Photo cortesy of Kent Messenger
In 1997 John and his wife Pat moved back to Sittingbourne from Gillingham where the couple had lived since getting married in 1965. What struck the couple was how much the town had changed in the intervening 30 years. It gave John the idea for his next book, Sittingbourne and Milton Regis Past and Present also now out of print and never seen on E-Bay! Writing this book was the launch pad for his entry into local history. It was basically a collection of old views of the town juxtaposed with modern day equivalents with detailed captions. He now wanted to write a comprehensive history of Sittingbourne and Milton Regis which Sutton Publishing Ltd were pleased to commission. It sold well and copies can still be found on E-Bay as well as in the Heritage Museum shop in the Forum, Nickel Books and other outlets. The publisher must have been pleased with John’s work as they asked him straight away if he could write a similar book about Sheppey and so was born The Story of Sheppey.
Whilst writing these books John had learned much about the area’s past so it was time to refine his perception of things, the result of which was his first hard-back book Sittingbourne, a History for Phillimore Ltd, another book still widely available on E-Bay, the Heritage Museum, Nickel Books and others.
In 2010, quite out of the blue, John received a phone call from Amberley Publishing who began publishing local interest books in 2008. Amberley is home of the first-ever full-colour local history series Through Time. Much of the company’s forward programme is in full colour and they consider they are leading the way in innovation for local interest and niche history publishing. Over a period of three years John negotiated five titles with them, the first being Milton Regis Through Time. The concept of these books is to supply about a hundred old pictures and beside each, place a modern day identical view to highlight the changes that have taken place ‘through time’. Each pair of pictures has to be accompanied by a detailed caption. John said, ‘These books can be fun to compile, trying to work out where the original photographer stood to take that early view. And in locations like Milton Regis it is especially difficult as the area has changed so much. You really do have to know Milton in order to succeed.’
This book was followed by Isle of Sheppey Through Time and Swale Villages Through Time, a particularly pleasing book to do. There then followed Canterbury Through Time and Kent’s Seaside Resorts Through Time. Each of these can be purchased at the Heritage Museum, Nickel Books and on-line at the usual outlets.
Sometime between writing these books John heard about the Mercia Cinema Society who, amongst other things, publish a series of books on the history of the cinema in different towns. As Sittingbourne with its three cinemas was deemed to be too small for such a book, John expanded his scope to include Sheppey and Faversham as well, titling the book The Long-Gone Cinemas of Swale (Kent) in 2003. This was followed up in 2006 with The Cinemas of the Medway Towns. The Swale cinemas book can still be purchased at the Heritage Museum as well as Nickel Books.
In 2006 a group of members of the Historical Research Group of Sittingbourne, the HRGS, decided to compile a History of Brenchley House, the Georgian building in the High Street that was once the County Grammar School for Girls. In 1954 the girls had written a short history of the school which the HRGS included in its new book. They then visited the building to reappraise what the girls had written and made a few startling new discoveries, principally that Brenchley House appeared to have been built on the cellars of the inns that formerly occupied that site. John’s role in the production of this book was as its editor.
In 2007 the Sittingbourne Society decided to update its Sittingbourne Town Trail booklet and John was invited to compile it. Later that year he was awarded the society’s Shield for a job well done. Later, in 2012 the Heritage Museum decided to update it and re-release it for sale in the Museum’s shops. To accompany it he wrote a companion title, Milton Regis Town Trail.
As John progressed into his passion for local history and heritage he began to realise he could only go so far before he had to start formulating his own theories and hypotheses. He enrolled on a Distance Learning, or correspondence, course in archaeological studies at Exeter University and graduated with a BA degree and a Dean’s Commendation in 2009. The following year he enrolled on a similar course at Leicester University from where he graduated in 2012 with an MA in archaeology and heritage. These studies have helped John write academic papers on such subjects as Radfield, Ufton Court, Bayford Castle the Court Hall, et al.