Jack Reynolds (1915-1988)

Keith Laybourn

(First published in 1991 in volume 5, pp. 91-93, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)

John Reynolds, always known affectionately as Jack, was one of the most highly respected of Bradford's twentieth-century local historians. His enthusiasm, his unstinting support for local research and his high level of scholarship have ensured that many historians, who have risen to eminence in their own right, owe him a great debt and his passing will be greatly regretted.

Jack was born in 1915 in a house in Tennyson Place. Undercliffe, once owned by Edward Roche, a printer and one of the founder members of the Independent Labour Party. He was educated at Hanson School, where he was taught by Herbert Holt, the father of the distinguished medieval historian J.C. Holt. Jack had great respect for his teacher and, in the mid-1980s, was most pleased when he received a letter from J.C. congratulating him on his book on Sir Titus Salt. It was Herbert Holt who encouraged Jack's interest in cricket, an interest which took him into the Eccleshill first and second teams as a budding batsman. Later in his career he batted for and captained Calverley in the Leeds League and the Airedale and Wharfedale League. His enduring interest in cricket led him to become a member of Undercliffe, where he held many seminars on cricket and historical themes. He was also a member of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club, attracted by his great respect for Sir Len Hutton. In later years. however, partly in frustration at the domination of the Yorkshire team by Geoffrey Boycott, he was more fitful in his membership. Those who knew, and were taught by, Jack will know that he mixed local and national history with cricket with familiar ease, and I can personally recall at least one Bradford University history tutorial held at Park Avenue.

Jack read History at the University of Birmingham between 1935 and 1938, where his consuming passion led him to play for the University First XI. Subsequently , he took a teacher training course. However, once the Second World War broke out he was drafted into the West Yorkshire Regiment and was posted to Iceland. Whilst sailing there his ship was strafed by the Luftwaffe and Jack, rushing for cover, felt a thud in his back and a wetness. Reflecting that he 'had bought it', he was relieved when he realised that in the mad rush for cover someone had kicked a mug of tea into his back. After Iceland, he was transferred to the Intelligence Corps and North Africa in 1942. He participated in the landings at Anzio and Salerno and then became settled with an intelligence unit in Rome until 1947. It was during this time that he developed an abiding interest in the history of Italy and the 'Risorgimento'.

When he returned to Britain, he obtained his first academic post at Grange High School for Boys in Bradford, first as an English teacher and then as second in the History Department. He also taught GCE evening classes and, from 1954, taught courses for the London University B.Sc.Econ. external degree, specialising in medieval economic history. Indeed, at this stage he taught Dr. M. LeLohe, a later colleague at Bradford University. In 1959 he was appointed Lecturer in History at the newly-designated College of Advanced Technology, which became the University of Bradford in 1965. Here, until 1978, he taught European History, seventeenth-century British history and conducted research into the economic and social history of Bradford which he worked up into a third-year Special Subject. Ostensibly the subject was the Economic and Social History of Britain between 1870 and 1914 but at least half of it was concerned with Bradford. From this platform he encouraged many students to undertake research for M.Phil. and Ph.D.s. Although the lack of a Ph.D. prevented him from officially supervising some of these pieces of research at least 30 students were supervised by Jack for their MAs, M.Phil.s and Ph.D.s. In addition. from 1961 until about 1976, he taught courses on Bradford's history and the European Right for the WEA and the Leeds Extra-Mural Department at Mornington Villas. Others may remember that he was also the first secretary of the Bradford branch of the Historical Association and that, as with many underpaid teachers and academics, he paid for his summer holidays at Filey out of his GCE 'O' and 'A' Level marking. Members of this society may also remember that he was, for about three years in the early 1970s, editor of the Bradford Antiquary. Indeed, it was through Jack's editorship that I wrote an article for the journal, only the second article I had ever written.

Jack always had a reputation as a very good and inspiring teacher. But he was also a fine scholar. His output was not substantial - his heavy teaching commitments ensured that - but from the mid-1970s he began to produce articles, reviews and books with regularity. He wrote for a number of journals, including the International Review of Social History and History Workshop, and also wrote and part-wrote, three books. In 1983 he produced his main work, The Great Paternalist: Titus Salt & the Growth of Nineteenth-Century Bradford (Temple Smith, 1983) which is easily the best book written on Salt and on the history of Bradford. Subsequently, he wrote Liberalism and the Rise of Labour 1890-1918 (Croom Helm, 1984)) and Labour Heartland (Bradford University Press, 1987) with Keith Laybourn. Both these later books dealt with the Labour movement in Bradford and the West Riding of Yorkshire. The history of the Independent Labour Party, which was formed as a national organisation at St. George's Hall, Bradford in January 1893, was another of his abiding interests.

During the last decade of his life, Jack renewed his acquaintance with Italy - regularly spending a month or so at Lucca, in Tuscany, in the spring or early summer of each year It was here where he died in June 1988, having just enjoyed a meal out with some of his Italian friends.

With his death comes the end of an era and there are many colleagues and students who owe a great debt to him. He worked with Professor Derek Fraser, now a Chief HMI, taught Dr. David Wright, and helped to educate many students who now write extensively on the history of Bradford and the West Riding. As a mark of their respect, some of them contributed towards a volume of essays entitled Victorian Bradford, which was edited by David Wright and Tony Jowitt and published in 1982.

My own personal debts are those of having been a student of his at Bradford University in the 1960s, and of working with him on articles and books. As a tutor, he was always full of excellent advice and generous with his time. His enormous enthusiasm and extensive knowledge were always available, and it was a comfort as a student to know that that was so. As a writer I always found him to be meticulous, ever searching to get beneath the skin of a subject.

Jack leaves Evelyn, his wife, and three daughters Janet, Jennifer and Catherine. Their loss, though far more personal, is also our loss Bradford is deprived of its greatest historian. It will be a long time before some of those he influenced will adjust to Jack's death. But I comfort myself in the thought that whilst Jack is no longer with us his spirit will survive amongst current and future generations, for Jack Reynolds was one of those rare individuals who left his impression without appearing to do so.

© 1991, Keith Laybourn and The Bradford Antiquary