Ken Conway, aged 93 and known to many within FoSJP, sadly passed away on 30th October 2016. He was one of our most elderly and valued volunteers. We’d like to honour and share his dedication to FoSJP and the local community.
In recent years, Ken would arrive in St.James’ Park on his mobility scooter, wearing his familiar white cap. He was a frequent customer of the ParkLife Café and also George’s Café on Church Street, where he made many friends. He helped regularly at Park events and especially at history events – he was often to be found sat behind a table “on duty” – and was one of our Park Oral History Project interviewees and also a member of the then FoSJP History Research Group. Ken was an ambassador for FoSJP, representing the organisation on stalls throughout the Shirley community and beyond. With the Shirley Heritage Project he willingly shared his World War II memories of being an ARP warden with younger generations; he was an honoured guest at two local schools. Ken was very well known in the area: he was also a member of Southampton Art Society and Atherley Bowling Club; a former member of the Wayfayrer’s Theatre Group; a former local scout; a former president of Romsey Bowling Club, and had worked at the Ordnance Survey for over 40 years.
Michaela, our history coordinator writes:
“I first met Ken in 2007 at the Centenary Celebration of the park called Park100. He was a spritely eighty‑something then: no stick or scooter in those days. Ken had an infectious giggle and a real love of Shirley. He told us how he had thoroughly enjoyed the local history display and he spent time chatting with us about his memories of the area. Ken left his name and contact details just in case we’d like to hear more of his memories. As Ken had been an Air Raid Warden during World War II and the building in the Park had been built as an Air Raid Precaution “Report and Control” building, we were very keen to interview him. In 2009, when we received the Heritage Lottery Funding, we contacted Ken and he became one of our first Oral History Interviewees for the Shirley Heritage Project – recording his memories of being an ARP warden and using the Civil Service Sports Ground. Ken subsequently joined FoSJP as a member, becoming a regular volunteer at Park and local history events. Ken didn’t let his age or failing mobility prevent him from helping. His interest and experience with maps from his days at the Ordnance Survey resulted in him also joining our History Research Group. Ken joined us on guided walks and research trips to the University of Southampton, Southampton City Archives, the Local Studies Libraries – where he of course made a beeline to the old maps and shared his discoveries with all – and the archives of Shirley Infant School and Shirley Junior School to help with their Shirley Schools Centenary 2012 project.”
“Ken knew he had some important stories to tell. When asked if we would mind sharing his ARP and World War II stories with new generations, Ken was more than happy to speak to children and young adults. In 2010, he shared his memories with children from Upper Shirley High School and students from the History Department of the University of Southampton, both of whom interviewed him. In 2013, he explained to the children and parents from the SEEDS homeschooled group how the Park building was built and used in World War II. He even demonstrated World War II helmets to pre‑schoolers at a Jamie’s Playtime summer holiday playscheme in 2011.
“A memory of Ken that other members have reminded me about was when Ken, who lived alone on Foundry Lane, heard intruders in his home. He came face to face with them: he at the top of the stairs, they in the downstairs hallway. This elderly chap waved his stick from the top of the stairs and shouted “Buzz off, you lot!” and thankfully they did. It reminds us of what he was like as a person: Ken didn’t swear, he didn’t drink. He did however, as a young man during World War II, work a full day and then every eight days also go out all night on ARP duty to look out for aircraft and bombs and to usher people to safety. I am writing this on 11th November, Remembrance Day. What a fitting acknowledgement to this humble, selfless man.”
“Ken was a dedicated member of our history group family. He enjoyed meeting people, socialising, working: everything we did together as a group. We appreciated him, and he us. We will remember his chuckle, his fun, his positivity, and his total willingness to help. He will be sorely missed.”
Michaela Lawler‑Levene, 11th November 2016
Ken is also features in our book “St.James’ Park, from Shirley Rec to Renovation, 1907‑2014”:
- p.36 – Ken’s personal story about being an ARP Warden
- p.83 – History Lesson in the Park
- pp.84‑85 – Art for the Park project at Upper Shirley High School
- p.89 – Group photo at Upper Shirley High School
- p.90 – Reopening of the Park (Ken helped cut the ribbon)
He was also involved in many more activities referenced in the book, including the University of Southampton project on page 86.