5th April 1926 – 20th January 2023
The Founder of the Friends of Skokholm & Skomer and Extraordinary Volunteer
Very sadly John passed away on 20th January at his home with his family. His contribution to the Friends, and to the islands was legendary. His vision in the creation of the “Friends” and his subsequent personal involvement in looking after the Skokholm buildings over a period of almost 20 years are quite unmatched.
To start at the beginning – in September 1981 John came to Skokholm for the first time. He was the lone visitor amongst a team of people who were organised to remove the herd of goats. As a farmer his knowledge of animals helped to track them down, secure them and get them safely off the island to their new homes. It was an initiation to Skokholm life which he had not expected but obviously did not put him off!!!.
One evening John told us about the Friends of St Kilda which he was involved with – and that simple discussion was the impetus which resulted in the formation of the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer. The very first “Reunion” was actually in John’s farmhouse in November 1982.
With John’s inspiration the first ever work party to replace the Wheelhouse roof was assembled in 1984. He afterwards continued to inspire work party volunteers, people passionate about the islands who were prepared to donate their hard work and precious time.
Quite apart from the substantial general maintenance work each spring there were major achievements on Skokholm:-
Widening the Central block and replacing the old corrugated asbestos clad walls with concrete blocks and new windows – which John scrounged from a demolition site.
Building the workshop and Eclipse bedroom, the shop and the Bridge - which started out as the island office.
Building the garage to house the dumper once Trinity House left the island.
Creating the kitchen and pantry from the old Cooks Room.
Introducing the water RAM to the island to pump water to the buildings.
Modifying the old bunkroom to Wardens accommodation – now smart bedrooms adjacent to the Wheelhouse.
So much achieved with great good humour, knowledge and directed energy. John donated materials, recruited skilled people, supervised all the work, kept a daily diary and then wrote a book ”Skokholm the Islanders” in 1997.
One of the visitors wrote a poem in the chatty log which ended:
“We’ve got the building finished,
John gave us a can of beer,
He said ’now you idle buggers,
do you want a job next year?’
And we said “Yes Please!”
I think that says it all. John was a hugely influential Friend, he made a significant impact on Skokholm, he was a friend to many. His last work party was in the early 2000’s , his last visit in 2012 (just after his 86th birthday) towards the end of the most recent renovations. He sat on the bench looking out towards St Ann’s Lighthouse and said with a smile “ We didn’t do a bad job over the years did we?”.
Rest in Peace good friend, you will never be forgotten.
Steve & Anna Sutcliffe