The Revd John Bower Wilcox

19 August 2016


Rob Nightingale and others write:

THE Revd John Bower Wilcox, who died on 15 July, aged 87, was born in Northampton, the elder of two sons of devout Christian parents. After education at Northampton Grammar School and the Technical College, he became an apprentice with W. H. Allen, an engineering firm in Bedford, later part of the Rolls Royce group, and qualified as an engineer. During National Service, he worked on launches used to ferry aircrew out to flying boats.

He studied at King’s College, London, for three years. He left in 1955, and attended St Boniface College, Warminster, for a year of pastoral training. He met Sheila in 1953, when on holiday in north Wales, and they were married in 1957. He was ordained deacon in Liverpool Cathedral, and priested in 1959. At first, he became a worker-priest, working during the day in a wire factory at Warrington, and serving in the evenings and weekends at St Margaret and All Hallows, Orford. The Bishop permitted this on condition that he served a straight curacy next, in West Derby. Shortly after he and Sheila arrived in the parish, both the Rector and his fellow curate left, leaving John alone in a parish of 24,000 souls.

They moved to Lincoln, where John became Rector of three small country parishes — Aisthorpe, Scampton, and Brattleby — and combined this with being an industrial chaplain. He struck up good relationships with the padres at RAF Scampton, the base for Vulcan bombers.

John and Sheila were keen bird­watchers, and, while on holiday in Marske, got to see a little of the Teesside area. They returned to the area 18 months later, when John joined the Teesside Industrial Mission. Led by Bill Wright, it was a team to be reckoned with in 1974, comprising about six chaplains. It aimed to make it easier for people in industry, society, and the Church to find God at work in the world.


John regularly attended St Hilda’s, Kirkleatham, but he often conducted services in other Anglican and Methodist churches in the area. Many people from British Steel remember him with respect and affection.

He remained a staunch advocate for ministry in an industrial context, against a background of change in social and economic conditions. Theologically, he was much in­­fluenced by the friendship and writings of the late Margaret Kane.

From 1989, until he retired in 1993, he was Priest-in-Charge of St Cuthbert’s, Middlesbrough, and Urban Development Office, where his main work was with the Church Urban Fund, implementing Faith in the City’s recommendations. Con­cerned for social issues in the area, and especially for the increasing number of unemployed, he worked hard with the charity Respond and other groups to assist them.

John and Sheila both loved Scottish and folk dancing. Besides being an accomplished dancer, John was a skilled caller at barn dances and ceilidhs, and devised dances himself.

Their leisure activities included holidays with the Co-operative Holidays Association. John would make himself responsible for planning and organising walks, and then keeping a precise record of them all. He loved Teesside for the beauty of its coast and birdlife, the beauty of its countryside, and, as he saw it, the beauty of its industry.

He collected all the published works of Nevil Shute, and re­­searched Shute’s life, and his in­­terest in flight. Until very re­cently, he remained interested in Kirk­leatham parish church and its members. Even in recent months, as his health deteriorated and he became quite frail, John was still asking questions and making sug­gestions about the new church that is to be built there.

John was a wonderful uncle to his four nieces and nephews, who remember with delight how he would entertain them with puzzles, gadgets, and inventions every time they met, and how he took a keen interest in their well-being and progress. He will be greatly missed for his integrity, honesty, caring attitude, and love for other people, and for his example of faithful service to them and to his Lord.

The 2018 Train-a-Priest Fund

Help train the next generation of priests - donate to the Church Times Train-a-Priest (TAP) Fund this Lent

Donate online

Read more about this year's appeal

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Forthcoming Events

5-6 May 2018
Church Times Festival of Poetry
With Sarum College, Salisbury.
Speakers include: Rachel Mann, Mark Oakley and Michael Symmons Roberts, among others.
Find out more and book tickets

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read up to twelve articles for free. (You will need to register.)