Hundreds of mourners lined the street today for the funeral of one of St Helens most notable characters.

John Smith, affectionately known to the borough as ‘Johnny Wellies’, died following a short illness on August 21 this year.

He had spent his last few years residing at Sherdley Court in Rainhill, a home run by mental health charity Making Space.

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Hayley Rowson De Vares was the registered manager of Sherdley Court for 16 years and in that time got to know John very well.

A framed photograph of John Smith(John Welly),with his coffin.
A framed photograph of John Smith(Johnny Welly),with his coffin.

Speaking to the ECHO, she said: “John had lived in Sherdley Court for a couple of years and, after a lifetime of moving from placement to placement and decades of experiencing street homelessness, he had finally found a place that he was happy to call his home.

“In the absence of family, we’re very keen to be involved in arranging John’s funeral to reflect his magnificent character and we have been fabulously supported by the people of St Helens.

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She added: “We started a fundraising to ensure that John got an amazing funeral which reflected the esteem in which he was held by the people of St Helens and to establish a permanent memorial to his fascinating life.

“John was highly intelligent and intuitive and people recall the pearls of wisdom that he would bestow as he went about the locality.

“He is remembered as a kind and gentle man who would give away food that had just been given to him by well wishers to those who had none.

“He was a much loved local character and there are few, if any, people in St Helens and further afield who didn't know him or at least know of him.

John Smith is carried into St Mary's Lowe House Catholic Church, St Helens.
John Smith is carried into St Mary's Lowe House Catholic Church, St Helens.

“He is missed. St Helens holds him close to its heart. We have lost someone the likes of whom legends and stories will be told for decades to come.”

Hayley said she was really happy with the turnout for John and the people of St Helens "pulled out all the stops" to give the St Helens treasure an amazing send off.

During his ‘final journey’ through St Helens this morning, the hearse left Neil Middlehurst Family Funeral Directors, making its way to Sherdley Court, before reaching Lowe House Catholic Church for the service at 12pm - a journey which received an audience from start to finish.

Following the service, John was laid to rest in Windleshaw Chantry on Abbey Road.

Kelly Burrows works for A E Holland Memorials who donated John’s memorial with no charge to the work, materials or labour.

She told the ECHO: “We feel it is both an honour and a privilege to produce this memorial for such a well known and respected member of our community.

“We were very sad to hear of John's passing. We will miss his cheery smiles and waves while walking through the cemetery, and local areas.

“John was such a humble gentleman, and had a huge personality and character. Building a memorial to commemorate his life is such an honour to us.”

Former professional boxer Martin Murray was also among those who attended the church this morning and even participated in carrying John’s coffin into the service.

St Helens boxer Martin Murray
St Helens boxer Martin Murray

Writing on Facebook, he said: “Rest In Paradise the one and only John Smith.

“It's going to be a sad day for St.Helens when we lay this legend to rest. A true one off and our town will never see another like him.”

Ahead of the funeral at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Lowe House this morning, tributes have been pouring in as hundreds took to social media to share their personal anecdotes of the 78-year-old.

Paul Dwyer said: “Such a beautiful soul who clearly touched so many fly high with the angels.”

People line the street and applaud at the funeral of John Smith
People line the street and applaud at the funeral of John Smith

Nicole Humphries told the ECHO: “Dad always took the time to talk to John every time we was in St. Helens. Introduced me to him over 20 years ago. Dad will now meet up again with him in heaven.”

Details of John Smith’s early life are very limited, with many admitting they ‘don’t know anything’ about his family.

However, many said that John has a family in the people of the borough.

Round of applause for Johnny Welly
Round of applause for Johnny Welly

Frances Kelly said: “A well loved character in St Helens,RIP Johnny we were all his family .”

Caz Ashton added: “John had a massive family in the people of St. Helens. He will be sadly missed by so many around our town.”

There are currently talks of a permanent memorial being built in memory of John, most notably a statue of the well-loved character.

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