Tributes paid to Salford legend Ben Wallsworth

Ben Wallsworth

Tributes have been paid after the death of former Salford councillor Ben Wallsworth, the man credited with transforming the former docks into Salford Quays.

Mr Wallsworth, 103, passed away in his sleep. Flags at Salford Civic Centre have been lowered to half mast as a mark of respect.

City Mayor Paul Dennett said: “Ben was a true son of Salford, a giant in the history of our proud city.

“Millions of people now live, work and visit his legacy at Salford Quays and MediaCityUK every year. Ben’s vision was to create something new from a huge, disused site and the transformation of Salford Docks which he helped to kick-start has been described as one of the most successful regeneration projects in the UK.

“Equally important to Ben, who grew up in inner city Ordsall, was protecting and enhancing Salford’s green spaces. His idea to create Worsley Greenway continues to protect open land between Monton and Worsley from development to this day, a legacy Salford City Council fought to retain.”

He added: “Ben served his country during World War Two and Salford as a councillor for 44 years afterwards. He rightly deserved being honoured with the Freedom of Salford for his outstanding, lifelong contribution. My thoughts are with his family and friends. He will not be forgotten.”

An engineer by trade, Mr Wallsworth joined the Territorial Army at 19 but signed up with the Royal Army Service Corps when it became apparent World War II was about to start.

His regiment fought through France towards Belgium and back to the beaches of Dunkirk where he spent his 20th birthday. He refused to abandon his Lewis gun en route as instructed and used it to defend his unit from aerial attacks when they were trapped on the beaches for three days and nights.

He also took the gun aboard the ship which rescued them and it was used to protect the boat when it was attacked by German planes.

Mr Wallsworth was presented with the Military Medal by King George V in July 1940, for his bravery but didn’t receive home leave until 1942. Ironically, the day after he came home for Christmas Salford and Manchester were bombed.

Mr Wallsworth became interested in politics after campaigning in Ordsall to open up school playgrounds in the evening to provide safe spaces for children to play. His idea led to Salford reviving play streets in the 1980s – an idea the city had pioneered in the 1930s – creating traffic-free spaces where children could play safely.

Mr Wallsworth was elected to Salford Council on May 9, 1957, and, apart from three years between 1968 and 1971, served until his retirement on June 10, 2004.

He represented Labour in Weaste, Langworthy and Blackfriars wards, leading on planning in the 1970s. He was also a prominent trade unionist and served as branch secretary for the Amalgamated Engineering Union for many years.

He was Ceremonial Mayor of Salford from 2002 to 2003 and is thought to be the only holder of that office to also hold a Military Medal. He was awarded an MBE by King George V’s daughter, the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2001.

Mr Wallsworth, spent 44 years as a local councillor and is best known for creating Worsley Greenway and the transformation of the former docks into Salford Quays.

He was chair of the planning committee when Salford City Council used a derelict land grant to buy part of the former docks for £1m in 1983. Within 10 years private and public investment in the area totalled around £280m and has continued to grow ever since.

He was also a leading light in the creation of the Red Rose Forest project, which was launched in 1991 in the Croal-Irwell river valley, to plant a million trees across Greater Manchester and received the MBE for his contribution in 2001.

He was awarded the Freedom of the City of Salford in October 2019, aged 99, just a few days before his 100th birthday.

Former councillor, Derek Antrobus, who worked alongside Mr Wallsworth for more than 30 years said: “He was always keen on creating good spaces for people to enjoy their lives and he was a green campaigner before it was even a thing.

“He often talked of buses running on hydrogen gas which he had seen in Canada where he had family and in addition to Red Rose Forest and the Greenway he championed the council taking over Blackleach reservoir which many were not convinced about.

“Ben tenaciously fought his corner and we now have a beautiful country park. I often pause to think of him when I visit. I have many special memories of a wonderful man who did so much for Salford.”

Tom Stannard, current chief executive of Salford City Council, said: “Salford has benefited so much from the life and work of Mr Wallsworth. He leaves behind a real legacy in the green and urban spaces he helped to shape in the city he loved and our city is all the richer for it.”