By Betsy Everett
A commemorative stone to the late John Blackie has been installed without ceremony on the site of the war memorial in Hawes, next to the Dale Head garage which he saved from closure.
The sandstone memorial inscribed to the “community leader and champion of the Upper Dales” was approved by Hawes and High Abbotside parish council in December, but in February this year the siting of it became the focus of controversy.
A meeting of the council, of which Councillor Blackie had been chair until his death 15 months ago, heard from residents that placing the five-foot high stone near the memorial to the dead of two World Wars would be “divisive” and would “dishonour” the memory of the 63 local men who had died serving their country.
The decision was put to a community vote in March, with a choice of an alternative site at Town Foot, opposite the health centre.
Councillor Jill McMullon, the late Cllr Blackie’s partner who succeeded him as chair of the parish council, said drawings and voting slips were in the community office in Hawes for “several weeks” and advertised on all the town’s noticeboards.
“The vote was independently verified by the Newcastle Building Society manager to make sure everything was done entirely correctly,” she added.
The result was 105 to 28 in favour of the School Green site where the war memorial also stands.
Cllr McMullon said it was “ a great shame” that a more public event could not have been held on Friday to mark the installation of the stone, which was donated by Calverts of Leyburn in recognition of Cllr Blackie’s work in the Upper Dales.
“Because of tightened restrictions and observing the rule of six, coupled with Calverts’ workload, it was decided not to do a formal ‘unveiling’.
Hopefully, when things relax we can then do something. We live in worrying times and the safety of everyone must of course come first.”
There would, said Cllr McMullon, be an open invitation to the public for a future event, and to donors, including the managing director of the Newcastle Building Society, which has a small branch in the community office in Hawes which Cllr Blackie established.