Soham Grammarians - John Abbott BA (Birmingham) History, 1967-72

Mr Abbot died after a short illness at the age of 71 on Tuesday, 5 April 2011.

The Ely Standard reported: The chairman of East Cambridgeshire District Council has paid tribute to Councillor John Abbott who died after a short illness on Tuesday, at the age of 71.

Cllr Abbott had been a district councillor for Fordham Villages since 1997, serving as chairman of the council between 2002-04 and chairman of planning committee from 1999 to 2003 as well as being a member of other committees.

Councillor Anthea Davidson, chairman of East Cambridgeshire District Council said: “All members of the district council are deeply saddened by the loss of John. He worked extraordinarily hard for the people of Fordham Villages and his contributions to the council over the years improved lives across the whole of East Cambridgeshire.

“John was a kind, caring and generous man who be missed by his councillor colleagues and his community. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

The Cambridge News reported on 12 April 2011: Reginald John Abbott of Fordham, Cambs. Peacefully on Tuesday, April 5th, 2011, aged 71 years, after a short but tragic illness. A beloved husband of Judy and loving brother of David and Stephen, father of Helen and Michael, grandfather of Matthew, Christopher, Thomas and Freddie. Dedicated Councillor for Fordham Villages of East Cambs District Council, member of Ely Diocesan Synod and of the Diocesan Board of Education, who will be sadly missed by all who knew him. Funeral service at St Peter and St Mary Magdalene Church, Fordham, on Monday, April 18th, at 2.00pm, followed by burial. Family flowers only but donations if desired for either St Peter and St Mary Magdalene Church (cheques payable to Fordham PCC) or Marie Curie Nurses may be left at the service or sent to C E Fuller & Co, 23 Hall Street, Soham, CB7 5BN. Tel: 01353 720439.

The Newmarket Journal reported on 14 April 2011: Lib-Dem councillor dies after battle with CJD

Tributes have been paid to a councillor who has lost his battle with CJD. John Abbott, 71, a district councillor for Fordham Villages since 1997, died at his home in Fordham’s Mildenhall Road last Tuesday, just weeks after being told by doctors he was likely suffering from sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease. Sporadic CJD, a naturally occurring condition, is thought to cause between 50 and 60 deaths in the UK each year. The cause is unknown but it normally affects people aged over 40. Mr Abbott was a Liberal Democrat and served as council chairman between 2002 and 2004. He was also chairman of the planning committee from 1999 to 2003, as well as a member of other committees.

His daughter Helen Abbott said he started to experience health problems less than two months ago. “He walked into Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge at the beginning of March, suspecting he had suffered a mini stroke,” she said. “Many investigations followed and he was advised a week later that the likelihood was that he was suffering from sporadic CJD.” She said his rapid decline in health had shocked his family, friends and local people.

Mr Abbott was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire, as the second son of Reg, a last maker in the Northamptonshire shoe industry, and Violet Abbott, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, on July 8, 1939. He read history at University of Birmingham, where he met his future wife, Judy – a relationship which lasted over 50 years.

He worked in schools in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, before taking a job as head of history at Soham Grammar School in 1967 following the birth of his daughter, Helen. Son Michael was born a year later. Mr Abbott moved with several colleagues to the City of Ely College following the abolition of 11+ exam for entry to secondary school, and worked there first as head of history, then as senior teacher and finally for 19 years as deputy head, until his retirement in July 1996.

Throughout that time he also served the church community as chairman of the Fordham Deanery of parishes and on the Diocesan Synod in Ely. He also helped launch the Sue Ryder Home in the former Bishop’s Palace, after the closure of the Palace School. Mr Abbott, who also enjoyed gardening, singing and travelling, stood as a councillor soon after.

Helen said: “John’s integrity and commitment were appreciated by those people he worked with on the main district council and on several sub-committees. “Highlights of his period of office include meeting several members of the Royal Family, including the Queen at her Garden Party, the opening of the Fordham By-pass and the tradition of throwing pennies at Reach Fair.

The chairman of East Cambridgeshire District Council, Anthea Davidson, remembered Mr Abbott as a “kind, caring and generous man”. “He worked extraordinarily hard for the people of Fordham Village and hid contributions to the council over the years improved lives across the whole of East Cambridgeshire,” she said. Mr Abbott is survived by his wife, Judy, children Helen and Michael, and four grandsons. His funeral will take place on Monday, April 18, at 2pm in St Peter and St Mary Magdalene Church, Fordham.


Obituary published in the Ely Standard, 14 April 2011

John Abbott was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire, the second son of Reg, a last maker in the shoe industry, and Violet, on July 8, 1939.

John’s earliest memories were of terrifying nights spent in a bomb shelter during the World War Two. He attended the Henry Gotch Primary School in Northampton and six years later, after passing his 11+ exam he moved to Kettering Grammar School for Boys, where his interests in History and languages developed.

He was an altar boy at St Mary’s Church and this is where his faith developed and deepened. Along the way he became an unbeaten boxing champion, hooker for the school rugby team and a keen follower of Northants County Cricket team, which often involved cycling round the county to watch a match. His time in Kettering finished as head boy at the Grammar School and gaining a place to read history at the University of Birmingham in 1958.

A year later he met Judy and began a loving and supportive relationship which lasted more than. At the end of his degree, John stayed on in Birmingham to train as a history teacher and a year later, as Judy finished her degree, John gained his PGCE and the two of them, now engaged, moved to Huddersfield, West Yorkshire to start their careers. The young John Abbott taught at Huddersfield New College and then Rastrick Grammar School until 1967. By then, daughter Helen had been born but Yorkshire was a long way from both family homes.

As John started to look for promotion, he was drawn back to the southern half of the country and was appointed head of history at Soham Grammar School from September 1967. A year later, Michael was born in the former Grange Maternity Hospital, now the district council offices. So began John’s association with and period of service in East Cambridgeshire.

In 1972, when Cambridgeshire decided to abolish the 11+ exam for entry to secondary school, John moved with several colleagues to the City of Ely Community College. He continued to work here, first as head of history, then as a senior teacher and finally for 19 years as deputy head, until his retirement in July 1996.

Throughout this time, John continued to serve the church community as chairman of the Fordham Deanery of parishes and on the Diocesan Synod in Ely. It was at this time that he joined the fund-raising team to launch the Sue Ryder Home in the former Bishop’s Palace in Ely, after the closure of the Palace School. Following his early retirement, John was happy to devote his time and energy to good causes and within a year, he had been approached by the Liberal Democrat Party to stand as a district councillor for Fordham villages on East Cambs District Council. Although John had until then never been a member of a political party, he had always been interested in politics and agreed.

It was no surprise to those of us who knew John that in May 2002 he was elected chairman of the district council and was re-elected the following year. Highlights of his period of office include meeting several members of the Royal Family, including the Queen at her garden party, the opening of the Fordham by-pass and the tradition of throwing pennies at Reach Fair. John has also continued to serve the community, and has been a member of the Diocesan Board of Education, thus using his knowledge of the education system to support local church of England primary and secondary schools. In addition to his work for the community, John has always enjoyed gardening, singing and travelling.

Less than two months ago, John started to experience some health problems. He walked into Addenbrooke’s Hospital at the beginning of March, suspecting he had suffered a mini-stroke. Many investigations followed and John, with his family, was advised a week later that the likelihood was that he was suffering from sporadic CJD. His rapid decline in health has been a shock to his family, friends and local people alike.

John’s gratitude to those who were caring for him and his calm approach to his condition have been supported by his Christian faith. He died peacefully at home on Tuesday, April 5. He is survived by his wife, Judy, grown-up children Helen and Michael and four grandsons. The family is deeply grateful to the support received from friends and from Continuing Health Care, Marie Curie Nurses and the CJD Support Network. John’s funeral will take place on Monday, April 18 at 2pm in St Peter and St Mary Magdalene Church, Fordham. His children will be taking part in the London 10km run on July 10 to raise funds for CJD Support Network ( www.cjdsupport.net )


Three Rivers Group
St Peter and St Mary Magdalene, Fordham

A Service of Thanksgiving
and Celebration with Holy Communion for the life of

John Abbott

8th July 1939 - 5th April 2011

Monday, April 18th, 2011 at 2.00pm

Chris Wain has kindly provided a copy of the Order of Service

Following the Sentences and Introduction came the hymn The God of love my shepherd is.

A Tribute to John was then given by his son Michael

Firstly I would like to thank you all for coming today to share with us in this thanksgiving for the life of Reginald John Abbott …. Teacher, politician, moral guide, Christian, brother, intellectual, bureaucrat, friend, administrator, grandpa, gardener, uncle, patriot, charity giver, Francophile, financial advisor, wine lover, Radio 4 addict, intellectual, historian, father, lover, husband and more ... and as we celebrate all of those aspects of his life today we recognize that not only does his passing leave a hole for us his family and friends – but more his death leaves a void within the community which will not easily be filled.

1939 was a very good year. I grant you an Austrian man with a strange taste in little moustaches did his best to damage the year’s reputation but on 8th July that year Reginald John Abbott was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire as the second son of Reg and Violet Abbott and younger brother to David – and the family of four lived together until 9 years later when the family became five with the addition of a new brother Stephen- now the last surviving member of that home.

Dad did well at school – bright, quiet, determined – the traits of the boy we would all still recall. His time in Kettering finished as Head Boy at the Grammar School and gaining a place to read History at University of Birmingham in 1958.

Here he met a young lady, Judith Smithers, who had arrived from Sussex also to read History. This young woman, my mum was to become the ying to his yang for the rest of his life – he provided the security, stability, safety that mum needed, and in turn she taught him to show love, to relax, and believe he was truly needed . They began a loving and supportive relationship which lasted over 50 years.

They both qualified as teachers, moved to schools in Yorkshire, married and within four years a daughter Helen was born. Soon the young family was drawn back to the southern half of the country. Dad was appointed Head of History at Soham Grammar School from September 1967, and they found a house in a small village called Fordham that was to remain their home together for the next 44 years. Things were happy for the young family but became far, far better a year later when their son Michael was born.

In 1972, Dad moved with several colleagues to the City of Ely College. He continued to work here, first as Head of History, then as Senior Teacher and finally for 19 years as Deputy Head, until his retirement in July 1996.

Throughout this time, Dad continued to serve the church community as Chairman of the Fordham Deanery of parishes and on the Diocesan Synod in Ely; on the fundraising team to launch the Sue Ryder Home in the former Bishop’s Palace in Ely; and within a year of retirement he had been approached to stand as a District Councillor for Fordham Villages on East Cambs District Council which he went on to Chair.

Career focused, but always making time for his family, to be faithful, dutiful, and to serve the community, charity and Church because he knew he was good at it and therefore he should do it, Dad was a clear example of how a good education, strong faith and a sense of responsibility can release the potential of a person to serve the greater good of the community. Dad was an innately shy man - but he was driven by a strong sense of right and wrong; of duty; of the importance of responsibilities alongside rights; and elevated by a keen intellect and a natural aptitude for organization, a clear reading of situations, a passion for an ordered community he was proud to serve on the many committees he represented through his life.

Less than two months ago, Dad started to experience some health problems. Six weeks ago yesterday he walked into Addenbrooke’s Hospital, suspecting he had suffered a mini-stroke. Many investigations followed and Dad, with his family, was advised a week later that the likelihood was that he was suffering from sporadic CJD. Dad was aware from the start that this was to be a life ending illness and his bravery inspired us to be strong and to help mum to look after him at home to spend his last weeks in the place he loved.

His rapid decline in health has been a shock to his family, friends and local people alike. Dad’s gratitude to those who were caring for him, his calm approach to his condition and his concern primarily to ensure the security of his beloved wife has been supported by his Christian faith. He died peacefully at home on Tuesday 5 April with mum at his side holding him.

While saddened that he was taken too soon, his family feels blessed that we were given the chance to share our private thoughts and feelings with him and he with us, to demonstrate the depth of our love – nothing was left unspoken and there is no bitterness at words unsaid. We were able to congregate all together at dad’s request for one final family photo – in the hospital – that photo, taken just 4 weeks ago, is on the back of the order of service.

But good history is nothing without supporting reference - Dad taught me that during my History A level – (how many of you can claim that the highest exam grade they ever earned was when they were taught by their own father?!) What did Dad mean to others who knew him and on the community in which he lived?

John's younger brother Stephen:

I have so many tales to tell of growing up with John. When I did something wrong, which was quite often, John would be the one told off, because he was there, so he should not have let me do it!

A small boy having my hand caught in the bicycle chain when John was mending a puncture and fixing the chain back on (should have kept my hand out of the chain) … Always wanting to be with big brother, but he was told off again …. Being in the way when John came home with Judy, his new girlfriend, from university and following them at a distance when they went for a walk over the fields … I REALLY got into trouble that time.

On one occasion, when John was a torch bearer at St Mary’s, our local church in Kettering, he knelt at the altar and leaned forward too far and set fire to his own hair. THAT wasn’t my fault.

So many happy memories of days out with big brother to London and cycle rides around Northamptonshire. Happy family occasions and some sad.

But in later life, our shared love of cricket was what I remember, so many happy days together watching England Test matches and our beloved Northamptonshire winning the Gillette Cup at Lords in 1976. So many wonderful memories of a very dear and much loved brother who will be so sadly missed.

The Community

John’s death leaves a large hole in all our lives and in the heart of our community. He was a friend and special man.

He made an outstanding contribution to his community as a District Councillor. His scholarship and wise advice was always appreciated. To me he was always an amusing and erudite companion – to use an old-fashioned expression – a real gentleman.

He is one of the few people I have found in public life to be absolutely honest and straight and who would give you a considered answer to any question.

He was a real pillar of the community, serving others in so many ways. He was so knowledgeable about many aspects of church life and I’m sure that, faced with a problem of which altar cloth should be used or some Latin pronunciation in an anthem, we will often remember him with fondness and say “John would have known that!”

He really was a true gentleman and will be missed by many. He gave his time so generously to so much, not only to the Church here in Fordham, but also to the wider community, there is a huge hole now to be filled.

And so we have been touched and moved that so many of you not only have made the effort to join with us on this difficult but proud day of thanksgiving, and also to those who have written or called to express what Dad meant to them. It has heartened mum to hear from so many of you how fondly dad was regarded and much he will be missed.

We will all have many memories of John Abbott the man – mine being too many to begin to share but a few – perhaps I will recall a trilby wearing, reliable and loving father. A man whom I used as a climbing frame as a child, as a sparring partner as a teenager, as a driving instructor as a young man, as an advisor as a man, and as a rock throughout my life.

A man who through his soulmate Judy, my mum, learned not only to truly love but gradually how to show that love more demonstratively – to grow beyond his natural English reserve to make his family feel treasured and adored. He leaves a family - a wife, a brother, two children, four grandsons, a son and daughter in law, nieces, a nephew, cousins and loyal friends - desolate at their loss but determined to remember and continue his legacy of love, family and service.

How do I choose to picture him as I blink away the tears and remember how lucky we have been to share a large part of his life? I shall choose today to remember dad on one of our holidays in France, shirt off, deeply suntanned, relaxing in a chair with a glass of wine, and while mum knits, he is listening to an England Cricket match on the World Service. If heaven has a bit of that I think he will be a happy man!

We have lost our pillar of strength … MY dad, John Abbott … But he will be with us in our thoughts, our happy recollections, our photographs and the stories we will share together and to grandchildren who are sadly too young to hope to remember their grandpa in person – and so certainly he will live on with us and through his grandsons, Matthew, Chris, Thomas and Freddie.

But Dad believed more than just living on through others ... and this poem, which my sister Helen will read, I feel captures dad’s faith and belief that there is more to our journey than simply passing on one’s genes and leaving others happy memories - more to life than just our allotted time on earth ... goodbye Dad, we will miss you.

The Dying Christian to his Soul - Alexander Pope, read by Helen Abbott Page

VITAL spark of heav'nly flame!
Quit, O quit this mortal frame:
Trembling, hoping, ling'ring, flying,
O the pain, the bliss of dying!
Cease, fond Nature, cease thy strife,
And let me languish into life.

Hark! they whisper; angels say,
Sister Spirit, come away!
What is this absorbs me quite?
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath?
Tell me, my soul, can this be death?

The world recedes; it disappears!
Heav'n opens on my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring!
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy victory?
O Death! where is thy sting?

Prayers of Penitence, The Collect

Reading: 1 Corinthians 13
Read by Barrie Chambers

John's daughter Helen then sang Psalm 23

The Gospel was from Luke - 'Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.'

The Sermon was given by the Reverend Kate Peacock

Prayers were lead by The Venerable Jim Rone

The choir sang God be in my head

The Offertory hymns were Blest are the pure in heart, and Praise to the holiest in the height during which the collection for St Peter and St Mary Magdalene, Fordham and Marie Curie Nursing Care was taken.

The Communion service was followed by the hymn Dear Lord and Father of mankind.

The Commendation and Farewell and Blessing were followed by the Nunc Dimittis.

The family accompanied John for the Committal in the churchyard.

All were invited to join the family for refreshments in the Bowls Club after the service.


Chris Wain writes: It was a moving ceremony, attended by hundreds of people, including a group of three pews containing old SGS staff and wives: Gareth and Judith Wood and family, Dick Bozeat and his wife, John Humphry, Peter Askem, David Kilvington and his wife, Tony Cornell, Peter Scott (who sang in the choir) and his wife Judith, and myself.

John's son Michael, along with his sister Helen paid a moving tribute to their Dad. After that Helen gathered herself to sing, solo, Psalm 23.

It was also good to get together, at the nearby Bowls Club, for refreshments, reminiscences and catching up. As always, it was so easy to pick up once again with old friends and colleagues. There has always been something very special about Soham Grammar School and its legacy ... I have such happy memories of it.

Chris Jakes 65 writes: A delight to know as both a teacher who nurtured my interest in history and as a Councillor serving on (and being Chairman of) our [Cambridgeshire] County Advisory Group for Archives and Local Studies, where his interest and support of the work we do was always much appreciated. I will miss his ready smile and wit.


John Abbott wrote (29 Nov 2007):

I went to Kettering Grammar School before going on to Birmingham University to study Mediaeval and Modern History.

I then stayed there a further year to gain my PGCE. My first post was in 1962 at Huddersfield New College, a grammar school of about 900 pupils.

Then I moved to Rastrick Grammar School (only 200 pupils!) as Senior History Master.

I moved to Soham as Senior History Master in 1967 and was there for five years until it merged with the Village College.


from the 1970 School photo

from the 1972 School photo

A year after my arrival at Soham, Bob Hanworth the Head of English left and I took on the role of Librarian. I also remember that when Barrie Bartholomew left and several of us were looking after sports, some of us ran the old cross-country course across the railway line and up to the Wicken Road - just to show we could, but I only did it once!

I moved to the City of Ely College, first as Head of History, then as a Senior Teacher and from 1979 Deputy Head, a post I retained when we merged with Littleport Village College (the old Martin School) which closed.

I retired in July 1996 and a year later won a by-election to become the District Councillor for Fordham Villages, (Fordham, Chippenham, Snailwell & Kenett), which I still am.

I was Chairman of the East Cambridgeshire District Council Planning Committee from 1999 to 2003 and Chairman of the Council from 2002 to 2004.


See also
History of Soham Grammar School
The Importance of being Earnest 1970 - Properties
HMS Pinafore 1972 - Business Manager
Taming of the Shrew 1972 - Business Manager


If you can add further photos or recollections please contact the editor.
page last updated 3 Oct 11