John was born in 1919 near Hungerford on the Wiltshire-Berkshire border, and he said he was taught to grow food by his grandfather while still at school.
Moving to Coventry at the age of 14 he started working in the Rootes car factory as an apprentice toolmaker, while studying engineering drawing and mathematics at Coventry Technical College.
Joining the St. John Ambulance Association when he was 16 years old, he was 20 when the war started and, in addition to his day job in the factory, he drove ambulances in Coventry at night during the war years. After the war he worked full time on the ambulances, working for the Hospital Saturday Fund, where he was also responsible for vehicle repair.
During the war John met his wife-to-be Vera, who was a nurse, and from 1952 to 1973 John and Vera ran a grocery shop in Coventry. They moved to a smallholding in Corley Moor in 1954 where land was impoverished after the war. John got it back into production with tons of pig manure, growing fruit and vegetables to supply the shop.
John became an associate member of the Soil Association in 1948 following an encounter at the Kenilworth Flower and Vegetable show at Stoneleigh. In subsequent years John helped on the stall there and corresponded with Soil Association founder, Eve Balfour, though they never met. When the Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic) was started by Lawrence D. Hills, John left the Soil Association and joined HDRA as he saw it as more focussed on gardening.
When Garden Organic relocated from Bocking in Essex to Ryton near Coventry in 1985 John met kindred spirits Lawrence and Cherry Hills and he fondly remembered Lawrence standing on a bale of straw to give a talk at the then bare site. He was a life member of Garden Organic, a member of the Heritage Seed Library and a founder member and President of the Heart of England Organic Group.
After Ryton Gardens opened to the public in June 1986 John became a volunteer guide which he continued to do for more than 30 years into his late 90’s. John’s tours were popular with everyone who visited the gardens, but none more so than the school children he showed around. Children of all ages were captivated by his knowledge and stories, and delighted when he pulled beans from his pockets and shared his knowledge of all things growing.
The team at Garden Organic were delighted when John agreed to cut the cake alongside former staff member and organic growing pioneer Pauline Pears at our Diamond Jubilee celebration in 2018 (pictured).
John is fondly remembered by all those who worked with him at Garden Organic and the charity will be forever indebted to him for the time and energy he gave to support our work and further the organic growing movement.
From 2017 Diana Sandercock, spent many hours with John, conscientiously collecting and writing down his lifetime of gardening knowledge so that it would not be lost for future generations of gardeners. This collection was published by Heart of England Organic Group as “John’s Tips for Successful Organic Growing” in time for his 100th Birthday and be purchased from the HEOG website for £5 plus p&p. Click here to visit the Heart of England Organic Group's website.
We would like to thank the Heart of England Organic Group for kindly letting us share their history of John’s life.