November 19 2015: Those adventurous Cowleys by Chris Barrett

Chris Barrett, a descendant of Robert Cowley and Mary Sandling through Jacob the eldest son of 12 children gave a fascinating account of the Cowleys who left the small town of Fairford and travelled out in to the wider world in the mid 19th century.

Jonathan Cowley (1784-1865) from the previous generation was a soldier in the Napoleonic wars and served in the 82nd Regiment of Foot from 1806 to when he was wounded at the Battle of Vitoria, 1813.

His son Robert (1805 -1865) was one of the ‘Machine breakers’ in Fairford in 1830 and was transported to Tasmania and after five years was released and went mining to Dunnolly, Victoria where he died

Isaac Cowley (1813 – 1892) set off with his family to D’Urban, S. Africa where he was responsible for building the first stone buildings in the town (he had been a mason) and founded and built the Baptist Church. He became know has Pastor Cowley.

Jesse (1837-1909), Isaac’s eldest son went off to Australia in 1856 and became a town clerk for Paddington and Newton in Sydney for many years. His grandson Cecil Cowley and his son met an unfortunate end in the volcanic eruption of Mount Laming ton in 1951. His wife and daughter survived.

Isaac’s son Alfred Sandlings Cowley (1848-1926) went to Australia and became a member of the Queensland parliament. His son Campbell Cowley (1881-1919) served in the Boer Wars in South Africa, had a game hunting venture then went back to Australia where his obtained some land in Papua New Guinea. Unbeknown to his Australian family he had a a liaison with a PNG lady Bagunai, and had a son in 1916. he then went of the to WW2 and served in the Middle East, came back returned to PNG and while on the search for labour contracted ‘blackwater fever’ and died. Campbell’s son Punch was well educated and set up a successful township in PNG until the country gained its Independence and Australia withdrew its support. He had three ‘wives’ and children by two of them.

Abraham Cowley (1818-1887) (went of to Canada was a Church of England missionary. Fairford, Manitoba was named in honour of him. he had 12 children and Chris met a descendant John Peter Cowley when he visited Fairford, Manitoba. Fairford, Manitoba is keen to reopen links with Fairford, Gloucestershire.

This is just small snapshot of a very adventurous family that came from a small Gloucestershire town and there were others whose story Chris did not have time to to tell.

October 15 2015: Magna Carta by Tim Porter

Tim Porter was up to his usual high standard when he gave a talk to FHS in October on the Magna Carta, highly appropriate as the country is celebrating the 800th anniversary of its signing Runnymede in June 1215.

He gave a comprehensive background to the events leading up to the signing, the power of the King, the growing resentment of the Barons and quarrel between the Pope and the King on the appointment to the post of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Pope was in favour of Stephen Langton, the King was not. Between 1209 and 1214 there is an Interdict imposed on England, at the the end of 1214 the King capitulated.

Tim outlined the drafting and issuing of the Magna Carta and the several later amended editions (the last one being produced in 1300). Although King John had no intention of abiding by the Magna Carta, many of its 63 clauses later formed the basis of English law and its unwritten constitution and the great Charter of Liberties is now regarded as the most important document in English history.

September 17 2015: The Upper Thames Patrol

At the first meeting of the new subscription year, Geoff Hawkes, Chairman said that David Perry who had been Vice President of the Society has agreed to be president.

The first speaker was an old favourite, Bill King who talked to members on the Upper Thames Patrol (UTP) or ‘Up the Pubs’ as they were known as they so often met in pubs. This was an organisation formed in August 1939 (before the Home Guard) to defend the upper reaches of the Thames, from Teddington Lock to Lechlade. The Thames has 46 locks, 44 road bridges and 4 rail bridges and if there had been an invasion it would have been essential to have these crossing points well defended or destroyed if necessary. There were about 6000 members of the UTP consisting of Thames watermen and recruited civilians some of whose boats were recruited as well. The UTP was divided into the seven counties and within that each section had a stretch of river, e.g. from Lechlade to Oxford there were 30-60 men in three sections. Their duties included patrolling the banks of the Thames and looking for anything suspicious; sabotage was feared. Bill showed the defence plan for Radcot Bridge which through history had always been strategic crossing point of the Thames.

This was no exaggerated threat, there were German spies dropped in the area in WW2 who were captured and shot. The Upper Thames Patrol performed a valuable service from August 1939 – December 1944. Some of the boats still exist and Bill attends a Small Boat Rally which takes place after Henley Regatta with also the Dunkirk small ship survivors attending.

As it is the anniversary of the Battle of Britain taking place, it is important to remember that the threat to this country was very real, and although to the modern eye it seems like ‘Dad’s Army’ these men would have defended their patch to the death.

June Lewis-Jones 1935-2015

It is with very great sadness that we report the death in August of the President of Fairford History Society, June Lewis-Jones. June was always so supportive of FHS, ready to lend a hand with information and advice.

She worked at Farmor’s School for over 37 years and taught many people in the town to type. She was passionate about the countryside and in her younger days she was a Cotswold Way warden and wrote a book on the Cotswold Way. She also had a great love for the Cotswold Lion breed of sheep, one of whom attended her wedding to Ralph in 1998.

She was so involved with many things in the town, an inveterate raiser of funds for Fairford Hospital and for the Church. The proceeds of her latest publication and first children’s book are for the preservation of the beautiful Church windows.

She wrote 29 books and wrote for Cotswold Life since it started about 1960 and also contributed to the Gloucestershire Echo and Wilts and Glos Standard regularly.

Our condolences go to Ralph, her husband and his family.


Thursday April 16th 2015: Letters from St Helena

‘An awfully nice place for a camp’

Fiona worked as a volunteer at Gloucestershire Archives and was involved with cataloguing and transcribing some of the Hicks Beach collection deposited at the Archives some years ago. The letters described were a small group written home by Michael Hugh Hicks Beach to his mother when stationed on St Helena, 1900-01.

The Second Boer War took place from 1899-1902. The 4th Gloucestershire Battalion were stationed St Helena to guard the South African Boer prisoners where they had been confined in the first so called ‘concentration camps’ (because a lot of people were concentrated in one place).

St Helena is a rocky isle in the Atlantic, 10 miles long. In 1900 it took a six weeks boat trip from England and three weeks from South Africa. Its capital is Jamestown. Usually the island was a supply station for ships in transit, the goods had to be unloaded and loaded from lighters as the big ships could not get close in. If anyone had escaped from the island there was no where to go.

Michael writes home about the conditions in both the soldiers’ camps and the Boers’ camps. At first they were all in just tents but later on the Boers were allowed to build their own huts. He writes abut the food, the Boers were useless as bakers but very good at butchering meat, and there were pictures of them with meat cleavers and carcasses. Some of the pictures came from the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum, others from pictures that Michael has taken from the Archives.

At the time Michael’s father was Chancellor of the Exchequer and home was Downing Street. Letters arrived by mail boat every six weeks, but there was also a cattle boat that departed just before or after the mail boat. Michael writes to his father that if he sees the Postmaster General could he ask him to change the timing of the mail boat so they get mail every 3 weeks and it so happened, it was changed.

Fiona talked about the leisure pursuits of the soldiers as boredom was a great problem on the island. As in any community there was the social hierarchy, there was a Governor of the Island and Lady Bathurst with another lady had come out to join her husband, the Colonel-in-Chief; they lived at Longwood House, where Napoleon had been exiled. Michael and Lady Bathurst were good friends and hockey, tennis cricket were among the activities. For the soldiers there were games and competitions.

This was a really interesting, well illustrated talk about a place and event that little was known about. St Helena is getting an airport very soon as the regular ship the RMS St Helena will be retired, hopefully this will bring more benefits and prosperity to the Island.

Thursday March 19th 2015: On the run behind the lines (WW2)

In March Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork talked to FHS about some of the RAF aircrew who crashed or were shot down behind enemy lines in Europe during World War 2 and tried to evade capture.

They were mostly helped by the extremely brave local people in the Resistance who put themselves and their families in extreme danger. There were three main escape routes across France:

  • the Comet Line. In August 1941 Andrée de Jongh (nickname Dédée) arrived at the British consulate in Bilbao with a British soldier James Cromar from Aberdeen and two Belgian volunteers, having travelled by train from Paris to Bayonne and then on foot over the Pyrenees. She requested British support for her escape network (later named ‘Comet line’)

  • the Pat Line (named after Pat O’Leary) ran from Paris to Toulouse via Limoges and then over the Pyrenees via Esterri d’Aneu to Barcelona

  • the Shelburne Line which ran from Paris to Rennes then St Brieuc in Brittany, where men were shipped to Dartmouth.

Graham told us tales of some of the individual’s adventures and the heros who helped them. He had personally met some of the evaders and the heroic people of the Resistance. He has written several books on the subject, the latest being:-

Shot Down and On the Run: The RCAF and Commonwealth Aircrews who got home from behind enemy lines, 1940-1945

Thursday February 19th 2015: Fairford in close-up

At the daytime meeting in February to a packed room Edwin Cuss gave a presentation of a random selection of about 60 local slides which were looked at in detail. They ranged from a 1914 picture of the George Hotel before the plaster was removed with the Fire Station Bell on the building to the rear left to the Red Arrows team including Ray Hanna with their Folland Gnat in 1965. In between was Fairford in the snows of the 1960s, groups of firemen, builders and buildings. Edwin could tell us something interesting about each picture and pointed out features that were not always immediately obvious.

Thursday November 20th 2014 : House Deeds

Martin Lee-Brown gave a fascinating talk on the origins and development of land ownership in England through the centuries starting with that most invaluable source of reference: the Domesday Book of 1086. Following the Norman Conquest much of the land was taken into Royal ownership and some of it was then granted to loyal followers. Proof of ownership was required and land was subsequently passed on to family members, or sold off (often to pay for debts). The administrative work required for proof of ownership led to the art of conveyancing and the birth of the all-important deed. The management of the recording and transfer of land and property ownership eventually became part of the remit of the solicitor.

To illustrate his lecture, Martin shared with the audience several local deeds from the 18th and 19th centuries. He pointed out that the descriptions of property in some of these deeds often left much to be desired and undoubtedly resulted in confusion and possibly legal action. He reviewed some of the early Fairford solicitors starting with George Symonds White (who acted for the Raymond Barkers among many others), and later firms such as Wilmots and Hitchman Iles. He mentioned the Fairford Booke (which has been transcribed by the FHS) as an invaluable source of information on early Fairford property.

Martin then continued to tell of his own experience as a solicitor in the Fairford district and how the various changes in legislation relating to land ownership and tenancy helped to define the law more precisely. Greater accuracy in the description and mapping of ground plans and the current practice of creating and storing online documents have also helped to improve the service provided by today’s solicitors.

The Fairford Booke

A 17th century book deposited at Gloucestershire Archives by Wilmots Solicitors containing Fairford register of deeds to church lands, (1601-74), including schedule of lands, (1662) GA D1070/X/2

Schedule of land

Schedule of land, 1662

F_Booke 001a_small

Thursday October 16th 2014: The Black Death comes to England

Tim Porter’s account of the arrival and the consequences of the Black Death for England provided an excellent and thought provoking study. He cast doubt on many of our certainties – for example he insisted there was no evidence that the disease that reached these shores, probably from Gascony in the late 1340’s, was in fact bubonic plague even if some of the numerous later plagues certainly were. He noted the timing of the plague and the outbreak of the Hundred Years War with one that consequence that war was postponed for a time.

What particularly impressed about the talk was its wide-ranging perspectives. For example the issue of climate was important – in the early 14th century there was a period of cold with miserable summers and seriously reduced harvests. The effect was a population with reduced resistance to disease. A significant conclusion was that where people have assumed deserted villages must have been produced by the Black Death in fact very few can be shown to be directly connected or there were more significant factors. So the loss of population through famine and plague created a situation where farmers abandoned agriculture and turned to raising sheep. Sheep required fewer farm workers so many peasants left the land and moved into towns. A linked factor was that this surplus labour had more freedom to choose what employment they took up. Previously they had been tied to the land and had to do what their masters dictated.

An intriguing aspect of the subject was the church’s struggle to find a theological explanation for the plague. They tended to fall back on explanations about God’s justifiable anger with mankind’s behaviour but the democratic range of death when the good and bad alike suffered made such explanations inadequate.

Thursday September 18th 2014: Industrial Heritage of the Cotswolds

Dr Ray Wilson took members for a gallop around the industrial heritage of the Cotswold covering a surprisingly wide range of subjects considering the agricultural nature of the area (apart from the Stroud valleys). The subjects covered included mills, railways, canals and industry.

The buildings included Lower Slaughter Mill, Northleach Prison, Culkerton Chapel and many more. The were reminders of former industry as at Tobacco Lane in Winchcombe and an example closer to home is Gas Lane in Fairford.

The information about Leckhampton quarries was fascinating. The stone was quarried from about 1798 to provide for the expansion of Cheltenham. By 1830 a network of tram roads were linked by inclined planes cleverly using gravity. The Devil’s Chimney is a pillar of stone left by quarry men.

The interesting building at the Seven Springs junction was a place where packages were left to be collected, a much more trusting society than now where the postman will no longer leave packages at houses.

The Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology (GSIA) have produced an informative booklet entitled ‘Exploring Gloucestershire’s Industrial Heritage’ which lists all features that are still visible over the County. Available from GSIA.