Gary Rycroft column

Gary Rycroft.
Gary Rycroft.

Thomas Johnson is a forgotten Ghost of Christmas Past in Lancaster.

Yet in his day he was well known to the extent that the splendid Memorial Lamp and Drinking Fountain situated in Stonewell was built in his memory by public subscription after his death aged 74 in 1892.

Born into a privileged life (he was the son of a Surgeon) he always did his best to help others.

One of his maxims was that the income of the year should be expended during the year and he regularly gave to the poor including on one occasion his brand new coat. This caused consternation to his tailor, who remarked to him “What will my customers say when they see a coat of my best cloth, finished in my best style, worn by a member of the mendicant class?”.

Mr Johnson was a solicitor (his firm Johnson and Tilly is long gone but the name does pop up in old deeds which pass through my hands today) and the recipient of the coat was in fact a client of the firm, who had been defended three years earlier in a poaching case and had got off on a point of law. When Mr Johnson’s business partner heard about the gift of the coat, he reminded him that the poacher had still not paid his account.

Mr Johnson believed in the power of education to raise aspirations and was one of the agitators for a Free Library.

The campaign took thirty years to come to fruition. He also believed in the power and good of music. He set up numerous choirs and wrote a booklet “On Conducting of a Singing Class”.

Some of the choirs were of mixed sex, though he pleased to believe there was never a single case of scandal between male and female pupil.

We shall never know the truth of that belief, but we do know he would take the men (but certainly not the women) to sing hymns outside the Castle on New Years Eve.

On one occasion he prefaced the singing by reminding the class “Now lads the prisoners in here are those who have done wrong and been found out.

We have all done wrong and not been found out and that is all the difference between us”.