The flag flew at half mast over Lewes Town Hall this week to mark the passing of the sole surviving mayor of the borough of Lewes and senior former town mayor.
On October 6, John Tilbury died unexpectedly and peacefully at home in Framfield. He had been living in the village close to his son and daughter-in-law for the past ten years. Born in Chichester in 1933, the 40th mayor was the son of a publican, the licensee of the Nag’s Head. While a child the family moved to Petworth where John attended the local elementary school. WWII had started and John was fortunate to be away from school with a cold the day German bombs fell on his classroom and killed about 40 of his contemporaries. At the age of ten, he went to Shoreham Grammar School and after two years National Service with the RAF, returned to Petworth. His daughter Sarah Long and son, Graham Tilbury described their father’s long and proud association with the town he loved. John and his wife Sybil arrived in Lewes soon after his marriage in June 1960. He started work as a auctioneer for J R Thornton and Cos at Lewes Cattle Market. While there he became involved in the estate agency side of the business. After a partnership in Peacehaven he started his own business as a chartered surveyor with his own agency Tilbury and Co., expanding to have offices in Lewes, Newhaven, Newick and Ringmer. His head office in Lewes was the former offices of the Sussex Express near the war memorial. John sold his business to a local firm to become an independent chartered surveyor, working from an office at the ‘Bottleneck’ before retiring at 65. His civic duties began earlier when he took office as a borough councillor and was elected mayor of Lewes in 1971, the last mayor of the borough before its inclusion in Lewes District Council. An active mayor at the age of 39, he formalised links with Lewes, Delaware in the USA, arranging for a Lewes contingency of councillors and townspeople to visit the sister town. The local American newspaper described councillor Tilbury as somewhere between ‘having a strong resemblance to Glenn Ford’ and being an ‘upholstered Bing Crosby.’ While there, John was awarded the Freedom of the state of Delaware and links between the two towns still continue. Shortly after this visit he lost his seat in the local elections of May 1972, the only mayor in the borough’s history to do so while in office. Historian and past mayor Graham Mayhew said: “John and Sybil and I became good friends over the years despite my having organised the campaign which unseated him. I found them unfailing supports on four occasions I served as mayor and I valued his advice and friendship over several decades. I shall miss John very much.” John’s mayoralty coincided with the beginning of the re-organisation of the judiciary and local administration by the Heath Government in the early 1970s. One aspect was the replacement of Quarter Sessions and Assizes by the new Crown Courts and he was the last mayor to attend the traditional Assize Service at the opening of the session at St Anne’s Church on November 16, 1971. Keenly interested in the historical traditions of the borough he was largely responsible for the Lewes Historical Exhibition which he opened at the Town Hall in January 1972. Shortly after he first arrived in Lewes, he joined and was actively involved in Lewes Round Table when he visited similar organisations across the UK and overseas, particularly to Lewes’ French twin town Blois, Berlin and Eindhoven. He was also a member of the 41 Club, Rotary and PROBUS. John was a keen caravan enthusiast and toured Europe. He was an enthusiastic photographer and ornithologist. His family describe how he enjoyed studying throughout the United States, undertook family history research with enthusiasm and was an active member of the National Trust. He leaves his wife, Sybil, son Graham and daughter Sarah, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Funeral arrangements by Grace of Ringmer.