Respected churchman and judge

Date: Friday 24th February 2012
Judge Blackett-Ord
Judge Blackett-Ord

JUDGE Jim Blackett-Ord died at his home at Helbeck Hall, near Brough, on Tuesday at the age of 90.

He was the second son of J. R. Blackett-Ord, of Whitfield, located in the wild and glorious countryside just within Northumberland on the road from Alston to Hexham. This had been in the family since the mid-18th Century.

An old-fashioned, idyllic childhood there did not deter him from accepting his family’s serious interest in the church and rural estate management. Like him, his friends at Eton and New College Oxford seemed unremarkable at the time, but many became distinguished in later life.

During the Second World War he was commissioned into the Scots Guards, and in 1943 he met and became engaged to Rosemary Bovill, then a 20-year-old member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WREN), who was engaged in secret work at Stanmore, London. With Rosemary he would enjoy no less than 66 years of marriage.

But in 1943 he was sent to North Africa, where he found himself having dinner in a tent alone with King George VI.

That was because all the officers and guardsmen of his regiment had already embarked for Italy. He joined them after Anzio landings, just in time see his battalion shattered by the full weight of the German counterattack, and the death of many of his friends. His order to the remaining men to surrender saved many of their lives, but left him with no glorious military record.

The next two years were spent in a German prisoner of war (PoW) camp, where he had some experiences which would thrill or appal his children or grandchildren when he started to speak of them half a century later. However, he never complained or pitied himself for that time. He was well aware how many had suffered far more.

He weighed only seven stones when he emerged from the PoW camp, still only aged 23, to freedom and marriage in 1945.

Married life, and the birth of children, was enhanced from 1951 by his inheritance of the estate at Helbeck, from the old Warcop family of Breeks. Its land ran north from Brough, up the limestone fellside and over moorland to the Yorkshire boundary. The country was more spectacular than profitable. Its rental income paid for the upkeep of Helbeck Hall and the farmhouses but nothing else.

Judge Blackett-Ord made his living as a barrister, specialising in conveyancing, in London from 1946 to 1972. Then he was able to move his principal home to Helbeck, when he achieved his ambition of an appointment as a judge in the north, with the splendid title of Vice-Chancellor of the County Palatine of Lancaster.

Beyond this he had no ambition. Also, unlike some judges, he was without arrogance. The vice-chancellorship had always previously been accompanied by a knighthood, and has always been since.

But the post was undergoing a brief change of status after the Courts Act 1971, and he received the Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) instead of a knighthood when he retired. Nobody could care less than he did about losing the higher honour. If he valued himself at all, it was as a churchman a churchwarden and chancellor of Newcastle diocese and a judge, roles which he served with humour, common-sense and good manners. He was also a well-informed rural landlord, which gave him the most pleasure.

The horror that he had glimpsed during the war served to cement rather than to destroy his faith in rational Anglicanism and good order in the world. The only prejudice he had was in his harmless belief in the superiority of a rural north countryman over anyone else anywhere. He was liked and respected almost equally as a landlord, a churchman and a judge. He will be much missed.

Judge Blackett-Ord leaves his wife, Rosemary, of Helbeck Hall, Brough, and four children, Charles, of Intake Side, Brough; Mark, of Warcop Hall, Warcop; Nicky Rawlence, of London; and Ben Blackett-Ord, of London. He is survived by 11 grandchildren.

His funeral service will be held on Wednesday (29th) at St. Michael’s Church, Brough, starting at 2-30pm. It will be taken by Judge Blackett-Ord’s godson, Bishop Richard Henderson, team vicar of Appleby.