|Mr Spencer was a distinctive figure, homely, fatherly, known and revered by all, but he was also a significant figure, representing as no one else could that sturdy, level-headed “working class” majority by whose labours and vigorous will the town has prospered. He typified Rushden, and his honoured position in recent years as “Father” of the Urban Council crowned a career in which character went hand-in-hand with accomplishment. To many he was “Honest John”; to all he was the accepted champion of Labour. To those familiar with civic history his 42 years of Council service (a local record) made his position unique.
Mr Spencer was 78, but in spite of advanced age he had remained quite active until five or six weeks ago, when he had an attack of pleurisy, which afterwards developed into pneumonia, and extreme anxiety had been felt since Wednesday of last week. His three children, Mrs Kennell, Mr Edward Spencer and Mrs Underwood, were keeping watch when he breathed his last at 4.30a.m. on Monday.
Born at Northampton, Mr Spencer studied for the boot trade at the classes held by the late Mr Swaysland at Higham Ferrers. He married Miss Emma Elson at Gold-street Wesleyan Chapel, Northampton, in 1886 (both had been Sunday School teachers at the Queens-road Chapel), and came to Rushden in 1888, though his first contact with the town had been in 1883, when for about 12 months he worked for the late Mr William Colson.
On his permanent removal to Rushden he was employed by Messrs B Denton and Son, and before his retirement from the boot industry he was for 20 years manager at Messrs Jaques and Son’s factory. He always felt that Rushden’s progress as a boot centre was due to the influx of skilled labour from Northampton in the eighties and nineties.
In 1888 Rushden had two branches of the Boot Operatives Union. Soon recognised as a man with the right skills, Mr Spencer quickly became president—and ultimately secretary—of the No 2 branch, comprising the clickers, pressmen and girls. In 1891 both branches asked him to stand as candidate for the School Board, and he was elected at the beginning of a long journey in public harness.
Rushden Urban Council was established in 1894, and Mr Spencer was one of the original members—the first representative of Labour on the town’s governing body. He remained a member until 1904 and then retired. In 1910 he rejoined the Council to serve continuously until his death. Since 1913 he was never lower than second on the poll. In 1919 at the last election before the town was divided into wards he was on top with the largest vote ever given to a candidate, and from 1922 he served the West Ward.
In his last election (1937) he topped the poll with 1,767 votes, nearly 200 in advance of his nearest rival.
Three Times Chairman
Vice-chairman in 1902 and 1915, he was chairman in 1916, again in 1917, and for a third time in 1933.
He was bold in debate, never afraid of being in the minority, and always pressing for progressive action which he believed would bring health and happiness to the working class population.
Mr Spencer had been a permanent Justice of the Peace since 1918 and was one of the chairmen of the Wellingborough Bench. He was a member of the Appeal Committee of the Northamptonshire Quarter Sessions, a member of the Public Assistance Committee and of the Guardians Committee at Wellingborough.
A pioneer member of the Higham Ferrers and Rushden Water Board, he was one of those who met the Committee of the House of Commons before the Sywell scheme went through. Some years later he had a turn in the chair.
In politics he first belonged to the I.L.P., leading the Rushden Branch as president until the Rushden Labour Party was formed. He was for eight years president of the Rushden Labour Party and became first president of the Wellingborough Divisional Labour Party, taking a vigorous part in several general election campaigns.
Always happy among children and young people, Mr Spencer became a fully qualified Sunday School teacher at Northampton in 1890 and continued in the work throughout the rest of his years, being a teacher at the Rushden Independent Wesleyan School, at the branch school which was opened in Station-road, and then at the Wellingborough-road Mission Church, where he had been a superintendent since 1924. He attended both morning and afternoon until 1936, when he gave up the afternoon work.
At different times he was president of the Rushden, Thrapston and District Sunday School Union and of the Rushden and District Free Church Council. In 1936 he was presented with a Sunday School Union diploma for 56 years’ service together with a gift from the scholars.
Religion and Sport
Right back to his Independent Wesleyan days, Mr Spencer was a society steward. He was an old Band of Hope worker and vice-president of the Mission Band, and for many years a member of the Mission Church Choir.
For long periods he was on the committee of the Rushden Industrial Co-operative Society, and for several years he was president. During part of the war he represented the Rushden Urban Council on the Wellingborough Area Food Control Committee, and for several years he had been a vice-president of the Rushden British Legion Branch.
Mr Spencer remembered the first bicycle coming into Northampton. He rode one of the “penny farthing” machines and made use of the “safety” bicycle until 1932. His favourite sport was cricket, and he played his last game for Rushden Mission C.C. when he was 66. Once he topped the Mission batting averages, but he never claimed to be more that a “sticker”.
As to public work, Mr Spencer could claim to have taken his part in securing a water supply, a modern sanitary system and good parks for the town.
In 1897, on Mr Spencer’s proposition, a public meeting was held with the idea of procuring a recreation ground for the town, and Mr Spencer and the late Mr John Claridge were put in charge of an effort to raise funds by public subscription.
This failed, but in 1912—thanks largely to Mr Spencer’s insistence—the Council agreed to purchase a recreation ground. Just for fun Mr Spencer whispered to the late Mr Tom Swindall that it should be called Spencer Park. To his surprise Mr Swindall rose and proposed this, and the Council immediately agreed. Afterwards Mr Swindall turned to him and said: “I see—they have named the park after you!”.
A few years ago Mr Spencer declared, “The weakness about Rushden’s position is its birth rate, but as far as trade and prosperity are concerned I think Rushden has a great future in front of it.”
Times of Trial
Mr Spencer and his wife celebrated their golden wedding on Christmas Day 1936, and Mrs Spencer passed away just after Christmas 1940. They had two sons and five daughters.
Christmas card sent in 1936
by John and his wife
The elder son, John, was killed in action on April 16th 1916, almost at the hour when his father was being appointed chairman of the Council.
Three daughters too, died during the war of 1914-18.
"Rushden" on His Heart - Mission Pastor's Tribute at Funeral
Town and county paid tribute at the Mission Church on Wednesday afternoon, when the funeral service was conducted by the Rev E E Bromage.
The Marquis of Exeter, K.G., C.M.G., Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire, was represented by Mr J Alan Turner, Clerk to the Lieutenancy. From the Rushden Urban Council were Councillors W J Sawford, J.P. (Chairman), J Roe, A Allebone, J.P., C.C., W E Capon, E A Sugars, F Green, J.P., H Waring, J George, J Allen, Mrs O A H Muxlow, J H J Paragreen, T W Cox and Dr R W Davies, with Miss W M Clipson, of the Library Committee, Messrs W L Beetenson (Clerk to the Council), A Maclean (Accountant), G S Turner (Rates Department), and Miss Marion Perkins (Librarian).
The Wellingborough Bench of magistrates was represented by Mr J T Hawthorne (Finedon), Col. H G Sotheby (Ecton), Ald. C W Horrell (Rushden), Mr W Mawer (Kettering), Mrs H W Saxby (Wellingborough), Ald. F Walker (Higham Ferrers), and Ald. John Lea (Wellingborough), with Mr W I Hankins, assistant clerk, deputising for the clerk, Major F J Simpson.
Other mourners were: Wellingborough Police Division, Supt. M H Williams and Inspector R E Valentine; Rushden Labour Party, Mr J E Dilks (chairman), Mr Cyril Faulkner, C.C., Mrs Dilks, Mr J Hornsby, Mr and Mrs E Freeman, Mrs Hills; Mission Church, Mr T H Beesley, Mrs Bromage (for the womenâs organisations), Mr A Prigmore and many others; Mission Sunday School, Mr A Robinson, Mr Ralph Bailey and others; Mission Cricket Club, Mr E C Prigmore; Independent Wesleyan Church, Rev T S Kee, Mr W Gutteridge (secretary), Mr W Lack (treasurer); Boot Operatives' Union, Ald. A C Allen (local president) and Mr Charles Baxter (branch secretary); Rushden Industrial Co-operative Society, Mr F Berrill (Management Committee) and Mr W E Higham (secretary); British Legion and Wellingborough, Peterborough and Kettering War Pensions Committee, Mr E Bennett; Rushden 'œB' Company Home Guard (Signal Section), Mr A J George; Wellingborough Free Church Council, Mr W T Busby; Wellingborough Alma-street Church, Mr G E Potts; Spencer Park Bowling Club, Mr W Brawn.
Others present included Ald. W Barker, J.P., Mayor of Higham Ferrers, Coun. A C Colton, Deputy Mayor, Ald. A Joyce, J.P., Ald. H Daniels (Kettering), Mrs Mawer (Kettering), Mrs Carter, Mrs Hankins (Wellingborough), Mr J Bennett, Mr Parker, Mr John Tompkins, Mr Amos Wright, Mr Wm. Bazeley, Mr A Knight, Mr S A Lawrence, and Mr A Shorley.
The immediate mourners were Mr and Mrs E Spencer (son and daughter-in-law), Mrs E Kennell (daughter), Mr and Mrs F Underwood (son-in-law and daughter), Mr and Mrs J Greaves and Coun. J T Richardson, J.P. (friends).
An apology for absence was sent by Coun. A H Bailey, of Rushden.
In an address the Rev E E Bromage said it was given to very few men to hold the esteem and affection of a whole community for over 50 years. Not many men left behind them an imperishable record of whole-hearted devotion to duty or retained the confidence of their fellows for a lifetime; but John Spencer did these things, and truly could it be said of him that "his name liveth". It was not too much to say that he was the most venerated man in the public life of Rushden, and the loss to the town and district would be a great one.
The Press had given a full account of his many public duties and activities; these were part and parcel of his religion. No truer disciple of the Creator of the brotherhood of man could be found. He loved his fellows with a love almost as deep as that of his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
"I have known and worked with him close upon 20 years, and I don't think I have heard him say a wrong thing about any person; he always saw the best in them."
The boys and girls of the Sunday School loved and respected him; they would do anything for "old John". Many old boys and girls in the four corners of the world would read of his passing with regret.
In many ways he was not what they would call polished but he was true, sincere, loyal, approachable, a man of lofty principles. Some of his friends had not agreed with all his principles, as for instance when he refused to attend political meetings on Sundays, but that was "the principle of the man".
For over 50 years he had had the welfare of the working classes at his heart and as his chief concern. If "Calais" was engraved on a certain monarch's heart, "Rushden" was certainly deeply graven on John Spencer'™s heart. He lived for the people, and Spencer Park, with its playing facilities for the children, was a fitting memorial to him.
At the Mission Church Mr Spencer had made a mark that even Time would not efface. For over 62 years he was a teacher in the Sunday School there and at Northampton. His work as a Justice of the Peace was very dear to his heart, and many a man and woman had cause to-day to thank him for another chance in life.
After comparing Mr Spencer with Bunyan's character "Mr Great-heart", Mr Bromage quoted from the New testament: "There was a man sent from God whose name was John." That, he observed, could be said of John Spencer. He was sent to them to serve, and the task was performed faithfully and well.
“O Saviour bless us ere we go”—called “Mr Spencer’s hymn” at the Mission Church—was sung at the close of the service, with Mr W F Tassell at the organ.
The brief committal service at the Rushden cemetery was also conducted by the Mission pastor.
The wreaths placed on the grave were as follows: A Life's work well done—”From his sorrowing children; To Grandpa with love from his grandchildren Margaret and John; With choice memories from fellow Superintendents, Mission Sunday School ”There was a man sent from God whose name was John—” Service above self; In remembrance of a beloved Superintendent from the Mission Sunday School—Life's work well done, now come rest; We mourn the loss of a genial colleague, from the Chairman and members of the Rushden Urban District Council; In loving memory from Colleagues and friends of the Rushden Labour Party—Well done, thou good and faithful servant; In remembrance of a past collaborator from the Board of Management, Rushden Industrial Co-operative Society, Ltd.; In deepest sympathy from J T and E Richardson, Joyce, Ella and Harry; With deepest sympathy from Mrs Underwood, Dora, and Mr and Mrs Bloor, Portland-road; With deepest sympathy from Mr and Mrs B Clarke and Derrick; With sympathy and remembrance of a good neighbour, Mr and Mrs C Richardson; Deepest sympathy from Mr W Goodman and family; With deepest sympathy from Mr and Mrs E A Sumpter and family; With deepest sympathy from the Committee and Members of the British Legion, Rushden Branch; In remembrance, from a most sincere friend, Isaac Twelftree and family.
Messrs. T Swindall and Sons, of Rushden, carried out the funeral arrangements.