MAY I prolong the comments towards the legacy that John Meikle MBE has left Taunton in his lifetime both as a successful businessman in establishing Hickleys as the leading Garage Equipment Specialists in the South West, the founder of the Brewhouse Theatre, as well as the architect of most of the policies that established Taunton as the capital of Somerset after it took over that mantle from Weston-Super-Mare in 1936?

I had the good fortune to become the Leader of Taunton Deane Borough Council in 1991 after John had spent 27 years, from when he became Mayor of the council until I succeeded him in May 1991.

My stay as leader lasted for 12 years (less two years from 1999 to 2001 when I stood down as the result of a serious road accident) so it was only half of the time of his contribution he made to the municipal life of the borough.

I vividly recall that in the ward John was elected for most of his life (subject to boundary changes), my party - the Liberal and Social Democratic Alliance at the time - came within 16 votes of ousting him from his seat in the multi-member ward, and his two colleagues were swept away in 1991.

I was glad that he remained on the council because I learnt so much from his leadership skills, his sagacity and his dedication to Taunton. This is why Deane House’s Council Chamber room quite rightly bears his name and it will be enshrined in history.

Somerset County Gazette: HONOUR: John Meikle at the Principal Commitee Room at Deane House, when it was renamed the John Meikle RoomHONOUR: John Meikle at the Principal Commitee Room at Deane House, when it was renamed the John Meikle Room

HONOUR: John Meikle at the Principal Commitee Room at Deane House, when it was renamed the John Meikle Room

But John was so much more than that. He was a visionary and laid the foundations for the policies that have enabled Taunton to play such a fundamental part in the life of the county.

He was old-fashioned, almost Victorian in his outlook on the one hand and yet was able to think a generation ahead in his ideas.

Taunton can be proud of the fact that he adopted a policy of retaining low-size buildings, so our skyline has not been dominated by 12-storey apartment blocks. (I am not sure what John’s views were on the flysquatters that now dominate the skyline for night time matches at the County Ground)

Equally, he promoted the kind of industries which were appropriate and was successful in making Taunton the only town in the county which didn’t have an exodus of more cars to other places of work in the morning rush hours, recognising that Taunton had to compete with Bristol and Exeter.

He realised the importance of the Hydrographic Department near Creechbarrow Hill to developing the administrative skills that were necessary for keeping Taunton in the national picture. He recognised the importance of Musgrove Park Hospital as the biggest single employer in the county and did his best to ensure that it retained its status so that it could attract the best consultants in the country.

READ MORE: John Meikle passes away, aged 97
READ MORE: PICTURES: Workers pay tribute to John Meikle during funeral procession

His maxim for the promoting the culture in the town was the vitality of the cultural quarter to persuade the partners of the senior staff at MPH to make the decision easier for them!

John will always be remembered for his faith in sticking up for local government against the power of Whitehall. We were able to win in 1991 partly because John Meikle had to defend the central government from the hated Poll Tax and Maggie Thatcher’s declining control of Westminster. He failed.

Is history repeating itself with the widespread disillusionment with the Conservative government over its Coronavirus actions and scandals of corruption, one law for the rich and the Dominic Cummings of this world and the wider belief that the divide between rich and poor is becoming even greater than ever, even with Rishi Sunak’s handouts?

Despite this, John Meikle worked hard right until the very end, showing his astuteness by berating the current administration for failing to maintain parking revenue for the Coal Orchard when it started to build on the former St James Swimming Pool site!

We will miss him.

Mayor of Taunton Deane 2012
Leader of the Council 1991 – 1999 and 2001 to 2003