Tributes to John Sutton after pubs legend dies from coronavirus
Family urge public to treat pandemic seriously
14 January, 2021 — By Tom Foot
Popular former Camden publican John Sutton, pictured with his three sons, Matthew, Sean and Ian
A FAMILY has urged people to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously after a fit and healthy publican died from an infection.
John Sutton was fondly remembered this week as one of the great characters of Camden – a dapper dresser in tailored suits with a biting wit and a passion for Liverpool Football Club.
He worked at the Old Eagle, Russell Arms, George IV, Reeds Bar and Camden Stores, among many other pubs, during a career in the trade that lasted for several decades.
In retirement he was an active member of the residents association on the Oldfield estate where he lived in Primrose Hill, working on Sunday afternoons behind the bar at the community centre.
He died aged 69 on Friday at University College Hospital.
His son, Matthew, told the New Journal: “They were fantastic, the whole team at the hospital, but we are all very shocked because it happened in such a short space of time. He didn’t have any underlying health conditions. He hardly drank, he never smoked. He led a normal healthy life.”
Matthew added: “He wasn’t flouting the rules in any way. He would go out to the shops or pop down to Aldi in Camden High Street, and he loved going to the park [Primrose Hill] – but otherwise he was staying in like anyone else his age.
“People need to take this virus seriously. If a strong man like that, with no underlying health conditions, is affected by it, you can be sure a lot younger people will be too.”
Mr Sutton recalled growing up in Camden Town pubs, with his best memories from the Old Eagle pub in Royal College Street and Camden Stores in Parkway, which in more recent times has been turned into an Indian restaurant.
His father had come to Camden in 1985 with wife Sally after working on the Liverpool Echo newspaper as a sub-editors’ “tea boy”, and later at the Daily Post, where he was a union rep.
Matthew said: “He came from the Old Swan area of Liverpool, a very working-class area. He was a Sunday league footballer, a left-back, and he always spoke very proudly of his old team, the Railway Tavern. He took them from Division 11 to Division 2 in what was at the time the most competitive non-professional league in Europe.
“He was still in touch with some of the old players. They’ve been getting in touch this week remembering some of his tackles.”
Mr Sutton was the eldest of six children. His mother had three jobs and his father had worked as a caretaker and fought in the Second World War as a sergeant in the parachute regiment.
Paying tribute, Dublin Castle landlord Henry Conlon said: “John was always great for banter, as his Liverpudlian wit and humour always stayed one step ahead if you were blessed to have a conversation with him.”
Mr Conlon, who is chairman of the Camden Inner London Licensees Association (CILLA), said: “John certainly left his mark. He found his forte as a publican and was naturally comfortable entertaining visitors whichever side of the counter he happened to be on. I shall miss his smile and the fact that when I’d see John, I knew I was about to have an amusing episode.”
Sally de Sousa, a neighbour on the Oldfield estate, said: “He was regularly helping neighbours and brought members of his family to live in our community. We are all shocked at his death and he will be very sadly missed. Covid-19 has already taken some of our other Oldfield neighbours.”
Camden Town and Primrose Hill councillor Pat Callaghan said: “He became one of the tenant representatives lobbying Central and Cecil [Housing Trust] for better service provision for their residents. He was constantly helping others, and with his amenable personality, honed over many years in the licensing trade, he was a trusted and true friend. He will be sorely missed.”
Matthew’s last face-to-face conversation with his father was over an app shortly before he was put on a ventilator in intensive care.
He added: “You don’t think it at the time – but that was the last conversation. The worst thing is we are a very close-knit family. For us not to be there… we would have been there 24/7 holding his hand.”
Mr Sutton leaves behind his sons Matthew, Sean and Ian, six grandchildren, and his ex-wife Sally.
NOT JUST A STATISTIC
EVERY day, we are now given a grim figure of how many people are in hospital or have died from Covid-19.
At the New Journal, we have resolved not to see these numbers purely as graphs and statistics – they represent real people, some of them are neighbours. That’s why throughout this awful pandemic we have tried to write about the lives of as many as possible.
We know some families will want to remain private but for others our coverage is a chance to celebrate the people we have lost. Too many loved ones are already gone, and without proper send-offs due to the restrictions on service gatherings.
If you would like us to write about a relative or a friend who has died from Covid, please contact the reporters by emailing editorial@camdennew journal.co.uk or call 020 7419 9000.