Edward Turner, one of Britain's most successful automotive designers and it's most famous motorcycle designer , never received even a minor gong that seem so freely handed out to even minor celebrities nowadays. To correct this historical injustice , Triumph motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world voted in a competition arranged by the London borough of Southwark to award Turner with a Blue Plaque at a Southwark address to commemorate his residence there.
Finding an address was a task as nearly everywhere associated with him , from his birthplace to his motorcycle shop had been demolished or destroyed during the last World War. The initial address chosen as a result of Jeff Clew's research wasn't ideal due to the recalcitrance of the occupant and the fact it wasn't the original building but of post-war construction.
This was where the borough historian Mr Stephen Humphrey came into his own. He describes in an earlier 2009 edition of Nacelle (magazine of the TOMCC ) his labours in tracing the Turner family history in Southwark and his tenacious , thorough and intuitive approach demonstrated his expertise. He found an address at 8 Philip Walk in Peckham where Edward and his brothers were housed in front of their father's bottle brush factory whilst his parents and his sisters resided further away opposite the delightful Peckham Common. Here, undoubtedly, Edward worked away at motorcycle designs including his Square Four declining the easy life his brothers chose of working at their father's successful business.
Without Stephen Humphrey I doubt that there would've ever been a suitable address upon which to mount the Blue Plaque so richly deserved by the Triumph legend. Stephen also was instrumental in the successful coverage of the event by the local ITV television news and local press enabling the Turner legend to reach a wider audience. He gave a lovely highly informative key-note speech along with the late John Nelson , Meriden co-op chairman John Rosamond, Cllr Jeff Hook (the then-mayor of Southwark) and Duncan Saunders of the Daimler motor car owners club. I spoke too as did the Rt Hon Tony Benn who had saved Triumph's Meriden factory by enabling the workers to set up a co-operative to produce the world famous twin cylinder motorcycles. Edward Turner Jr accompanied by his siblings unveiled the plaque to much applause and appreciation. It was a great day for Triumph motorcycles - and in no small part thanks to Stephen !
As a 'thank you' to him, I invited him to lunch at Lincoln's Inn Great Hall where he enjoyed the historical surroundings and fine dining. Gentleman that he was, he returned the kindness with a lovely lunch at the Albert public House in Victoria Street, St James. I last bumped into him outside the London School of Economics on the Aldwych about four years ago and mentioned that we must meet up for lunch again. Sadly, we didn't but he maintained his correspondence with me about matters Turner and Triumph in Southwark up until a month until his passing.
Stephen Humphrey died on 30 November 2016 aged 64 years. Born near the Elephant & Castle in 1952, Stephen Humphrey read history at Clare College Cambridge and studied archives at University College London. Until 2010 he was the long-serving archivist at Southwark Local History Library, where he was much respected for his encyclopedic knowledge of the borough. After leaving the employment of Southwark Council he continued to write and lecture on the borough's history. In 2012 alongside Johnson Beharry VC and Sir Michael Caine, he received the freedom of the borough of Southwark in a ceremony at St George's Cathedral. Cllr Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, said: "Stephen was an esteemed, prolific and influential local historian who was very much respected and loved by his colleagues and the local communities he worked with. "It was an honour to award his service to the council with the freedom of the borough in 2012 and I know he will be very much missed."
His many books included Elephant & Castle: A History, Southwark, Bermondsey & Rotherhithe in Old Photographs and Bermondsey & Rotherhithe Remembered.He will also be well-known to readers of the South London Press as a regular columnist on the local history pages.He was president of Rotherhithe & Bermondsey Local History Society and had in recent times arranged the lecture programme and compiled the newsletter of the Southwark & Lambeth Archaeological Society.Other societies in which he held office included the Ecclesiological Society and the Surrey Record Society.Stephen Humphrey also participated in the steering group that worked on the project to erect the Dog & Pot sign at the corner of Blackfriars Road and Union Street during the bicentenary of Dickens' birth.His recent projects included researching the history of the Southwark Charities, the historic funds linked to the parishes of Christ Church Southwark and St Mary Newington. He had also been preparing a text on the history of Tooley Street and its neighbouring lanes and alleys. Stephen's funeral took place on 19 January 2017 at St George's Cathedral Southwark and he was buried alongside his mother in the churchyard of All Hallows Church, Tillington, Petworth, West.