Alnwick in mourning as town crier John Stevens dies

Alnwick town crier John Stevens
Alnwick town crier John Stevens

Alnwick has lost one of its most colourful - and certainly its loudest - characters, with the death of town crier John Stevens at the age of 70.

John, who represented Alnwick in competitions all over the country, died on Monday after a long battle with prostate cancer.

Champion town crier John Stevens with his wife Joyce and dog Turbo, in 2014.

Champion town crier John Stevens with his wife Joyce and dog Turbo, in 2014.

His son Simon described him as a great guy who was always very positive. "He would always lift us up," he said. "He was a good listener, as well as a good talker."

Despite being given two years to live more than seven years ago, John continued to cry for the town he loved.

Just two years ago, he achieved a long-standing ambition and was crowned champion crier of Britain. He brushed off competition from 14 other contestants to win the coveted title of British Champion 2014, in Banbury, Oxfordshire.

At the time, John said: “I was absolutely flabbergasted when they announced the winner was ‘Alnwick’. I stood there for a moment, then it dawned on me, I was only the one from Alnwick! I’d won, and finally achieved the title of British Champion.”

Watch John's championship-winning cry here.

John was brought up in Benwell, where his dad had a grocer's shop. He worked at Bainbridge's in Newcastle and BT before he became an air-traffic controller at RAF Boulmer.

The bell-ringing all started back in 1983 when he became Alnwick Fair's Common Bellman, but his work took him south to Heathrow six years later. The day he arrived, he noticed the queue for a British Midland flight checking in for Belfast. On the way back to a narrowboat where he was living, he heard a news bulletin confirming an aircraft had crashed on final approach to East Midlands Airport after being diverted. He never forgot the tragedy that had killed 47 people, some of whom he will have seen in the queue.

He returned to Alnwick in 2002 and was appointed town crier. The post was last filled by Matthew Hindmarsh, who was born on July 12, 1785, and died in 1878, but the tradition dates back to 1681.

John first represented Alnwick in the national competition at Halifax in 2003 when he came fourth, but scooped the the Best Ambassador shield. He was always accompanied by his wife Joyce and together they won honours for best-dressed couple.

In 2008, John was instrumental in attracting the Town Criers British Championships to Alnwick, at which contestants were set the task of coming up with a cry entitled, 'Where in the world would I drink my Alnwick Rum?'

But it wasn't just the town-crier competitions where John excelled. He was also involved in many of Alnwick's events, often providing a cheeky opening cry. He was a stalwart of the Alnwick International Music Festival, which he helped to compere, and was always on hand for charity occasions.

Tributes are being paid to a man who was such a big part of the community.

Chairman of the music festival Alan Symonds said his contribution to the annual event was immense. He said: "John entertained the crowd in any gaps, enforced or otherwise, with his strong, wonderful personality and a range of stories and jokes. Being compere is not just about entertaining and informing, it is also about making sure the performers keep to their times and he did that with a rod of iron and with such good humour.

"I admired his total commitment. He would be in the Market Place early in the morning and not leave until the last group had finished. It was over and above what was required."

Alan said John had put Alnwick on the map, not just with the competitions around the country, but by bringing the championships to Alnwick itself.

"He masterminded all of that - John's stature as a compere in the town cannot be replaced," said Alan. "He always had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. I held him in such high regard and have nothing but fond and affectionate memories of him."

Town and county councillor Gordon Castle said: "I have known John for many years, both as a friend and especially as an unparalleled supporter and icon of our town, a role he performed uniquely and with enormous distinction.

"In particular, John was an essential component of our Alnwick Christmas Lights activities, where he set the tone of every occasion with style, gravitas and humour. He will be very much missed by all who care for Alnwick and I offer his family my sincere condolences on his sad and premature passing."

Gazette editor Paul Larkin said: "John was an extraordinary character, always happy to see you and shout about his successes in competitions. He was rightly proud of his achievements.

"John was so supportive of every event in Alnwick and he was a fantastic ambassador away from the town. He never refused to help where he could and was an absolute pillar in two events that I was involved in - the food festival and the celebrations surrounding the arrival of the Olympic torch in 2012.

"There will be a huge hole in the social fabric of the town. he will be greatly missed. Keepahad, John."

A funeral service will be held on Friday (April 1) at 11am at St Michael's Church in Alnwick and three fellow town criers are due to attend.

Simon added: "That's April Fool's Day, my dad would have appreciated that - it would suit him down to the ground!"