officials not to meet with Royalty was strongly questioned by Hardwick.

“When you invite delegations from Russia or Bulgaria I meet and welcome them and you should meet with my guests”.

Jack and Richard were duly presented to Princess Margaret when she visited Firth Brown’s in 1985.

Jack worked hard in the mid 70s to negotiate Company Pension rights to be extended to shop floor workers alongside staff employees who had long enjoyed this benefit.

It was an offence to his instincts for social justice that when he joined the Company on the staff as Office Boy that he enjoyed more benefits than his father Alf who had worked there for many years.

Elected to Sheffield Trades & Labour Council - he was Vice Chairman to friend and former Lord Mayor of Sheffield Bill Owen.

Encouraged by Bill He became a Justice Of the Peace bringing to the bench an understanding of ‘normal life struggles’ for less privileged individuals that we not always appreciated by the ‘great and the good’ traditionally elected to this post.

Brought up with strong socialist principals and lifelong Labour Supporter.

In the early 1960s he helped turn the previously strong Conservative Seat of Heeley into a Safe Labour Seat by mobilising the working class voters of Gleadless Valley with the help and support of The FB Shop Stewards Committee.

In 1972 together with Roger Barton and Blanch Flannery Jack led the first delegation from Sheffield Trades Council to Sheffield’s twin city of Donetsk then part of the Soviet Union - where they learned at first hand from the Russian Coal Miners of the brutal occupation by Nazi Germany during The War.

He served as governor at Shirecliffe College - Abbey Lane School and since 1976 Sheffield Polytechnic/Hallam University where he was Chairman Of the Sites & Buildings Committee.

One of Jack’s proudest memories was in raising funds for the building of Norfolk Park Hydrotherapy Pool - working with the then new owner of the Johnson & Firth Brown Group - Oliver Jessel - donations from Firth Brown Employees were matched by Jessel raising almost £8000 which allowed building of Hydrotherapy Pool at Norfolk Park Special School to begin after many years of fundraising efforts by staff and families.

In 1993 he Abseiled 128ft down the side of the SH University with 99 other volunteers to raise money for Cancer Research.

As a keen rambler all his life Jack often spoke about the aggressive attitude of gamekeepers in the 1930’s when he and friends attempted to access the moors around Sheffield.

Sunday’s were always for leisure - walking in Derbyshire.

Camping Holidays in Cornwall and later in the Western Isles on Islay where he learned to appreciate the finer points of Islay’s whiskey industry.

Following the acrimonious merger of Firth Browns and BSC’s River Don Works to form Sheffield Forgemasters Jack was made redundant from his full time union position in 1985 still in his late 50s after 45 years service.

The policy of asset stripping and massive job cuts that followed the merger held no opportunities for mutual co-operation with the new Management.

Jack and Barbara were on holiday in Cornwall when news of his redundancy leaked out to the local press.

Half of Sheffield knew he had lost his job before he did.

After his enforced retirement from Sheffield Forgemasters he continued to work diligently on behalf of Sheffield Hallam University and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship in 1987 along with former Home Secretary David Blunkett - Bruce Oldfield Fashion Designer and Clare Venables - Director of The Crucible Theatre.

Always a keen sportsman and an accomplished cricketer himself he was very active well into his 90s - kit man - main (and often only) supporter as well as being in charge of the ‘Magic Sponge’ for local football teams watching son Steve and later daughter Pauline’s sons Steven Simon and Christopher play.

Jack is survived by wife Barbara, son Steve and his wife Sharon - daughter Pauline and her husband John - grandsons Steven Simon and Christopher their wives Laura Natalie and Emma and his great grandchildren Olive four - Little Jack 3.5 years and Teddy almost one.