Geoffrey and George(s) Gowlland Correspondence.


Letters from 1943 to 1953 between Geoffrey Gowlland, son of Egbert Gowlland, and George Orford Gowlland Snr, son of Henry Orford Gowlland, and also George's elder son George Jnr.  

George Gowlland Snr to Geoff  - 10th October 1943


Dear Geoffrey

Gladys has been visiting in Calgary with us for a few days [see Gladys’s letter of 7th October 1943] and during her stay we talked a lot about you, the family, England and so forth  - all very interesting.

[4 paras re chances of Gowllands Ltd increasing their sales to Western Canada 

Gladys told us a lot about you, Peggy and the children.  She also says you are a lover of Sussex.  I too have a soft spot for it as I know more about Sussex than any other parts of England and often wonder if I will one day is able to go back for a visit.  I remember visiting your plan when Gladys and I were small, and can still see your factory as it was then, with the gas engine and the gas producer and how it was started for my benefit.  Also the lens grinding and polishing machines.  The latter must have made a great impression on me as I later took much interest in that branch of my father’s business and then worked for some time in the Experimental Dept (Lens and Bifocals) of the American Optical Company at Southbridge, Mass.

I have been married eleven years.  My wife, Muriel, is a Canadian, born in Montreal; and we have two sons, George and David, nine and six – both Western Canadians.

 Do you think you may be visiting Canada after the war?  If so, and you should come out West, we would be very pleased to have you visit us and do what we could to make your stay enjoyable.

If there is anything I can do for you [in respect of business, clearly] at any time or any information I can give you, please do not hesitate to ask.

With kindest regards to Peggy and self, in which Muriel joins.


Geoff to George Snr  -  11th November 1943


Dear George

It was a very pleasant surprise to receive your letter of the 10th October and to hear from you.

Gladys mentioned that your wife had had a serious operation.  We do hope that she is now well. 

Father says he does not recollect you and Gladys coming to the factory at all.

Your remarks are quite correct.

It was only twelve years ago that I took out the last of the gas engines, and have been gradually changing over our machines to built-in unit drives.

Unfortunately we have only single phase [electricity] on these premises and have had to make a lot of experiments with [an] artificial three-phase system, balancing up the third line with condensers and so on.  We were the first firm in the country to have such a system.

The part of the factory you remember is still here, forming part of the existing plant.  It was very badly damaged by a neighbouring H.E. [high explosive, as opposed to incendiary] bomb three years ago, and is temporarily repaired for the duration.  We shall have to re-roof after the War.

Frankly I envy you your experience with the American Optical Company, as they are probably the finest manufacturers of our type of product in the World.

Our main problems here are very different – i.e. to produce as cheaply as possible from high rates of surfacing [i.e. grinding and polishing glass lenses].

Under war conditions the problem is complicated by the almost entire absence of skilled labour.  So far as our Instruments products go, over 85% of the operations are done by elderly part-time women, practically all of whom have never been in factories before.

You may therefore judge that our present job (quite apart from the incredible quantities of forms, inspectors and distractions) is no sinecure.

[3 paras re Canadian business]

At the moment, we have on hand a very large file of Canadian orders. Although we can supply the instruments (in many cases from stock or currant production), yet we cannot obtain export licences until your Government in Ottawa supports the customers with an import licence.

Owing to Lend Lease arrangements, these seems almost impossible to obtain, and matters at the moment are pretty well at a standstill.

[6 paras re Canadian business]

In happier times, Sussex was a mere two hours in the car from here.  Now it seems nearly as distant as Canada.

Peggy and I made a practice of going away every third or fourth weekend, and one of our regular haunts was Alfriston which you may know is in the middle of the Downs not far from Seaford.

We also used to spend weekends at Wisborough Green in Central West Sussex.

In the past four years I have had only one short train journey to Polegate, and I have not see the Sussex sea since 1938.

Probably you have noticed that we are being subjected to minor nuisance raids again just now.

A few days ago we had a fairly heavy bomb only 65 feet from the back of our house.  This shook us all up a good deal, stripped most of the tiles from our roof, and blew in all our back windows.  It is exceedingly fortunate for us that we live in a well built house which was not in the slightest degree affected by the bomb, and that the children are on the whole used to this sort of thing, and, although a little bit nervous at the moment, will soon forget about it.

The bomb fell in our neighbour’s garden, and there was nobody hurt at all as a result of it.

A bigger one of the same stick of bombs fell just behind the hotel where my parents were staying, doing much more damage.  Their hotel was completely wrecked and damage caused to windows and roofs within an area of nearly half a mile in radius.

My parents are in their seventies, and upsets of this nature are a little more serious than when one is young.

They immediately moved to another hotel and are now completely recovered.

It was nice of you to issue an invitation to visit you, and it is possible that one fine day I shall be able to come to Canada, a thing I would very much like to do.

On the other hand, it does rather look as though post-war conditions will be at least as difficult as before the war [Geoff was right – they were], and I cannot really expect to leave the factory for more than a few days at a time for, as far as I can see, the rest of my life.

On the other hand, if you are coming to England, we shall certainly expect you to come and stay with us or, in any event, to visit us.

If there is any way in which I can scrounge information for you about English producers of bearings or in any other way, please do not hesitate to let me know.

Gladys will tell you that I rather specialise in routing about for odd bits of information.  It is about the only hobby I have time for now.

I am looking out one or two of the propaganda booklets which we send out regularly to our Overseas friends: possibly George and David might be interested in them.


Yours sincerely  . . . . .



Geoff to George Gowlland Snr  -  23rd November 1943


Dear George

On the 12th inst., I replied to your very kind letter and this is by way of following it up in case my first reply should have gone astray.

Since I wrote to you, a sisterly letter from Gladys has come in, pointing out how very honoured I should feel upon actually receiving a letter from you.  I do.  [Not Geoff’s most tactful observation!]

 Gladys further mentioned that you were asking for a catalogue and that she had sent one to you showing our products.

Owing to the very stringent paper situation, and that the war has already lasted over four years, this catalogue does not now accurately give our range of products.

Enclosed therefore is an assortment of the more up-to-date lists which we have produced. 

If you are interested, the prices are subject to a 50% discount for export and are ex-works, but are subject to our general War Advance of 7.1/2%.

Ophthalmic lenses are in such very short supply that we have not been able to export any for over three years now.

If you know anything about present day instruments, you will realise how very low priced are our productions.  The quality is certainly not compatible with, for instance, Bausch and Lomb, but is quite enough for all normal users; and we have maintained that the value for money represented by our combined high quality and moderate prices is pretty well unbeatable.  At any rate in 1936 to 1939 we were able to overwhelm German competition in the Scandinavian countries which, we may say, was undoubtedly something of a feat.

Gladys sent two photographs in which we are keenly interested.

I candidly do not remember what Gladys looked like from her visit sixteen years or so ago.  I must say I was very impressed [with Gladys’s appearance in the photos, presumably].

To our eyes here, your wife looks more like something from Hollywood than Western Canada, and her hair-do is a subject of much comment as, owing to lack of time, the black-out, shortage of staff and so on, feminine hair dressing seems to have become one of life’s major problems.

It really is very nice to hear from you so far away from us, and I would say once again that if there is any possible way in which I can be of help to you over here, please do not hesitate one minute to let me know.


Geoff to George Snr  -  4thJanuary 1945


Dear George

We have just received from The Hudson Bay Company a most attractive looking box of delicacies, and are writing immediately to thank you very much for your kindness in sending them.

Velveeta was a Pre War favourite of ours, but we must confess that we had forgotten it existed, having been served with Pool Cheese for the last five years of War.

The Hudson Bay Company to us conjures up visions of 19th Century expanses of frozen wastes.  We had not realised that it was still an active concern.

From time to time very kind and thoughtful Overseas friends have sent us various oddments to eat, and we always feel obliged to explain to them that the rations here are quite adequate, so that none of us feel hungry.  They are, however, very monotonous indeed, and samples of foodstuffs from more fortunately situated parts of the world are very welcome indeed as a change.

What an attractive way of packing up Tea it is.  We had never seen these little satchels [tea bags, presumably] previously, although we have seen them advertised in American magazines.

For about a fortnight it has been my intention to send out the two enclosed magazines, but pressure of business, illness and shortage of staff had prevented me from finding time.

The current “War in Pictures” supplied to us by the Ministry of Information of our Government, to send to our particular Overseas friends, contains some really very good coloured photographs.

The little Puffin book is perhaps rather on the young side for George and David.  We have been looking out for this for over a year, trying to find a copy (it has been out of print).  We do think it is a most attractive little book, and we would like our nephews to see a little bit of what the English countryside looks like.  At any rate, this little book is almost exactly the position we are living in and loving.

Christmas here was a De Luxe white one.  There were several days of continuous hoarfrost which formed an unforgettable dressing to trees, bushes, buildings, fences etc; and we all put up with the rather intense and sudden and unexpected cold.

Our little family managed to obtain a turkey and a Christmas cake.  Pre-war coloured lamps decorated the Christmas tree, making its third yearly appearance.  Second hand electric trains, dolls and dolls’ clothes bought at about three times their new pre-war price by means of advertisements in the local paper provided the chief Christmas presents.  In all, it was quite a satisfactory Christmas.

As an Engineer, we feel sure you would have thoroughly enjoyed watching the exploits of V1 during the summer.  To see these little planes careering serenely through the sky on fairly stable courses, having travelled some 200 miles, really was a notable triumph of engineering.

More recently V2s have been arriving to add variety, and these too represent a most notable engineering achievement.  Hardly anyone has seen them, as they go so fast and, travelling faster than the speed of sound, they arrive before any warning can be given.  Propelled by burning liquid air and oxygen, and controlled to some extent on a set course at this terrific speed, they really are a most amazing piece of work.  The noise they make is very disconcerting.  The absence of warning even more so.  The damage they do with the present type of warhead is not as severe as might be expected, although quite bad enough.  The wife of our next door neighbour but one was killed some while ago when a large store was hit.  Only a few bits of her clothing and body were ever found.

In short, the War, as far as we are concerned, is not yet over; and the rather unexpected flare-up of aggressive German action on the Western Front has reminded us that there is still a great deal to be done.

There have been some minor relaxations here, i.e. the black-out is a dim-out, sign posts have re-appeared, Fire Guard duties have been halved, unscreened head lamps are permissible on cars, and so on.

All the same, life in England in January 1945 is still distinctly hard and worrying.

We very much hope that one day we shall be able to either meet and/or your family come to England, or, most probably, if we ourselves are able to come to Canada.

If there is anything I can ever do for you in an engineering way, please do not hesitate to let me know.

With renewed thanks for your kind gift, and with very best wishes for 1945 to all of you from all of us.


Yours very sincerely   . . . . . .



Geoff to George Gowlland Jnr   -   22nd September 1953  [George Jnr was aged 19 at the time]


Gowlland Crest about which Geoff was writing to George Jnr


Dear George


Your Aunt Gladys asked me a good many weeks ago to write to you about the Crest [see above] she has.

I am sorry to have been so long in replying but have been so busy at the factory on business and also my three children have only just finished their school holidays, so that we have been very occupied at home.

Now the Crest was in the possession of a famous Colonel Gowlland, whom I managed to interview nine years ago during the war and just before his death.  Others of the family have the same crest. 

It is a stag (I am not sure of the genealogical description) and is part of the Grant of Arms. The description on the shield is (I expect you will be amused at the old French descriptions still used for these Arms):-

          “Per Pale gn and az, two bars or bln three bezants in chief and a phelm in base argent”

The recent history of these Arms and the Crest can be only guessed at, but my own theory, which is quite probably correct, is as follows.

The father of the Colonel Gowlland whom I saw was a Richard Gowlland, and he, about eighty years ago, achieved a very important Government position, being head in London of the Ministry of Works.  This position then was of greater importance and prestige than afterwards.  I guess that one of the not-too-scrupulous firms, who look up Arms and try to sell them to wealthy and important people, got hold of them [Sic] Arms, offered them to Colonel Gowlland’s father and probably collected a heavy fee.

Unfortunately there really is no doubt that these were related to another family altogether.

The Arms in question were granted on the 20th July 1749 to a Ralph Gowland, who lived at Durham and who was a Member of Parliament in 1775.  His son was educated at Westminster School, and he and his grandson had similar Arms awarded to them.

Now these Gowlands have lived in Durham for a very long while: their name is featured in standard books of descendants alive today with the same name.

The head of the family is believed to be in the Argentine and probably does not know he is entitled to bear these Arms.

Ralph’s grandson was a Thomas Gowland, and the original Grant of Arms is in the possession of one of our closer relatives – a Stephen Gowlland, whom I met several times in 1942 and 1943 but who unfortunately died suddenly and unexpectedly a few years ago.

Now our family goes back in a fairly direct line to ancestors in North Kent.  They moved from North Kent to East London in 1772, where they settled and there are quite a number of descendants of this family alive now.  I believe I have corresponded with, or met, nearly all of them at different times.

In Canterbury the Gowllands were, about 1750, people of importance providing Mayors, Councillors and the principal miller and so on.

The direct line goes back to Joseph Gowland, who lived in a little village just north of Canterbury and who was born in 1716.  In this same village, or in other villages within walking distance, there were other Gowlands, for instance – Thomas (married in 1678);  Humphry (born 1611); George (married 1540); Richard (born 1529); Stephen (married 1613); and another one (1601).

These last six entries are all described as “Yeoman” or “Farmer”; and all lived, were married and died within a few miles of the same area.  There is therefore little question that all of these are of the same family, although unfortunately I have not been able to connect them up father-to-son.

In the senior branch of our family, their names were usually Richard or Stephen right up till now.  In the minor branch, they were mostly George – although there was a George 413 years ago!

The name changed from Gowland to Gowlland with Stephen Gowlland, who married Elizabeth Sarah Simons, a very young but extremely wealthy heiress of a famous Huguenot family whose family tree is published in book form and [of which] I have a copy.

This Stephen lived most of his life as Gowland, but on the marriage register (which the Stephen Gowlland, who died a few years ago, inspected) he signed his name with two L’s; but the rest of his life he sometimes used one L and sometimes two L’s.  So that the story which you have presumably heard of a family quarrel which caused one branch to use two L’s is not really borne out by such evidence.

I spent a lot of time collecting together what information about the family I could.  The two churches in which I was most interested were both ruined in air raids; and the one at Canterbury I particularly wanted to see was cleared by bulldozers and the site is now a car-park.  I believe the tombs are just being pushed down into the rubble, at any rate they were badly burnt by the German bombs, and the fires afterwards.

Unfortunately, neither of the two churches has records left, and the copies stored in other places were also destroyed on the same occasion; and, therefore, my researches came pretty much to a standstill about eight years ago.

Your Aunt Gladys has a more or less up-to-date tree, and perhaps one day when you go down to Vancouver [Gladys had moved from Montreal to Vancouver by this time] you can see it there.

Two photographs are enclosed which I took last holidays and which may amuse you and your parents.

With best wishes to you all from us all here.


Yours sincerely,






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