Michael Worms spoke at the Thanksgiving Service about John’s contribution to Mill Hill, the London village where John and Jenny moved to live before Amanda and Josie were born.
I speak today of John’s contribution to Mill Hill, largely through his long association with the Mill Hill Preservation Society.
First, a few personal recollections. I came to know John through involvement with scouting and guiding here at St Paul’s. John wrote and directed a play for the Brownie Section through which I witnessed both his skill and his high expectations even from children of primary school age.
As you may have noticed on arrival, we are currently in Christian Aid Week. In years past I would sometimes meet with John and the family on the sponsored walks held on behalf of this charity across Mill Hill’s open spaces. I recognised then his concern for the area, making it inevitable that he would involve himself with the Preservation Society.
I came late to the Society but, like so many of Mill Hill’s residents, I attended the open meetings of the Society, a feature of which was the question and answer session with local councillors. John chaired those sessions with a style which one could describe as ‘vigorous’. Our elected representatives knew that evasive answers would not go unchallenged. Later when I became a member of the committee I recognised the depth of his knowledge of planning issues which underpinned that vigour.
John, together with wife Jenny and Betty Cramer of the Society brought to a successful conclusion a local cause celebre – the six year battle with Charringtons over the building of a pub in Daws Lane in which the outcome was decided with just a few days to spare and bulldozers already on site. His cross examination of Charrington’s expert witnesses was commented upon in the press. This expertise was soon to be put to good use on his joining the Preservation Society Committee.
David Welch , who cannot be here this afternoon, was chairman of the committee at that time and has written the following…
‘I was delighted when John joined the Mill Hill Preservation Society. His commitment to preserving the Green Belt and the best features of Mill Hill generally were immediately apparent. He joined at a time when the golf boom was at its highest, when golf courses in Totteridge Valley and in the fields at the end of Burtonhole Lane were proposed, but fortunately rejected. The Green Belt was under attack and John took to repelling that attack with relish.
His skill with words, no doubt honed during his career as a journalist, enabled him to construct a convincing case with an admirable economy of words. But it was his flair for public speaking which most impressed me. His tall imposing presence made an immediate impact on his audience and he brought with him when speaking an aura of confidence and authority. These qualities made him an ideal witness on behalf of the Preservation Society at public inquiries. He was totally unfazed by either cross-examining or being himself cross-examined by some eminent barrister.
I remember during the public inquiry into the proposed football stadium at Copthall when John scored a wonderful point against the applicant’s leading barrister. A small smile of satisfaction spread across the face of the normally impassive inspector. John followed me as Chairman of the Preservation Society, a role to which he was ideally suited. He became President when Marina Hobson stood down, a fitting tribute to his dedicated service to the Society and Mill Hill generally. He continued to serve the wider world of preservation through his work with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, only curtailed by his increasing ill health.’
In later years, there was much discussion of the fate of the Middlesex Regiment Barracks. John was a leading member of a small group concerned that the memory of the Regiment’s time here should be retained. Efforts to keep the Officers Mess and the War Memorial on site did not bear fruit but a proposal to relocate the War Memorial did and it now stands across the road from this church. An unforeseen outcome of this move was a renewed interest by the Regimental Association in this church which had been the regimental chapel. This led to the recent installation of a window in memory of those who served in the Regiment. Two outcomes which mean that John’s wish has been achieved.
One further brief personal memory. In the days when charities collected funds by placing coins in wooden boxes rather than texting on mobiles, my wife had the task of emptying boxes held in their homes by local residents on behalf of the Children’s Society. She recalls that John’s box was usually the heaviest and held the record for the most coins you could push into it. I have in mind an image of such a green box labelled voluntary work for preservation. John’s would undoubtedly be heavy and crammed full.
The final words I leave to David Welch.. They express the feeling of the community and reflect the many messages which Jenny and the family have received.
‘John and I shared a mutual love of boating, he in his off-shore yacht and me in my rather more pedestrian narrow-boat on the Thames. I still use a wooden boat hook which John gave me years ago! John will be missed by so many people, family, friends and colleagues, but we must treasure our memories of an exceptional man.’