Craven is mourning the loss of a true gentleman with the death of Peter Walbank last Wednesday.

Mr Walbank, who was 79 and a former district councillor from Grassington, was born in Bradford into a family of textiles manufacturers.

He trained as an industrial designer and set up his own textile design company in Bingley. At its peak the firm employed 40 people.

He came to the Dales nearly 60 years ago after buying a hut in Hebden. Later he moved to Grassington and immediately fitted into the community and made many friends who all accepted his quiet eccentricities.

In the village he opened Peter Walbank Fabrics, one of a chain of four haberdashery shops, after the collapse of the textiles trade.

His Grassington shop became the most well-known, not least for earning the honour of selling the most knicker elastic in the North.

Despite being the most unpolitical of men, he took a huge interest in village life and in 1992 was elected as a Conservative district councillor. He was council chairman between 2000 and 2001 and stepped down in 2004. He was also a former member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and chairman of the local Chamber of Trade.

He helped out with the Grassington Festival in its early days and performed once or twice for Grassington Players. He was one of the founders of the Grassington Dickensian Festival.

Almost 30 years ago he recognised local businesses needed something to boost trade in winter when visitor numbers fell. The festival still attracts visitors from all over the UK.

Mr Walbank was willing to offer help when it was needed: from fighting for the village which adopted him as a councillor - and which he often referred to as the Knightsbridge of the North - to his work with the Samaritans.

He had a number of rescue dogs which were devoted to him and he was an advocate for the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Another love was his canal boat, which was moored near the canal basin in Skipton. Here he would spend his spare moments and stay overnight after council meetings. Passers-by would see him puffing on his pipe, peaked cap on his head and with a rescue dog by his side. Anyone he knew would receive a cheery greeting and wave.

Long-time friend and fellow Conservative councillor Chris Knowles-Fitton said it was thanks to Mr Walbank that he became involved in local politics. He said: "I have known him since I was about seven when he first started coming up to Hebden and was known by our family as Peter the Painter. He was an accomplished artist and also a great mimic.

"It was Peter who dragged me off the streets to stand in the elections seven years ago and was extremely helpful in my embryonic years."

County councillor and former district councillor Shelagh Marshall said she regarded Mr Walbank as a "super friend".

"He was one of the nicest and most compassionate people you could ever wish to meet. He didn't like people being sad and was so caring about everyone in the community. It is very sad that someone like that won't be with us any more. We can't do to lose people like him," she said.

Mr Walbank's only close relative, his cousin Frankie Ellis, said that although she had lived in Holland for 30 years, they saw one another fairly regularly. "He used to go to Holland through his textile business in the 50s and 60s and had many friends there. He particularly loved Amsterdam," she said.

The Herald's Grassington correspondent Sheila Denby said Mr Walbank was "an original".

"He was unique, generous, both with his time and money, and with an amazing ability to think outside the box with an eccentric nature which enlightened not only his own life, but that of everyone who came in contact with him," she said.

"His legacy will linger well into the future throughout the valley."

Martyn Fretwell. vice-chairman of Grassington and District Chamber of Trade, said: "Peter was a charming man and a tireless worker for the people of Grass-ington and we at the chamber will mourn his passing. He was our leading light and chairman for many years; keen to bring originality and humour into all he did. He was a great and colourful character. His kind can never be replaced."

Coun David Ireton, chairman of Craven District Council, said: "Peter's main aim when he served on the council was always to make sure Craven's interests were to the fore, never more so than during his year as chairman. He put in a lot of time ensuring the people of Grassington and district were properly represented. He was a genuine character: funny, warm and good-hearted. A real gent."

Coun Carl Lis, Craven councillor and member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: "He was a charming man, a perfect gentleman who always saw the lighter side of things."

A funeral service will be held at Linton Church tomorrow at 11.30am before a private cremation.