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Tributes pour in for former Cambridge mayor Jean Barker

By Adrian Curtis

Baroness Trumpington, a Bletchley Park code-breaker famed for flicking two fingers up at a fellow Tory peer, has died at the age of 96. Photo: PA Wire
Baroness Trumpington, a Bletchley Park code-breaker famed for flicking two fingers up at a fellow Tory peer, has died at the age of 96. Photo: PA Wire

Tributes have poured in for Cambridge’s former mayor, famed for her Second World War code-breaking at Bletchley Park, who has died at the age of 96.

Baroness Trumpington, Jean Barker, took her name from the area in Cambridge which she represented as a Conservative councillor.

During the war she was a Land Girl before working in naval intelligence at Bletchley Park. She later married historian Alan Barker, who was the headmaster of The Leys School in Cambridge and they had a son, Adam.

Martin Priestley, current headmaster of The Leys, said: “We were very sad to learn of the passing of Baroness Trumpington. She was a superb example of someone who lived a full life, one I suspect was very low on regrets, and filled with challenge and exciting new chapters.

“I don’t think she took herself, or the institutions in which she worked, too seriously and she certainly didn’t stand on ceremony. There was always time for a joke, often I suspect at her own expense, as indicated by the famous story of throwing herself into the school swimming pool on her (and Alan’s) final speech day.”

Born Jean Alys Campbell-Harris, she was the eldest of three children of the American heiress Doris Robson and Arthur Campbell-Harris.

Baroness Trumpington was an honorary councillor of Cambridge City Council, having been a city councillor for Trumpington ward from 1963 to 1973, and mayor of Cambridge in 1971-72.

She made a significant contribution to public life in Cambridge as a city councillor and was instrumental in returning the market square from a car park to the market as it is today.

Becoming a life peer in 1980, she took the title the Baroness and remained an active member of the House of Lords until recently.

Cllr Nigel Gawthrope, the current mayor of Cambridge, said: “It is with sadness we hear the news of Baroness Trumpington death.

“She led an active and notable life of public service, from her work during the Second World War at Bletchley Park, to her work on the city council and in the House of Lords.

“On behalf of the council we express our sympathy to Baroness Trumpington’s family.”

Credited with becoming the first peer to ‘go viral’ in 2011, she became infamous for a clip of her in the House of Lords flicking a V sign at fellow Tory peer Lord King of Bridgwater after he made a jibe about her age.

In her memoir, Coming Up Trumps, she described once trying to be selected as a Conservative Party candidate for Ely, which didn’t end well.

“A godforsaken bit of the world. Driving from Cambridge, there isn’t even a pub on the way. I was Mrs Barker then and they called me Baker all through the interview. At the end, they said: ‘Why do you think you’re not in Parliament already?’ I said: ‘Because of selection committees like you,’ and went out and burst into tears.”

Undaunted she threw herself into local government, eventually becoming the mayor, a magistrate and a tax commissioner.

She was the first woman chair of the Cambridge City Conservative Association and was also chair of the Cambridge branch of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and served on the committee of the Cambridge and County Folk Museum.

Known as a character in the House of Lords, as well as a forthright and controversial speaker, she once enraged animal lovers after she had suggested that Falklands sheep should be used as sacrificial mine detectors.

“My point was that sheep could be put out of their misery and eaten, whereas men could not,” she said.

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