Death of former BBA chairman

Charles Fenton
Charles Fenton

The funeral took place this week of the former chairman of BBA, Charles Miller Fenton, who has died at the age of 82.

Mr Fenton was born in Cleckheaton in 1931, the great-grandson of a Scots weaving manager who invented and manufactured a new kind of power transmission belting under the company name, British Belting Company.

It set up its headquarters in Cleckheaton and by 1914 was producing 40,000 feet of transmission linings a week for Henry Ford’s famous car, the Model T. Mr Fenton worked for the BBA group all his life, as managing director between 1970-1985 and chairman from 1985-1989.

With numerous overseas subsidiaries, yet retaining its headquarters at the Royds in Cleckheaton, the group was the largest Yorkshire-based company with around 26,000 employees by the time he retired. After retirement he remained chairman of the BBA Retired Employees’ Association.

Mr Fenton was the son of Sir William and Lady Fenton.

He went to Woodhall and Uppingham schools, and he firmly believed that he later became a successful management man because, when he was 13, he suffered from osteomyelitis, a debilitating bone disease. He wanted to be out on the playing fields, but instead had to sit and watch others.

It taught him to be a perceptive observer and gave him the determination to fight his battles elsewhere.

He graduated from Leeds University with a diploma in Textile Industries, and was later appointed a Fellow of the Textile Institute, and a Companion of the Institute of Management.

During his business career he was chairman of BBA, chairman of British Mohair Holdings plc and a director of Barr and Wallace Arnold Trust plc.

He had been a council member of The City and Guilds of London Institute which conferred an Honorary fellowship on him in 1994 in recognition of his outstanding professional contribution to industry and commerce. He was also a member of the newly-formed Guild of Educators.

An active committee member, chairman or president, Mr Fenton’s sense of humour and quick wit could always smooth ruffled feathers.

He had a knack of encouraging meetings to reach his own preferred conclusion, and could cut through the “waffle” with a humorous but down-to-earth suggestion.

Outside his business interests, he was actively involved in West Riding life. He was a trustee of West Riding Cheshire Homes and the A M Fenton Trust; president of the Dewsbury and District League of Friendship for Disabled people; and chairman of the Whitcliffe Mount Scholarship Trust.

Mr Fenton was a JP on the Dewsbury Bench for 33 years, taking a one year leave in 1981 to fulfil his duties as High Sheriff of West Yorkshire.

He loved to holiday in Tangier and on one occasion while visiting the local Cheshire Home, he found the children there hot and with nowhere to cool off. He returned to the UK and arranged for a swimming pool to be built at the home and he later flew out there to open it.

He was a director of the Yorkshire Fly-fishers for over 50 years, vice-president of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, a Yorkshire Taverner and a founder member of the Yorkshire CC Charitable Youth Trust.

For more than 30 years he was president of Cleckheaton Sports Club and was particularly proud of its junior sections. He was also president of Spen Valley Billiards Club.

In 1982 he was appointed OBE in the Queen’s Honours List in recognition of his services to the community.

Mr Fenton is survived by his son, Nigel. His wife, Shirley and daughter, Charlotte, both pre-deceased him.

The funeral service took place on Tuesday in Mr Fenton’s home town of Halifax.