Axminster mourns “unsung hero”

Tributes are paid to Henry Watts - a man with a big heart whose smile “lit up his soul”.

TRIBUTES have flooded in for one of Axminster’s great “unsung heroes” who died last week.

Former publican Henry Watts – blues singer extraordinaire - was described as “a big man, with a big heart”, by his many friends and family.

Former Mayor John Jeffery summed him up as “One of Axminster’s good old boys.”

A fighter to the end, the former Army boxing star, died aged 74, at hospital in Exeter last Tuesday, following a recent illness.

He leaves a widow Pam, sons Richard, Martin and Ben, daughter Cindy and grandchildren Sammy, Lucy, Daisy and Ruby May, who was born just five days ago.

Axminster Parish Church is certain to be packed for the funeral service at 2pm on Tuesday (June 28). It will be followed by an open live music celebration of his life at the Axminster Inn, where his highly acclaimed blues singing was a star attraction at their regular open mic nights.

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Born in Shoreditch, Mr Watts left school to work with his father, George, who ran a number of hobby stores – builders’ merchants.

During his National Service, the Army made good use of his sporting talents.

He boxed for them and took on some formidable opponents – including sparring with then British heavyweight champ Billy Walker. He was also a member of the tug of war team which won the Highland Games.

In 1973 he and his father moved to Axminster and bought the former Symondsdown Girls School, in Woodbury Lane, which they converted into a hotel – later to become the Woodbury Park.

Noted for its large swimming pool, the “generous to a fault” Mr Watts used to allow the less well off youngsters in the town to swim there for free in the summer, sometimes to the frustration of his dad, struggling to balance the books!

Mr Watts married his second wife Pam in 1977 and after some years spent renovating and renting out properties – as well as a brief spell as an ice cream seller at Lyme Regis – he took over as licensee at The Castle Inn in 1982.

The couple soon built a reputation for running a fun pub with a great atmosphere and their leaving party, some four years later, was one of the biggest the town had ever seen.

In later years Mr Watts became market trader, travelling the country selling second hand leather coats.

Family flowers only are requested at the funeral but donations, in lieu, can be sent to the Devon Air Ambulance or Diabetes UK.


Widow Pam writing on Facebook:

I wish to tell you that I miss and love you my darling Henry soooo much my life will never be the same again. We had a long and very happy life together but not long enough! I am sure he sees our beautiful granddaughter Ruby May and is as proud as I am – 35 years is a long time and I have many stores to tell and many memories to hold in my heart. The last time we were together was when he died in my arms, holding my hand, kissing each other and he had the most beautiful smile on his face which will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Town councillor and long time friend John Jeffery:

“He was one of Axminster’s good old boys – one of the town’s unsung heroes – a big man with a big heart.”

Carey Chant, landlord of the Axminster Inn:

“He was a regular at our open mic nights and was very well thought of and popular. He will be sadly missed.”

Singer songwriter Elijah Wolf:

I knew H for about two years maybe. I met him at Axminster Howl open mic which I run. He was a big fella, strong looking, good looking, didn’t look like he would ever have taken any nonsense. A great smiler one of those whose entire soul lit up when he smiled. Joyful, wise, observational, kind, sort of chap who would go out of his way to tell someone something if he felt they needed a word of encouragement. He’d cross the room to shake your hand or tap you on the shoulder to say goodnight. A gentleman.

I met him there at the open mic night because he was a blues singer with a big well travelled, raucous, entertaining occasionally whispering strong bluesman voice. You believed him when he sang. He grabbed an audience by the scruff of their neck and made them listen but entertained them.

He’d listen to performers, take the time, appreciate where he was and who he was with. He became a friend, he’d give me a knowing wink and a smile sometimes as if to say ‘you’re alright kid, you’ve been round the block a few times, you know what’s what, enjoy it’. ‘twas comforting to have a man of his musical wisdom and experience to acknowledge you and what you’re doing.

You could tell he loved his family. In the way he spoke of them and to them. He was always grateful.

I played blues with him ten times or so and learnt a lot in those minutes together. He sort of blessed me by allowing me to share the singing with him. He had a way of sort of presenting comedy whilst we played, played us as an old blues duo, he was funny.

The last time I saw him he was just out of hospital after having his leg amputated, the very same day he got out he came to the open mic and sung, he asked me to play with him, and I think I may have been the last musician to have played with him.

An honour for me to be accepted and asked to accompany a great bluesman like him. Good night H, one of the last great bluesmen. Thank you.”

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