Crossing the Bar

John was a Governor member and supporter of the RNLI for most of his adult life. Thanks to the crew of the Harwich Lifeboat Station, on Saturday 17 September Jenny, Amanda and Josie went out on the Albert Brown, the Severn class all weather Lifeboat, to scatter his ashes in the sea off Ha’penny Pier, where he had so often sailed. It was a gusty day, and it was clearly going to take a strong crew and much engine power to manoeuvre the boat safely away from its berth on the quay. But after some deliberation the decision was made to go ahead. We were allowed to board and at 10.30 a.m. the boat set off into the middle of the Harbour for the ceremony.

We set off on the Lifeboat. It’s a bit choppy.

Against the background of the Felixstowe cranes, the three of us were helped into the foot well at the side of the boat. Up above, the Coxswain read out the moving Tennyson poem ‘Crossing the Bar‘ which was read also at John’s Thanksgiving Service. Then while the lifeboat held still for a few moments, we scattered his ashes into the sea, followed by lavender and roses from our gardens. We all said a short prayer together, remembering John with love and thanks for all that he had meant to us and to so many others, and for all he had achieved throughout his life.

All this time our friend Richard, with his crew Lynne, accompanied us in Richard’s boat ‘Zoe‘ and they also marked the spot with flowers. The lifeboat circled around the flowers for a while before returning to the berth. The rest of the family, Neil, Martin, Isha, Gillis, Elliot and Rachael, were waiting for us in the crew room with its balcony overlooking the harbour, from where they had been able to watch us the whole time.

Zoe‘ accompanies the Lifeboat

We are all very grateful to the Harwich Lifeboat Station for enabling us to say goodbye to John in such an appropriate way. We are so grateful too to all of you who made donations to the RNLI in John’s memory. The total amount raised so far in this fund is over £2000.


Vanished Dockland

John’s first job after university was as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Factories,  attached to the Ministry of Labour. He joined the Department in October 1960, assigned to the Watford District under DI Miss M E Collington and SI Miss N L Forster.

John as a young trainee inspector at the Watford office in 1960

By the time he had passed all his qualifying exams and became a 1B Inspector in 1965 he had spent around two years in Southwark District, where John Fallaize was DI.

Jane Wagner (née Hodges), who worked with John, remembers this period vividly and has contributed the following memories:

‘The office was on the 1st floor above shops in Walworth Road, Camberwell. The District covered a whole range of different industries and processes, such as printing, asbestos works, skin dressing, cooperage, food processing, jam making, vintners and brewing. It also included the Surrey Commercial Docks, which in the mid-1960s were still very active, and many of the premises inspected were related to the cargoes which were shipped and unloaded there. Tooley Street, parallel to the rail tracks, was known as ‘the larder of London’ with many warehouses between it and the Thames where individually named wharves were located. There were also many yards on the Surrey Canal into which timber imports were unloaded.

Port of London Authority Plan of the Surrey Commercial Docks in 1961. John still had this framed plan in 2016.

John was tasked primarily with docks inspection, which he carried out not only in Southwark but also in four other Districts with premises subject to Docks Regulations in London (South) Division – Woolwich, Rochester, Maidstone and Brighton. This was the era of Liberty ships, almost ready for scrap, but still able to carry timber cargoes. The Thames had moorings mid-river where cargoes could be unloaded over the side into lighters (barges) by the stevedores, using on-board ships’ derricks. Two of these could be used together in a particular way known as ‘union purchase’ to lift and lower loads. Accidents were common, and the office frequently got calls either from dockers or from the Thames River Police – never from the Master of the vessel!’

Aerial view of the Greenland Dock and surrounding area in 1962. The entrance to the Surrey Canal can be seen on the right.
The Henrique Lage, a Brazilian ship, unloading timber in the Surrey Docks in 1958

Jane recalls staying late one evening to help John type out a large number of informations about an unsafe ship he had visited that day, so that the Master could be prosecuted at Tower Bridge Magistrates’ Court next morning. Speed was essential so that proceedings could be taken and the problems dealt with before the ship finished unloading and departed on the next tide. The case of Turtle v. Anthanossios Pipinnos, Master of S.S. ‘Virginia’, was reported in a Circular Minute in August 1964. It involved a large number of contraventions of the Docks Regulations, ranging from damaged ladders and unprotected steam pipes to unsafe steam-powered winches with broken brakes. Altogether, 17 informations were laid ‘as a representative sample of the conditions of the ship’. The fines imposed by the magistrate came to a total of £82. John had kept this Minute for over 50 years!

John thoroughly enjoyed his time in Southwark, and built up a great rapport with the dockers, who referred to him affectionately as ‘Mr Tuttle’. He shared with Jane a curiosity about ‘industrial archaeology’, many examples of which could still be found in use in some of the premises they inspected. They would gleefully report to each other extant gas engines, water mills milling flour, and of course the famous 1835 beam engine still in use until 1976 at Young’s Brewery in Wandsworth! Most of this fascinating world vanished when increasing containerisation of cargoes in much larger ships led to the docks closing in 1970. John later lectured on industrial archaeology to design students at Hornsey College of Art, and built up a large library of books on the subject (anyone interested in inheriting these, please contact this website for further details!).

John’s wife Jenny takes up the story: ‘John left the Department in 1968 for a new career in broadcasting at the BBC, as previous posts on this website have documented.  Initially he worked in Further Education Radio, where the knowledge gained from his time in the Factory Inspectorate helped him make programmes on management and industry, and then moved on to Consumer Affairs, Magazine Programmes and investigative journalism (You and Hours’ and ‘Checkpoint’). He subsequently transferred to the Radio Training Department, ending his career at the BBC as Head of Radio Training. After leaving full-time employment in 1988, he continued to work in broadcasting, training and consultancy for the World Service, British Forces Broadcasting Service, Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, British Council and the ODA. Many of his consultancy assignments were with radio stations in developing countries, most notably Nepal which he visited 16 times!

As mentioned in earlier posts, John was a keen sailor, owning three boats over more than 20 years and sailing with Jenny many times to Normandy, Brittany and beyond. He was also active for many years in the Mill Hill Preservation Society, a registered charity with over 1000 members, as a committee member, Chairman and President, as well as press spokesman for this and other amenity groups, and advocate at local public inquiries on planning, licensing justices’ hearings and at the Crown Court. His experience all those years ago at Tower Bridge Magistrates’ Court was invaluable….’

John always remembered his time in the Inspectorate and kept in touch by joining the Association of Former HM Inspectors of Factories and the Dining Club, often attending the dinners in London.

 Centenary Dinner of the Dining Club, Claridges, October 1988

Angus Murdoch writes: ‘I was the 1B at Clapham district office, opposite the ‘Arding and Hobbs’ store and John would come over from Southwark Office to help out. He worked mainly on the Surrey Commercial Docks where he had earned a good reputation for enforcing safety standards on the Liberty ships that arrived and unloaded timber using their own steam winches. They were in such poor condition that the clutch would not stay engaged resulting in a falling load. John would stop unloading with a court order from Tower Bridge Magistrates which he nailed to the mast’.

John’s family would very much welcome other comments contributing to this memoir of a vanished dockland world from former members of the Inspectorate.

This post is an amended version of the article that appeared in the Autumn 2016 edition of the Newsletter of the Association of Former HM Inspectors of HSE. Many thanks to the Editor, Pam Waldron, for her help in publishing this memoir.

The further adventures of Florence

Jenny writes:

Our last boat, Florence, was an Oyster Heritage 37, designed by Holman and Pye and built in 1985. We bought her from a yard in Falmouth in January 2008, and finally launched her in August that year, following much refurbishment and after John had recovered from surgery to replace a faulty heart valve in May. Florence was not a particularly fast boat, but she was designed to be safe and strong and comfortable.

In 2008, 2009 and 2010 we cruised in Florence each summer to Normandy, the Channel Islands, Brittany, and the west coast of France.

Then, in 2011, Florence made it possible for John to achieve his long-held ambition of sailing to Denmark to visit our friends, Chris and Bente. They owned a little house on the coast, just south of Helingsor, and their village, Espergaede, has a tiny harbour, not often used by English yachts. John organised a strong crew of  male friends to cross the North Sea to Germany and then through the Kiel Canal to the Baltic. I joined the crew about two weeks later, having wimpishly flown to Copenhagen. The two of us sailed around the South Danish Archipelago for a few more days before moving on to Copenhagen, and then to Espergaede, where we moored Florence by the little lighthouse in the harbour. And back, via the Frisian Islands of Norderney and Borkum, with the help of another sailing friend. It was a wonderful holiday.

The following year, 2012, was the last time we sailed in Florence, and we didn’t go very far, just to Normandy. After that, John’s health began to deteriorate and Florence was laid up under her cover in Larkman’s boatyard in Melton for the next three years. We finally made the decision to sell her in summer 2015 and were very pleased when, at the end of that year, she was handed over to her new owners, a young couple who had been looking for a suitable boat on which to live aboard and travel around the world. They set off from Falmouth yesterday, heading across the Bay of Biscay to La Coruna in Spain, then Portugal and the Canaries, from where they are planning to cross the Atlantic and eventually the Pacific oceans.

So Florence will be having many more adventures, and Matt and Amy are writing a blog about them. If you are interested, you can follow their progress.



25 July 2016

We got married on 25 July 1964, in my parents’s village in Sprotbrough, just five days after my 21st birthday. As John wrote for me two years ago, on our Golden Wedding Day:

It was a day much like this

In a real Yorkshire village, with a shop, a pub, a church and chapel

Where people were kind, and Rington’s tea was delivered by their van, just tea,

With a lost village on the banks of the Don, Levitt Hagg.

Your parents’ garden heavy with flowers and fruit, where a hedgehog family lived

And the sun shone.

It shone on a beautiful bride taken that short walk to church in a limousine,

Your father smart in morning dress, my father ill at ease as if he had a walk-on part in a play he hadn’t rehearsed,

Both mothers and my cousin, your friend Joy too, looking and playing their parts to perfection.

Hats of course, but only for the ladies.

Our friends there in the village hall, toasts in South African champagne, before it became politically incorrect, the superb cake.

There were more verses, remembering the night in the airport when the plane was delayed, our honeymoon in Dubrovnik, the heat, the sights and smells, the places we went, the beach, the outdoor Shakespeare, the food (too many aubergines), the wine, the things we did and bought, the music the orchestra played every night on the hotel terrace – such good recall he had, over 50 years. And then coming home, working, being married.

We were young, dreadfully respectable (the Civil Service and the LCC) and the swinging sixties rather passed us by. Thank goodness.

The last few lines I have read to myself again today with pleasure, and yet with great sadness:

Fifty years has passed so quickly, all the things we have done and yet there is so much we still want to do. Never bored, never boring. Thank you.

We eat few aubergines.

Wedding photo2

Sailing memories

When we moved to Woodbridge in 1996 the first friends we made were John and Jenny. We met at Woodbridge Cruising Club; they owned a huge vessel (a 26ft Westerly Centaur) called “Flora” whilst we newbies had a tiddler of a trailer-sailer.

John - Judith & Martin pic
John on “Flora”

For the next few years we often sailed in company. Not only was this great fun, but we also learnt a great deal from John. We were delighted to travel to Dieppe in 1998 to help John (Jenny had returned to work) sail “Flora” back to Suffolk

“Flora” arrives home in Suffolk from Dieppe in August 1998.

His respect for the sea and his careful and meticulous attention to detail on board taught us the importance of detailed planning and full concentration whilst under way. He was also an adventurous sailor: he skippered his yachts to the Channel Islands, to Southern Brittany, to Cornwall, to the Baltic, and crossed the Channel on many occasions.

During the long winter months we met regularly for meals and good conversation. John was a great storyteller and raconteur and also loved to listen to other peoples’ anecdotes. Some of these were directed at “Scrounger” the stuffed cat at Seckford Street, sometimes after a glass of wine had been consumed. The story he told with the punch line “Wrong Answer!” has subsequently been used regularly in our household (many of you may remember this story of John’s). His memories referring to his Norfolk upbringing, always laced with a very broad and accurate King’s Lynn accent, were wonderful.


We will miss him.

Martin Oldfield and Judy Buchanan

The Green in My Valley

The Green in My Valley film was unearthed recently by its producer Norman Saville, once the Honorary Solicitor for the Mill Hill Preservation Society and still an active member of the Committee. The film has great views of the Totteridge Valley and features members of the Society, including the then Chairman, John Turtle.

Green Belt Totteridge Valley.jpg

John took this photo of a much-loved view across the Totteridge Valley.

The film was made in 1991, in an era when golf course applications were threatening to overwhelm the Valley.  The fact that all the applications were defeated, and the Totteridge Valley remains intact to this day, must be counted as one of the great successes for the Society. But the film is a reminder of the threats that come and go.