Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

JOHN TURNER: Local Communist & cyclist

In A.Graham, Obiturary on June 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm

There are many who will remember John Turner. Their memories will be varied – for John was always a man of many parts. A man who took pride in his work as a carpet fitter. A father and family man. A man who loved to travel with his family. A political activist, and a friend who always had a tale to tell.

I remember him as the cycling Socialist. For John his membership of the Clarion Cycling Club was part of the fabric of his political activity – and his close-knit family.

Indeed, it was cycling that brought John and his wife Grace together. They met when he called into a cafe in Chiswick where Grace was working, he spotted her Clarion Cycling Club badge – and they got talking. That was in 1937. Soon they were sharing a tandem together, and in 1938 they got married.

As the family grew, a sidecar was added for the children… until they were able to ride their own bicycles. Their cycling trips took them far afield. John was a Londoner, though Grace came from the Forest of Dean, and they would regularly ride down to the Forest for holidays. After the war, the Dean became their home, and finally they settled in Lydney.

John’s political activity in London included engagement in the anti-fascist campaign, when Mosley’s blackshirts were active spreading their message of hate in the East End of London. The 1930s were a decade of political ferment, and Grace’s family had taken part in the Battle of Cable Street when members of the British Union of Fascists were prevented from marching through the East End in October 1936. John soon became involved, and went on to join the Communist Party.

Ironically, his work as a carpet fitter for the firm of Arding & Hobbes in Clapham led him to meet the fascist leader, Oswald Mosley. John was given the job of laying carpets at Mosley’s home. He was, John said, “an arrogant man” – a view which was no doubt shared by many others!

When it came to his work, John was always a perfectionist. He would often repeat a maxim which he said guided him – “Good, better, best – Never let it rest, till your good is better and your better best!” I’m sure that it was a philosophy that he tried to apply to many areas of his life.

Another interest that involved him was his affection for trams. This wasn’t simply nostalgia. He saw trams as a greener, more egalitarian form of transport. He never owned a car, but was very proud of his part in helping to restore an old open-top LCC tramcar to working order, and was delighted when trams returned to Croydon, south London.

I got to know John in his later years, after he and Grace had settled in Lydney. He had joined the Lydney branch Labour Party and was also active in the pensioners’ movement as well as the University of the Third Age (U3A). He and Grace continued their cycling as long as their health allowed, and his political commitment never wavered (though John suffered a certain sense of disengagement following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc). Whilst he was able he would join marches for pensioners’ rights, and attended the annual rally at Tolpuddle. And he and Grace were firm supporters of the Clarion.

John died on October 16, at the age of 93. He had seen poverty and hardship in his early years, had become politically involved as he grew older, and taken up a range of interests which, taken together, made him the person we all remember with affection.

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