We are Chesterfield: A passion for town's history has been 'a labour of love'
Hard work and history are two things that have absorbed John Tranter throughout his life.
John is just a couple of months shy of his 80th birthday yet is devoted to his duties as archivist for Whittington Moor Methodist Church, a post he has held for 40 years, and for the Sheffield district of the Methodist Church.
"I collect records of all sorts and catalogue them,” said John. “I’m in the process of writing the history of the Methodist Church in Chesterfield – it’s a labour of love.
"I’m also connected to the St Helena History Club and we’re currently working on the archives of the Chesterfield workhouse, putting together the stories of some of the inmates and workhouse officials. The workhouse was on Newbold Road and opposite was Holy Trinity Church where the paupers were buried. When they filled that graveyard, they went to Christ Church where they buried ten to a grave. It’s a nightmare to try and work out who’s in which grave.”
John is also interested in railway history. He said: “It’s socially interesting because the railway touched on so many people’s lives in so many different ways; from prospecting it, to building it, to travelling by it and its influence on how industry came to north-east Derbyshire."
On a wall at his home in New Whittington, John has a display of train tickets which he saved after travelling from Sheepbridge to support Chesterfield Football Club.
Ever the archivist, he can tell you the year, the destination and even the scoreline, recalling the drubbing that the Spireites got on January 5, 1956 when they lost 7-0 to Burnley.
Of the railway stations in Chesterfield that have disappeared, John says that he misses the old central station most. “It was as if you had stepped back thirty or forty years, it was gas lit and had a charm of its own.”
John has many memories of growing up in Chesterfield. He recalled seeing his father for the first time: “It was around 1943 when he came back on leave before he went to train for D-Day. I was quite disappointed when I saw him because he didn’t have a gun and I thought all soldiers had guns.
"I can remember wartime when the planes came over. My mum and my grandma used to put me under the table in the living room. Inevitably, I’d creep out from under the table, go to the window and peep out to see if I could see the planes.
"Everybody had a Mickey Mouse gas mask except me, I couldn’t have one because my head was too big so I had to have a black one.
"I can remember a VE Day party in the next yard to us. My Mum was highly suspicious of what people brought out for the party. She said about the butter ‘how long have they had that – I bet it’s rancid!”
John started school at Whittington Moor Infants. He said: “I must have been very astute because I realised when Father Christmas came to the school that he shopped at Chesterfield Co-op because he had exactly the same shoes on as the caretaker did!”
Having passed the 11-plus exam at Gilbert Heathcote School, John went to Chesterfield Grammar School but didn’t enjoy it. He said: “I left at 15 and I thought my education started when I left school. I found myself a job working in the laboratories at Sheepbridge Equipment for three years; it was obvious it was going to close so I left.
"I was interested in going to college and in 18 months, I did seven O-levels and four A-levels. I found I could do an A-level in three months and also work. I took newspapers out, did some gardening, delivered milk on Saturday and Sunday and got £4.50 a week which was more than working full time.”
John’s qualifications earned him a place at Westminster College in Oxford where he gained a teacher’s certificate. He taught at Gilbert Heathcote School for a year, where he was in charge of a class of 44 boys.
Next came a five-week adventure with two friends, which began at Victoria Station where they bought tickets to the further place they could travel. – Aleppo in Syria. The exploration included Istanbul, Turkey and Palestine, boat trips down the Nile and to Rhodes and Athens.
Back on home ground, John found work at a forge in Sheffield. He stayed there until they closed the train station at Whittington Moor which was his way of commuting to the city.
He then spent a year working in the sales department at Sheepbridge Equipment before joining Padley and Venables at Dronfield where he worked in export sales selling tools used in drilling and quarrying. He said: “When I retired nearly 40 odd years later I’d worked in 112 countries; every Arab country except Iraq, every South American country, a lot of Africa and all European countries with the exception of Albania.”
Following retirement, John spent several years officiating exams at Tupton Hall School.
John, who is a grandfather, is married to Agnes and they live at High Street, New Whittington. His first wife, Denise, passed away 30 years ago.
Agnes and John are involved in work on helping to integrate Syrian refugees that have settled in Chesterfield and North-East Derbyshire.
He likes Chesterfield because it is on the edge of beautiful countryside but is surprised by the rate at which the landscape is changing. "I’m amazed at all the new housing that’s going up,” he said.
“The green fields between here and Clay Cross and up Dunston Lane and at the back of Sainsbury’s are all being covered in concrete. It’s unfortunate, but there is the need for houses so I don’t know what the happy medium is.”