WITH the topical focus on the turn of the century, a look back at 1900 locally highlights the emphatic election victory, after a strongly-waged contest, of the sitting Richmondshire MP, John Hutton of Solberge Hall, for the Conservatives over the Liberal, Geoffrey Howard of Castle Howard, by 4,573 votes to 3,113.

And yet the focus on John Hutton could have been on almost any year from 1868 to 1921 as he was almost continuously in public service and constantly in the public eye engaged in some cause - be it in politics, local government, health, education, agriculture or industry. Indeed he was a virtual local colossus who bestrode the 19th and 20th centuries, involved in a gamut of productive activities and memorable events.

Son of John Hutton the elder of Solberge Hall, he first sprang to prominence at the age of only 21 when he waged a rumbustious election campaign for the Northallerton seat as a "blue" Conservative against the "yellow" Liberal, Jasper Johns, in 1868.

Northallerton was famed for the fervour and extremes of its elections and Hutton won the day by a very narrow margin - 385 to 373 - but had to survive a parliamentary inquiry into the charge of bribery before he was installed as MP for Northallerton.

While still in Parliament (he remained on this occasion until 1874) he began campaigning for a cause ever close to his heart - a cottage hospital for Northallerton at a time when insanitation, disease and sickness reigned in the town without the alleviation of any hospital facilities, especially for the poorer classes.

The average lifespan was only 42 and, for example in 1847, within just over a year there were 184 deaths of which 54 were from infectious diseases (including cholera, two, typhus 15, and smallpox, two) and 33 from tuberculosis.

In December 1872, a circular letter signed by John Hutton MP and the vicar of Northallerton, the Rev T W Mercer, was sent to would-be hospital benefactors.

Subscriptions were asked to be paid to the "St James Hospital Fund" stating that the promoters were anxious to restore the foundation of the hospital of St James which was situated near the town and cared for its sick but was suppressed in 1541. An especially telling phrase was: "The new Hospital will, it is hoped, be as great a boon to the poor as its predecessor."

By 1877, sufficient funds had been raised to open the Northallerton cottage hospital in the famed Vine House building in the Main Street with Hutton as its honorary secretary, a position he held for the next 40 years which saw the hospital renamed the Rutson and go from strength to strength. A plaque in the Rutson hospital commemorates the hospital's "Founder John Hutton" and of course the Rutson is a keystone in Northallerton's remarkable hospital tradition.

In 1870, Hutton had married the Hon Caroline Shore, the eldest daughter of Lord Teignmouth, and they had one child, John Ernest, who, too, was to figure dramatically in Northallerton's history by introducing electricity to the town in 1899 and producing cars there in 1900.

Hutton's main personal interests lay in rural pursuits in his native and beloved "fair North Riding". For a lengthy time he was chairman of the Northallerton agriculture society, donated a £25 silver cup for the best hunter in 1868 for its show and was a member throughout his adult life. He was founder chairman of the Northallerton horticultural and floricultural society, having a beautiful and plentiful garden at Solberge Hall and was keenly associated with Northallerton races until they ceased in 1880.

Illustrative of his sense of humour was a story he recounted about Northallerton races when he was a young steward at one of the meetings. After a particularly ragged start, he queried this with the starter who replied that it didn't really matter because only three of the "whole bunch" were trying and they'd decided to share the stakes!

He returned to parliamentary politics in 1895 and remained in the House of Commons for ten years until standing down at the end of 1905, whereupon the Conservatives lost the seat to the Liberals in 1906 - their only such lapse in the 20th century!

It was in the sphere of local government, however, that Hutton excelled and made an enormous and indelible impression. He was a North Riding JP from an early age to rise to become chairman of the North Riding quarter sessions from 1892 to 1898. When the North Riding County Council was formed in 1899, Hutton became the first county councillor for Northallerton, winning the local election against Christopher Pailiser, of Thirsk Terrace, Northallerton, and went on to serve on the council until his death in 1921.

On March 13, 1895, he was elected chairman of the North Riding County Council and remained as such for an unprecedented 20 years until he relinquished this position in 1915. As chairman of the emergent council he recorded a catalogue of dedication and achievement but perhaps the hardest fought and most personally satisfying issue was the establishment of the new County Hall building on the old Northallerton racecourse at Broomfield.

Since 1891, "proposed new County Buildings" had been on the council's perennial agenda with the old county premises at East Road not only deteriorating but also proving inadequate for the increasing business of the council, with temporary offices spreading through Northallerton.

Hutton led the drive for a new headquarters deeming it an "absolute necessity". By 1894, it had been decided to have a new building with Walter Brierley of York the selected architect, but haggling continued until May 1898 when a council vote was taken as to whether the building should be adjacent to the old East Road buildings or on a completely new site "on the old racecourse opposite the railway station".

The result was a tie. Dramatically, Hutton used his casting vote as chairman to ensure that the North Riding County Hall was to be at Broomfield, Northallerton. The rest is history and appropriately John Hutton MP laid the foundation stone of County Hall on July 29, 1903, and also chaired the first official meeting of North Riding County Council there on January 31, 1906.

Hutton had strongly supported his son, Ernest, in his Northallerton enterprise of bringing electricity to Northallerton in September 1899 (the first town of its size in the country to be so equipped).

Finally, he was very involved in his later years with the promotion of education and youth in Northallerton. He became president of the embryo Northallerton boy scouts' troop and played a key role, especially with his county council influence, in the rebuilding and reorganisation of Northallerton grammar school in 1909, becoming the first chairman of governors in its new mode.

Of course, life had its darker side for him. Solberge Hall was burned down at Christmas in 1893 and he was deeply saddened by the terrible losses during the First World War, especially of so many young people personally close to him - council members, their sons, his council staff and the old pupils of Northallerton grammar school.

His own death in 1921 at the age of 74 was accelerated by an unfortunate accidental fall at a London railway station, between the platform and a train, from which he never fully recovered.

He had spent his last years at Sobergate and he was buried nearby in the ancient North Otterington churchyard in the rural North Riding setting which he so treasured.

His contribution to his native county, in particular the county town, Northallerton, had been remarkable in variety, nature and extent. His lasting legacy of public service is permanently represented, not least by the Rutson hospital and County Hall at Northallerton, where a painting in oils of Hutton was commissioned unanimously by the North Riding County Council in 1914 and appropriately hung there in his honour