THE LAST member of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ who came together to found Evesham’s landmark Almonry has passed away in hospital at the age of 86
Michael J Edwards or Mike as he was known to all proudly hailed himself as the ‘Last Man Standing’ after outliving his dear colleagues and was born in Cleeve Prior in 1932, the son of a market gardener and spent his early years in the village.
He became a pupil at the town’s former Prince Henry’s Grammar School and displayed an interest in local history at an early age, occasionally finding small artefacts and fossils on his father’s land when helping with the agricultural work.
His interests and knowledge of many subjects including history and archaeology attracted the attention of a local teacher who suggested Mike consider a career in teaching.
Mike trained to become a teacher at the age of 30 and began his career in Evesham while still maintaining his great interests in local history, archaeology and the study of coinage.
In 1950, a fellow market gardener, the late Bob Smith, persuaded Mike to become a member of the newly founded Vale of Evesham Historical Society and the objective of the founder members was to form a collection of artefacts and eventually to open a museum for the education and interest of the local community and its surrounding villages.
In 1956, after much lobbying of the town and borough councils, Mike and six other members undertook the massive task of refurbishing the Almonry which was almost derelict after the war years and use by various bodies, including the army.
The amount of work those pioneers undertook was aptly described by an article by the late Bob Smith and equally described by Mike in his later years as working in the evenings until the early hours and emerging from their tasks covered in dirt and looking like coal miners.
Following the opening of the museum which was staffed and maintained by the members of the society, Mike had a chance to become Head of Rural Science and Head of RE at Holmfirth High School in Yorkshire, and so he and his wife Marjorie moved to take up the challenging post.
Throughout an eventful life Mike was supported by Marjorie, his ‘blue lady’, who survives him. They met as teenagers, married soon after and had two sons, Lloyd and Mark.
When Mike took early retirement in 1983, he and Marjorie returned to Evesham where he again became an enthusiastic member of the society, continuing to research and publish his studies.
However, he had now become well known as ‘Evesham’s Poet’ as he showcased his outstanding ability to be able to construct a poem about any subject within hours.
Evesham’s mayor at the time, Coun Diane Raphael, called him “Evesham’s Poet Laureate” and Mike would often write a weekly poem based on the Vale which he would perform on Dave Bradley’s BBC Hereford and Worcester Sunday show.
The caring character would also take to the airwaves at Evesham Community Hospital in ‘Mike’s Miscellany’ and then would visit the wards talking to all the patients listening to their stories about life in the Vale.
He would then, if requested, go away and write a poem about any subject the patient had described. Many of his poems contain a great deal of humour and were written in the old Evesham dialect. Six volumes of his poems have been published over the years and provide a rich account of life in the Vale of Evesham.
During his time with the society, he held posts of Secretary, Chairman, President and finally a Life Vice President.
Over the last few months of his life Mike was always interested in local topics and events, still writing poems for various local occasions. He still took an active interest in the affairs of the society and wished to ensure that the work and founding of the museum by himself and his six stalwart companions would continue to flourish and be their outstanding gift to Evesham.
Vice President John Kyte said: “Mike was a brilliant poet wordsmith. He was always willing to help anyone and advise on many varied subjects of which he had gained a high level of knowledge and experience. He never lost his terrific sense of humour even in his last days.
“He was a very educated gentleman who gave so much to his local community and who did not forget his roots. He will be very much missed by all who knew him, who worked with him and who shared many happy hours in his company, talking about history, archaeology, poetry and many other subjects.”
His final poem marked his position as the Last Man Standing and was written to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the Almonry in December with son Mark’s recital proving to be an emotional end to the evening.