Town mourns the loss of Ion Castro – ‘a true Hastinger’

Ion Castro SUS-180509-132714001
Ion Castro SUS-180509-132714001

Ion Castro, a proud and passionate Hastinger and ‘larger than life’ character, has passed away.

Ion died at St Michael’s Hospice on Thursday, August 30.

Ion Castro SUS-180509-152408001

Ion Castro SUS-180509-152408001

He was a man who loved Hastings and worked incredibly hard to put it on the map. He was a member of the Hastings and St Leonards Museum Association and the Hastings Old Town Carnival committee, and chairman of the Hastings Trolleybus Restoration Group.

He regularly shared his knowledge of the town and its history through the pages of this newspaper.

Since his death, warm tributes and fond memories have been shared across social media and among members of the many organisations and community groups he was a part of.

Ion’s daughter Lia said: “My dad loved all things Hastings and we had a long-running joke that the Observer was the “Castro family paper” as he featured in 
it so often. We are immensely proud of his historical articles and his contributions to the town through the trolleybus, carnival and Hastings Week, to name but a few.

Ion with his children on Father's Day. L-R: Billy, Chloe, Ion, Lia and Jim SUS-180509-132654001

Ion with his children on Father's Day. L-R: Billy, Chloe, Ion, Lia and Jim SUS-180509-132654001

“Dad loved Bob Marley, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and saw them play on Hastings Pier in the 1960s.

“I have many fond memories of the music my dad loved, which will now always remind me of him. In his later years, he still enjoyed the pier and liked taking his grandchildren to run freely on the “New Pier”.

“He was a massive fan of a pie or fish and chips from the Old Town and used to take us to the fish market on Saturday mornings to buy kippers for breakfast.”

His wife, Susan Castro, added: “Ion and I have known each other since 1977 – the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee – when he invited me to watch the Queen’s celebration fireworks from outside County Hall in London where he was working for the GLC.

Ion behind the wheel of Happy Harold SUS-180509-132704001

Ion behind the wheel of Happy Harold SUS-180509-132704001

“He was larger than life and full of fun and mischief, mellowing slightly as he got older.

“He will be remembered for his interest in all forms of transport, from his many Austin A35s to Fred Dibnah’s steam engine which he saw at Drusillas.

“He was a staunch Labour man and very involved and passionate about Robert Tressell, who wrote The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, and the Tressell Festival.

“Ion was also a web designer and Internet consultant and put his labour principles into practice, providing various societies with free web sites and web design.

Ion Castro SUS-180509-132633001

Ion Castro SUS-180509-132633001

“Ion and I were not the same but between us we were the best we could be. We shared the best of times and some terrible ones too. He kept me grounded and I love him.”

Brian Lovett White, a long-time friend of the Castro family, added his sentiments to the tributes to Ion.

He said: “I met Ion Castro the day he broke his nose. He had ridden into the back of a bus he was slip-streaming. That became the theme of his life, head down and peddling like mad. Life was short and there was much to do.

“By the time he was 18 he had a collection of silver British coinage that needed a pallet on which to store it. Most people are not aware that he is a silversmith/goldsmith of note.

“After a period on the buses, full time employment came as an acquisitions officer for the Greater London Council. On its abolition he was tasked with disposing of the GLC’s physical assets.

“After this he became a leader in the use of PCs for domestic and commercial purposes.

Ion with Happy Harold SUS-180509-132644001

Ion with Happy Harold SUS-180509-132644001

“The Internet was a fresh idea and Ion was a pioneer. He upgraded my PC regularly for 25 years and provided a platform for my website free of charge for that time. His site is the exemplar of a site built on the leanest principles. In this site Ion focused on his understanding that Hastings was very important as the cradle of so much we now take for granted in everyday life.

“A man of Socialist principle he served as a Borough Councillor where he caused considerable nasal dislocation.

“One of his greatest achievements, in his opinion, was being born in the Old Town. The boy from Tackle Way did good but the Old Town was the love of his life. He did everything he could to help it. Hastings week and the Carnival occupied half his year and he did not regret a minute of the time he spent on it.

“His role in the maintenance of Happy Harold cannot be understated, nor the annual appearance of vintage vehicles of all shapes and sizes on the Oval.

“His fascination with working industrial museums in the North led to regular pilgrimages and one of his proudest possessions was a ‘selfie’ with him and Fred Dibnah.

“Ion’s role as a photographer recording local events cannot be underestimated – nothing of consequence went unrecorded.

“A man somewhat larger than life, he did not suffer the fool or the phoney gladly and was quick to let them know.

“The son of a Scottish mother and a Spanish father who had survived a Nazi labour camp he knew the meaning of survival. He had no time for flimflam, for snake oil salesmen. If, however, you became his friend you had a friend for life, as I can confirm, a friend for more than 50 years. Safe journey Little Ion.”

Ion was a member of both the Hastings Old Town Carnival Committee and the Hastings and St Leonards Museum Association.

Marion Purdey, chairman of the museum association, joined those paying tribute to the community stalwart. She said: “Ion was a life member of the Hastings and St. Leonards Museum Association, serving as a highly valued member of the committee. When asked to take on the role of secretary and membership secretary, he agreed to do so with alacrity.

“He immediately set about creating a website for the association which one only has only to look at to see what a professional he was.

“He brought Happy Harold to the Museum many times, taking people from John’s Place to the Old Town Hall Museum of Local History until it closed. Ion and Happy Harold were 
very much part of the Museum’s 125th anniversary celebrations in 2017 and we joined forces again to celebrate Happy Harold’s 90th birthday this year.

“Ion was a joy to work with: he was an excellent secretary, amenable, intelligent, knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects, plus possessing a robust sense of humour.

“A son of our town, a true Hastinger, he will be much mourned and sadly missed.”

Heather Leech, secretary of the Hastings Old Town Carnival Association (HOTCA), added: “Ion has been a leading member of the Hastings Old Town Carnival committee for many years.

“He was an advocate of the recent changes that have taken place to widen the inclusivity of the Carnival Court to become the new highly popular Sea Court.

“He has always promoted the many volunteer activities that happen in Hastings and the carnival has been lucky enough to be one of his particular passions.

“Behind the scenes, he oversaw many jobs. However, what most people would recognise is the Ion behind the camera. He was always available with his camera and his photos fill the Old Town Carnival Week programme. “He introduced Happy Harold as the viewing platform for the carnival judges. He set up the website for the Carnival and was proud that it was the first carnival in the country and maybe the world to have this.

“He and his wife Sue are both members of the committee who have supported and worked hard for the Carnival through the years, bringing their wisdom and experience to the table. They have helped to develop changes for our town’s oldest surviving street parade so that it will continue and thrive for another 50 years. They were both greatly missed this year.”

Keith Leech, HOTCA chairman, said: “Ion was a long-standing stalwart of the Hastings Old Town Carnival Committee, our webmaster, our official photographer, collator and collector of the entry forms and general worker.

“He was always there and always had good ideas. Sometimes vociferous in his views but always constructive and with the best for the town at heart. He was greatly missed at this year’s carnival, where we had hoped he would have been able to come and watch it from Happy Harold, and will be a real loss not only to the Carnival but to Hastings.”

Steve Peak confirmed the flag on the mast outside the Fishermen’s Museum will be flying at half-mast until the funeral, to commemorate everything Ion did for the museum.

Kevin Boorman, marketing and major projects manager at Hastings Borough Council, shared his fond memories of Ion.

He said: “Ion was a larger than life character in every respect. Although we didn’t see eye to eye on everything – he was violently opposed to the Stade development, which I project managed, and we had some very lively meetings – he shared my passion for Hastings. This was most recently brought to life in your pages, of course, with his ‘looking back’ feature very well researched, and extremely popular.

“As well as being an active member of the Hastings Old Town Carnival Association, and the Hastings Week Committee – he looked after publicity for both – he was also chairman of the Hastings Trolleybus Restoration Group, and was at his happiest driving Happy Harold.

“Indeed, my last abiding memory of Ion will be at Ostend, in May this year, where he took Happy Harold to help us promote Hastings at a maritime exhibition there. It was the trolleybus’ second journey to Ostend, having first gone in 2010 where it had proved to be a huge hit. It was quite an achievement getting it there, Ion driving the vehicle to Dover, then onto a ferry to Dunkerque, again driving the last miles into Belgium.. almost a whole day trip each way at the (almost literally) pedestrian speed the trolleybus could manage.

“Whilst there, it also helped take veterans to a special event to mark the 100th anniversary of the Ostend raid, and many dignitaries queued to have their photo taken in front of the Hastings trolleybus, many many miles from home. Not unusually, Happy Harold broke down, and I shall never forget the sight of bemedalled war veterans – most in the seventies at least – helping to push Happy Harold among the sand dunes of Ostend to bump-start it, Ion beaming widely from behind the huge steering wheel of the trolleybus!”

Susannah Farley-Green, chairman of the Robert Tressell Society, Hastings, added: “Ion was a founder member of the Robert Tressell Society in Hastings in the mid 1990s and was our webmaster and official photographer. Ion was instrumental in putting Tressell’s novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists into the limelight and in researching the origins of local places which featured in the book. As chairman of the society, I would like to pay tribute to Ion and to say that all his Tressell friends around the world will miss him greatly.”

A celebration of Ion’s life will be held at Hastings Crematorium on Friday, September 14 at 11am, with the wake to follow at The Carlisle until 5pm.

The family asks for bright clothing and big smiles. Family flowers only and donations to any of the following c/o Towners Funeral Directors:

• St Michael’s Hospice

• Hastings Trolleybus Restoration Group

• Hastings & St Leonards Museum Association.