Tributes paid to rugby ball-stitching legend Batch

John Batchelor stitching the rugby balls at Gilberts NNL-151008-110351002
John Batchelor stitching the rugby balls at Gilberts NNL-151008-110351002

Loving tributes have been paid to one of the longest-serving rugby ball-stitchers in Rugby who unexpectedly died, aged 83.

Malcolm Desmond John Batchelor, who everyone knew as John, died after contracting sepsis while in hospital for a knee replacement on April 19.

John Batchelor stitching rugby balls at Gilbert's. Photo: Lawrence Webb NNL-170427-091743001

John Batchelor stitching rugby balls at Gilbert's. Photo: Lawrence Webb NNL-170427-091743001

‘Batch’, as his ex-colleagues knew him, worked at Gilbert’s in St Matthew’s Street for 57 years having started when he was 15 years old – his wife Maureen said he may have made more than 50,000 balls.

He stayed on when it became the Webb Ellis Museum, sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of rugby with visitors and was well-known in the town.

“‘Batch’ was an excellent craftsman, the finest stitcher of leather rugby balls,” museum owners Rod, Jim and Lawrence Webb said in a tribute.

“Forty-plus years of applying his trade, ensured every single ball, whether a match ball or a miniature, was a hand-crafted work of art.”

I still feel like he’s going to come back but he’s not.

John Batchelor’s widow Maureen

They added: “It was obvious that John was the star attraction in the museum, and was asked to stitch at various shows around the world.”

John was born and bred in Rugby and worked in the rugby ball shop and museum his whole life, besides 13 years in the armed forces.

Maureen, 80, said she was expecting him to come home from hospital after going in for a knee operation in March, but felt lucky he had lived as long as he did.

“I didn’t think I was going to lose him and it’s very hard to let it sink in, I still feel like he’s going to come back but he’s not,” she said.

Maureen is proud of John and all of his ventures, from going to Japan with World Rugby, to hosting touring players in Rugby.

John features in films in the World Rugby Hall of Fame, was interviewed countless times and was part of the town’s fabric.

“Everybody knew him when he went in to the town – he didn’t know half of them but they all did. He loved his job, that’s why he carried on working even when he was 65 and went part-time because he loved it so much,” she said.