Charles Wickham-Jones obituary

Other lives: ICI chemist who found a new role in charity work in post-industrial Britain

My father, Charles Wickham-Jones, who has died aged 89, was an industrial chemist whose Christian belief led him later in life to become a charity worker.

He was born in South Norwood, London, the son of Edward Wickham-Jones, a fur trader, and his wife, Rosa (nee Dill). His mother died a week after his birth, and his sister, Shirley, and he were brought up by their father, a first world war veteran with what we would now term post-traumatic stress disorder. His father’s work frequently took him abroad. Charles went to Cordwalles school, Camberley, at seven, and then boarded at Sherborne school. He spent many holidays with relatives.

After graduating in chemistry from Oxford University, in 1951 Charles moved to Stockton-on-Tees, joining ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) as an industrial chemist. There he met Prim, a former nurse, and they married in 1954.

For Charles and Prim, the decades after 1945 were essentially optimistic ones, characterised by modernity and progress as development appeared to transform the region. ICI, then the largest manufacturer in the UK, dominated economic activity across Teesside.

In the 1970s unemployment rose and ICI struggled to adjust in a post-industrial environment. Such change had a profound impact on Charles. He disliked the direction of British politics, particularly the rightward shift of the Conservative party under Margaret Thatcher. In 1979 he abandoned his inherited conservatism and voted Labour for the first time. In 1981, he became an eager supporter of the newly formed Social Democratic party.

At ICI he had become a management economist in petrochemicals. But he became disillusioned, and looked for a new role. His Christian faith was an important part of his identity. Having no wish to be ordained, he was unable to find a suitable position in the church. With typical energy and commitment, he created one, establishing an agency, Christian ReLay, in 1980, to find lay work for churchgoers. For a while the scheme prospered, though ultimately it ran into difficulties, in part because of the reluctance of some clergy to cede any authority.

Charles continued thereafter working with charities and as a governor at a Church of England school. After Prim’s death in 2006, he relocated to Oxford to be close to his family. He revelled in his grandchildren, encouraging them to create some of the mischief he had missed out on in his childhood.

He is survived by his three children, Caroline, Tom and me, and by seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Mark Wickham-Jones

The GuardianTramp

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