Friday, 19 March 2010

Burwell - the late Mr John Brooks - Independent

To Burwell today, and not far to go, for Burwell is our nearest large village. I know the parish of Burwell intimately. Sue and I have hundreds of friends who live in Burwell. I was the County Councillor for the area until 1993, when I was 'retired' by my then party.

The Conservative candidate 'selected' to succeed me did not succeed in her aim and the seat was lost to Mr James Fitch, of the Liberal Democrats.

I wrote yesterday of my life having been changed by Pastor Peter Cockerton, of Little Thetford. Another powerful influence on my evolving political thinking was the late Mr John Brooks, formerly of Swaffham Bulbeck and, for many years, of Burwell. John and his lovely wife, Kay, lived at The Tan House, earlier the home of the late Lord Pym (then Mr Francis Pym, M.P.). Kay lives on at Felsham Chase.

When John died in January, 2007, I had the honour of being asked by the family to say a few words at his funeral, which was held at St. Mary's Church. Among those few words were the following:

"John's involvement in local and public affairs must not pass without proper acknowledgement.

He became a member of East Cambridgeshire District Council in 1979. He represented Burwell and served on various regional and national bodies, as well as being Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the Council, and only retired in '03, having been repeatedly re-elected by the people of Burwell.

That was an extraordinary vote of confidence in him and an extraordinary stint of service to this community. It included leading the 'Independent Group' at national gatherings of the Association of District Councils ...  

... He and I used also to be Governors of Burwell Village College and we worked together for Burwell House. Many were the meetings at which I would deliver a long and rambling rant and then look to my friend for support. A slight twitch of the nose, as if longing for a Tom Thumb cigar, and the few pithy words, the absolute epitome of moderation as always, "I think Councillor Woollard may have a point," was the endorsement so earnestly sought ...

... He was a great man, and I and many others have been beneficiaries of his goodness, his greatness, his kindness, his generosity, his encouragement and, all too often in my case, his tolerance ...

... I have lost count of the number of years that I have known John and Kay. It's certainly from their happy time at Swaffham Bulbeck, but Sue and I also have the fondest of memories of their occupancy of The Tan House where they entertained us with delightful meals and splendid conversation. But they spread their hospitality far and wide and their homes were always known as centres of culture and gentleness. John was a true and cultured gentleman.

John was not only good, great and kind, but wise as well - a very rare combination. He is missed enormously by so many of us, but our collective loss is as nothing when set beside that of Kay and her family."

My readers will deduce from the above that I admired John Brooks for many things, not the least his being determinedly independent on behalf of Burwell in his work as a District Councillor. I should have been more independent myself. That is a regret that I live with but am trying hard to remedy.

My wife Sue also has a connection with Burwell in that her late cousin, Alderman Robert Stephenson (1847 - 1929), was the village's first County Councillor. He went on to become Chairman of Cambridgeshire County Council. His brief obituary appeared in The Times on the 28th of October, 1929, as follows:

"Mr Robert Stephenson, Chairman of the Newmarket Petty Sessions and Deputy Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, died yesterday, at his home, Manor House, Burwell, at the age of 82. He was chairman of the Cambridgeshire County Council from 1901 to 1904 and of the River Ouse Board in 1924 and 1935. His wife died in 1925, but he is survived by one son and three daughters."

For a fuller account of Robert Stephenson's life and that of his famous scientist daughter, Dr. Marjory Stephenson, M.B.E., F.R.S. (1885 - 1948) (pictured below right), go to -         

I had the pleasure today of calling on Mrs Brooks. She greeted me fondly and wished me well. I also had the pleasure of calling on many other people and, where residents were not at home, I left leaflets. As a consequence of leaving leaflets, I get telephone calls from those who want some elaboration on my leaflets. That is the object of the exercise: to arouse interest and, hopefully, support.

My final call for today was at the new Manchetts Budgens store on the Ness Road. The store really appears to be first-class and a very wide range of goods is on offer, as well as Jet fuel. I had a word with Mr Sean Manchett and it was very evident that he is pleased with how the new venture is going. I have done business with the Manchett family for many years and I am very pleased that theirs is still a family business. Burwell is fortunate to have the new store. Here is my picture of it.

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