Sunday, 29 April 2012

Fred Bowes of Beccles

Beccles. I thought it was high time I wrote something about my beloved Beccles. After all, it was my home for the first eleven years of my life and to this day, a large piece of my heart still belongs there. For reasons I cannot fathom though, writing about Beccles is extremely difficult and some days I am so choked to the core of my being I find it impossible to write in a way that would do the Beccles I know and love proper justice. My mind is so richly veiled with nostalgia and sentimentality, sometimes I can't see the wood for the trees. For the most part, I confine my more reserved jottings on Beccles to my family history writing and anecdotal "tweets" about the history of Beccles and its people at @RelicsofBeccles (on Twitter).

My maternal grandmother Freda was the only one of my grandparents who was born in Beccles. Her mother came to Beccles at a very young age, from Loddon in Norfolk, and her father and grandfather were both Beccles born and bred. I grew to appreciate and love Beccles from the stories I grew up hearing from Freda. One story she told me was when I was around ten years of age. I remember that I was quite keen to learn to play the piano and the local Methodist Church held a Friday Club for children, so I always sat at their piano. I was happy to tinker at the keys on my own, teaching myself popular tunes as I went (being left-handed I was conscious that most grown-ups were intolerant of my cack-handedness so I didn't want to bother them with teaching me), until one day a lady came and sat beside me and gently coaxed me into learning "When The Saints Go Marching In". When my grandmother got wind of my new-found "talent" she exclaimed that I was following in the footsteps of her uncle Fred. Who was he? I asked.

Frederick William Bowes,
my great grand-uncle
Frederick William Bowes was born in 1889 in Beccles, son of Robert and Mary Ann. As a boy Fred was fond of chemistry and medicine so he combined these and trained as a Chemist. The 1911 census shows he was "Qualified to Dispense Medicine" - sounds rather posh! I have no idea where he worked but there were three dispensing chemists in Beccles in 1911, including my favourite chemist shop, Boots. In Fred's day Boots was known as AW Rayner and (Archibald Walter Rayner) had operated as a chemist business for over 40 years. However, Fred could have worked at the Beccles Hospital which was then situated in Fair Close. Erected in 1874, it cost £1,500 to build and by 1900, it had a total of fifteen beds available.

Beccles Hospital circa 1914 (now private residences)

When the First World War broke out in 1914 Fred was keen to learn skills in another key area of medicine, first aid. In February 1916 (after conscription for those born in 1886 to 1896 inclusive) Fred joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was immediately dispatched to the frontline. There he served until the end of the war when he returned home to Beccles, his vision terribly impaired from the effects of trench gas. In December 1918 he received a Silver War Badge after being discharged under King's Regulations in view of "being no longer physically fit for war service".

Despite this, Fred continued to work and he developed his love for playing the piano. He embraced the feel of the keys under his fingers and loved to play every day, right up until the end of his life. He joined many local dance and music troups and concert parties as pianist and, for a time, was employed by the Beccles Cinema to play the piano for the silent films. I was told he also frequently played the piano at nights for the patrons of The Fleece Inn in Blyburgate Street.

One concert group he joined were called "The Leggettonians". This song and improvisation group, who gave countless concerts to the Poor Law institutions & charity events in the local area as well as entertaining thousands of servicemen during the Second World War, was the brain-child of Beccles man Jack Leggett. The group were made up of the following:

Mr Jack Leggett (compere/comedian)
Miss Hilda Mann (soprano)
Miss Dorothy Snelling (accordianist)
Messrs Pearl & Leslie Balls (comic sketches)
Mr Edgar Brown (animal & bird mimic & impersonator)
Mr Alfred Ling (Tambo)
Mr Lennie Stevens (drums)
Mr Fred Bowes (piano)

Fred Bowes, on the far right

I never knew my great grand-uncle Fred, he died in 1950, but whenever I heard him spoken of, it was with such a fondness that a part of me felt I had known him. Fred never married or had any children of his own. My grandmother used to tell me that he lived out his life playing the piano and living with his spinster sister Winnifred (Winnie) Bowes. When I researched his life for this blog, I felt even closer to him somehow. He is a part of my ancestry of course but he is also a part of Beccles, where he lived all his life. He has left a part of himself in Beccles; in the concert halls and cinemas and possibly even Boots chemist (It's hard to explain but I sense him around me whenever I go in there).

ADDENDUM: 10 September 2014.
@RelicsofBeccles on Twitter no longer exists.
Instead I have another blog 'Relics of Beccles'

Friday, 20 April 2012

My (Albeit Distant) Connections With America

With the recent release of the 1940 US Federal Census, I hoped to find my distant cousin (3xRemoved!) Louis Goodall Preston, but after trawling through a total of 571 images for Nevada County (which took me 3 days I might add), I did not locate him.

Louis Goodall Preston was born in 1887 in Holt, county Norfolk, England. His father was an astute businessman in the town, running a stationers shop with his brother as well as selling musical instruments, and teaching music. Louis wanted to be a mechanical engineer, and in 1903 when he graduated from Gresham’s School he was well on his way to making that happen.

The 1911 census for Holt shows Louis working as a Motor Engineer. This trade would have been at the pioneering stage, as motorcars were still in their infancy and many average working-class people in England could not afford to buy them. Indeed, in a small market town such as Holt Louis would not have been able to progress in his field at a rapid rate, so he turned to the United States of America where motor car companies of the twentieth century were the avant-garde of auto technology.

Less than two weeks after the 1911 UK census was recorded, Louis Goodall Preston left from Liverpool to sail for America on the SS Campania. His final destination is recorded in the passenger lists as Greeley, Colorado His uncle, Arthur Ling, was already long established there (he had immigrated in 1888) and Louis sought to make his own future, living between Canada and the USA for the next 30 years.

Greeley, Colorado c. 1910
Sometime between 1914 and 1916 Louis married Lorna Elizabeth Annis. Lorna Annis, born in Michigan, was the daughter of a successful lawyer in Fort Collins, Colorado; Franklin Joseph Annis. Louis and Lorna had one daughter Lillie, born in 1916. The 1920 US Federal Census shows Louis, Lorna and Lillie residing in Denver, Colorado. Louis is shown to be making his living at an Auto Agency as an Auto Mechanic.
After 1920 comes the interesting part in that Louis’ love life becomes murky and mysterious, which I am still yet to de-mystify. It would appear that Louis and Lorna divorced as a descendent of the Ling family told me that Louis married Ethel Switzer in 1933 and they had one daughter, Lois. It is also my own belief that Louis returned to Canada sometime during the 1920s and possibly remained there though to the late 1930s. He died in Nevada, California in 1942.

It has been really exciting for me to research my cousin Louis Goodall Preston, because he was the first ancestor (apart from his only sister Eva Maud Preston – whose life and travels is another story for another time) whom I discovered as having immigrated to the United States of America. Not only was he a keen traveller and motivated to succeed in his chosen vocation but he was amongst the cutting edge of American auto engineering; at a time of Henry Ford et al!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Lest We Forget : Sidney Preston

Today marks the ninety-fourth anniversary of the death of Sidney Preston. He was my first cousin three times removed. Sidney holds a very special place in my heart, and has done ever since I first laid eyes on him in a family portrait given to me by Eleanor Finn, of Holt.

My framed photograph of Sidney Preston,
which sits proudly on my sideboard
Born 25 March 1889, Sidney was the son of Thomas John and Sarah Ann Preston. Sidney was very close with his four brothers and two sisters, Pattie and Mary.

From 1898 - 1905 Sidney attended Gresham's School, in Holt. Famous Greshamians include W H Auden, Benjamin Britten, and Stephen Frears.

In 1911 Sidney was residing in Hampstead with his eldest brother Thomas England Preston, who was a Solicitor. Sidney was studying as a Law Student when Britain declared war on Germany. He immediately joined up with the Middlesex Regiment, but was later commissioned to join the Essex Regiment.

On 27 May 1916 Sidney married his sweetheart Mabel Lillian Gold, at Holy Trinity Church in Kilburn, county Middlesex. From the transcript you can see that Sidney was stationed at Aldershot with the Essex Regiment.

Transcript of Sidney Preston's marriage
I would very much like to find out where Sidney was when he was killed. I keep searching on google and websites dedicated to the Great War but nothing definitive has come up yet. I need to visit the city library and see whether there are any military books available which will pin point the movements of the Essex Regiment during the first half of 1918. So far, I have titles such as the Battle of the Lys; the German Spring Offensive; Operation Georgette, all swimming around in my brain.

This is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

"On 10 April, Sixth Army tried to push west from Estaires but was contained for a day; pushing north against the flank of Second Army, it took Armentières.
Also on 10 April, German Fourth Army attacked north of Armentières with four divisions, hitting the British 19th Division. Second Army had sent its reserves south to aid First Army, and the Germans broke through, advancing up to 3 km on a 6 km front, and capturing Messines. The 25th Division to the south, flanked on both sides, withdrew about 4 km.
By 11 April, the British situation was desperate; it was on this day that Haig issued his famous "Backs to the wall" order..."

This is an excerpt from a letter sent to Sidney's parents:

“It was whilst we were together in the barracks that I got to know and love your son. For there is no doubt about the fact that everyone who really knew him loved him. His men worshipped him, and his was out and away the best and most efficient company in the battalion in consequence. I often had the opportunity of learning what his C.O thought of him. Whenever there was something special to be done it was always Preston’s company to whom it was entrusted, for whatever he had to do was done thoroughly. I don’t think he had an atom of selfishness in his nature, for all that he did was for someone else and nothing was too much trouble.”

Sidney Preston c. 1910

Gone But Not Forgotten