Sheffield’s last surviving Alderman at 95

He’s Sheffield’s last surviving Alderman – and at 95 years young, Jock Sturrock can still spin a political yarn.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 1:13 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 4:42 pm
Jock Sturrock is Sheffield's last surviving Alderman

After completing 35 bombing operations with the RAF, Jock entered politics and in the 1970s became an Alderman on Sheffield Council, a senior councillor elected by fellow members, rather than being voted in by the public.

“I’m the last surviving Alderman and the last surviving chairman of the old South Yorkshire County Council. I’m also the last survivor of my RAF bomber crew,” he said.

“Sheffield Council consisted of 100 members back then, there were 75 councillors representing 25 wards on a three year period but there were also 25 Aldermen elected on a six year period by the council.

Jock, chairman of the South Yorkshire County Council environment committee, clears rubbish tipped along each side of Tinsley Park Road, Darnall.

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“Having Aldermen was a great idea as you always had a core of 25 experienced council members who could explain things to new councillors.”

Jock remembers one particular meeting he chaired. “I must be the only person, or one of very few, who has chaired a full council meeting as neither Mayor nor Deputy Mayor.

“The Lord Mayor was an Alderman so he couldn’t chair the meeting for his election so I got the job as I was chairman of the Labour Group.

“I was shown into the chamber and given a lecture about how voting should proceed. I sat in the Lord Mayor’s seat and they were counting the ballot papers but there was such a racket as everyone was yakking.

Jock and his wife Bet arriving at the Crucible Theatre for its 10th anniversary reception in 1981

“I looked down and there was the bell from the very last tram, which was on display in the chamber. I thought, I might never get the chance to look at this again so I picked it up but it gave such a clang that everyone jumped.”

As chairman of recreation when Concord sports centre was built, he cut the first sod on a JCB digger in 1972. He was also agent to Joan Maynard, the former Sheffield Brightside MP, and still keeps his hand in politics through his friendship with Shiregreen and Brightside councillor Peter Price.

Jock was made an Alderman in 1970 and was probably the last one to be elected because four years later, the South Yorkshire County Council was created and the roles of Aldermen were abolished at Sheffield Council.

The county council had responsibility for public transport, planning, emergency services and waste disposal and was composed of 100 members from Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.

There were no financial allowances for councillors and it was a juggling act for Jock, whose real name is Henry, and his wife Bet, 91. The couple, who live in Wincobank, have three children, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

“I decided to stay with the county council and was there until 1983. I worked at Firth Browns as an inspector but we didn’t get paid in those days, you got £1 a day towards any lost wages.

“Firth Browns were good to me because in those days you had committees so you were needed in the Town Hall every day and they let me have time off.

“Someone suggested I go on nights as I would lose less time off work so I was doing shifts, was a councillor, was a union branch secretary and had a family. I couldn’t have done the job without Bet.”

The four South Yorkshire authorities have spent more than a year thrashing out a devolution deal since Dan Jarvis became the first Sheffield City Region Mayor in May 2018.

But Jock says there were rifts between the four areas in the 70s and 80s as well. “I thought the county council was a great thing with the four Labour authorities but it didn’t work. There was an anti Sheffield attitude and Doncaster and Rotherham didn’t like us.” The county council was abolished after just 12 years.

While Jock speaks at length about his political career, he used to find it more difficult to talk about his service with the RAF.

“I never spoke about my bombing operations but I read a book which affected me and I thought I’m a lucky bugger, all those operations and I got away with it. Now I talk about it more and have even given talks to a local lunch club.”