Tributes pour in for much-loved former Bilston councillor and local historian who died aged 90

Tributes have been paid to a much-loved former councillor and local historian who was Bilston "through and through" who died earlier this month.

Councillor Tom Larkin, vice chairman of the housing committee, and Councillor Mary Pointon, chairman,  outside some of the completed houses in Low Hill during a tour of inspection in September, 1972.
Councillor Tom Larkin, vice chairman of the housing committee, and Councillor Mary Pointon, chairman, outside some of the completed houses in Low Hill during a tour of inspection in September, 1972.

Tom Larkin, who represented Bilston East, died on August 13, aged 90. He was best known for standing up for the town and its proud history.

It is believed he had been ill following issues with his heart.

Mr Larkin was a fierce critic of government changes which impacted Bilston in 1966 and later of the creation of the West Midlands County Council in 1974.

The earlier change – the passing of the Local Government Act on April 1 – ended Bilston's independence as it became part of Wolverhampton.

The move also marked the end of Bilston Municipal Borough Council, which Mr Larkin had served on, despite fierce opposition and a campaign against the changes.

The historian described it as a "complete destruction of 19 historic councils" which were replaced by enlarged local government bodies "achieved by forced amalgamation".

Mr Larkin was subsequently critical of the next changes made by the Government in 1974 which saw the creation of the West Midlands County Council, or "the metro" as it became known, which lasted for 12 years – a move he called a "total disaster".

Born in Bissell Street. Mr Larkin was nine years old when the Second World War broke out in 1939.

And the former Labour councillor was in his element when speaking about what life was like at that time. "I lived in Bissell Street in Bilston, some of the slums were indescribable," he told the Express & Star last year to promote his Whatever Happened to the Real Black Country book.

"It's amazing to think how people managed to live in conditions like that, every day. We did have our own backyard, but a lot of houses had shared facilities, one toilet between seven families. and outside facilities for washing."

Mr Larkin, who also served on the enlarged council following the changes in 1966, was described as being a mentor and a gentleman.

Councillor Stephen Simkins, deputy leader of City of Wolverhampton Council who represents the same ward the historian did, said: "Tom was a fantastic councillor for Bilston East and a genuinely kind considerate loving family man. A true socialist and strived for social justice for all, he has helped so many people in Bilston while in office.

"He was a real mentor to me and a dear friend to myself and all who knew him. Tom was the font of knowledge and knew everything about Bilston, a keen author and a incredible historian, he penned many books about Bilston and the Black Country.

"Tom was always ready to give talks about many subject especially of his beloved Bilston and the Black Country. [He was] a real gentleman that will be sadly missed especially by my family myself and all who knew this great gentleman. Tom, you are and always will be the very best. My deepest sympathy to his wife and family."

Councillor Simkins said his colleagues would remember him as being someone who wanted to return Bilston to how it was – and someone who was a leading force in housing in both Bilston and Wolverhampton.

"I loved him dearly and I learned so much from him," the councillor said. "He was a socialist at heart and a real nice fellow who was always willing to help – he's one of our greatest ever politicians."

Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden, said: “Tom was an amazing campaigner with a deep knowledge of the history of Bilston and the Black Country.

"He taught me a huge amount over the years and was always interesting to talk to. He worked so hard for the community and always wanted to help his friends and neighbours.

"I was very sad to hear of Tom’s death and he will be much missed by local people.”

Councillor Phil Bateman, who represents Wednesfield North, said he had "many a debate" over the years with the former councillor about the Government's 1966 changes, and considered him a friend.

He said: "Tom was a very well know local historian, he was Bilston through and through. I like to think of him as a friend.

"He certainly wasn’t enamoured by the then-Government's changes to local government in 1966, which placed his beloved Bilston into Wolverhampton. Nor the following changes in 1974 which created the West Midlands County Council.

"It's true to say that the 'Bilston for Bilstonians' – was a slogan that Tom never let die. I had many a debate over the years with Tom, about the move that took Bilston’s independence away. I liked Tom Larkin, his energy, his love of local history, his passion and drive not to lose the past.

"Now I want to wish his wife and family our deepest sympathy and condolences. Long may you live Tom in your writings, and in the memories of your friends and family."

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