JOHN BRYANT – 5th Dec 1931 to 17th Feb 2005 – A Celebration of his Life

“First of all I would like to thank you all for coming today to remember John and for helping us to celebrate his life.

In the short time available I can only cover the major milestones – and a few incidents – in a full and interesting life. Relatives, friends, and colleagues have recalled what they could, but even so, there may well be some errors, so I hope you will forgive any that you notice, and perhaps give me the correct details later on.

John was born on 5th December 1931 in Swindon, a younger brother to David. [David is in hospital and unlikely to be able to attend the funeral.] He came to Rode with his mother in the early days of the 2nd World War and lived with his grandparents, Mr and Mrs Jack Smith in their home in Townsend. He went to Rode School for a few months and then on to the senior school, St Johns, in Christchurch Street East, Frome. John left school at 15 and went to work for Fussells at the brewery in the village.

At 18 he was called up to do his National Service. He joined the Wiltshire regiment and became a tank driver, much to the dismay of villagers around Salisbury Plain, especially those living on road junctions. During his time in the army he served in Germany. At that time he had set his heart on a young lady evacuee living in the village, but on his return from Germany he found to his great disappointment that she had become engaged to someone else. This may have had a marked influence on his future life, as he remained a confirmed bachelor. John kept his links with the army by joining the Territorials. [Some TA colleagues will attend the funeral.]

On leaving the army John joined Mr Stowe, a builder in Southwick, where he gained many of his skills, training as a stonemason and general builder. When Mr Stowe died, he found work back in Rode with Michael Sparey, for whom he worked for the next 30 years until retiring at 60. As a stonemason John left his mark on many local buildings, including a number of the churches in the area. He was finishing some work up in one of the spires in Christchurch when the rector, Patrick Riley, came up and asked what he was doing. “I’m desecrating the church” John said. “I’m carving my name in the stone.” “Oh are you?” said the rector “well, could you write mine too?”

From an early age he improved his talents of spelling, handwriting, poetry, acting and playing jokes on any one who may have crossed him in some way. As a choirboy, he didn’t get on with the rector, Rev. Seagull. So when given the task of pumping the organ, he would let it run out of air at the height of the hymn. On another occasion he would let off stink bombs in the choir stalls in the middle of the service. John also used his artistic and poetic skills to express his disapproval of current issues. Long term residents of Rode will remember the campaign for trees on the village green and his opposing artistic creation showing how dogs might appreciate such a proposal. He also made poetic contributions to the village notice boards on other local issues. Then for the Millennium he decided to celebrate by hanging a pair of Y-fronts on his front door.

John was very inventive, in the words of Michael Sparey, a mix of Galileo and Emit. He was probably the first person in the village to have solar-powered hot water. He rigged up an old radiator in a glass case high up on his south-facing garden wall and connected it to a cistern. In the evening he would stand under the cistern, pull the chain and have a nice warm shower. I wonder what the neighbours thought! John was a keen gardener, but used to get annoyed with the birds scratching out the seeds. So he fixed up a wire and pulleys to a scarecrow. Then when the birds came, early in the morning, he would pull the wire, whilst still lying in bed, and the scarecrow would wave its arms, kick its legs, open and close its mouth, and even raise and lower its hat to frighten off the birds.

In 1985 John joined with other villagers in the repair and restoration of the village clock, which had been silent for over 25 years. They did a grand job and had it spick and span for its centenary year. John then took on the job of clock winder for the next 10 years but at the age of 65 decided to give up. He produced 3 pages of handover notes for the new clock winder, Peter Harris, written in his beautiful script, in pencil – did he mistrust these new-fangled biros? The notes give a hint of John’s character, as it is difficult to say if he was being serious or having a joke, perhaps a bit of both. They included such gems as “Always make sure the ratchets engage when winding. If they do not, do NOT release hold of the handle – FATAL to both the clock and the winder. The last note read “Do not jump about when standing on the winding platform – it has become woodwormy since 1887 and it is only the clock that is insured not the winder.” It was therefore with some trepidation that on his first day Peter climbed the ladder to the platform and opened the clock cupboard door. There hanging on the clock was a message from John, a large red and white L- plate. For the next few years whenever they met John would pretend his successor still hadn’t mastered the job and say, in his rather gruff voice, “What’s up then, clock’s a bit slow” His notes also gave advice on lubrication: “The clock minimal, the clock winder frequent; I recommend the Poplars and mine’s a 6X.” Soon after taking over, Peter took John’s advice and they went to the Poplars for a lunchtime drink. However it soon became a touch embarrassing as John got into his “No, no, no, no…er yes” mode as in the Vicar of Dibley – and Peter could not control his amusement.

Over the years John became very attached to the village and built up a store of historical information. If you wanted to know who lived there? Where was Sidney Alley? When did Rockabella mill stop working? Or even where did all the pipes run under the High Street? [See one of John’s drawings, below] John would have the answer. But, as some of you know, and one or two who worked with him will know more than most, he could be a cantankerous old so-and so and his private nature made it difficult to get him to share this wealth of knowledge. John also kept many of the documents and records of his life and, in the short time available, Liz and Paul have turned out a few things, which help to show us more of his life and his abilities.

What a colourful character John was: gentlemanly, talented, dedicated to the village, humorous, mischievous and cantankerous. I’m sure he has left everyone here with some unforgettable memories.”

22 December 2023
Last Updated
10 January 2024