What a shabby way to treat Mr Tempest

Posted by Andy Whiles on January 3, 2015 at 10:35 AM

I came across this interesting article about one of our former Mayors recently

WHILE strolling through the Aldergate 'Garden of Rest' in Tamworth town centre a couple of weeks ago, I chanced to spot the broken remains of a grave marker bearing a name I'd come across during research for a recent Herald 'look back' column.

Situated close to a perimeter wall and flanked by grave markers in equally depressing states of repair, the grey, rectangular slab is all that remains of what must once have been an imposing stone monument.

But although quite faded, the inscription, 'William Tempest who entered into rest August 8, 1911, aged 81 years', leapt out at me.

Was this the same William Tempest whose remarkable obituary I'd come across only a couple of days previously as I looked through a 100 year old copy of the Herald?

It clearly was.

But who was William Tempest? And what does this smashed remnant, carelessly dumped in a corner of the old burial ground, say about us?

Upon re-reading the Herald of August 12, 1911, one thing was for sure. When William Tempest died... everybody in Tamworth knew who he was.

Three times Mayor of Tamworth, his obituary is the story of a seemingly indefatigable man who devoted most of his adult life to the wellbeing of the people of this town.

"We deeply regret to have to record the death on Tuesday of Alderman William Tempest, at his residence, Mayfield, Tamworth", began a black framed funereal tribute in the Herald of August 12, 1911.

"During the last few years he had on two or three occasions suffered from illness, but his recovery was fairly rapid, and when just over three weeks ago he again became ill there were hopes that once more he would be restored to health.

"On this occasion, however, his illness was primarily due to enteric fever, to the effects of which his strength was unequal, and he passed peacefully away at a quarter to one o'clock on Tuesday."

After noting the events of his passing, the mood of the piece becomes lighter as the Herald records with pride and enormous admiration the life of Alderman Tempest who, it said, 'had been actively associated with all local movements for upwards of 40 years'.

"He never grudged the time he gave to public work, he never shirked a responsibility when he was fully convinced that it was his to undertake, and he never feared any criticism that any action of his might provoke", stated the obituary.

The piece goes on to say that it was these attributes of his character that early gained him 'the affection, the esteem and the respect of his colleagues on pubic bodes and of the burgesses at large'.

A native of Burley, near Duffield, Derbyshire, where he was born on March 13, 1830, William Tempest was already a wealthy businessman when, in 1858, he arrived at the Lodge Farm at Drayton.

Some years later he came to live in Tamworth, and in 1870 he was first elected a town councillor.

In November 1874 he was elected an Alderman, and a few years later, on November 9, 1878, Alderman Tempest was elected Mayor and Chief Magistrate of the Borough.

The Mayoral honour was renewed to him in 1880 and again for the third time in 1900.

In the course of his long municipal career he saw the borough boundaries enlarged, the waterworks established, the Burial Board formed, Tamworth Castle became the property of the town, and the long talked of public sewerage system brought into operation

In other spheres of public work he was a co-opted Governor of the Grammar School, a trustee of the Municipal Charities, a trustee of the Rawlett's Charity, a trustee of the Tamworth Permanent Benefit Building Society, a trustee of the Tamworth Friendly Institution, a director of the Tamworth Savings Bank, a director of the Tamworth Public Cattle Sales Co., Ltd., and a director of the Tamworth Herald.

For many years he was vice-chairman and a director of the Tamworth Gas Company.

These represented the principal of Alderman Tempest's many public activities, but it was said that he was also always ready to take his share in social and philanthropic movements.

In politics he was strong supporter of the Unionist party and was also for many years a prominent member of the Marmion Lodge of Freemasons.

Despite the great call upon his time and energies in municipal work, he also took a keen interest in agriculture, and for many years he occupied the Perrycrofts Farm 'as a hobby'.

He only retired from it when advancing years left him no time to supervise its working!

In his personal life Mr Tempest was twice married – in 1851 to Miss Ann Gallimore of Kedleton, Derby, who died in 1888, and in 1892 to Miss Brown, of Tamworth, who survived him.

He had two daughters.

In a leader article published the week of his death, Herald editor William Morton wrote: "Tamworth is the poorer today by the death of Alderman Tempest. For over 40 years his has been a familiar figure among us.

"In almost every branch of our public life he was a participant – energetic, conscientious, courteous, painstaking, and ever keenly alert to the progress of the borough and the well-being of its inhabitants.

"He never attempted to shine over his colleagues; he was content to share quietly in the success that attended any common effort for the public weal; and he never unduly paraded a success before those who for the time being had been opponents.

"He was, in fact, one of the old school of public men in Tamworth who knew the power they possessed and wielded it unostentatiously but firmly once they were convinced of the justice of their case. Alderman Tempest's dignified personality was indeed wrapped up in the public life of the borough."

Mr Moreton added: "None was more prominently in the public eye than he, and none was more successful in maintaining the dignity and carrying on the traditions of the offices he held.

"To those who came frequently into personal contact with him in public work, he was ever a kindly, considerate and genial friend, and by the inhabitants generally he was regarded with great respect and esteem in the true and not the hackneyed sense of these words."

Mr Moreton concluded his piece by saying that Mr Tempest had been a director of the Herald company since its formation in 1877, and the mere mention of that fact is 'a testimony to his unwearying interest in the paper and his efforts to make it a journal worthy of the locality'.

Following a packed funeral service at Tamworth Parish Church, where he had been a regular worshipper, Alderman Tempest's coffin was interred in a brick grave at the Aldergate Cemetery.

A stone monument marked his last resting place.

All remained relatively unchanged until 1952, when the old graveyard was attacked by the 'clean-up brigade who saw nothing wrong with uprooting gravestones and propping them precariously against perimeter walls. It would allow the lawnmowers easier access to the grounds.

Many markers – lots made by local monumental masons Mitchells – were broken in the process.

Those that couldn't be leant against walls were used as paving slabs!

Now often overgrown with ivy, the awful state of the memorials in the Aldergate Garden of Rest is a disgrace to Tamworth.

For behind each memorial, whether the name be noteworthy or not, is the story of Tamworth.

Such was the esteem in which William Tempest was once held in the town, that a road on the Leys housing estate was named in his honour.

Today, hardly anyone has ever heard of him.

And although his bones rest silently in what is now an unmarked grave, William Tempest's smashed gravestone, along with so many others, speaks volumes about those whose lack of respect for our history, and disgraceful disrespect for our dead, heaps shame on this old town of ours.


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