Christine Conlin talks to Stone’s ‘History Man’
Philip Leason, long-standing Town Councillor, twice Mayor of Stone, former Borough councillor, magistrate, founder and Chairman of Stone Historical Society and last not least Gazette columnist has been awarded an MBE for his services to the community and to his employer, the Royal Mail. Late last November, when a nondescript envelope from the Cabinet Office arrived at his Meaford Fields home, Philip mistook it for a begging letter from the Conservative Party and put it to the bottom of the pile.
“When I eventually opened it, I was staggered to have been included in the Queen’s New Year’s Honour’s List,” he recounted. “It’s an honour not just for me but for the town of Stone.”
Philip has been a Stone Town Councillor since 1983, initially as a Conservative but since 2005 as an Independent. He was Stone Mayor in 1987-88 and 20 years later in 2007-8. (The town suffered flooding in both his mayoral terms.) He has also served on Stafford Borough Council, notably as Deputy Mayor in 2011-12. He has also been a magistrate for 29 years, sitting in both the Criminal and Family Courts. A former President of Stone and District Rotary Club, Philip has twice travelled to India with their Polio Eradication Scheme, visiting villages near the politically tense Pakistani border.
Last year, he received a Paul Harris fellowship, Rotary’s highest award. Philip suspects that one of his MBE nominations must have come from Royal Mail, where he works at their Stoke Customer Service Centre dealing with complaints. A role he is adept in, to judge by the letter sent him by Royal Mail Chief Executive Moya Greene passing on a grateful customer’s thanks for the assistance Philip gave him while setting up a redirection for his parents.
“You went above and beyond to help,” her commendation reads.
Some complaints are beyond our power to resolve, says Philip philosophically.
“One was about the supposed indignity of Queen’s head appearing next to Dennis the Menace on a commemorative stamp.” Others call for a creative solution. “A Liverpool FC fan objected because the shorts worn by his postman exposed an Everton tattoo on his leg. The solution was to instruct the postman, via his Manager, to pull his socks up when delivering to his address!”
Royal Mail have also sent him a letter of congratulation on his MBE.
“They have always been very supportive in allowing me time off for my council and magistrate’s duties and take a great interest in my work,” says Philip, who retires at the end of this month.
With his wife, Edith, Philip is also involved with Stone and District Scouts. But perhaps he is even more widely known as a founder and Chairman of Stone Historical and Civic Society, the leader of historical walks in Stone Festival Week, the author of the Gazette’s ‘Within Living memory’ column and living repository of the town’s history. In 1997, Philip helped celebrate the bicentenary of the naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars by Stone’s most famous son, Admiral John Jervis of Meaford. On 14th February 1797 Jervis defeated the Spanish off the Portuguese coast at the battle of Cape St Vincent. Jervis was Nelson’s commanding officer at the start of Nelson’s career, so it was fitting that in October 2005, Philip and the Historical Society organised a celebration in St Michael’s Church to celebrate his victory at Trafalgar.
“We had a firework display on the church tower and we had to insure the Church for over a million pounds,” Philip laughs.
In 2012, Philip was instrumental in raising £10,000 to return the bronze matrix of Stone Priory Seal to the town. The matrix, missing since the dissolution of the Priory in 1536, and discovered in 2011 by a metal detectorist in a Surrey field, is now on display in St Michael’s Church. In 2014, Stone Historical Society commemorated the outbreak of World War 1 with a drumhead service in Stonefield Park and the publication of a booklet on the town’s contribution to the Great War.
The Society is currently researching another booklet about conditions in Stone at the end of the war in 1918.
“Stone’s war memorial, a statue of a soldier by Albert Toft is unusual because the soldier is bareheaded,” Philip explained. “At the time, some objected that the statue wasn’t wearing full uniform. But I see the soldier’s doffed cap as a gesture of respect to his fallen comrades.”
For his monthly column ‘Within Living Memory’, Philip leads Gazette readers on virtual history walks along Stone’s highroads and by-roads, recalling their houses, shops and businesses – and the folk who once lived and worked there.
“But no matter how detailed my research, readers with even longer memories will always contact me afterwards either adding further details or to correct me for describing a building in the wrong position or for having overlooked something,” Philip reveals. “It just shows passionately they feel about preserving and sharing their memories of Stone’s history.”
Collective memories are at the root of Stone’s strong community spirit, Philip believes. His historical investigations reveal that a large percentage of Stone’s population has been settled here for generations. For example, his wife Edith belongs to the Leigh family of Mansion House on Lichfield Street, Stone who owned and ran Burslem’s Middleport Pottery for over a century. Local pride is still founded on Stone’s late 18th century heyday as a thriving inland port which led to its 19th and early 20th century as a medium-sized industrial industrial centre .
Philip firmly believes that cultivating Stone’s heritage and celebrating its local identity also allows the town’s many incomers to become part of its community, too. We wish him a happy, healthy and active retirement and many more years of voluntary service to the town of Stone.