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Gravesham historian Tony Larkin classed a 'hero' following his death

By Daniel Green

A historian will go down in Gravesham’s history as a beloved character and an essential part of the borough’s past.

Tony Larkin, 79, of Constitution Hill, was born in London, nearly ended up in Canada or Australia, but will always be remembered as a Gravesend man through and through.

His last entry into his diary was on Tuesday, January 2 and he is thought to have died the next day.

Left to right: Foster mother Elsie May O'Neill, Alan O'Neill, Tony Larkin and Major John Herbert O'Neill

He was found at his home on Thursday after he failed to attend church.

He was known as the man to go to about Gravesend’s past but he almost grew up miles away.

He was placed in St Mary’s Convent School and Orphanage, in Leith Park Road, when he was an infant, making up one of the 250 boys who lived there, after his mother was considered too young to have a child.

Major John Herbert O’Neill, who could not have children due to injuries he suffered during the Second World War, and his wife Elsie May took him on, after they had previously adopted Mr Larkin’s foster brother Alan O’Neill in 1951.

Tony Larkin (left) with his foster brother Alan O'Neill

During a mass at Our Lady of Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Northfleet, the then vicar announced a boy who had no relatives was to leave the orphanage.

If no one was found Mr Larkin would have been sent aboard.

Mr O’Neill, 72, said: “As a five-year-old I made a very strong request to the Major that they should take him in as I wanted a brother.

“The request was granted.

“Tony was offered adoption but at that time he preferred to keep his surname Larkin.”

During the mid to late 1950s, Mr Larkin served with the Royal Artillery and spent two-and-a-half years in Hong Kong as a medical orderly.

Tony Larkin (right) with his foster father Major John Herbert O'Neill

Upon being discharged he took up a position with Medway Water Board where he would take advantage of his position to gain access to historical monuments.

Mr O’Neill said: “He used the Medway Water Board van to gain access to historical ventures, and drive around the O’Neill family.

“In those days Tony was a jazz fanatic and he had a great interest in every conceivable pub in Gravesend and Northfleet.

“I believe he had a romance as a teenager that may have been thwarted by his foster mother, so he lived his life for Gravesend.

“He was very laid back.

“Gravesend was his family.”

Historian and a popular figure around Gravesend, Tony Larkin.

Mr Larkin had been summoned by the Queen to receive Maundy Thursday money, which recognises his contribution to the community and church, this year, on Thursday, March 22.

Mr O’Neill added: “Tony is responsible for having prominent historical buildings having preservation orders placed on them along with the red telephone boxes in Gravesham.

“Tony as a family man was loved without question and he was devoted to the welfare of the family.

“I hear people say that Tony was a hero, unique in every way but always remained a perfect English gentleman and will be sadly missed and never forgotten.

“Although we are now without Tony, his character will go on living and may it inspire people to continue his support of life and the maintenance of the highly valuable historical nature of Gravesham and love and kindness to all mankind.

“Every time I said goodbye to him I thought it was going to be the last time I saw him.

“I remember when he kissed me goodbye for the last time.”

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