Leonard Birkinshaw

LEONARD Birkinshaw, who has died aged 96, was an architectural ironmonger renowned throughout the British Isles, and a talented musician who studied for leading qualifications when in his 70s.

After a humble start in life, he went on to found his own successful business leaving him without time to study music until much later in life.

He was born in York, the fifth of six sons of Edith and Arthur Edwards Birkinshaw, who was a skilled wood machinist at Rowntree’s in the city, making moulds for producing chocolates.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

He was educated at Nunthorpe Secondary School – the only one of the family able to attend, all his brothers having to leave school at 14 – and York Day School of Commerce, before starting work at 16 as a clerk in the offices of ironmongers F.R. Stubbs on Foss Bridge, York.

He moved to J. H. Bean & Co. Ltd. (Ironmongers), of Leeds, where he was in charge of pricing.

During the Second World War he served in the Army Pay Corps, afterwards returning to J H Bean where he was appointed company secretary in 1953.

He left in 1958 when he was appointed deputy managing director of Alfred Hall Ltd, of Cleckheaton, but stayed only five years before setting up his own architectural ironmongers’ business, helped by his brothers Roy and Harry, in a shop in Dewsbury Road, Leeds.

From there, he built it up into what became a large empire renowned throughout the British Isles as the place where it was possible to get just about anything in that field.

Mr Birkinshaw worked full time until he was 80 and only finally retired at the age of 87 when he sold the business.

During his business life, he became an Associate of the Chartered School of Secretaries, and also studied Higher Control in Management at Park Lane College, Leeds, where, on passing the examination he was promptly asked to teach.

He was a talented musician whose ability was recognised very early in life. He regarded himself as very privileged to have been able to take organ lessons when he was 18 with Sir Edward Bairstow, the celebrated York Minster organist from 1913 until his death in 1946.

But it was not until much later that he found time to further his musical studies, gaining qualifications as an Associate of the London College of Music and a Licentiate of the Guildhall School of Music in 1984.

He was organist for his Masonic Lodge, Eboracum No. 1611, which he served for 60 years rising to the rank of Worshipful Master in 1961.

He was also a founder member of St Saviour Lodge of Installed Masters, St. Saviourgate, York.

In 1940 he married Ruth Perry, whose father was Chief Collector of Taxes for Northern Ireland and one of the founders of the PAYE system, the couple having met in the choir at St Thomas’s Church, York. They were divorced in 1971.

He was a Freeman of the City of York continuing a tradition of all the men in the Birkinshaw family, a Freeman of the City of London, as well as a member of the Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights and the Worshipful Company of Musicians.

He was a keen collector of musical instruments and antique clocks.

In later life he also enjoyed travelling in Britain and abroad continuing to do so despite having had two hip replacements when in his 90s.

Mr Birkinshaw, who lived in Harrogate, also owned an apartment at Hovingham Lodge in the grounds of the Hovingham estate, North Yorkshire.

But he never forgot his humble roots and was always willing to help people less fortunate than himself.

He is survived by his daughter Jennifer, his elder daughter Heather having predeceased him in 2002, four grandchildren and his companion, Jessie.