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John Merrifield

Picture of John Merrifield.

John James Merrifield was born on Trafalgar Day in Cowes on 21st October 1941. He was the eldest son of Fred and Queenie Merrifield and grew up in East Cowes with his three brothers Ian, Roger and Colin. He attended Grange Road Primary School and then Cowes Secondary Modern which he left at the age of 18. John was an achiever at school, a keen rugby player, swimmer and light-weight boxer he was also Head Boy for two years.

John lived and worked on the Island all his life. John was never happier than when he was working in the sailing arena. In the early 1970’s John worked as the Manager of the Weaving Loft at Ratsey and Lapthorn Sailmakers. During his time there he was influential in setting up Ratsey’s to produce their own sailcloth for the first time in Cowes. Years later when he completed his HNC whilst working at Plesseys, he wrote a thesis on the History of Sailingmaking in the town. John went on to manage both Shepherds Wharf and Ancasta Marinas where he was extremely popular with the yachtsmen and in regular contact with many famous visitors to the town. For the last part of his working life John worked as a nightporter at St Mary’s Hospital and although this was a total contrast to all that he had done before, he worked there very happily for over 14 years enjoying cheering up the patients, teasing the nurses and bringing a light-hearted approach to all he was asked to do. He retired from the hospital in 2006.

Married to Anne for almost 40 years, John had two children: a daughter, Susan Louise and a son, Robert James. John will be remembered by his children as a traditional father-figure, an extremely intelligent man but also someone with a tremendous sense of fun and spontaneity - his influence has made his children the people they are today. He was always grateful that his children were happily married and he had huge affection and admiration for his son-in-law Ian and his daughter-in-law Lyn. When he learned that he was to become a grandfather for the first time he wrote in a card to his daughter that he was the “happiest man on earth”, and he went on to develop a truly loving and warm relationship with all his grandchildren. His first grandchild, Elliot, was born in June 1993, followed in the next four years by his Grandaughters Ella, Victoria and Erin. He loved them all dearly and they spent many happy hours together. In particular, whilst living at Gurnard Pines, John taught Ella and Erin to swim and latterly he took great pleasure in sitting on the Green at Gurnard and watching Elliot and Victoria learning to sail.

From a very young age John had a passion for the sea and sailing. His mother used to tell a story about a time when he wandered off from his home in East Cowes and after a frantic search she found him down on the River Medina sat on someone’s rowing boat – he was just five years old at the time! John joined the Seascouts in East Cowes as soon as he could and was a troop leader there. He went on to become an extremely competent and fearless sailor, owning a number of boats himself and sailing professionally for R&W Clarks, Tommy Sopwith and the Citroen Automobile Family. Completing the Round the Island Race over 14 times, he was on the Island Sailing Club Race Committee for a number of years and an active racing member of the Medina Mariners Association. Always understated he was never boastful of his achievements, yet his knowledge of the Solent waters, its hidden secrets and idiosyncrasies was extensive.

John had a hearty singing voice and was a member of the Church Choir at St James Church in East Cowes as a child. He became an accomplished bass singer, was an active member of the local ‘Somerton Singers’ in the late ‘70’s and a proud soloist in their productions of Handel’s Messiah. During his years as a member of St. Faith’s Church in Cowes he set-up and led a very active youth club. He relished in the harvest festival concerts, regularly dressing up as a Wurzel and delighting the congregation with his rendition of ‘I am a Cider drinker’! Later he became an active member of the Solent Gilbert & Sullivan Society and he took part in over 20 productions at Trinity Theatre in Cowes; he was in his element singing with others on the stage and during productions he was known for his ‘off the cuff’ jokes and ability to make the cast laugh at the most inappropriate times!

An avid reader with a love of history John was a great admirer of Lord Nelson, and acquired extensive and detailed knowledge of Nelson’s life and naval career. He was a member of the Nelson Society and during the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Trafalgar he was delighted to be invited to a formal dinner on HMS Victory in Portsmouth which he attended with his son, Robert.


When a person is such a ‘free-spirit’ as John was, it is impossible within a short address to write down everything about him but in summary he was an intelligent, loving and spontaneous man who lived life as he wished and to the full - during his lifetime he touched many people’s lives. This week someone described him as “a friend of Dukes and Dustmen”, he certainly was a man who was able to have a conversation with anyone and with his jovial manner and friendly smile, laughter was never far away. But John also had a deeper, quieter, more serious side, a brilliant listener he also liked to sit in quiet contemplation, “chewing the cud” as he would say. A unique man with a deep and personal Christian faith, many of his attributes live on in his children and grandchildren as well as in the memories of all those who knew and loved him.

Added by: Sue Gibbs on 30 September 2008.

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Picture of John Merrifield.
Picture of John Merrifield.
Picture of John Merrifield.

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