OBITUARY

DEATH OF ALDERMAN CURRER BRIGGS

A NOTABLE LEEDS CITIZEN

(from the YDO  1 Sep 1906)

It is with the deepest regret that we have to announce the sudden death of Alderman A. Currer Briggs, the sad event taking place at his residence, Gledhow Grange, Leeds, early yesterday morning. Mr. Briggs had for some days been staying at Windermere with his wife and daughter, but returned to Leeds on Thursday for business purposes. He motored from the Lake District, and nothing was then amiss. For the past two years, however, his health had been unsatisfactory, the late Alderman having been troubled with his heart. He was called yesterday morning shortly after seven o'clock, but within a few minutes of rising he expired from heart failure. During the day, Dr. Ward informed the City Coroner that Mr. Briggs had been ill for two years with heart disease, and no inquest will therefore be held. Mrs. and Miss. Briggs were at Windermere at the time of the death, but returned to Leeds yesterday afternoon.

Mr. Briggs, who was fifty-one years of age, was born at Outwood Hall, near Wakefield, and received his early education at University College, London, matriculating with honours at the London University in 1872. Until but a few years ago the deceased gentleman was practically unknown in the municipal life of Leeds. Prior to that time he had devoted the greater part of his energies to business, and in the coal trade had built for himself almost a national reputation. For twenty years he had been the chairman and managing director of Henry Briggs, Son & Co., Limited, the company which controls the extensive Whitwood Collieries, which had been founded by his grandfather, Mr. Henry Briggs, and of which his father, Mr. Henry Currer Briggs, had been the proprietor. Such a huge undertaking as this colliery is naturally took up the greater portion of Mr. Briggs's time, but he took a deep interest in everything connected with the coal trade. The Leeds University is largely indebted to his energies for its Mining Department. Through Mr. Briggs and other prominent coalowners in West Yorkshire a sum of over seven thousand pounds raised, of which, by the way, his company gave a large proportion, for the purpose of building and equipping new premises for the Mining Department. Up to the time of his death Mr. Briggs was the chairman of that particular department, and also a life governor and member of the Council of the University.

In various other matters relating to the coal trade the deceased gentleman took a prominent part. When the West Yorkshire Coalowners' Association was founded, some years ago, he was a prominent worker in connection with its formation, and up to 1901 was its chairman. With the increasing pressure of business he retired from the position in that year, but his popularity was fully attested to when Mrs. Briggs and himself received from the members of the association numerous tokens of affection and goodwill. In the following year, however, his merits received their due recognition from a higher quarter, as, when the Royal Commission, presided over by Lord Allerton, was appointed to inqire into the coal supply of the United Kingdom Mr. Currer Briggs was nominated a member of that body, and was recognised as one of the most indefatigable workers in connection with it. His experience of the coal trade in West Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, and Derbyshire proved, of course, of the greateds possible value to the Commission. He was also the representative of the West Yorkshire coalowners on the Conciliation Board, where he distinguished himself as being a friend of the workers, and helped to settle many disputes between masters and men. He also took an active part in the work of the Mining Association of Great Britain.

Whilst thus attending to business Mr. Briggs never neglected the workers employed by his company. He took a deep interest in the school connected with the Whitwood Collieries, and was also a Governor of the Normanton Grammar School, and for some years a member of the defunct Normanton School Board. He was a large shareholder of the Leeds Fireclay Company, Limited, and some years ago, on the invitation of the directors, joined the board of the company. Only a fortnight ago he presided over the annual meeting of the concern. At the time he appeared to be in the best of health and spirits, and by his tact and good humour steered to a successful conclusion a meeting which at its commencement promised to be of a stormy and protracted character. Perhaps on this occasion Mr. Briggs overtaxed his strength, for it was only on the previous day that he presided over the annual meeting of his own company.

Mr. Briggs's entry into the world of municipal politics was made under peculiar circumstances. In November, 1903, it had become the turn of the Conservative party to select a Chief Magistrate for Leeds for the ensuing twelve months. Mr. Edwin Woodhouse, the present Lord Mayor, was selected, but at the eleventh hour it was found that, by a technical oversight, Mr. Woodhouse could not fill the position. His business had been turned into a limited liability company, and as he resided at Calverley, outside the Leeds boundary, his name did not appear on the burgess-roll of the city, and accordingly he could not be elected to fill the position of Lord Mayor. At the last minute, therefore, the Conservatives found themselves in a position of difficulty, which was, however, relieved by Mr. Currer Briggs accepting the invitation to be nominated for the honour. He had previously taken no part in municipal work, and he was in his forty-ninth year before making his debut. Both political parties, however, at once assented to the proposal to invite Mr. Briggs to fill the position, and at the meeting of the City Council he was unanimously elected. Mr. Briggs, with the assistance of his wife, who carried through the duties of Lady Mayoress with a winning charm that endeared her to the hearts of all grades of Leeds people, accomplished an enormous amount of work durning his year of office, which must have been nearly a record one from the point of view of the brilliance of the social and philanthropic work accomplished by the Chief Magistrate. During this year the University of Leeds became an actual fact. In March the Privy Council granted the Yorkshire College its charter as a University; in August the Royal assent to the Leeds University Act was given; and in October a brilliant inaugural ceremony and conferment of degrees was held, amongst the recipients of honorary degrees being the Archbishop of York, the Duke of Devonshire, and Lady Frederick Cavendish. In another direction an almost equally interesting event was the meeting of the Trades Union Congress in the city in September. The congress had not been held in Leeds prior to that occasion for over thirty years, so that great interest was naturally aroused by the occasion. It was therefore particularly gratifying that there should have been at the head of affairs a Chief Magistrate who was known to be keenly interested in the welfare of the working classes. The delegates to the congress received a civic welcome at the hands of Mr. Currer Briggs, and a melancholy interest attaches to the fact that the Lord Mayor excused himself from giving any long address on that occasion as he was still suffering from the effects of an overstrained heart, and had been forbidden by his doctor from undergoing any special exertion or excitement. It was a happy circumstance that the Triennial Music Festival should be celebrated during the deceased gentleman's year of office. Throughout the long rehearsals prior to the Festival, in October, Mr. Briggs closely followed the work of the chorus, and he had the satisfaction of knowing that his year of office had been marked by one of the most brilliant music festivals that had ever been held in the city. During the year also, the new Market Hall and the city hospitals at Seacroft and Killingbeck were opened for the first time, whilst in April Mr. Briggs laid the foundation-stone of the Leeds Grammar School extension.

Mr. Briggs's Lord Mayoralty was also marked by some splendid charitable work, and during the year two important funds were commenced. During the summer, thanks to the energy of Mrs. Currer Briggs, the Leeds Poor Children's Holiday Camp was initiated at Hest Bank, near Morecombe. Realising the sufferings of the children of the slums, who are unable to leave their surroundings during the summer months, Mrs. Currer Briggs set her heart on the successful inauguration of a fund to provide these children with a holiday by the sea. Her efforts were exceptionally successful, and the good work that Mrs. Briggs initiated is still being carried on. With the approach of winter a second fund was started to provide the poor children of the city with substantial mid-day meals, and this appeal also met with a highly gratifying response. At the close of the year, in fact when Mr. Briggs finally laid aside his chain of office, his wife had become known as the "Children's Lady Mayoress. " Towards the beginning of November, Mr. Briggs's health broke down, under the strain of work, and he was compelled to spend several weeks in quietude at Broad Lees, his charming residence overlooking Lake Windermere.

In November, 1904, Mr. Briggs vacated the chief magistracy in favour of Mr. Robert Armitage, M.P. Towards the end of October, however, in consequence of a casual vacancy, the deceased gentleman was elected to a seat on the aldermanic bench, and since that time he had been in regular attendance at the meetings of the City Council. He was a member of the Watch Committee, the Waterworks Committee and the Sewerage Committee. Of the Watch Committee he filled the position of deputy-chairman, and it was to attend yesterday's meeting of the committee that he returned home from Windermere the previous day.

Although a Liberal Unionist in politics, Mr. Briggs was in no way a partisan, and when he accepted an aldermanic seat in the Council he intimated that he intended to be entirely independent, and this intention he had always borne out. Mr. Briggs leaves a widow, two sons and a daughter.


© 2004 John Stowell