Written by Roger Beasley (Ha. 1949-55)
Wednesday, 26 September 2018

We are saddened to report the death of John Chaplin, and are grateful to Roger Beasley (Ha. 1949-55) for sharing these items and memories from the service on 22 October 2018.

In memoriam

Husband, father, grandfather, friend; words can hardly do justice to what we all have personally lost. But even for those who did not know john Chaplin personally, the loss is greater than they might imagine. John was a warrior, a champion of causes which benefited us all. John never hesitated to speak truth to power, and his tenacity, however unwelcome some may have found it, won us all so much of what continues to make Lewes one of the most pleasant places to call home.

John's roots, in Lewes go as deep as some of the many trees he saved for us. As a young man he began doing maintenance work at the Lewes castle bowling green, where he later served as  voluntary green keeper for over 50 years and won 23 Lewes bowls championships.

Possessed of a sharp eye and sharp mind equal to his insatiable curiosity and love of challenge, John excelled at just about everything he gave his attention to. Though you wouldn't necessarily know it, for he was a man who wore his many accomplishments, skills, and range and depth of knowledge, lightly, his achievements are too many for the time given us here, but just to give you an idea:

John was:

  • A nationally and internationally renowned tree expert - member of the European Arboricultural Council - and arborist who was granted honorary life memberships as a fellow of the Arboricultural Association, among other honours.
  • He was a founding member of the British Tree Surgeons and Arborists; a Founder member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, and was a prize winning landscape and garden designer.
  • He was an expert often appointed by the courts and litigants as an arbitrator to complex tree and other related disputes, and also regularly called upon to write expert witness reports.
  • John was a pioneer who, with other members, initiated the first Arboricultural educational courses in Britain at what's now Surrey University.
  • He drafted the codes of practice and established the professional categories and ethical conduct standards for the profession.
  • He was involved in developing the British standards for arboriculture, and the first arborist to work on BSI nomenclature for Horticulture. He founded, and subsequently worked to preserve, the Forestry and Arboriculture Safety Council.
  • He also founded the Arboricultural Advisory and Information Service which later became the Tree Advice Trust.
  • He worked for 15 years as the first parliamentary co-ordinator of the Arboriculture Association, discussing with the then Department of the Environment changes to Tree Preservation legislation.
  • He was for many years governor at Merrist Wood College of Agriculture.
  • And he was the Lewes tree warden for over 30 years.

Between all these and many other accomplishments John also found time to publish numerous articles on a vast range of topics and excel at many other pursuits.

He was a crack shot and a prize-winning marksman who was made a member of the Bisley 100, and enjoyed fishing, boating and wood working among other hobbies.

John described himself as "an active campaigner for the planting, management and retention of trees against prejudice, ignorance or inappropriate development". Which sums him up nicely.

You have only to look around you to see his legacy. The tree cover which has become such a

distinctive feature of Lewes, is in large measure a result of tree plantings he and committee colleagues were responsible for. And that Lewes has a Local Nature Reserve on the Railway Land is the result of an initiative from his old ally, Elisabeth Howard, and the campaign that he launched, the enthusiastic support of the residents of Lewes whom he and Elisabeth inspired to join it, and the team of experts that he led to its successful conclusion. The Pells too is there today because the two old allies directed their inconvenient activities to thwarting developers' plans.

In losing John Chaplin, Lewes has lost someone who spent his energies and his time ungrudgingly, in defence of its environment. But Lewes is not the only loser. It is a national loss at this time of environmental anxieties and problems when someone of his knowledge and dedication could I’ll be spared.

In his personal life John was a good and loyal friend, one who always responded positively to requests for help, often having to put aside other pressing commitments in order to do, so. For those of us who enjoyed the privilege of his friendship, working together in pursuit of shared objectives, it was a life-enhancing experience we shall treasure always and think of whenever we recall memories of John, that always challenging, totally irreplaceable man.

Written by Nuno Pontes in collaboration with family and friends.

JOHN FRANCIS CHAPLIN 5.6.1940 to 26.9.2018

John was born in Lewes and lived there for most of his life. His father Edward was a farmer who in 1959 won best farmed farm at the Royal East Berks Agricultural Show and John won Best Young Farmer. This beginning must have sowed the seeds of his lifelong interest in trees, plants and the environment.

He was educated at Brighton College and became the youngest person ever to shoot for the College at the NRAS schools hundred in 1955 having been taught to shoot by his father from a very early age.

At 23 he became one of the founder members of the Association of Tree Surgeons and Arborists (ABSTA) and later became the chair of the Professional Committee after the amalgamation of ABSTA with the Arboricultural Association. In 1993 he received the association’s annual award for continued contribution to Arboriculture along with Fred Last.

In his lifetime, his knowledge and research into Arboriculture led to his drafting Codes of Practice and British Standards for the profession and in one of his many professional roles he worked for 15 years as the first parliamentary co-ordinator of the Arboriculture. In Association, discussing with the DOE changes to Tree preservation legislation.

He married Rita Funnell at Southover Church in Lewes in 1967 when the Rev Bill Peters, Chaplin at Brighton College, officiated. They had one daughter Emma. Rita was born in 38 Grange Road, so they were both true Lewesians who developed a lifelong love of the town. As a young man, John carried out maintenance work at the Lewes Castle Bowling Green and later served as Greenkeeper on a voluntary basis for over 50 years, winning 23 Lewes Bowls Championships along the way.

It was fitting therefore that John was heavily involved with others in the Friends of Lewes Jubilee project for 1977 which saw the construction of the flint and brick wall around the bowling green, replacing the broken concrete post and rusty chain link fence erected some years before.

John has played a major part in a number of campaigns in Lewes over the years but perhaps his most important role was as one of the founder members of the Railway Land Committee and later the Railway Land Wildlife Trust. His evidence, with others, at the 1986 public inquiry into the proposed commercial development on the Railway Land was a significant factor in winning the inquiry against the developer and his legal team. Without this victory, we would not have our valuable nature reserve embedded in the heart of Lewes.

As Lewes Tree Warden for over 30 and as a member of the Trees Committee of the Friends of Lewes for over 20 years, he oversaw the planting of many new trees in the town and the preservation of numerous existing trees which formed such an important part of the Lewes townscape. This is his legacy and the town will benefit because of his work for many years to come.

John described himself as "an active campaigner for the planting, management and retention of trees against prejudice, ignorance, or inappropriate development ", which sums him up nicely.

Perhaps, as one of his professional colleagues said, John really believed that "the true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit" - a quote from Nelson Henderson.

Written by Roger Beasley (Ha. 1949-55)

You can view the full Order of Service here.

An article published in the Sussex Express about John's work is available here.    


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