Death of former Penrith teacher and artistic metalworker

Date: Tuesday 9th January 2018

A POPULAR Penrith secondary school teacher who launched a second career in later life as an artistic metalworker, John Harrison, of Hunsonby, has died at the age of 83.

Born at Keswick, he was the son of the late Ernest John and Mary Harrison, his father having been chief metal worker at the town’s famous School of Industrial Arts. John attended the town’s Crosthwaite and Keswick Grammar schools and wanted to train as a teacher.

However, because he suffered from the lung condition bronchiectasis his doctor would not allow it and said he must first work outdoors in the fresh air and get fitter. A year working in forestry at Thirlmere did the trick and John began training as a woodwork teacher at Shoreditch College, which by that time had been relocated from London to Egham, near Runnymede, in Middlesex.

In 1956 he began teaching at Tynefield School, Penrith, then a mixed school, with his classes being based in workshop premises at the top of Castlegate. When it became a girls’ school and neighbouring Ullswater School was built to accommodate boys, Mr. Harrison taught there. However, metalwork was his great love and after a couple of years he retrained at Goldsmiths College, London, and returned to the school in 1964, teaching metalwork thereafter until retiring in 1988.

John met wife-to-be Marion Gate in Keswick while she was training as a teacher and they wrote to one another every day while at college. They married at Caldbeck Church and would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in March. With John teaching at Penrith and his wife at Dalston, they spent the first few months of married life with Marion’s parents at Caldbeck, before moving to live in Angel Lane and then Castlegate, Penrith.

In 1964 Marion took on the headship of Hunsonby Primary School and the couple moved to School House in the village, where they had lived ever since. She retired from teaching in 1989. After retirement, John started his own art metalwork business, based at Brougham Castle, with his wife doing the clerical and administrative work and engraving.

The couple travelled many miles, with Made in Cumbria exhibiting John’s work at craft and arts fairs. They went to many parts of England and Scotland, including Ayr, Perth, Sandringham and Malvern, and were twice invited to exhibit at a fair in Northern Ireland. They wound up the business in 2006.

Outside work, they were enthusiastic caravanners and keen ballroom dancers, including teaching many of John’s fellow freemasons. John was a dedicated mason, belonging to three lodges in Penrith — Unanimity, Mark and Mariners — and was presented with 50-year certificates for all three.

He took an interest in most sports, but rugby was his main passion and he ran the Ullswater School rugby team for much of his time teaching there. He was a referee, patron and occasional player at Penrith Rugby Club and, when the Winters Park clubhouse was first opened, he and his wife raised funds by making and serving meals at dances.

John also loved his garden, wildlife and the countryside, and enjoyed trout fishing, being a member of Penrith Angling Association. In his younger days he was a member of Crosthwaite Hand Bell Ringers and Keswick Male Voice Choir.

He had suffered increasingly with Alzheimer’s disease for the past six years or more and was cared for at home by his wife. His death occurred at the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, after a very short illness.

John is survived by wife Marion. He had two older sisters, the late Audrey Wise, Keswick, and late Hilary Weeks, Solihull. Nephews and nieces include Alan Wise, Keswick, a retired teacher now enjoying work at a distillery; Valerie Ive, Surrey; Briony Dowling, Leicestershire; Valerie Huddart, Dovenby; and Karen Forsyth and Christine Potter, both Newcastle. John took great pleasure in their lives and successes and in those of his great nieces and nephews.