Monday, November 01, 2021

In Memory of John Halstead



 The recent death of John Halstead is a very sad loss. We first met in 1966 when we were both only 30 years old. At the time he was a recently appointed member of the teaching staff of the Sheffield University Extramural Department, which I had then also joined. We soon became close colleagues and friends. For our patterns of teaching were often interconnected.

We basically taught trade union day release students from avenues such as the coal, steel and railway industries. These students normally attended classes which had common coffee and meal breaks, which tutors such as John joined in. These meetings normally operated from 10am to 4pm for weekly spells of 24 days a year, including the coffee and lunch breaks. These courses lasted for three years,with different tutors such as John normally taking a year's class.  We also took courses for shop stewards from a variety of different industries. Whilst numbers of these classes operated from Sheffield University itself, others involved us in travelling to places such as Chesterfield, Doncaster and Scunthorpe. 

Numbers of our ex-students moved on to become local trade union leaders or went into full time studies at adult education colleges such as Ruskin, Coleg Harlech and later the Northern College. Those who become full-time students often then moved on to avenues such as teaching and college lecturing. Amongst those who mantained their local trade union work, a number became local Labour MPs or Council members. One became a Euro MP.  Bob Heath (a former Derbyshire Miners day-release student) also joined the Sheffield University Extramural Depertment as a lecturer when I did. He had been a fellow adult student of mine at both Ruskin College and then Hull University. So he also came to have very close links with John. On one occasion John, Bob and myself taught for a fortnight together at Coleg Harlech on summer courses.

Michael Barrett Brown ran the Industrial Day Release Classes at the Sheffield University Extramural when John, Bob and I arrived. As a strong advocate of the formation of a Northern College catering for adult students who had no university-style A level qualifications, Michael went on to became their initial Principal in 1978.  Both John and I came to undertake teaching activities there. A book was published in 2004 after the first 25 years of its operations.  There is a fine section by John entitled 'The Local Tradition of Working-Class and Self-Help Education'.

John had a special interest in working class history, although his day-release activities went beyond this and covered issues such as the development of student skills, economics and contemporary political issues. Then in teaching his approach was by no means dogmatic, for he shared the view expressed by John Stuart Mill who said that someone who only understood their own side of the case knew little of that. 

His own experiences meant that he could help his students to test out their basic views - even when he basically shared them. The fact that he first served in the Civil Service before entering university at the London School of Economics to obtain a degree in economics and politics, meant that in his later teaching he drew from his own experience as an adult student. He had, for instance, been taught by the questioning leftist Ralph Miliband.

He had considerable long term involvement with two major Labour History societies. Serving actively on the committee of the Notts and Derbyshire Labour History Society. He also engaged in considerable work with the Society for the Study of Labour History; as treasurer from 1969, then secretary, editor of their bulletin and finally as vice-president until his death. He contributed to their journal fully over this lengthy period.  See -

In 2011 Ken Curran and John set up a school for Democratic Socialism in Sheffield, which I participated  in. Then from 2006 onwards John played a full role in monthly discussion meetings ran by my local Dronfield Labour Party. Due to covid problems the last of these meetings which he ever attended was held in our garden in June. It was to be the last time we met.

In recent years John, Ken and myself also participated in the annual general meetings of Independent Labour Publications, which until Covid were held in Sheffield.






Unknown said...

Thank you, Harry, for describing so much of John's life. Committee members of the Notts and Derbyshire Labour History Society are very sad to lose John. We remember his friendly approach to life and to other people, whilst appreciating his thoughtful contributions to our discussions. I was struck by his understanding of other people's disabilities and limitations, realising that such empathy must have helped in his long-standing work in the field of housing for people with learning disabilities. John will be sadly missed.
Hilary Cave
Secretary, Notts and Derbyshire Labour History Society.

Harry Barnes said...
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