Colleagues have paid tribute to a Royston town councillor who was a "towering figure" in the town's local history for over 50 years.

Francis John Smith, known as 'F John', was born in Royston and became exceptionally knowledgeable about the town's past. He died on Boxing Day at the age of 89.

F John was the former chairman of Royston Urban District Council - the forerunner to Royston Town Council - and served as a district and then town councillor for a total of more than 60 years. He was leader of North Herts Council for 12 years from 1999 to 2010, and was a founding member and keen supporter of Royston Town Twinning.

Royston Crow: Royston town councillor and local history expert F John Smith sadly died on Boxing DayRoyston town councillor and local history expert F John Smith sadly died on Boxing Day (Image: Courtesy of the Smith family)

He was honoured for his public service by being made an alderman of Royston Town Council and North Herts Council, as well as receiving an award from the Conservative Party for long and distinguished service.

Cllr Claire Strong, leader of the Conservative group at North Herts Council, said: "F John Smith gave an outstanding service to the residents that elected him and he will be missed.

"During his time as leader of North Herts Council, the Royston Leisure Centre was built and opened in 2005 at a cost of £5 million.

"He was passionate about having this facility for Royston and made it one of the priorities of his leadership."

Current leader of North Herts Council Cllr Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg commented: "F John Smith was passionate about serving the communities he represented and we are grateful for the contributions he made to the district.

"He will be sadly missed by his fellow councillors and electorate. My sincere condolences go out to his family."

F John also played an enormous role in local history as a founder member of Royston History Society, and took a particular interest in Royston Museum, where he served on the committee. He campaigned successfully for a Blue Plaque scheme in Royston, wrote books about the town and acted as a guide on local walking tours.

Mayor of Royston Cllr Mark Hughes said: "He was a towering figure in Royston history for the past half a century. His contribution will be missed.

"I think everyone regardless of political views would thank him for his lifetime of public service."

Cllr Tony Hunter, chair of the Royston and District Committee at North Herts Council said F John's death was "a sad loss to the town", adding: "His years of service were exemplary and his local knowledge of Royston and its history were exceptional.

"He was a member of the history society for decades and was the man to go to if you wanted to find out the history of any item in Royston.

"Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."

In addition to his political and local history roles, F John helped establish the day centre The Barn for the elderly and people with disabilities, where he worked as a volunteer.

He was also the inaugural governor of Meridian School, which later merged to become King James Academy Royston, and went on to become chair of the governors.

F John held various roles at the parish church, St John the Baptist, including as a sidesman, lesson reader and intercessions leader - as well as helping to raise money to maintain the church buildings.

For his day job, F John worked at local firm Johnson Matthey and was passionate about his role as a chemist working towards improving the environment.

Throughout his long and varied career F John was supported by his late wife Ann and by his daughters Lorna and Sarah.

His younger brother Philip, who served alongside him on Royston Town Council, said: "I loved and respected him, especially for all the things he did for Royston over the many years he was a councillor."

Following F John's death, North East Herts MP Sir Oliver Heald reflected on his "personal commitment, strong sense of values and desire to serve", saying that he "helped numerous local people with their problems and was someone who always went the extra mile".

Sir Oliver added: "F John Smith made a huge contribution to the local community of Royston and North Hertfordshire.

"He was recognised by local residents as 'Mr Royston' but also across North Hertfordshire as somebody who gave great service.

"He was a personal friend and I will miss him greatly as will his many friends. Our thoughts are with his daughters and family at this time.”