Longridge’s Mr Heritage

Richard Kirkby and John Earnshaw at the opening of Longridge Old Station
Richard Kirkby and John Earnshaw at the opening of Longridge Old Station
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JOHN EARNSHAW, who helped preserve and promote Longridge’s heritage, died a month ago – here is a special tribute to him.

In the mid-1990s Longridge History Society seemed to lose enthusiasm, not surprisingly given the deaths of stalwarts Joe and Rae Hill.

John Earnshaw felt that the society was too important to decline, and he took over as chairman in 1996/7.

As well as continuing the normal programme of meetings, he encouraged members to pursue their own research, which resulted in the compilation of “Longridge, the Way We Were” (edited by Mike Pattinson), which was published for the Millennium celebrations.

The book was a success. John felt that the society was re-invigorated, and stepped down as chairman to make way for younger people to take office.

In 2000 Longridge Partnership Action Group was launched, along with moves for the regeneration of Ribble Valley and its market towns.

As part of this, John gathered together interested parties and like-minded friends to form Longridge Heritage Committee. It had many happy and productive meetings at his home, Red Barn in Knowle Green.

The files of the News show just how much John and his friends achieved for Longridge between 2000 and 2008.

It was a great joy for John and his wife, Mavis, to join old friends involved in the Longridge Old Station project at its opening last Easter.

Although they had by then moved to Buckinghamshire (about two years ago) Mavis recalls: “It was a glorious day ... for John it was the realisation of a dream.”

John sought to excel in all areas of life, as a teacher and educationalist, as a community organiser and campaigner, as a seeker of knowledge and understanding, and, most of all, as a family man.

He enjoyed educating others, enjoyed being a practice patient for trainee doctors, and was respected for his leadership of the station restoration project and the creation of the Longridge Heritage trail and brochures.

A keen gardener and naturalist, John planted a wood of 1,200 broad leaf trees at their home. The wood now appears on Ordnance Survey maps – one of many monuments to his life.

He campaigned for public access to land and footpaths, including the unsuccessful bid to save the “Sawley 8” footpath in Ribble Valley. His professional knowledge of the workings of local government made him an ideal advocate on planning matters.

More recently he was nearly arrested in a demonstration against the proposed HS2 high speed train line in his adopted home area.

John came from humble beginnings...apparently his pet rabbit, Chummy, was eaten for Christmas dinner during the Second World War! His parents made sacrifices for him to become the first in the family to go to grammar school, and later the first to go to university when he won a scholarship to Leeds, where he gained a first class honours in geography.

He became a teacher and educational administrator, first teaching at High Wycombe Grammar School.

Later career moves were to Cornwall, Wiltshire, Essex and Lancashire, where he finally retired as deputy chief education officer.

He travelled widely and had a great curiosity about the world, art, history, nature and culture. One could start a conversation with him about, for example, the American or English Civil War, the next general election or global warming, in the confident knowledge that he would have an intelligent, thoughtful and informed view.

Walking in the mountains was a great love. It was not a coincidence that the family home for many years was on the slopes of Longridge Fell, the most southerly fell in England, as he proudly reminded friends.

He walked all of Wainwright’s 214 Lakeland fells, culminating in a memorable surprise dinner party – complete with silver service – on the top of Sheffield Pike, above Ullswater, along with a privileged group of family and friends.

He derived much pleasure from music. On retirement he took up the piano from scratch and reached Grade Eight level.

He enjoyed the Ribble Valley Piano Festival at Stonyhurst. As a geographer he loved to travel, and had visited every continent except Antarctica.

He is best remembered as a family man. He proposed to Mavis on Harter Fell, in the Lake District, 53 years ago. He was enormously proud of his children and grandchildren

His family will return to Harter Fell to scatter his ashes when they meet for a holiday next Easter.

John was born in Huddersfield in 1935. He was 76 when he died.

He attended Almondbury Grammar School and won a scholarship to Leeds University

He graduated with first class honours and then moved to Fitzwilliam College Cambridge for the one year post-graduate teacher training course.

He taught first at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, followed by four years at William Hulme Grammar School Manchester

John and Mavis had three children, Carolyn, Nigel and Paul. They all married and each have two children.

l This article is based on information supplied by John’s widow, Mavis, and from the appreciation given at last month’s thanksgiving service by family friend Mark Flinn, recently retired pro vice-chancellor of Edgehill University.

On our picture John (right) is with Richard Kirkby, former county principal planning officer at the Old Station opening in April.