A HORSE-drawn hearse carried the man known as “Mr Henley” on his final journey through the town on Tuesday.
Tony Lane, who was mayor a record four times, died last month at the age of 87.
One of his last wishes was for his coffin to be paraded through Henley in a horse-drawn carriage before a service at St Mary’s Church. The cobbler also asked for his ashes to be interred in the churchyard next to singer Dusty Springfield.
The hearse, drawn by four black horses wearing black feathers and black throws with gold trim, left funeral directors A B Walker & Son in Reading Road at about 11.20am. Funeral director Julian Walker led the procession while two pallbearers walked alongside the hearse. More pallbearers followed in a car. A single red rose rested on Mr Lane’s coffin, which was covered with a Union flag.
The cortege travelled along Duke Street to Market Place, then along King’s Road, Baronsmead, Bell Street, New Street, Thames Side and Station Road before heading back along Reading Road and Duke Street to the church. People in the streets stopped to watch the hearse pass by and retailers and residents stood in their doorways. The hearse arrived at the church shortly before noon and the bells rang as the coffin was carried inside by four pallbearers.
About 80 mourners had gathered for the service, including current mayor Stefan Gawrysiak, deputy mayor Martin Akehurst, current and former town and district councillors, friends and family.
The service began with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr and Adagio e dolco from Sonata No 3 in D minor.
Rev Canon Martyn Griffiths, the rector of St Mary’s welcomed the congregation. He then read a prayer before the first hymn, Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise. Councillor Gawrysiak, who was wearing his mayoral robes, gave a reading from Revelation 21 v 1-7 before Rev Griffiths gave the address.
The rector said: “It has been some years now since Tony phoned me up and said ‘can I come and see you?’ He came to the parish office, sat down, we had a cup of coffee and he told me what he wanted for this service. It is always slightly odd when one is talking to someone about their own funeral service but he knew exactly what he wanted.
“He knew this church, in which he had been a choirboy, and one of his strongest memories of being in the church was when my predecessor Father Coleman came into church carrying a radio on which he heard the outbreak of the Second World War.
“It was a vivid memory which had clearly stayed with him for all those years.”
During the war, Mr Lane was one of many young men conscripted to work in the coal mines which were short of workers because many miners were sent to munitions factories or other essential industries.
Mr Lane was rewarded for his efforts 62 years later when he received a medal in recognition of his time as as a “Bevin Boy”.
Rev Griffiths added: “In that consultation he said to me, ‘I have chosen who I want to speak but I don’t want to be made into a saint’ and he smiled and said, ‘but then I suppose there’s not much hope for that anyway’.
“He was keenly aware of the judgment of God but he was also keenly aware of the compassion and mercy of God. His wish was that he should be brought here to this place, which had meant so much to him through the years.”
Cllr Gawrysiak told the mourners that he spoke on behalf of Henley, its residents and the town council when he said that all recognised Mr Lane’s achievements.
He said: “He was mayor four times, served on the council for 37 years and was made an MBE for his service to this wonderful community. His knowledge of the town was phenomenal.”
The Mayor said he had fond memories of visiting Mr Lane at Acacia Lodge care home on Christmas Day last year as part of his duties.
He said: “He was bright, lucid, happy and wonderful in conversation. Tony and I took a ‘selfie’ that appeared in the Henley Standard a couple of weeks later and I know Tony was very pleased about that.
“Tony, you will be remembered and we can all thank you for your level of service to the town of Henley-onThames.”
Mr Lane started his shoe repair business in a shed in the back garden of his home in Greys Road in 1945 and a year later moved to his workshop in Singers Lane. He kept the business running until 2010 when he found it increasingly difficult to stand up.
Former mayor Barry Wood told the mourners: “A great oak tree has fallen in the forest of Henley and we are all the poorer. I doubt we shall ever see his like again.
“Tony’s father went off to war and told him at the age of 12 ‘now you are responsible’ and he did not let his father down, nor his mother, nor his sister.
“He really was, for many, Mr Henley. The town was in his blood and he was proud to be Henley through and through.”
Mr Wood read lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, saying: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings, nor lose the common touch.”
He added: “Tony was all of that and more. He never lost the common touch or the ability to be at ease.
“Tony, it has been a privilege to know you and we all thank you for living a life dedicated to public service and caring for this town.”
The congregation then sang The Lord’s My Shepherd.
Prayers, including The Lord’s Prayer, followed and then Rev Griffiths gave the commendation and blessing.
The Occasions choir sang The Irish Blessing and the service ended to the strains of Bach’s Fugue in E Flat (St Anne).
Mourners were invited for tea and coffee at Hotel Du Vin in New Street, Henley, followed by refreshments at the Phyllis Court Club.
They were asked for any donations in memory of Mr Lane to be made to St Mary’s Church.
Mr Lane leaves daughter Jenny Jones, of St Marks Road, and grandson Christopher, who lives in London.