Andrew Thomas talks to John Bateson, whose interests in history and politics ensure he is passionate about history – but who also wants to ensure people are looked after well in the present and future.

John Bateson is firmly rooted in the Kendal and Oxenholme area. One of his ancestors, Thomas, moved to Old Hutton from Bentham in 1732 and three of John’s four grandparents were born in Kendal.

John, 66, was born at the former Helme Chase Maternity Hospital and grew up at his parents’ house at Bolefoot in Oxenholme, where he still lives.

His father worked at Oxenholme station, which partly inspired John’s lifelong interest in the railways. He has a large collection of railway photographs, many from the steam era, showing locomotives, but also revealing how Oxenholme as a village has developed over the years.

“Until Bolefoot was built most of the houses in Oxenholme were owned by the railway,” said John. “They were tied cottages with cheap rents and if you left the railway you had to leave the house. But in many cases a son would join the railway so the house stayed in the same family for generations.”

John went to the Parish Church Primary School at Kirkland and then to Kendal Grammar School (now Kirkbie Kendal) in 1965. He left at 17 and worked in the hospitality industry for a while until an interest in politics also made him consider furthering his academic career.

“As a toddler walking down Oxenholme Road my grandmother pointed to a house where Harry Walker, who was briefly Labour MP for Rossendale, lived. I was also interested in the 1964 general election, where Harold Wilson won marginally.

John Bateson (right) on the panel at The Westmorland Gazettes pre-election debate at Kendal College in 2015

John Bateson (right) on the panel at The Westmorland Gazette's pre-election debate at Kendal College in 2015

“There was a realisation that we were Labour as a family and that seemed a good thing. I joined the Labour Party at the age of 19 and that got me interested in education.”

After A-levels at Preston he studied politics and economics at the Co-operative College at Stanford Hall, near Loughborough, and then did two years at Bradford University. From 1983-1991 he worked for Bradford Council as a community development officer and was heavily involved in setting up community centres.

“I had always thought of Kendal and Oxenholme as home and I think it was always my intention to return here,” said John, who came back to South Lakeland in 1991. He worked as deputy manager at the Royal King’s Hotel at Lancaster for nine years before leaving to care full-time for his mother.

He had stood unsuccessfully as a town, district and county councillor in the past and, in 2001, was asked to be the Parliamentary candidate for Labour at the General Election. He stood again in 2015.

He spent four years as a councillor on Kendal Town Council and four at Natland Parish Council and was Kendal Mayor in 2009/10.

“It was a great experience and a great honour,” he said. He was keen during his year in office to enhance the role and show its importance to the history of the town. Kendal had to fight to maintain its mayoralty when local government was reorganised in 1974.

“People appreciate the history of the mayoralty but also how the mayor has to relate the role to the modern day. The mayor is as an important figurehead of the town and someone who also promotes its integrity and interests.”

John has a keen interest in local history and, until lockdown, regularly led walks around Kendal. “I like to show Kendal as a living town. History is not dull, boring and dusty. I try to show how our ancestors lived.

John Bateson was appointed Kendal town crier in 2019

John Bateson was appointed Kendal town crier in 2019

“For example, the Market Place was not just a place of commerce, but also a place of punishment, with its dungeon, stocks and pillory. It was also a place of proclamation. The Market Cross stood in the middle of Stricklandgate until 1785, when it was moved as it was an obstacle to the coaches which brought people to and from the town.

“George Fox, the Quaker, and John Wesley, the Methodist, preached from there and the town crier or bellman would stand there to make proclamations, such as the death of a monarch,” said John.

He joined Kendal Civic Society and is now its chairman. “The civic society is there to preserve the best of the past but also to promote the best of the present and future.

“It is not about preserving the town in aspic. We want to promote the town as a modern, living place and encourage people to come and live here.”

John, who was appointed town crier in May 2019, describes himself as ‘a very strong humanist’, who got on well with people with other religious and political beliefs.

Among those who inspired him were Arthur Greenwood, a housing minister from 1929-1931, whose Housing Act encouraged councils to build quality housing for local people. John said his mother lived in a poor area in German Yard but Greenwood’s act enabled the building of the Kirkbarrow council estate and moving there had improved her life.