James Marley

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THE achievements of James Marley, who has died aged 84, are remarkable in light of the poverty and deprivations of his early life.

He moved to Wakefield in the early 50s, and in the 60s was a director of Empire Stores over a period when the company made its first £1m. Later he set up Marlton Leisure through which he pioneered themed banquets held at such venues as Kershaw House in Luddendenfoot, the Castle Hotel in Scarborough and the Astoria ballroom in Leeds.

In the early 80s, he became general manager for Nostell Priory, where he instigated the Theakston’s Music Festivals of 1982 and 1984, put the stately home’s Hans Holbein Tudor masterpieces and Thomas Chippendale’s furniture on the tourist map, and hosted many literary, arts and political events.

During the course of his life he would be regional chairman of the British Institute of Management, and president of the Bradford St Andrew’s Society

Brought up in Milton of Campsie, a village to the north of Glasgow, James Marley was the son of a foreman bleacher, one of seven children whose mother died following the birth of her last child. Their father’s two sisters moved in to help look after them, the household of 10 living in a three-room flat (kitchen and two bedrooms) with gas light and a cold water tap, and the nearest lavatory to serve the 16 flats in the block 200 yards away.

At school he was identified by his headmistress as a child with special qualities, but had to leave at 14 because his father was now out of work.

He got a job as an office boy, and by the time he left four years later had been made cost accountant.

A middle-distance runner, James was captain of the athletic club which was run by his parish priest.

He was called up in 1944 and joined the Army, his running prowess being welcomed by his commanding officers. Selected for officer training, he graduated from the Royal Military College and commissioned to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

In early 1946, he was posted to the Middle East, the Army’s job to keep the peace between the Palestinians and Zionists intent on carving out a state of Israel.

After his three-year military service, James returned to civilian life, and took a Business Certificate course at the West of Scotland Commercial College. Following that, he was taken on as a management trainee by Rank at their Paisley mill, and later got a job with Marks & Spencer, in 1954 being made departmental manager of its store in Bradford.

In Bradford he met his future wife, Edith Hilton. They were married in Wakefield in 1955, by which time he was deputy manager of M&S in that city.

In 1956 he began his career with Empire Stores in Bradford, then a small mail order company and was there for the next 16 years. Following its sale, James Marley bought a pub in Holmfirth, and then set up Marlton Leisure.

He subsequently set up a company importing Italian yarn.

Energetic and enterprising, James Marley was a man of integrity, at once charismatic, modest and kindly.

His is survived by his wife Edith, their daughter Caroline, sons Adrian, Simon, Alistair and Julian, and nine grandchildren.