TRIBUTES have poured in for Ken Richards, the well loved five-time mayor of Bridgwater who has passed away at the age of 89.

Ken, who has been described as being Bridgwater 'through and through', grew up in the town, going on to work at the brickyards and at British Cellophane becoming a prominent trade unionist, before later moving into local politics.

Ken also had a huge impact on community life, he was a keen skittler who also played rugby for Bridgwater and North Petherton, took part in Carnival and was chairman of Bridgwater Flower Show for a number of years.

Last summer Bridgwater Town Council leader Brian Smedley interviewed Ken and documented his fascinating story as part of a 'Labour Lives' series.

Ken was born in Albert Street on July 15, 1928 and was one of 10 children. He was educated at Albert Street and Westover School and went on to work in one of the local brickyards at the age of 14. Although he did not have much formal education, because he was good at mental arithmetic he would often help the workers calculate their wages, and at the age of 14 he joined Transport and General Workers Union and became a shop steward at 18. Ultimately being awarded the T&GWU gold medal in 1996 for services to the union, the awarding of this medal being a very rare event for the union.

In the 1950’s he moved on first to Hardy Spicers and then to British Cellophane.

Ken's days at Cellophane saw him become a well-respected Trade Union official with his beloved T&GWU. His day job was a ‘slitter’, operating a machine that cut master rolls to specific customer orders and sizes, but he was also renowned for sticking up for the workers and leading negotiations with management alongside Cliffy Fursland and John Turner.

Current Labour councillors recall his forthright approach to negotiations. Dave Loveridge recalls him 'as a table banger' and Graham Granter remembers him as 'fiery'.

His son Stewart said: “I think he was forthright in his opinions with his peer group and he may have used this technique to bring some conclusion to the squabbles that occurred.

“However when negotiating with management he was very clever at not entering a battle that he could not walk away with something to take back to his members.

Stewart said his dad was a wonderful father and very proud to be mayor of his hometown. “When we were growing up the phone was constantly ringing. He was well-known and well liked," Stewart said.

"Although he was a socialist, he got on well with people across the political spectrum.

"He was good friends with Burnham mayor Neville Jones and counted several other Conservatives among his friends."

Cllr Dave Loveridge said Ken was a good ward councillor who had time for everybody. “When I stood for North ward for County Council he came round with me and everywhere people said: 'You a mate of Ken's? Right, we’ll vote for you.'"

Ken was mayor in 1981, 1987, 1991, 2001 and 2009. Cllr Smedley said: "He declared himself ‘a people's mayor’ - it was clearly a role he loved and he always said he couldn’t have done it without his wife and mayoress Margo – a Londoner by birth, who sadly died not long ago.

"His record of attending events and supporting Bridgwater charities and community groups was second to none and he was never happier than when acting as ambassador for his town."

Ken was even nominated to go to the Queens Garden Party at Buckingham Palace ‘for services to the people of Bridgwater’ - a rare accolade.

In 1991 it was Ken that welcomed the first Czech visitor to Bridgwater after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and this meeting led to Bridgwater becoming the first British town to twin with a Czech town, Uherske Hradiste (UH). In 2009 he joined the twinning association in UH as part of their carnival-style procession.

Cllr Smedley recalls: "Despite him being 81 and it being a sweltering hot summers day in Moravia, Ken in full mayoral chains, with Margo alongside him, occasionally cigarette in hand, and walked the procession for the full two miles and became the darling of the adoring Czech crowd."

In his later years Ken lived at Sydenham House and passed away on January 29 at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton following a short illness. His funeral is set for Friday, February 16 at 11am at St Mary's Church.