A tribute to Jim Elsworth

January 29 2021
A tribute to Jim Elsworth

News from Yate Heritage Centre

JIM Elsworth, who passed away on New Year’s Eve, was one of the most influential figures in local history in the last 50 years.

He was a great servant to the Chipping Sodbury community during that time, and involved in so many facets of Chipping Sodbury life it will be difficult to do him justice in a relatively short tribute.

Jim had been chair of the Sodbury and District Historical Society since 1979, chair of the Town Lands Charity since the 1980s and an integral part of the Sodbury Festival since the mid 1980s, along with a string of other community roles.

More than anything else, Jim became the voice of Sodbury history and the “go to” historian for local enquiries. His emergence on the Sodbury scene began with Sodbury Historical Society. Although other local historians, notably Percy Couzens, were involved in setting it up, it was Jim who stepped forward as chairman of the society, blissfully unaware that he would occupy this post for over 40 years.

Although he had a full-time job at Filton, Jim was still able to devote so much time and energy to developing Sodbury Historical Society, building it up from a core of enthusiasts to being the largest history group in the area. Over the decades, the society has regularly attracted over 100 attendees to its Friday night lectures. Much of this success has been down to offering popular speakers and sustaining the base of followers through word of mouth.

As chairman, Jim not only provided interesting speakers for society members, but also brought Sodbury History to life for scores of local groups and individuals. Initially inspired by a gift of a selection of historic slides by the family of local GP Dr Casson, Jim developed a prodigious collection of local images, taken as, or transferred to, slides which he took round to pubs, parish and community halls for over 35 years. He subsequently transferred these slides to PowerPoint and, during recent coronavirus restrictions, he gave his Changing Sodbury presentations as Zoom talks. Jim calculated that over 40 years, he chalked up over 1,000 talks in the area.

There were myriad permutations of Changing Sodbury as the collection grew to over 4,000 slides, often focusing on local shops, houses or places, while the US Army in Sodbury and Sodbury charities were other popular themes. Every year, from the mid-1980s, Jim delighted audiences with his annual talk for the Chipping Sodbury Festival. As well as lectures, Jim was always ready and available to lead history walks around Sodbury and elsewhere in the area.

From my own personal view, Jim was both a great source of local knowledge and stories and could always be relied upon for good common sense. Throughout 20 years of Yate Heritage Centre, Jim sat on the management committee from 2000 to 2011, and answered scores of my history enquiries. He was also generous in loaning parts of the Sodbury history collection for our exhibitions and collaborating in numerous history projects, the last of which was the ’Sodbury 800’ exhibition project and event in 2018.

It is difficult to quantify how much someone like Jim Elsworth will be missed. He remained a popular local man to the end, always ready to have a chat in the High Street and, whenever possible, always prepared to offer a history talk or walk for any local group approaching him. From my own experience, having Jim do a talk always added extra “bums on seats”. His easy charm, great knowledge and humour will be remembered for years to come.

David Hardill