John was born in Luton on 21 June 1929 and joined the navy aged 15 just before the Second World War ended. Following a scholarship for Luton Grammer School, John’s entrance to the navy was part of a programme for trainee engineers. Out of 3,000 applicants to sit the entrance exam, John came 33rd. The navy offered 33 scholarships.
Quickly realising the navy was not the career for him John, with the assistance of his father, spent some time persuading his way out. With the qualifications and experience he had he was able to gain work as a health and safety overseer in factories in Luton for several years.
He was keen to expand his horizons and applied to the necessary board in London for unemployment benefit to allow him time to take his ‘A’ levels for entrance to University. The officer granted him 6 weeks benefits, for which he felt privileged. He studied and gained those necessary ‘A’ levels during that time and continued his studies at University College and London School of Economics.
To see him through his University years his part time work included: barrel organ singing, time and motion study, carrying a sandwich board dressed as Davy Crocket, waiter at a hotel and dresser at the Old Vic, waiting on amongst others, so his story goes, Laurence Olivier.
He met his wife at the BBC, where she worked as a cleaner, whilst studying Fine Art at the Slade. They were married in Newbiggen in 1954, a daughter was born in 1959 and he graduated from LSE with a degree in Sociology.
Following graudation he was successful in his application for tutor organiser for the Workers Educational Association for the Ryedale area. Moving to Pickering the couple took up residence in a flat in Beck Isle (later to become the Beck Isle Museum) where they had their second daughter in 1960. In addition to his organising duties he also took adult education classes himself, developing an early interest in history. John took to lecturing in local history like a duck to water and went on to develop annual local history exhibitions at Pickering, leading to the formation in partnership with Gordon Clitheroe of a museum of local history at Beck Isle. The building was bought with the generous gift of an unnamed local benefactor.
The family moved to teachers social housing as Beck Isles transition from flats to museum began, and they had two more children. After some years as a local councillor John set up a yearly Pickering carnival along with Don Chapman. For many years he was well known for his appearance in flamboyant home-crafted outfits. In later years he wrote the yearly Middleton pantomime, helped organise a Beacon and street party for the Queen’s jubilee and historical Pickering pageants.
For many years John wrote a newspaper column on local history and daily events in the Gazette and Herald. Information was gathered from nightly visits to local pubs and clubs where a keen favourite pastime was to talk and collect stories.
Following his redundancy through educational cuts in 1992 from his post as tutor organiser John continued to lecture for the WEA and Hull University.
He moved to Scarborough age 71 to start a new life with partner Sheila McGeown and experience a different town.
Here he immersed himself in Scarborough's history, especially the Old Town and Foreshore, as well as continuing his research into the wider local area.
He returned to his drinking and socialising of early years finding a welcome home and some singing companions in The Valley Bar.
He was an active member, and later president, of Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society for several years, during which time he led many walks, performed in "Beating the Bounds" celebrations and contributed to the website and Transactions. He was a jovial character, interested in a wide range of topics and a good friend to many.
In 2005 he was awarded the MBE for ‘services to the community’ and in 2009 he was a founding member and archivist of the new Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre.
Having kept prostate cancer at bay for over ten years he died in 2013 shortly before his 84th birthday after his cancer finally spread. He leaves behind three daughters, eight grandchildren and a first great grandchild born in Australia the week before he died.
John Rushton’s books include:
The History of Ryedale: From Earliest times to the year 2003;
Early Tudor Yorkshire;
Yorkshire in the Reign of Elizabeth 1;
The Story of Pickering;
Dalby: Valley of Change;
The Ryedale Story.
John Rushton’s unique collection of historical books and writings was donated by him before he died to Ryedale Folk Museum where it forms part of a recently opened community library research room and archive centre. He stated, “It is every scholars dream that his work is later useful to others”.