Donald Hanson, wool textile industrialist

Donald Hanson
Donald Hanson
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Donald Hanson, who has died at 93, was one of the last survivors of the golden era of wool textiles in Yorkshire.

It was a career that had begun before the war and which took in a famous spat with the former wife of a Hollywood star and the fight to prevent the Bradford and Bingley Building Society setting out on the path to privatisation that was to be its downfall.

Brought up in the West Riding wool town of Slaithwaite, his interest in the industry had been forged in his schooldays, taking a lunchtime sandwich to his father, William, at the mill. In return, he was taught the rudiments of worsted spinning.

He started work on his 14th birthday, at the Globe Worsted company, as an office junior. The war intervened and he served with the Royal Navy at Scapa Flow, supporting the North Atlantic convoys. He was to say that he left the Navy a better man, having learned to face challenges with confidence and optimism.

After demob, he returned to Globe and began to work his way up through the business. At the same time, he attended Huddersfield Technical College on four nights a week and studied at weekends to qualify in 1950 as a chartered secretary. Eight years later, he became managing director of Globe. The firm was part of the Illingworth Morris Group – at the time the biggest wool textile business in the world.

Mr Hanson extended his knowledge from spinning to combing, top-making and finally weaving, progressively running the main businesses of the Group – Daniel Illingworth and Sons, James Tankard Ltd, Salts (Saltaire) Ltd and Woolcombers Ltd. He was President of the Bradford Textile Society and was appointed deputy chairman and managing director of Illingworth Morris in 1974, becoming chairman six years later.

It was in 1981 that he faced perhaps the most significant threat to the business in Yorkshire. A shareholder challenge had been led by Pamela Mason, former wife of the film actor James Mason, who was himself from Huddersfield.

Mrs Mason controlled 46 per cent of the shares following the death of her father, Isidore Ostrer, a wealthy industrialist and banker who had become president of the Gaumont British Picture Corporation in the early 1920s.

She wanted to close down much of the UK operation and move it to the USA, where she was based. It fell to Mr Hanson to garner the support of the banks and individual shareholders to overturn her, and following a historic vote he led the restructuring which was then required to pay down the bank debt and repay the trust of the shareholders who had sided with him.

He retired from Illingworth Morris in 1985, and served thereafter as chairman of Airedale Health Authority and as a member of the West Yorkshire Residuary Body which had been set up to oversee the transfer of functions from the old West Yorkshire County Council to the district authorities.

In 1992, he became chairman of what was then the Bradford and Bingley Building Society and put forward a strong case for it to remain a mutual. He retired in 1995, five years before it embarked on a calamitous demutualisation that led eventually to its collapse.

Away from the office, Mr Hanson was an accomplished pianist and played the organ at Eldwick Church for some 40 years. His father’s trombone playing with the Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra inspired a lifelong passion for brass bands, and he became president of the Black Dyke Mills outfit, leading in 1996 a group of businessmen who bought its rehearsal rooms when its future was put at risk by the closure of its parent company.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, children Robert, Philip and Caroline and their families. A memorial service will be held at Bingley Parish Church at 11.30 am on March 12.