Clitheroe homes pioneer Leo dies

Leo Wells
Leo Wells

A man who was a lynchpin of life in the Ribble Valley for many years in many different capacities has died aged 93.

Leo Wells – the last surviving Alderman of the former Clitheroe Borough Council – was well known in Clitheroe and the surrounding Ribble Valley for many years, having been born at Stockbridge, Stonyhurst, and brought up at Dilworth Farm, Hurst Green.

After leaving St Joseph’s School he worked on the family farm, but in September 1940 joined the RAF, serving throughout the Second World War including more than three years in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). After the war he met and married his bride-to-be Alice and moved with his new wife to Waddington on their marriage in 1947, living in the village for seven years before moving to Clitheroe in 1955.

Leo worked for Ribble Motor Services as a driver, an office clerk and an inspector before becoming District Superintendent. He retired from Ribble in 1984 after 37 years’ service with the company.

He and Alice had four children and were associated with St Michael and St John’s RC Church, in Lowergate, Clitheroe

From 1965 until 1989 Leo served his community as a councillor with Clitheroe Borough Council, Clitheroe Town Council, Ribble Valley Borough Council and Lancashire County Council.

In 1971 he was elected Alderman of Clitheroe Borough Council, an honour he was thrilled to receive. He went on to become the first Mayor of Clitheroe Town Council from 1974 to ’76 and again in 1980. Throughout his time as a local councillor, Leo was closely associated with both health and housing matters.

He was instrumental in saving from demolition many of the area’s small terraced cottages, in Whalley Road, Clitheroe, and in Low Moor, at a time when such action was unpopular.

The cottages, which had been condemned, were modernised with various grants and today are an asset to the Ribble Valley as they now form part of Clitheroe’s housing heritage.

In Low Moor the cottages had been condemned because some were back-to-back terraces. This did not cause Leo to give up.

He put forward the idea, eventually taken up, of knocking down one half of the back-to-back houses and creating an area for each of the remaining cottages to have a garden.

Also in Low Moor he promoted and later introduced one of the first half-buy and half-rent housing projects in the country. It was as representative of RVBC in The Association of District Councils, which took him to meetings in various parts of the country, where he learnt of projects like this.

He always supported the concept of affordable housing and although this created short-term electoral difficulties in the late ’70s, he nevertheless acted in accordance with his conscience and supported the building of two small estates of smaller homes, helping many local families to get their first foot on the property ladder.

In his early days on the council there was a flooding problem in Clitheroe every time there was heavy rain. This was caused by Mearley Brook, which had at one time served the cotton mills.

Leo personally investigated this stream over a period of time, and eventually solved the problem by having all the old dams and debris from the mills removed from the watercourse. As far as is known this area has not been affected by flooding since.

Leo eventually retired from the council in 1989, as the retirement age was 70, but continued to be a very active member of his church and right into his late eighties was still taking Holy Communion out to the sick.

Until his death he remained a Member of the Knights of St Columba, an organisation which helps care for the people of the town.

He had been a member of Ribble Valley Council of Churches, since its formation and until quite recently took an active part in all joint acts of worship. Last year he receive the Knights of St Columba Meritorious Service Medal, which came as a compete surprise to him.

Even in “old age” he still cared deeply for Clitheroe and its community.

He was well known in Clitheroe for driving his “famous” maroon Triumph Dolomite, which he had owned and lovingly cared for over many years, and in which he had travelled all round the country; latterly driving his silver Nissan Micra.

Only last July did he stop driving and became more housebound with Alice, his wife of 66 years.

On March 3rd he was admitted to hospital after a fall at home and died there very peacefully, surrounded by close family members, on Saturday morning, March 8th.

He is survived by his wife, Alice, daughters Margaret and Liz and sons Peter and Anthony, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held next Monday, March 17th, at 11 am, at St Michael and St John’s RC Church, in Lowergate, Clitheroe.