John Baker – the quiet man! (1939-2021) by Nigel Barfoot.
When I joined the Austin Ex-Apprentices Association Committee back in 2017 John Baker was a well-established and valued member.
His primary role was managing the membership database, organising ‘MailChimp’ electronic mailouts as well as being the Association’s webmaster. He was the ‘go to’ man for anyone who needed to know contact details, year dates etc and he assiduously kept the records up to date. I very soon realised, though, that his contribution was far more than that. He would sit quietly in Committee meetings until a question came up about Longbridge and The Austin then his immense knowledge of the factory and its history would become very evident, his passion and love for all things Austin shone out.
That knowledge and passion was captured in the work that is his legacy the Austin Memories website (http://www.austinmemories.com). If you’ve never looked there do so now, it’s in the world covering so many aspects of Longbridge’s history from Herbert Austin’s first endeavours up to its sad demise and demolition. We’ve been in touch with John’s son Martin and it’s good to be able to report that he will be maintaining the site and even developing the technology to make it more suitable for phones and tablets.
John was a founder member, (along with ex Association Chair Tony Osborne, the Reverend Colin Corke (Co-Author of “Making Cars at Longbridge”) and Gemma Cartwright MBE) of the Pride of Longbridge group, who organised the very first PoL event back in April 2006, “celebrating” the fateful day when Longbridge closed.
Held every (non Covid) year since, PoL is now probably the biggest get-together anywhere of Longbridge-produced vehicles. A couple of years back John came to Committee with his plans for a large stainless steel etched map of the Longbridge site. He’d been working with the Longbridge Public Arts Project which wanted to develop an exhibition on Longbridge as well as more permanent reminders of its history. John contributed to both, and the map which he unveiled in November 2018 remains a visual and permanent testament to John’s love for Longbridge.
He started his Apprenticeship in 1958 and it was his spiritual home for some 40 years. Despite our asking a number who knew him well, details of his career are somewhat sketchy. He spent later years with the Press Car Garage, retiring in 1999 as Chief Engineer, and I do know, because he told me on a trip back one evening from the Chateau, that “they” wanted him to move to Gaydon at some point. But he refused, preferring to take any role that would keep him at his beloved Longbridge – the quiet man stood his ground!
His passing was a big shock to us all – he’d just sent out details for our first “virtual” AGM and was preparing to circulate the first Newsletter of the year when we got the sad news from The Rev.Colin Corke via Tony Osborne. Our announcements of his passing garnered many tributes and it was just so sad that in these Covid restricted times that the Association and his many other admirers weren’t able to attend his farewell service. His many works in support of the Association and Longbridge itself will though keep him in our minds and hopefully provide a thought-provoking reference for many generations to come.