Longest serving councillor calls time

John Marjoram stepped down from active politics this year at the age of 82. Susan Fenton reflects on his life and work so far, from conscientious objector, to protest veteran, to ten-times Mayor of Stroud, to England’s longest continuously serving Green councillor

John Marjoram shouting through a loud speaker at an anti-war rally
Susan Fenton

This year, John Marjoram, ten-times Mayor of Stroud and England’s longest continuously serving Green councillor, stepped down from active politics at the age of 82.

John was first elected to Stroud District Council in 1986, becoming the area’s first Green councillor. 

Since his election he has championed countless local campaigns, saving several of Stroud’s iconic landmarks and buildings from demolition. 

Whilst studying for his diploma in youth and social work in 1972, John read a book called ‘The Limits to Growth’. Realising how fast the resources of the planet were being consumed, he was inspired to join the new People Party, which later became the Ecology Party, and finally the Green Party.

He was later a co-founder of the Stroud Ecology Party alongside Carol Kambites, who is now deputy mayor of Stonehouse. The first meeting was attended by just five people. Today, Stroud District Green Party has about 400 members.

In 1986, John won a seat on Stroud District Council, becoming the first and only Green on the council. Winning by 11 votes, his campaign was boosted by growing public concern about the environment following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

He held his seat on the District Planning Committee for 31 years, with 15 spent as deputy chair, on the basis of his interest in architecture.

In 1990, after lobbying from John and others, the Stroud Town Council was created, within which John subsequently held a seat.

For the first 20 years of John’s time on Stroud District Council, the Greens were in opposition. They have since, in 2011, become the third largest party and part of a ruling alliance with Labour and the Lib Dems.

Meanwhile, the Party has had a clear majority on Stroud Town Council for more than 25 years, with 12 out of 18 councillors currently Green.

As Mayor of Stroud, he refused to take part in the tradition of laying red poppy wreaths on the war memorial on Remembrance Sunday. He instead opted for white poppies, which he sells locally every November.

This decision was motivated by his roots in pacifist activism. After being called for national service in 1959 and subsequently declaring himself a conscientious objector, John became involved as an activist in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Peace Pledge Union.

He also took part in the second Aldermaston March, being twice arrested and jailed for using a plough to break into American military bases.

John is proud of the progressive and campaigning ethos that has earned Stroud the nickname of ‘the People’s Republic’. 

He says: “I know the phrase was coined as a joke, but there’s an element of truth in it.”

John’s Green colleagues say the reputation behind the label is largely due to John’s passion and influence, with several current Party activists citing John as a direct influence in their involvement.

Martin Whiteside, co-ordinator of the Stroud District Green Party and former Green group leader, said: "Like many others, I am in the Green Party because I bumped into John on the High Street, and agreed that if we wanted to get the better world we both wanted, then we had to organise through a party with unwavering principles. 

“Since then I have stood with John on picket lines, carried banners on marches and shared Council platforms. John has been an inspirational leader of the Greens in Stroud, an unwavering man of principle, but most of all a trusted and honest friend.”

John’s achievements

John’s biggest achievements include helping to save one of Stroud’s most iconic landmarks, a former cloth factory called Hill Paul, from demolition in 2001.

Before the demolition was due to start, John phoned the owner of the building, begging for a reprieve. By dawn, there were protestors on the roof of the building, preventing the demolition from proceeding.

Hill Paul, which was the town’s tallest building, was eventually saved through an arrangement whereby members of the public, including some of the protestors, would buy shares in the building to fund its conversion to a residential block.

Another iconic building saved from demolition by John was Woodchester Mansion, an unfinished and crumbling Victorian mansion near Stroud. 

Winning by just two votes, John passed a motion in 1989, calling on the then Tory-run council to purchase the building so that it could be refurbished, transferred to a trust, and opened to the public. It is now a major local attraction. 

Also high on the list of his achievements is his assistance in the campaign to keep a local post office open, involvement in a high-profile demo to prevent the cutting down of trees for a road-widening scheme, persuading the council to buy Lansdown Hall for community use, and the rescue of Stroud maternity hospital.

Sally Pickering, co-ordinator of the Association of Green Councillors, said: “John is inspirational. He has been a driving force, always tenacious, passionate, supporting the underdog, and always working with the people for the people and for the common good.  

“John is the ultimate community activist, using the local political process to help people and improve our community.”

John was a founder member of the Association of Green Councillors in 1993 and chaired the association for some years.

During one of his terms as Mayor, John instigated the concept of the ‘mayor’s bench’.

He made it known that every Friday he would sit on a particular bench in the town centre for an hour, so that residents could come and talk to him. He would typically have about six visitors each time. 

Asked if he is proud of his achievements, John says: “Pleased is a better word; none of these successes were down to me alone.”