Tribute to John Toomey by Bruce Kent

John Toomey

John Toomey

John Toomey, who has died  aged 84, was a pillar of the London Borough of Camden community. However you define working class radical that is just what he was. His was a Christian socialist vision.  He was an active member of his Catholic parish of St Aloysius, Somers Town, all his adult life.

The family, parents and five brothers lived in a two room top floor flat in Neal St Covent Garden. He went to St Joseph’s, the local primary school and left with a life long interest in music, history and literature. He trained as a carpenter, spent the war years repairing bombed properties, which exempted him from military service in WWII.  Later he became a printer.

In Somers Town, an often forgotten London ‘village’ between Euston and Kings Cross, he carried on the social work project initiated in the 1920s by Father Jellicoe, the great Anglican priest and community worker. John served on the committee of Jellicoe’s St Pancras Housing Association for 37 years and was also elected twice as a Labour party member of Camden Council.  He found time too to serve on two school governing bodies. The improvement of the local area was his life long passion. I well remember a black and white film which John showed one afternoon of the area in the 20s and 30s.There were the fumigation vans into which the poor put their furniture. Cockroaches too many to count.

He came into more public focus during the 1970s campaign to save the Covent Garden area from the ravages of what was soothingly described as Comprehensive Re-development.

It was a vigorous and partially successful campaign in which he worked closely with  Canon Austin Williams of St Martins in the Field.

‘Partially’ because though most of the buildings were saved much of the previous wide social mix was lost. Nevertheless the resident population went up from about 2000 to over 6000  in the years that followed and none of the promised Council flat demolitions, against which John campaigned, took place.

His family was central to John’s life. He married Mary Paul, whom he met through the Young Christian Workers, in 1952 and they had 58 wonderful years together. They brought up, in their Housing Association flat, four daughters and one adopted son who sadly and unexpectedly died earlier this year.

He and Mary always had open arms for everyone and open ears too for other people’s problems.

A  ‘man with clean hands and pure heart who desires not worthless things’ ---- this line from the Psalms so well describes John Toomey who will be much missed.

Tags: Bruce Kent, Christian socialist. St Aloysius, Covent Garden, John Toomey, London Borough of Camden, Somers Town

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