Brian Blockley

BRIAN Blockley, who has died aged 80, led a life packed with enterprise and variety.

Brian Blockley

The youngest of the four children of Hettie and Albert, a brick maker in Lupset, Wakefield, he was about nine when he conceived a novel way of raising money for the war effort – specifically to help buy a rubber dinghy for RAF air crew.

A popular brand of jam in the 1940s was Tickler’s of Grimsby, and the wartime recycling scheme meant that shopkeepers would pay half a penny for a returned 1lb jam jar and one penny for a 2lb jar.

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He collected these until he had accrued the magnificent sum of £1 – or 240 pennies. Having sent it off, he received a letter from Sir Kinglsey Wood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, thanking him for his effort.

Gaining a Storey Scholarship from Lawfield Lane Primary School to Wakefield’s Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, he took up rugby and was picked to play in some preliminary matches for Wakefield Trinity Juniors.

Leaving school at 16 – 15 being the minimum leaving age – he joined the West Riding Police Force, but notwithstanding the smart-looking uniform, after a few weeks of being barked at and having to do menial tasks such as white washing and washing up in the canteen, he had had enough and left.

He went straight down the pit to work as a pony driver; the pony was called ‘Colonel’, and Mr Blockley, by now accustomed to wearing a collar and tie, continued to wear them down the pit.

He had to give up his job in the pit when he developed asthmatical bronchitis and, conscripted for military service, he failed the Army medical because of that condition. 
He also found out he was colour blind.

He was advised to get an outside occupation for the fresh air, so he got a job stitching and erecting marquees, and he passed his driving test first time in a Canadian Ford Army vehicle which had 400 folded chairs on the back.

He subsequently held down various jobs including door-to-door sales and selling bread and groceries from a van, and he became a costing clerk in leather goods at Slazenger’s.

It was while he worked there that he went to Zaandam in Holland to meet his pen pal
and first heard a musical mechanical organ, the sounds it produced making him an instant convert.

He vowed he would return and buy one, and immediately dismissed it as a cranky idea.

Another job he had was in a bakery where he met Anne Corts, the couple marrying and having two daughters.

After her death from cancer, he married Margaret Jackson in 2006.

He got a job as a tyre fitter after taking his car to have a new tyre and was displeased with the way the job was carried out. He told the manager he could have done it better himself, and demonstrating that he could, was taken on.

Then he became a carpet fitter and also started buying and selling second-hand tyres from a wooden garden shed at his home in Ossett.

He soon realised that the tyre business was more lucrative than the carpet fitting so he gave that up and, finding premises to
rent in one half of a building in Osset, he set up Blockley Tyre Services.

The business flourished, enabling him to purchase – without a mortgage – the entire building as well as the three houses attached to it.

Visiting Ryehill gala, he saw and heard mechanical organs for the second time in his life, and realised his ambition to bring one over from Holland was not so cranky after all.

He began buying the instruments and bringing 
them to Ossett to restore them, his eventual tally coming 
to 11.

With two other people he established the York Museum of Mechanical Music in Rufforth, exhibiting mechanical organs from across Europe.

Most spring and summer weekends would find Mr 
Blockley and his family travelling around the country with a caravan in tow behind specially adapted trucks to house
 ‘Uncle Stanley or ‘Sweet Charity’ to be played at weekend 

A man of character and spirit and an endearing sense of humour, Mr Blockley is survived by his wife Margaret, his daughters Catherine and Jane, his step-children Karen and Christopher, his two grandchildren Louis and Charlie, and two step-grandchildren, Katie and Elaine.