The Veterans - The Nitty-Gritty Men Of The Council (20 February 1976)
I am interested to read of the intended retirement from the Milton Keynes Borough Council of Mr Arthur Snaith, of Loughton, and Mr Bill Caldwell, of Bletchley. I suppose that after the elections on May 6 there will still be many on the council who served on the old local authorities which the borough took over. But one day in the probably distant future they will all be gone and there will then be a council composed entirely of new boys and girls, so to speak.
Mr Snaith I think I first knew as headmaster of the old Bletchley Road Junior School, Bletchley. He took over when Mr W Crisp left to become the first headmaster of the then new junior school at Saffron Street, Water Eaton. As a teacher of many years’ experience, this genial and knowledgeable man was a very valuable member of the now lamentably defunct North Bucks Education Executive.
I also remember him particularly well as a leader of the local group who objected to the proposed new city on local and general grounds. It was to their credit that, having lost that cause – but also having gained some important safeguards – they proceeded to lend a hand.
Since his retirement from professional work he has entertained numerous local organisations with his talks on old customs and that sort of thing. With that and with his artistic and other interests he will still find time going too quickly for all he wants to do.
Mr Caldwell has had a long and honourable innings and I have known him throughout its length. He spent more years in the chair of the old Bletchley Urban Council than many spent on the council at all.
I remember it was in his first period as chairman that the first open-air, unheated Central Gardens swimming pool was opened.
Austere though it was, the pool was the culmination of much local effort and its opening was a red letter day for the town and its children. Mr Caldwell presided over an opening ceremony performed by Miss Cohen, Principal of the Bletchley Park Women Teachers’ Training College. Walking away afterwards, he told me it had been the pleasantest duty he had had to do up to then.
But apart from his council chairmanships, I best recall his years as chairman of the housing committee. You could have been excused for thinking he was permanently stuck with that job.
I often used to wonder how he could do all that council work and carry on his daily work of a railway guard at the same time. But “none the more for that” (a frequent remark of his) he did manage it.
Both Mr Caldwell and Mr Snaith, when they retire, will deserve the best expression of thanks the borough can bestow.
I am pleased to see that another veteran, the burly indomitable Mr Charles Head, is to run for the council again – if that is the expression to use for one now crippled by a 30-odd-year-old war wound. Notice that I call him Charles, not Charlie, both out of wholesome respect and because he never was anybody’s “Charlie” in the derogatory sense of the word.
So far as I know, Charles is now the only local Freeman of the City of London. He is that by virtue of his membership of one of the city’s ancient liveried companies, the Farriers. The late Mr Leopold Durran was also a Freeman through his membership of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle-makers.
I always regarded Charles as the ‘nitty-gritty’ man of the council and I doubt that he has changed since. As a reporter I used to half-love, half-dread those occasions when, in the midst of some high-flown debate on finance or whatever, he would get to his feet and ask some such question as “And what about that crack in the sewage tank, Mr Chairman?” Members would look at one another and we would tap our pencils, all of us wondering what this had to do with the matter in hand. Then, after one or two more disjointed remarks of his, we would suddenly realise that he was onto something big and letting cats out of bags in all directions. But how to report him was a problem. I often wondered whether we had really got the hang of it, but not once did he claim to have been misreported.
He had a way of being mysterious at times. Thus the first hint I had of a development in North Bucks that ultimately would dwarf Bletchley’s current plans came from a guarded remark of his at a council meeting.
I also recall how, during his chairmanship, he invited everybody in the council chamber to a drink in the committee room after the meeting. Amused, I wondered whether his idea was that members might thereby be induced to be less garrulous, or whether he was making sure that no-one suffered through meetings going on past closing time! Actually, of course, it was sheer bon homie on his part – and out of his private pocket. But then nobody, and least of all the old people round Fenny and Simpson, needs telling how generous he is.
To a certain extent he reminded me of another nitty-gritty man who was a predecessor of his on the council. This was the late Mr Bill Stanton, who felt he had to decline elevation to the chair owing to his railway duties. He, too, was very down-to-earth in his remarks. Thus he said of the old 11-foot-high railway bridge over Bletchley Road (where the double carriage-way is now) that “Hitler ought to ha’ bombed it while he was about it!”
And in a protest against current vandalism in the town he spoke with scorn about “Youths who can’t control themselves after just one sniff at a barmaid’s apron!”
Some favour the idea of elitist councils. Well, a certain number of eggheads are necessary, if only to keep upsides with the officers. But it would be a sad and serious thing if these other characters were to entirely disappear.