Sunday, 4 October 2015

Britain's Birmingham is no longer a city for and says "Farewell" to the scarce old, custodian of its history, Chris Upton

'The days when Britain dominated the world in manufacturing and Birmingham sat at the top of the industrial tree have sadly departed, although the back streets of Digbeth still ring reassuringly to the sound of hammers and fizz with acetylene torches.'

In 2008 Chris, who has died at the age of 61, introduced himself as the President of the Birmingham National Trust Association with : 'Having lived and worked in Birmingham for 27 years, I have watched as history and heritage have become ever more important and prominent in our City and in the wider West Midlands. The National Trust and its membership are in the vanguard of this growing appreciation.'

What you possibly didn't know about Chris, that he :

* was born in 1954, brought up and educated in Wolverhampton and after studying for his BA and MA degrees in History at Cambridge University, was admitted as a research student and PhD candidate at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland at the age of 23 in 1977 and having completed his research in 1980, moved to Birmingham and a post in the 'Archives and Heritage' Section of Birmingham Central Library (right) and continued to retain his enthusiasm for primary sources throughout his career : "I’m always more excited by a new piece of primary evidence, dug out of the archives, than a new historical theory developed by a current historian and it helps to provide an answer to that age-old historical question: ‘what was it like ?’"

* in 1982 published, with his wife, Fiona Tait, 500 copies of  'The Steganographia of Trithemius' an influential occult text written in the late 1400s, a book both for the conjuration of spirits and a code book with lists of spiritual messengers associated with the divisions of space and time which circulated secretly in manuscript form during the 16th century and was highly valued by Elizabethan astrologer, John Dee.

* at the age of 30 in 1984, successfully submitted his doctorate, 'Studies in Scottish Latin', in which he chronicled the 16th and 17th century endeavours of one, 'John Scot of Scotstarvet (right) to compile an anthology of Latin poetry' the 'Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum' which was 'arguably the largest anthology of verse produced by the Renaissance in England or Scotland' in which he thanked 'My wife, Fiona Tate' who had 'assisted substantially in my analysis of the Dundas Papers and also knows more about the St. Leonard's College Orators' Book than anyone'.

* moved from the Archives to an undergraduate teaching post, first at Aston University and then as Lecturer in History at Newman University College Birmingham and finally as Reader in Public History and at the same time moved the focus of his history study away from obscure medieval and Renaissance manuscripts to the history of the West Midlands in general and Birmingham in particular, while at the same time keeping his feet in the archives, writing in 2000 that 'for a city that feels as modern as Birmingham does, it’s always comforting for a historian to know that we have 1,000 years of documentary history to look back on. Indeed, it’s as well that we do have the documents since the city planners have done their best over the years to erase anything more substantial.'

* produced his first 'Tolkien Trail' in 1996 : "My name is Chris Upton I'm a historian and interested in the literary connections of Birmingham and this is a perfect spot for them. We're in Plough and Harrow Road alongside the hotel, an area very important to Tolkien's life. The night before Tolkien went off to the First World War he stayed for his honeymoon in the Plough and Harrow Hotel next to us. So this part of Ladywood, was very important to Tolkien and for the rest of his life and certainly when he was writing his books we've got the Two Towers that were the inspiration for the second volume of 'Lord of the Rings' and you can see the two towers in front of us. Perrott's Folly, the 18th century one and then the more elaborate tower of Edgbaston Waterworks behind it."

* in 2000, at the age of 46, described the history of the city he had adopted and loved and its Norman transformation from a 'little Saxon backwater into a more than decent trading outpost. Once the new owners - most of them called William and all of them De Birminghams - had hit upon the idea of converting their personal estate into a market town, then the growth of Birmingham was pretty well assured' through to its rise as an industrial city : 'Close enough to the coal seams of South Staffordshire and to the timber of North Warwickshire and near enough to the hills of Wales and Shropshire where the sheep and cattle grazed, Birmingham had what every estate agent craves: location, location, location.'

* in 2008, with a sense of fun, explained the genesis of the James Roberts design for the City's 20th century Rotunda : "James Roberts is sitting trying to think of a building which will fit between the Bull Ring and the bottom of New Street on a very odd shaped site ..."

* published 'Living Back to Back' in 2010 in which he took the survival from demolition of 'Court 15' in Birmingham as his starting point and, with a mixture of documentary evidence and oral history, told the story of those who lived there from the glass eye maker to the Jewish watch-maker from Poland, through the boom years of Victorian expansion to the Hungry Thirties while answering questions like :  'What was it like to live in a house with one bedroom and no running water?' and 'How did eleven families share two toilets?' while placing the story firmly in the context of  the development of urban housing.

* at the age of 57 in 2011 published his 'tour de force', 'A History of Birmingham'and traced its rise from a village worth one pound in the Domesday Survey, to the 'the toy shop of Europe' in 1800, having cornered the markets for gun-making, jewellery, buttons and buckles and then became the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution, selling its wares in vast quantities to the entire world and in the process, pioneered political, educational and municipal government reform, a story which involved Boulton and Watt, Dunlop, Cadbury's, G.K.N., Lloyd's Bank, Austin Rover, Joseph and Neville Chamberlain, Thomas the Tank Engine, Fu Manchu and Mendelssohn's 'Elijah'.

* in the same year, captivated a group of Year 5 an 6 pupils at Paganel Primary School with his illustrated talk on five 'Local Heroes' and explanation of George Elkington's electroplating process as : "It was the way to get something which was very, very expensive, but didn't cost very much, ornaments, things to put on your table to impress people who'd come to see you or on you mantle piece and the way it works, and I only know a bit about it because I'm a historian and not a scientist...."

* was appointed as 'Historical Consultant' for the six-part period tv drama, 'Peaky Blinders', set in Birmingham at the start of the 1920s and worked with the production team, writers and actors to ensure historical accuracy and commented : "It was a real honour to work on the series. Period dramas, such as Peaky Blinders, entertain and inform members of public, shining a light on periods of history that may have been forgotten. While the series itself isn’t based on a true story, the types of events, times and environment in which the drama takes place are real so we wanted to portray these aspects as accurately as possible."

* also said : "I was particularly keen to ensure that the actors’ accents were as accurate as possible and not confused with Black Country accents' and 'provided the cast with tapes of oral history interviews carried out by Newman students with local people who were alive at the time the series is set. That way they could hear how local people would really have spoken and base their accents on real people. Several of the characters in the series are significantly affected by the trauma of their experiences in the Great War and, by listening to the first-hand accounts of local people who shared those experiences, the actors were able to gain a greater understanding of the issues and challenges those characters faced when returning to so-called ‘normal life’ in the city after the War."

* while conducting his 'Gangs of Digbeth Tour' in the City, explained the origin of the name, 'Peaky Blinders' as : "The one we use in the film, that they got three razor blades sown into the peaks of their caps and if you crossed them, they could whip it across you face. The other is that it was simply, they wore these peaked caps that partly obscured them, so that they, as it were, blinded themselves or that they had a peaked cap but also a fringe of hair which also partly obscured what they could see."

* went on the explain that the "illegal activity of choice in the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth" was gambling on horses and "there was a group called the Brummagen Boys who pretty well ran the courses in the Midlands and the North.Their leader was Billy Kimber. In the early twentieth century they tried to move in on the London and Southern courses where they hit the Sabini Gang of former Italian immigrants who were controlling the betting courses in the London area and the 'Battle of Kings Cross' took place in which Billy Kimber was shot and of course its carried on ever since with the Futrels and the Krays and all the rest. But that's a bit too close for comfort though I'm sure 'they were all lovely people'."

* continued to contribute his weekly history for column the 'Birmingham Post' and in 2014 contributed to The Library of Birmingham's 'Those were the Decades : 1960's' event by exploring material from the archives for evidence of Birmingham’s counterculture in the 1960s and in June this summer hosted ‘Festival of Voices' in which an audience of over 200 at the Town Hall enjoyed an evening where the 19th century was brought back to life with music, drama, history, school children’s singing and circus skills with support from the Birmingham Cathedral Choir.
* last month contributed an article in the Guardian entitled : 'Diversity and dedication: the secret of Birmingham's success' in which he explained : 'Urban expansion has always relied on inward migration. To begin with, new blood came from Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. By the 19th century, migrants headed here from Eastern Europe, Russia and Italy. The 20th century flung that net even wider. In one Birmingham secondary school, George Dixon Academy, the pupils speak more than 40 languages. “You enter the school gates,” says one teacher, “and you step inside the rest of the world” and  'Whatever their background, Brummies have got their priorities in the right order: acknowledging their heritage while keeping their roots and their dancing boots in Birmingham, a city that has always welcomed diversity'.

* was looking forward to the publication of 'Joseph Chamberlain. International Statesman, National Leader, Local Icon' in 2016, the fruit of joint editorship with Ian Cawood, in which they deal with his career in the 1800 and 1900s as an international statesman, a national leader and, not unsurprisingly, the aspect for which he is still celebrated in his adopted Birmingham : as the dispenser of sanitation, gas lighting, clean water and cultural achievement providing a model of civic regeneration which has continued to inspire modern politicians.

* was, in his passing, paid tribute by 'Birmingham Post' Features Editor Sarah Probert :
“He was a first class columnist with an enormous sense of humour who had a real passion for his subject.”

and News Editor Ben Hurst :
 “What Chris didn’t know about the City’s past wasn’t worth knowing.”

* when once asked : "What history should be taught in school ?" had answered in true Brummie, civic tradition :

"I would stress, as you’d expect, the importance of local history and the local environment, in school history. I end up covering it with first year undergraduates instead and I think it makes them better citizens, as well as better historians."

Friday, 2 October 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to the Father of Wildlife Trust Conservation, Ted Smith

Ted, who has died at the age of 95, started work in conservation at the age of 38 in 1948 in the 'Lincolnshire Naturalists' Trust', with 129 members and £82 in the bank. The fact that today, the Wildlife Trusts number more than 800,000 members with over 2,000 nature reserves, is in no small measure down to his dedication, foresight, hard work and steely determination to conserve the land he had known and loved in his youth.

What you possibly didn't know about Ted, that he :

* was born in Arthur Edward Smith in 1920 in the market town of
Splisby, Lincolnshire and grew up eight miles to the north in Alford at the foot of the Lincolnshire Wolds, the son of Emma and Arthur, a plumber by trade, where his parents worked long hours and without holidays running a bakery and grocery shop and with his nearest sibling, his sister ten years his senior, spent much time on his own, exploring the countryside.

* later said : "I think I was conscious of birds in particular from quite an early age. The swifts nested under the eaves of old cottages and screamed over the rooftops in the evening always fascinated me. I took to roaming in the countryside with a cheap pair of binoculars and Coward's little 'British Birds' with Thorburn's illustrations, I became reasonably proficient as a bird watcher" and adopted the farmland lapwing, known locally as a 'pyewipe' as his favourite.

* was educated at the boys' grammar school in Alford, Queen Elizabeth’s, which had received its charter from the Queen 'for the Education, Instruction and bringing up of Children and Youth for ever' in 1576 and in the sixth form, at the age of 17, in the school summer holiday of 1937, cycled the 14 miles to Gibraltar Point and with his binoculars looked for terns on the lonely stretch of sand and salt marsh beyond Skegness and, surrounded by sky and sea, fell in love with the place and even then noted three 'gaudy new houses' on a road cut into the sand dunes, typical of the unrestrained development then enveloping the British coastline.

* later looked back on his teenage life in the 1930s and was pleased that he had "lived in the inter-war years because so much of the old tradition, the old way of life was still there" : and after matriculation from school, joined Leeds University as an undergraduate studying English Literature in 1938 and on the outbreak of the Second World War, the following year, was excused armed service on medical grounds due to jaundice and a suspected heart condition and during the War was profoundly affected by the death of  his friend, Peter Stocks, a gifted bird artist, killed while serving in the RAF.

* graduated with a first class degree in 1941, obtained a Masters degree then worked as a secondary school teacher in Leeds and then Norfolk, where he visited the country's first Wild Life Trust which had saved habitats by purchasing land and in 1948 at the age of 28 returned to his native Lincolnshire having secured a post as a tutor in adult education and began his work as a conservationist.

* was convinced that a new model for conservation was needed and later recalled : "The popular idea of a nature reserve in 1948 was of a place that you put a fence around and kept people out, but Gibraltar Point had to be different. We knew there was free open access for people anyway, so we had to reconcile conservation with access, but it also gave an enormous opportunity to interest people, to provide facilities for research and study and so on."

* founded the 'Lincolnshire Naturalists' Trust' in 1948 and in the same year, having met Mary Goddard, a botanist, on a trip to the Welsh island of Skokholm, proposed a few weeks later at Gibraltar Point and married in 1949, the year in which he moved quickly with his fledgling group to enlist the support of Lincolnshire County Council to thwart a proposal to build more than 800 bungalows which threatened its beauty and habitat.

* worked to ensure that the concept of a 'Local Nature Reserve' in England declared by a Local Authority was written into the post-War Labour Government's 1949 'National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act', a designation which recognised its special significance as a new type of reserve

* was gratified that : "By 1952 the Gibraltar Point Reserve was flourishing and was widely regarded nationally as a model of its kind. Schools and universities were using it for teaching and research and the number of visitors was already in the tens of thousands. It was a fitting recognition of its success that in August 1952 it became the first Local Nature Reserve in England."

* had witnessed the loss of familiar landscapes and their wildlife during the War, when the need to be self-sufficient in food had meant that hay meadows were ploughed up and ancient hedgerows removed, to grow crops and feed livestock and the after the War saw the use of chemical pesticides such as DDT, enable farmers to produce more and more cheap food for consumers, but at a heavy cost to birds, mammals and insects, poisoned in their millions and also the encroachment of the countryside by more homes, factories and roads.

* in 1954, at the age of 34, addressed his Trust's Annual Meeting with a surprising message : many naturalists, he argued, were indifferent to the great wave of destruction instigated by industrial agriculture and this must be fought by new County Conservation Groups whose members would be drawn from a wider section of society than the elitist natural history societies of the day and later recognised that despite the fact that : "the movement grew, slowly, through the 50s and 60s. It was a very exciting time and a very rewarding time."

* fought in Lincolnshire to save unspoiled coast, ancient meadows and heaths and to halt the destruction of native woodland, campaigned to save roadside flowers from being sprayed with chemicals, pressed for legislation to protect otters and extended his influence beyond Lincolnshire by touring persuading others to set up their own county conservation groups inspiring them to purchase land and gain community support and as a result saw Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire set up Wildlife Trusts in 1956, Surrey in 1959 and Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire in 1960.

* orchestrated discussions between the new Trusts and got them to agree that they needed a national association and  saw the 'Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves' hold its first national conference in Skegness in 1960.

* in the 1970s had acquired a powerful friend and ally in Britain's best-known wildlife broadcaster, David Attenborough, who recalled that in the field : "He was very unobtrusive, very quiet, but very, very determined. We went of to various reserves. I soon learnt the thing to do was stick alongside Ted because he would see things quicker than most people and certainly quicker than me and what's more he'd recognise them. He was an expert field naturalist" and who also opened the new visitor centre at Gibraltar Point in 1974 :

* had found his own trust was powerless in 1963, when one haven for rare plants, the Lincolnshire, Waddingham Common, was ploughed up by a local farmer, encouraged by a handsome Government grant of £12 an acre and often had to watch helplessly as one Government department undid the work of another, allowing development on what were supposed to be 'protected sites' and realised that local trusts needed to join together to influence Government policy at the highest level and began the process of creating a national movement for wildlife, which culminated in him becoming General Secretary of 'The Wildlife Trusts' at the age of 55 in 1975.

* in 2012 at the age of 92 was presented by David Attenborough, Vice President and former President of 'The Wildlife Trusts', with a sculptured lapwing award at the premiere of the documentary film : ‘The Wildlife Trusts: 100 years of nature conservation’ who said : "I am delighted to have this opportunity to demonstrate our appreciation of Ted’s profound impact on the first 100 years of nature conservation. Ted is quite exceptional and, I believe, is the living person who has made the biggest single contribution to The Wildlife Trusts Movement. Generations to come are going to benefit more than they will know. This countryside of Britain may not be as rich as Ted knew it as a child in the 1920s and 30s but it is immeasurably better than it would otherwise have been without him and The Wildlife Trusts. I believe that work will continue and be increasingly important to all of us living in this beautiful but crowded archipelago."

* had his service to Britain recognised when made an OBE for 'Services to Nature Conservation' in 1963, advanced to CBE in 1998, the year he also received an Honorary Doctorate of Science at the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside and was the first recipient of the 'Christopher Cadbury Medal for Service to Nature Conservation'.

* had been paid tribute by David Attenborough with :

"He understood, to a degree that verged on the magical, the diplomacies needed to coordinate and energise organisations"

What better epitaph might an old, pioneering conservationist  have ?

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Britain is a country where old man have a new champion in Anna Dixon and the Centre for Ageing Better

Anna, who in her new post as Chief Executive of the 'Centre for Ageing Better', has the job of coming up with fresh ways of preparing Britain for its rapidly ageing society has said :

“We think there’s lots of opportunity to change not only how we experience old age but some of the perceptions of what it is to grow old. We have a great opportunity to make a big difference on one of the biggest public policy issues internationally. We want the work we do to mean more of us look forward to a good old age.”

At her disposal she has a 10-year endowment, chaired by the 71 year old Lord Filkin, worth £50m from the Big Lottery Fund. The good Lord also chaired a House of Lords Select Committee which concluded in 2013 that the country was "woefully underprepared" for the demographic change that will see a doubling in the number of very old people aged over 85 by 2030.

Anna agreed with the Committee :  “There’s a profound change occurring because of increased life expectancy. On the one hand that’s something fantastic and something we should be celebrating. But the demographic shift with a larger proportion of the population in older age is something we’re not preparing for either individually, in terms of saving enough or thinking about what sort of houses we might need to be living in, or as a society.”

So how does Anna feel that the Centre might help improve the quality of life for old men and women and kelp them age better ? In answer to the question she cites her grandmother as a role model who, disabled and virtually housebound for many years, still managed to live a very full life.
“It’s not necessarily being free of disability or disease, it is about feeling you’ve got value in life, that you are loved, that you can give as well as receive and be connected to other people.”

So elderly men of Britain, Anna is looking to :

* strengthen your links to your COMMUNITY :
 “People can be facing quite a challenging health situation, they might not be that well off by objective measures of income but if they have strong social relationships and a positive mindset that can make a big difference and that’s an area we would like to look at.”

* keep you in WORK :
"A lot of things are being tried out now, like mid-career reviews, apprenticeships for older people and employment practices to support older people to stay longer in work, but there’s no evidence yet about which of those actually work. That’s the sort of practical thing where we can help to evaluate some of the new approaches and spread that learning among employers."

* improve your HOUSING :
by promoting more tailored housing and better use of technology. “There’s a huge focus on residential care, but actually if you look at the population of over-65s it’s only about 3% who are in residential care, so what are we saying about the 97% living in their own homes? If we could do something to help them stay in their homes then we’re actually going to reduce the need to expand residential and institutional care.”

* bust some of the MYTHS and NEGATIVE PERCEPTIONS about you :
such as the view that you are a burden on the National Health Service when, in fact, more people under the age of 65 than older people like you are living with more than one chronic condition.

And for the future elderly man and women of Britain :
“We have to help younger people in their planning and preparing for later life. Some of us might occasionally see financial adviser about pensions but mostly we don’t want to think about it and we certainly don’t want to imagine ourselves having dementia and needing personal care. We need to help people to do what they need to do and maybe make some different choices earlier so they get a better chance of experiencing a good later life.”

Cynical old men in Britain might feel that this doesn't amount to much and after the £50m has been spent, there won't be a perceptible difference in the lives of millions of elderly men and women. Others, more charitably, might agree but still say :
"It may not be much, but it is a step in the right direction and all power to your elbow Anna."

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old Christian Socialist and champion of the weak and dispossessed called Ken Leech

Kenneth, whose career as a cleric was one of action, characterised by tireless work on behalf of the poor, homeless, addicted and victims of either racism or religious hatred,who once said, with perfect understatement, that as a young man he "discovered the diversity of Anglo-Catholic tradition, the ‘gin-and-lace’ Catholicism, the precious and effete side of it. I met it in London, but it didn’t really impinge on me", has died at the age of 76.

What you possibly didn't know about Ken, that he :

* was born in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, in the summer of 1939, shortly before the outbreak of Second World War into a secular, working-class family and having passed the 11+ exam, attended Hyde Grammar School, near Manchester.

* recalled "as a teenager, I attended a high Anglo-Catholic parish in Hyde", Holy Innocents' Fallowfield, where he "already identified with Anglo-Catholic tradition" and at 17 was profoundly affected by a BBC Radio Third Programme broadcast by then 'Christian' philosopher, Alisdair MacIntyre, entitled 'A society without metaphysics' based on the proposition that 'the creed of the English is that there is no God and that it is wise to pray to him from time to time' and concluding that 'the curious flavour that a combination of liberal morality and metaphysical meaningless gives to life its characteristic flavour of our time.'

* in 1957, as a History undergraduate and 'Sambrook Scholar' at King’s College, London, had his first experience of living in a multiracial community in his student digs in the East End of London : "It was the first place I lived in when I was 18, in Cable Street, where my next door neighbour was an Ethiopian woman married to a Somali and she lived around the back of the Nigerian café, on the other side of us was a Maltese family, who ran the Liberal Party of Malta and it was surrounded by Somalis and Gambians and people from what later became Bangladesh and people from Caribbean."

* arriving at the time of the Notting Hill Riots, later acknowledged his arrival in Brick Lane was a 'real turning point' in his life and 'The East End seemed full of left-wing Christians and co-operation between Christians and Marxists was common. I got to know some of the old Communist councillors, all of them atheists, but all of them having a long history of cooperation with socialist Christians with whom they had a lot in common. The East End has shaped me more than any place' and spent much of his extra-curricular time there, after 1958 'involved with fighting fascism, working for decent housing, trying to create communities of resistance and solidarity.'

* found himself in an area with a cosmopolitan mix and a constantly changing, floating population with seaman of many nationalities, long-distance lorry drivers, wayfarers and a 'very large number of people who are physically or mentally unsettled: homeless drifting people, social outcasts, children of unhappy marriages' and with widespread prostitution, found that : 'vice racketeering' went 'hand in hand with violence and street and café fights are common. Certain parts of the area have thus become centres for criminal elements.'

* taught evening English classes for male Somalis and "became involved with that Franciscan community and also with a ministry that Father Joe Williamson was running for prostitutes in the area”, then after graduating in 1960, left the East End and went to Trinity College, Oxford to study theology.

* after starting theological studies at St Stephen's House, Oxford at the age of 24 in 1963, drew on his experience of living four years in Brick Lane and presented his paper, 'A Christian Mission for West Stepney' to the Bishops of London and Stepney, in the hope of being returned to the area as curate after his ordination the following year and outlined alternatives in the : 'need of special pastoral work in helping integrate coloured people into the life of the area' or work in the cafés in Cable Street which 'formed an underworld of drifting people and this underworld will remain in the Whitechapel area and must be penetrated for Christ' or ecumenical co-operation where 'Christians might work together with Jewish groups to tackle the homeless problem' or a 'special mission' to reintegrate criminals which 'some might claim calls more for social workers than for priests, but this would be a dangerous half-truth. What is needed is a combination of spiritual and social work in a ministry'.

* found that, despite 'asking the Bishops to consider if they might allow me, after ordination in 1964, to be allocated special pastoral work on the lines indicated above', was instead sent to Hoxton in the Borough of Hackney, North London where he 'really got a shock' because 'you never saw a black priest and you never saw any Jews. It was entirely white working class and when Oswald Mosley stood as Parliamentary candidate for Shoreditch in 1965, he got a lot of votes, and lot of the people voted even from my congregation.'

* in Hoxton 'first became aware of the fact that there is a lot of racism within the white working class', but also found that the parish 'relied on a model of the church as the centre of the community, which was becoming unrealistic by the later 1960s. Nowadays, those sort of priests who wear birettas and cassocks in the streets seem like leftovers from the past, joke figures almost, though many are good and holy men. But in the 1960s that was still a vibrant tradition.'

* having found, at his time in Brick Lane, drug-abuse to be a serious new problem, particularly amphetamines, founded the 'Soho Drugs Group' in 1964, and forged close links with doctors working in the San Francisco counter-culture scene and later recalled : "Doctors at the Haight-Ashbury Medical Centre warned that following the US example of prohibition would lead to disaster in England. And things began to go wrong under the influence of the late Dr Philip Connell, of the Maudsley Hospital, who in the late 1960s advised the Ministry of Health to cut down on heroin prescribing after a number of high-profile cases involving 'junkie doctors.'"

* in 1967, at the age of 28 started work as an assistant priest at St Anne’s Church in Soho in London's West End and two years later, during a 4am police raid on the 'Limbo Club' in Soho where, in cassock and dog collar, he was outside the back entrance as part of his 'loitering ministry' : "loitering - being around, staying around, becoming a trusted person" which included helping kids who'd taken drug overdoses and caring for the hungry and homeless and was accompanied by Police Inspector, Elizabeth Reid, on a "juvenile roundup" trawl for amphetamine-fuelled youngsters.

* later recalled : "Elizabeth wondered what to do about these homeless kids. She said: 'Somebody ought to open a centre for people in trouble late at night '" and inspired by her suggestion, met Anton Wallich-Clifford (later founder of the Simon Community) "in a Soho pub and asked him how much money he had, and he replied that he was £8,000 in the red. I had £30 in the bank, so I said : "we better do something" " and so opened an emergency night shelter in a basement in Dean Street, Soho and recalled : "The first night nobody turned up and we thought we had made a mistake, but within a month we had 600 through the doors; 1,003 in the first four months and 5,000 in a year."

* attracted volunteers from a cast of probation officers, Roman Catholic sisters and novices and chose the name 'Centrepoint' as a direct challenge to the "affront to the homeless" in the shape of Richard Seifert's infamous tower block, 'Centre Point', the 385-ft tower at the south end of Tottenham Court Road which stood empty for years, making millions for a property developer because a quirk in the law meant it was better to leave it empty than to tie it down to a particular rental review period.

* in 1973 published 'Youthquake', an attempt to acquaint his Church with the new challenges of ministry which the 1960s had brought, in which he dealt with the drug culture, gurus and meditation, psychedelia and the underground in its many forms and attempts to relate the
different movements in the contemporary youth scene to the Christian spiritual tradition.

* moved to St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green in 1974 and co-founded the 'Jubilee Group' with  other priests interested in Anglo-Catholic social thought and with "a sense that the politically radical side of the tradition was in danger of being forgotten" in a group which "never defined its socialism. Some were Marxists; many belonged to the Labour Party. So there was no party line" which, when it drew up a manifesto, sought the help of a young graduate student, Rowan Williams, but didn't use his contribution because "it was too triumphalist. But we met soon after that, and he became involved over the next ten years or so. I saw him as part of a new generation of Anglo-Catholic theology."

* published 'Soul Friend' in 1977 and saw it which quickly became a classic, contemporary exploration of the Christian practice of spiritual direction which explored its history, both Protestant and Catholic, from the earliest Church through the twentieth century and examined the influence of the drug culture of the 1960's, Eastern influences on prayer and spiritual practice and the Pentecostal Movement.

* moved back into the Brick Lane area, now the centre largest Bengali community outside Bangladesh and saw the revival of Neo- Nazism, emergence of skinhead gangs and 'Paki-bashing' and in 1978, the murder of Bengali clothing worker, Altab Ali, trigger a massive wave of protest and in June a mob of 150 youths rampage though the Brick Lane district, smashing windows, throwing bottles and concrete damaging shops and cars and shouting "Kill the black bastards."

* in 1980 published 'The Introduction to Brick Lane 1978' which set the violence and unrest 'within the context of the anti-racist struggle in Britain' and stated : 'The battle against racism and fascism cannot be won by outsiders who march into and area, chant slogans and then march out again : it can only be won by the most dedicated, rooted and persistent commitment to undermine and destroy the injustice and neglect on which such movements thrive' and was critical of 1979 Commission for Racial Equality Report, 'Brick Lane and Beyond : An Inquiry into racial strife and violence on Tower Hamlets', stating that it was 'neither careful nor an academic analysis, but a careless, superficial and shoddy production, representing a wasted opportunity and contributing nothing to understanding.'

* concluded that 'the emergence of a new Bengali radicalism is the most encouraging and most hopeful aspect of the whole period. The radicalisation of Asian youth in Brick Lane is part of a nation wide process' with saw 'close parallels between this and radicalisation of the Jews at the turn of the century. The ghetto has produced not despair and resignation but anger and organised revolt. It is this new spirit that the hope for the future lies.'

* in 1981 in 'The Social God' stressed the essential unity of doctrine and action, of prayer and politics, : 'Contemplation has a context: it does not occur in a vacuum. Today’s context is that of the multinational corporations, the arms race, the strong state, the economic crisis, urban decay, the growing racism, and human loneliness ...The contemplative shares in the passion of Christ which is both an identification with the pain of the world and also the despoiling of the principalities and powers of the fallen world-order.' 

* in his 1982 article entitled 'The Church in a Plural Society', stated that : 'As alienation increasingly separates society in the UK, as unemployment gets worse, as poverty claims more and more people here, as violence of the rich and powerful against the poor erupts more viciously as it will in the UK, the theology of liberation will no longer be a panacea for Latina American ills. It will, I believe, become a divine imperative which challenges Christians to take up the cause of the oppressed here in our very midst'.

* at the age of 48 in 1987, became and remained for four years, Director of the 'Runnymede Trust' think-tank promoting ethnicity and cultural diversity and using his designation published 'The Birth of a Monster : Growth of Racist Legislation since the 1950's' and also served as the 'Race Relations Officer' for the 'General Synod Board of Social Responsibility'.

* continued  to advocate the disestablishment of the Church of England and the stifling spirit of compromise he associated with its establishment and in writing in the Guardian in 1993, called the Bishops 'state nominees' who “Charming and pleasant as they are, they bear the mark of the beast”, knew that he was in no danger of promotion within the Church even when New Labour briefly made Christian Socialism seem fashionable and was critical of  Prime Minister, Tony Blair : "There is overwhelming evidence he is a Christian, but no evidence he is a Socialist."

* in 2009, at  the age of 70 and on the 40th Anniversary of 'Centrepoint', reflected that it had helped 3,000 homeless 16 to 25-year-olds and provided far more than a bed for the 825 young people it worked with across London and the North East of England each day and told the BBC "It's so different to how it was. We were so primitive. We were just scraping the surface, but this place is rather like a hotel. I think it's very good and it's on such a big scale" 
but at the same time also said that he was "proud, but also depressed it's still needed."

* in 2014 attended a special service in Manchester to mark the 50th anniversary of his ordination in which the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, said, “Father Kenneth Leech has offered to the Church, through 50 years of ordained ministry, an unparalleled combination of skills. He is both one of the deepest spiritual writers of his era and arguably its most effective exponent of Christian social intervention and political critique. In honouring his contribution my hope is that we pledge ourselves to continue to take it forward. His example and thinking can inspire us in the opportunities before us today, all the way from setting up credit unions to supporting the emergence of new monastic communities in our cities.” 

* was 35 years old, when he had written, forty years before :
'If spirituality and prophecy are not held together, both  must decay. There must be contemplation and resistance, holiness and justice, prayer and politics. For our vision is of a God whose holiness fills heaven and earth, and who has called all people into freedom, justice and peace within his new order.'