Bill Hope

An inspirational man with a fascination for the history of ordinary people.
An inspirational man with a fascination for the history of ordinary people.
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WILLIAM James Hope, the legendary secretary of Hull Chamber of Commerce and Shipping for more than three decades and an inspirational man with a love of people, has died, aged 90.

He worked for the Chamber for 35 years, first as assistant secretary for 10 years and then as secretary from 1960 until he retired in 1985. Even then he would keep in touch with the Chamber and his former colleagues and, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the organisation was always willing to help, especially with historical details.

In his capacity as secretary of the Chamber, Mr Hope, who was always known as Bill, also serviced between 20 and 30 of the city’s trade organisations. This meant that as secretary to each one he delighted in the exercise of writing letters to himself, including occasionally nasty ones, something he found amusing as he always knew the answer before writing them.

Another of his duties was to work with a young John Prescott who, before his election as an MP in 1970, was a trade union official involved with the work of the National Dock Labour Scheme in Hull.

Mr Hope was born in Hull and, through his interest in and fascination for the history of ordinary people, contributed to the insights of growing up in a northern industrial city.

He was the youngest of five children of a metal worker who bore the scars of his trade on his arms. Mr Hope remembered his family moving house in a horse and cart, and the children’s street games of the 1920s.

There were few books in his childhood home, but he would read anything with relish, whetting his appetite for history which, in his later years was to become one of his main interests.

When he left school at 14, he worked as an office boy for the solicitor A M Jackson in Bowlalley Lane where his duties included writing wills in copper plate script with a quill pen.

When recording his duties on a computer 55 years later, he observed that it was a very inefficient writing instrument. But he was fascinated by office practice and took to the required attention to detail.

Eventually he was entrusted with taking damage reports from ships’ officers, an interesting job, not least because of the occasional drink in the Officers’ Mess afterwards.

In 1940, he joined the Royal Air Force as Clerk (Special Duties), working on radar. He was stationed in Egypt throughout the Second World War and was particularly proud of his role in developing a flying classroom for training aircrew to use airborne radar.

He was offered a commission but preferred to remain as a corporal, possibly daunted by the class prejudice of the time. When off duty he would explore Egypt, visiting archaeological sites and browsing in the bookshops of Cairo.

After the war, he joined Hull Chamber of Commerce and Shipping, and he later used his knowledge of the city’s civic and commercial life to write a short history of the organisation.

He helped to administer the Henry Samman Endowment Fund, assisting young people to study languages abroad, and was invited to sit on Hull University’s council.

In 1969, he was elected to Hull Rotary Club, serving as secretary from 1970 to 1980, president in 1985/86, as a member of council for 22 years and, in 1988, was elected a Paul Harris Fellow, a particular honour recognising his high standards of service.

In 1977, he was appointed MBE.

Mr Hope, whose wife of 53 years, Margaret, predeceased him in 2002, is survived by his two daughters, three grand-daughters and a great grandson.