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John Thomas

The tomb of John Thomas October 2009
The tomb of John Thomas October 2009

Bletsoe churchyard has, in the northern corner a very fine tomb, pictured above, which is grand enough to have one think it belongs to one of the Lords Saint John. In fact it is the tomb of a man named John Thomas, who died just over the road at Bletsoe Castle on 26th September 1880, aged 76.

The Bedfordshire Times has a short obituary: "DEATH OF MR. JOHN THOMAS. - We regret this week to have to announce the death of Mr. John Thomas, which occurred on Sunday last at his residence, Bletsoe. The deceased had not been ill long, and a short time ago attended to his duties as vice-chairman of the Bedford Board of Guardians. He was a large farmer, and was well-known throughout the district in which he resided, and also in Bedford.There is to be ameeting of the Board of Guardians to day [sic] (Saturday), when no doubt reference to the sad event will be made". Presumably by large farmer, the newspaper meant he farmed a lot of acres, rather than being physically large himself. The Board of Guardians administered the Poor Laws in the district, including management of the Workhouse in Bedford (now North Wing Hospital).

The Bedfordshire Mercury of October 1880 reported on the funeral: "On FRiday, the 1st inst., the remains of Mr. John Thomas, of this place, were consigned to their final resting-place in the family vault at Bletsoe, amid the deep regrets of every section of the parishioners, the sore bereavement of the family and a numerous circle of relations and friends, and with the respectful sympathy of many gentlemen  who for years had been associated with the deceased in the discharge if important functions in connection with the Poor Laws and the Sanitary Acts. Since the death of his wife, last year, a bereavement which affected him intensely, Mr. Thomas was, from time to time, the subject of attacks of more or less serious indisposition, which a short change of air, combined with the recuperative powers of a once robust constitution, shortly enabled him to throw off. A more acute attack, however, which recently confined him to his residence, proved fatal, and the esteemed gentleman died on Sunday, the 26th ult. at the ripe age of 76".

The article then gives a list of the numerous mourners before going on: "By the death of the late Mr. Thomas the county of Bedford, but more especially the north-western portion, loses the services of a man who in every relation of life was a model of an English gentleman. For many years he rendered valuable cooperation in extending in his own locality the benefits held out to agriculturists and their labourers by the Bedfordshire Agricultural Society, and his familiar face and genial greeting will long be missed at the social and other annual meetings in connection with that Association. As a member, and for some years chairman, of the Highway Board for the Bletsoe District, he was always at his post, ever ready to carry out needed improvements with a constant regard for the pecuniary interests of the ratepayers, more particularly when the heavy pinch of depression extended, as it has lately, over a series of years. He also took a deep and practical interest in the administration of the Poor Laws, and as one of the vice-chairmen for very many years of the Board of Guardians of the Bedford Union, he was remarkable for the regularity of his attendance and the almost extreme care which he took  to discriminate between those applicants for relief who had shown evidence of thrift and those who had been recklessly improvident. This principle seemed to guide him on all occasions, and not infrequently his voice prevailed in the board-room when such cases came up for consideration. As a member of the Rural Sanitary Authority of the Bedford Union he was also a reguar attendant at meetings of the Executive Committee, and although no man was more in favour of carrying out sanitary improvements he was reluctant, and with much reason, to saddle a great part of the expenses of such permanent works as the sewerage of large villages upon the tenant farmer section of ratepayers, who might leave their holdings at any time and never derive the slightest benefit from the improvements to which they would have to contribute. Against this unequal incidence of rating the deceased protested, even to his last appearance in the board-room, a consistency which gained him the respect of those who differed from and thsoe who shared his convictions. In 1862 his daughter Eliza married General Sir Edmund Haythorne, K. C. B. of Hill House in Gloucestershire, whose brilliant military career in China in 1859 and subsequently were honourably mentioned by the Secretary of State for war in the House of Lords. It will be seen from the list of those who followed the remains of the deceased thatseveral prominent members of the various public bodies on which he had acted paid the last tribute of esteem to the memory of an honoured and upright colleague".