WSRA celebrates the life of a much loved founder member

The funeral was held today of John Pearce, WSRA founder member, former trustee and chair of the board. A man whose dedication and commitment to the West Somerset Railway leaves a lasting legacy that will never be forgotten.

The tribute below was written by his friend and colleague Brian Crudge, who also conducted the funeral service.




JOHN PEARCE, 1937 – 2017.

When John Pearce passed away, aged 79 years, on the evening of 16th February, the West Somerset Railway lost its longest-serving and greatest supporter. Following a letter from Douglas Fear, Chairman of the (new) West Somerset Railway Company, in 1971, asking if he would consider setting up a volunteer support group, John set to with his usual enthusiasm, calling a meeting of like-minded individuals, a number from the Taunton Group, Great Western Society. John often tells the story of how he would have liked to have been Number 1 of the newly-formed West Somerset Railway Association, but was so busy signing on members, he couldn’t complete his form until around Number 30!

Eventually, volunteers were allowed by BR to undertake weeding and general clearance, so in addition to monthly members’ meetings, working-parties got under way. The sale of the WSR to Somerset County Council, who leased it back to the WSR Company, was completed and work could progress, culminating in partial reopening in March 1976. John was very much involved in all aspects of this progress, until leaving to live in Southampton.

On his return during the 1980s, John was dismayed to find the WSR in such perilous circumstances and, together with others, was determined to save it. He did so much to restore the railway’s credibility and creditworthiness, at that time at rock-bottom. Better times followed while John became Chairman of the WSRA for a number of years.

His achievements were many, his energy boundless. John was instrumental in getting the WSR Company to accept three WSRA representatives on its Board of Directors, reciprocating with the Company’s Managing Director becoming an ex-officio WSRA Committee member, thus ensuring close liaison between both main parties. As a result of his professional expertise, he was very interested and successful in fund-raising of sales of railway-related items and others, selling orange squash to passengers on Bishops Lydeard platform until the acquisition of an old Mark 1 coach, gutted to become the WSRA’s first shop. Through John’s expertise, increasing sales confirmed the need for larger and more permanent premises and with help from colleagues, he was the guiding light in the 1990s in the building of the Bishop Lydeard Shop and Café as exists now. The need soon arose for a full-time Sales Manager, John being tailor-made for the job (and affectionately known by all as ‘Arkwright!). Being an employee meant he had to leave the WSRA Board of Directors but kept fully in touch with regular sales reports. This period, the 1990s to early 2000s, were really good times, Association and Company working together in close liaison for the benefit of the West Somerset Railway, John playing a full and positive part.

Time passes and retirement loomed, John increasingly (but reluctantly) accepting this as reality, and, ensuring the shop was set up for a good future, he retired, his achievements noted with the grateful thanks of the whole Railway, who would miss him in many ways. It was a demanding time for him, having to adjust to life ‘outside’ the ‘WSR family’, while he did appear at times, never backwards in providing a few suggestions! Regrettably, his health deteriorated, necessitating in a move to a care home, while hospital visits increased and a serious urinary infection eventually claimed him.

John’s funeral was held at Taunton Deane Crematorium, New Wellington Road, Taunton, TA1 5NE, on Tuesday 7th March. There was no after-service gathering, as through the assistance and kindness of the West Somerset Railway plc, the family will be able to hire coaches on one of the services during April, as a ‘Memorial Train’ for John, a fitting tribute to a man, who was West Somerset Railway’, through and through.