THE south Huntingdonshire village of Yelling has good reason to be grateful to the Ascroft family.

Not only did Ouida Ascroft act as clerk to the parish council for 50 consecutive years but her farmer husband Gordon has just stood down after 48 years as a member of the same council - nearly 30 of them as chairman or vice-chairman.

And last week the village turned out to thank the former rugby referee for nearly half a century on the council and to present him with an inscribed decanter as a token of its gratitude.

Derbyshire-born Gordon Ascroft arrived in Yelling in 1948 and farmed Church Farm for 50 years.

In that time he started a village youth club, founded Huntingdon Rugby Club, refereed in 20 countries around the world and played prominent roles in both the National Farmers' Union and local education circles.

He was a founder governor of Ernulf School in St Neots - now St Neots Community College - and was made MBE in 2005 for his 33 years there, including four spells as chairman of governors.

Nor did his public service end there. He was also chairman of governors at Newton School, he served on St Neots Rural District Council for six years, sat on the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee and is still president of Yelling Cricket Club, according to current parish council chairman John Peal.

"He witnessed, initiated, co-ordinated or stimulated many notable developments - notably, the creation of Friends Close in 1964, mains sewerage in 1968, the closure of the school in 1970, the 30mph limit in 1995 and footpaths throughout most of the village," Mr Peal added.

"Gordon's style was one of brisk efficiency - if you weren't early, you were late - coupled with enviable depth and breadth of experience. His meetings rarely lasted much more than an hour.

"Over the years, as a parish councillor and in his other roles in public service, he acquired a wealth of wisdom, which I personally was grateful for as he was always so willing to pass it on."

Gordon Ascroft, in the green jacket, is pictured with, from left, current parish councillors Jan Murray, James Murray, Lee Johnson, Colin Griffiths and chairman John Peal.