FOR more than 50 years John Turner has been a towering figure in Labour politics in Bridgwater.

He has a street in Bridgwater and a room in the Town Hall named after him, he was a ‘Freeman of the Town’, a former mayor, a former Borough Councillor, Sedgemoor District Councillor and a town councillor, an ex-Trades Union leader and an ex-magistrate.

John sadly died this week aged 91 after a short illness.

John’s four children Susan, Linda, Julie and John issued a statement following his passing.

It reads: “John’s family are very sad at the loss of a man who was so well respected in Bridgwater.

“He dedicated his long life to trade union work, local politics, serving as a magistrate and helping people in times of need.

“He was incredibly proud to be awarded Honorary Freeman of Bridgwater in 2012 as he knew that wasn’t bestowed very readily.

“He was Bridgwater through & through & rarely left his home town living the final few of his 91 years in a care home on his beloved Hamp Estate.

“We will miss him terribly.”

Current town council leader Brian Smedley spoke at length with John for an article in his ‘Labour Lives’ series in 2017.

John Turner was first elected to Bridgwater Borough Council in 1961, and continued onto its successor councils Sedgemoor District in 1974 and Bridgwater Town in 2003.

Throughout this time he never lost an election and for most of it he was the leader.

In fact the only election he ever lost was when he stood for Parliament in 1987.

To the people of Bridgwater who re-elected him time and time again he was ‘the Labour man’.

Throughout all this he never moved from his Gloucester Road council house until ill health saw him move to a care home in Rhode Lane.

Mr Turner was born in Bridgwater, a town he never left apart from a sail round the world with the Royal Navy, in 1928.

John grew up surrounded by people who valued public service, trades unionism and the Labour Party.

He left school at 14 and entered the world of work before joining the Navy.

By now however it was 1946 and the Second World War was over,but the Royal Navy still had trouble spots the deal with.

As an air mechanic aboard the HMS Ocean John journeyed to Venice, Trieste, Rhodes and St Tropez, but his toughest posting was in Palestine just as Israel was forming as a state.

John’s life changed as he got married, qualified to be an acting Petty Officer, and moved to cover home waters.

By 1953 John had done his seven years and came out and moved back to Bridgwater, where he started working for British Cellophane.

He was a process worker and became involved in with the Trade Union, becoming branch secretary for Transport & General Workers Union.

In 1961 he won his first election as a Labour councillor representing Sydenham.

It was the Bridgwater Borough council, of which John’s brief was Planning, that in the 1960’s gave the green light for the slum clearances of West street and John personally who went to Shire Hall in Taunton to push the case for the West street flats, the only tower bloc in Somerset to this day.

In 1974 things were turned upside down for Labour and the Borough Council when the Government review abolished it and replaced it with Sedgemoor District Council.

Where other key Labour figures refused to serve as a minority on the new council, John opted to continue and soon became leader of the Labour group.

In 1987 it was not just council election year but general election year and John had been selected as Labour’s parliamentary candidate, the only election he lost, while as Sedgemoor Labour Group leader he was under a lot of pressure to deal with the crisis of a split party.

The principle of party loyalty and doing things by the book saw him fighting against former colleagues in the election and winning.

When Margaret Thatcher introduced the Poll Tax in 1989, John, as a magistrate, refused to serve on Poll Tax cases.

In 1993 John broke the habit of a lifetime and agreed to become the town mayor and during this time even visited Bridgwater’s new Czech twin town Uherske Hradiste and appeared on Czech TV.

In 2003 John had fixed his eyes back on re-establishing a town council for Bridgwater and although he continued as a Sedgemoor councillor he stood down as Labour leader.

After petitioning the Labour Government a new town council for Bridgwater was created.

As leader of the Labour group on Town Council, John became its first leader, picking up from where he’d left off on the Borough.

In 2012 John stood down as a district councillor but continued as a town councillor and that same year was made Honorary Freeman of the Borough.

A historical honour rarely used in recent times but his name now adorns the rolls of honour on the walls of the Charter Hall.

John was elected for the last time in 2015 at the age of 86 but very quickly became unwell and was soon in a care home.

His place on Bridgwater Town Council was kept open for him should he recover and such was the cross-party respect for him, even after three years no-one moved a writ for a by-election.