Geoffrey & Melissa Gowlland correspondence.
Letters of 1941 - 1952 between Geoffrey Gowlland (b. 1903) and Melissa Gowlland (b. 1905), both grandchildren of George Gowlland (b. 1838)
[Melissa's writing was artistic but idiosyncratic - see below for the first letter she wrote Geoffrey Gowlland after the death of her father. Click on it to enlarge it].
Melissa to Geoff - 7th October 1941
Many thanks for your letter and copy of the Family Tree: actually I am very interested in our forebears and, apart from anything else, history was always a favourite study of mine.
Years, ago, when I was an Art student [this explains her hand-writing!], I intended compiling and illuminating on parchment a highly decorative and impressive-looking Tree! But owing to the fact that my father and his brother Charlie differed somewhat exceedingly re names etc, I was forced to abandon the idea. I am afraid that the 6 (?) brothers of this part of the family are so strongly individualistic that, rather than agree over a certain point, they deliberately differ, even at the expense of Truth. However, enough on the family.
I have written to Charlie and as soon as I hear from him I will most certainly forward any information he is able to give; and until then I think it will be wiser if I withhold what scanty knowledge I possess, as I feel it will simply add further to the General Confusion! For instance, I have always understood (from Charlie!) that our great-grandmother’s name was Le Beau, whereas my father insists it was Goffée. However, Charlie must have in his possession heaps of information. I can never understand why he, as the youngest son, should possess miniatures, cups and other trophies, and especially as now his family consists of females only.
I was very interested to hear that you possessed a son: at least the family won’t die out yet. This incidently [Sic] was rather a sore point with the Colonel [Edward Lake Gowlland] who is very Family Proud, and has . . . . his branch dying out. His twin sons, both of whom were in the Navy, are married: one has a daughter, the other vows he cannot afford children. But this was five years ago and things may be different now. I’ve lost touch with the old boy since we left Hampton Court where we lived when first married. He is very charming, and I feel sure that if you were to write to him, he would be most interested and helpful. His name is Edward Lake Gowlland, and I see his name in the Tree, also the Dr Peter of London about whom (according to the Colonel) his daughter Rose Baring had written a book [unfortunately no trace can be found, in June 2005, of this book].
It’s a pity that Richard Gowlland, or rather M.A.B.E.L. [Mabel Agnes Blanche Ella Louisa, great-grandmother of Neil Gowlland] who compiled the Tree, has omitted the names of odd children. They’ve obviously concentrated on their particular line, which doesn’t help us! I am hoping that Charlie will be able to help here, and I’ve copied the Tree, omitting the source from whence it came!
In your letter you mention that the Gowlland family began with the advent of the Sankey family from France. Surely the Gowllands came from Durham, and some venturing South married French Huguenots? I remember Colonel G. was rather proud of the fact that odd ancestors had been hanged in the North for sheep stealing, and I’ve heard the same tale from my father. I have always understood that “Gowlland”, or part of the word in [illegible] meant “The Dark People”, that the Gowllands came from Scotland. One changed his name to Gowland, after having enjoyed the usual family quarrel, and settled in Durham. The Colonel, I know, has lots of information regarding this, and his study is one mass of crests, brass rubbings, and all sorts of family gadgets; but these things I saw years ago and, having lunched and wined rather to well, I was not in the state of mind to retain much, added to which I knew so little about the family myself, and which fact I felt that he would think odd, that I changed the subject as soon as the opportunity presented!
The records at Canterbury should be interesting. What a nuisance this war is. So many of these old books have been destroyed. In peaceful times it is possible to obtain copies of old registrations for a small sum, £1.1.0d [£1.05] or so, by writing to the parson. This is rather beside the point; but my husband’s father was able in this way to compile a Tree, without the nuisance of travelling all over the place. Rather an odd coincidence; but their family settled in England from France in 1655, and were the first people to introduce green baize in the country. We have a collection of old letters, some 150 years old, beautifully clear still, and most interesting, especially one dealing with the expected invasion by Napoleon, which mentions “The Home Guard”!
Regarding the crest, I will send you a drawing, although you can look it up in, I think, Fairburn’s “Book of Family Crests” at any public library. Years ago my father described it to me, vowing that his father had spoons inscribed thereon; but, fearing his vivid imagination, I journeyed to the library to make certain. I am quite certain that he had never seen it in any book - he is much too lazy to bother! The Colonel boasts the same crest, although the name in the crest book, I feel certain, is spelt with one “L”. However that hardly matters [illegible].
I suggest then that you wait patiently for Charlie’s information, and then write to Colonel Gowlland for more: he’ll probably be more interested in you as a male [i.e. as opposed to his reaction to Melissa] – I hardly count! I always find most strange the changing of one’s name on marriage!
By the way, if you are ever this way, Charles and I will be most pleased to see you - it’s very pleasant here, we live in the midst of beech trees, and are only two miles from the Devil’s Dyke.
Very sincerely yours . . . .
Melissa to Geoff - 23rd October 1941
[Melissa’s writing in this letter is worse than in almost any other: any suggested corrections will be most welcome!]
I must apologize for the long delay - Charlie [her Uncle Charles Septimus Gowlland] being mainly to blame! In fact, I wondered whether the shock of hearing from me after all these years had been too much for him!
I have enclosed his Tree and letter to me: perhaps you will return both some time.
You will observe that it is quite impossible for Richard Sankey to be the father of George, being only 9 years old at the time of George’s birth!
I’m inclined to think that Richard Symons and George (born 1767) were brothers or cousins. It should be quite easy to ascertain this point by writing to the Curé of the Huguenot Chapel at Canterbury (on second thoughts, is it still used?) or to some other person connected with the Cathedral, requesting the dates of birth and names of George and Richard’s fathers.
You’ll remember that I spoke of much correspondence passing between various vicars and my husband’s father, referring to the registration of births etc. I went through some of this stuff today and noticed that the fee of 6d per year was changed. If only one year was necessary, a nominal fee of 2.6d [two shillings and sixpence - 12.1/2 pence in today’s money] was charged - not very ….. [illegible].
What a pity this War is on - it would have been so easy to have gone through the records at Dartford - there again one cannot write to the various clergy. I suppose all these things have been sent away to safe areas.
By the way, you’ll notice that Charlie in his letter mentions that the Gowlland came from the North to Canterbury - after all, it was the Sankeys who came to England from France and married into the family, the Gowllands being already here.
My brother and I were highly amused at your description of the ancestral home: my father was horrified and insists that the neighbourhood has definitely deteriorated.
Let me know what you think of my idea, the brother or cousin connection: you are, I am sure, better at Maths: there! So perhaps you can arrange George‘s birthday somewhere more convenient.
Actually, I feel I ought to go down to Bournemouth [to her Uncle Charles’ house]. I’d probably find out heaps more.
Very sincerely yours . . . . .Melissa (one “L” and 2 “S’s”, for your information!!) [Spelling was not Geoff’s strong suit]
Melissa to Geoff - 28th November 1941
Thank you so much for your two letters and snap, also S.C.G’s birth certificate. I gather that it was for me to keep? Daddy was very interested, and, on reading Stephen’s letter to you re singing, remembered that his father had an excellent voice and sang in Oratorios, as of course did my father when young.
So sorry to have been so long in answering all this, my ‘op’ took longer to recover from than anticipated. Sister informed Charles that I was pretty low when I went to the Nursing Home, and naturally even a minor affair is rather a shock to one’s system. So after two weeks in the N.H. I spent a further ten days in bed at home! I am now endeavouring to make a speedy return to a state of rude health by imbibing everything guaranteed to make one a superman. I shall either revive suddenly, or explode! Both [illegible] have been hors de combat. The Pouffin, who is getting on in years, ten to be exact, had an eye removed. He is fine now. And I am hoping that the other [eye] will remain healthy. One gets attached to them, he has travelled around everywhere with me - so much then for Our Operations.
To return to the Gowllands, I have been re-reading some of your letters on the subject, and I have come to the conclusion that you really are to be congratulated upon a good piece of work, handicapped as you are by the Times we live in.
I have enclosed Charlie’s letter, and for sheer piggishness it would be difficult to beat! The remark re War Work might have come from some old woman. I might remark in passing that I wrote a perfectly nice letter, mentioning that there was some difference of opinion re Stephen’s death, and would like a 3rd [opinion, presumably]. His remark re Daddy’s indignation is his fabrication. But the most amusing part is the way in which he persistently withholds my father’s date of birth, as though he might be some woman, who are in any case always, or nearly always, sensitive about their age!
Also I never asked Charlie whether he gave me the picture of George. I asked him whether he remembered the picture that he gave me on Margaret’s death and was there a fellow one of his wife!
If Charles were the eldest of the bunch, one might have excused this on grounds of second childhood etc.
But for sheer pettiness, what do you make of the remark re “War Work”, and the “Germans’ possible invasion”? Actually it might be a good think to have a Tree to show the blighter as, at least, I think we can safely say there is no Jewish blood in the family. For sheer silly nonsense, I’ve yet to meet, or equal. I always knew the man was a prig, and doesn’t it annoy you to think of all those interesting things in his beastly keeping, lashings of silver cups, I’ve seen them strewn around. The people think he’s jealous re the no male issue [Charles Septimus had three daughters and no sons, and became a widower at a very early age] , maybe they’re right, as he is obviously not interested in the family. I wonder he bothered to keep them in a safe place. I might mention that when I reply.
Reading Richard’s letter to you again (8th September) how did he know that his great, great, great grandfather, presumably Richard Symonds [Sic] spelt Gowlland in your Tree, had quarrelled with the rest of the family, and added a second “L”. If this can be proved, surely one can most definitely assume that one is connected with the Durham family of one “L”. Re the Huguenot descent mentioned in Richard and Stephen’s letter, that [illegible] could be only through the maternal side via the mother of Jane Orford, who was a Goffée.
I am certainly looking forward to the end of this war, to give just one reason - Stephen’s promised disclosures!
I think the most interesting mystery at the moment is this elusive nautical chap and the June affair. We really must get to the bottom of that, and do hope that Stephen’s friend will come up to scratch.
Do you think it might be possible for me to show Bill [her brother] these maps you have one day? And whilst I remember would you mind sending George [i.e. the portrait of their mutual ancestor George Gowlland] home? I’m afraid I shall be unable to come up to Croydon for a while. I am passing by Christmas Eve morning, on my way to Wedmere [?] in Somerset to stay with friends. Have not had a holiday for four years, but I cannot stop to pick up George. It would be nice of you. So sorry to bother you when you are so busy, too.
Daddy is extremely intrigued with all this, but thinks that you are I are much too exacting - he is quite prepared to take things on trust, say, the story of the naval battle and the rest. But I don’t agree.
My brother was awfully funny at lunch when I showed them the birth C of S.C.G. [Sic], declared that Charlie had said Daddy was illegitimate!, which upset him no end, he quite swallowed the story, and said “just like the bloody bastard”. Of course he [Bill] had to admit he was fooling. I hope you don’t play tricks on your father like that [No – Geoff didn’t!]. I fear my brother’s sense of humour is definitely ribald.
I shall await with interest your next letter which I hope will contain the information we want re the Battle.
I am so glad that Peggy’s domestic difficulties have sorted themselves out moderately satisfactorily. Will the large dame be able to return after her infant’s arrival and subsequent recovery from same? It’s a terrific problem just now. Give Peggy my love and I hope she is bearing up - and also the children and chickens as well!
Very sincerely yours.
PS. Any interesting information from Gladys?
PPS One more request. When you’ve time to spare, I wish you’d send me a copy of the notes you made re the glamorous George, as Daddy won’t believe the story re the gold (?) mine, and I can’t remember it off hand with all the other information you have me.
Melissa to Geoff - 8th January 1942
Many thanks for your letter and good wishes for 1942 - I started the New Year very badly, being in bed with an acute attack of laryngitis, and that is my [illegible] for not having answered your letter at once, and also for not having drawn the crest; but the omission I will make good this weekend - today being my first downstairs. I am in no mood for toying with a pencil! - but you have my promise for the weekend.
The news regarding the Slums [presumably Geoff had been telling Melissa about their mutual grandfather’s residence in Ratcliffe Highway, in East London] is extremely depressing. I cannot understand anyone, however Bohemian, wishing to live in such a quarter. I can only hope that George was, like quite a number of the family, artistically inclined and preferred, as many artists do, living in a violent, colourful, dramatic neighbourhood. He may, of course (being a Gowlland!), have lived there to spite other members of the family, who were of a sober and respectable nature. I can understand the man [illegible] possessing a shop or factory there, in order to attract the eye of various nautical gentlemen; but why live there?
It’s a pity the Science Museum at South Kensington is shut. I am certain that Charlie wouldn’t make a mistake and if he thinks, as we know he does, that we came from Durham, I feel sure he has some good reason to believe that. I am writing this weekend to him, to ask his reasons for so believing, and will let you know the result.
You mention in your letter that at my suggestion you sent a cheque for £1.1.0d to the authorities at Canterbury. I fear there has been some misunderstanding here. I think I mentioned that 6d per year was the usual charge made, and I would never suggest sending a cheque in advance to the clergy - and French at that - they are all probably painting the town red, on the strength of it, probably roaring drunk!
Sorry to hear of your father’s irritability [on being asked questions about family history]. My father, on the other hand, loves and thrives on questions, the only snag being that what he doesn’t know, he’s inclined to make up! He does not remember this dreadful abode of George, but does recollect the Orford house near the river. Are their [Sic] any cousins, do you know?
Did I give you the name of the Book of Crests? I cannot remember off hand, but will journey down to the library this Saturday. I was very interested to hear of Gowlland Range [in Western Canada] etc: fear my geography is bad. I’d no idea it existed.
My father asked me to tell you that in the Swan Inn in Pulborough in the front lobby there is a framed certificate connected with Inland Revenue. Sp… [illegible] or something, signed by a Gowlland; and in Devon, Cornwall or Dorset (all so delightfully vague!) there, in a small town or village, there is in a Lady Chapel, a plaque to the memory of one Janet Gowlland, wife of Sir Something-or-other – Thomas, I believe - Governor of Jamaica. I cannot see that this information helps one very much regarding George!
With reference to the crest, I remember my father describing it to me years ago and I think he must have seen it at home somewhere - he is much too lazy to go rushing round the Library! He swears how there were spoons belonging to his father, crested. I’ll mention this to Charlie when I write, we really must get to the bottom of this matter.
Possibly later, I cannot rush down to see him. Charles (my husband) will be leaving here in three weeks, possibly less, for the Army; and I shall be a free agent!
I seem to have become rather muddled as to what it is we are trying to find out. Having consulted Charlie’s Tree again. I see that the Sankey born 1767 who married Maria Castle, is he first on the list, perhaps it would be a good idea if I asked Charlie from whence this information came, if he has copies of birth or marriage certificates, might it be possible to find out where they lived. I think before you write to Col. Gowlland (unless you have already done so), it would be wise to wait for further information - I’ll do my best.
I wish you would come down here, it would be fun to meet, and am sure you ought to relax some time! I have an oil and water colour of our grandfather George [see below] you might care to view, looking like the King of the Cannibals – sports an outsize in black whiskers and beard – very fierce all together [Sic]! It would be wise to give notice of your visit, as we may next week be going away for a few days, as this will be the last opportunity for a holiday for some time, I fear – I shall continue to live here after Charles has gone.
All the best . .. . [illegible] … Very sincerely yours
And in Spring 2010 this portrait turned up, to everyone's astonishment . . . . here it is . . . . .
Melissa to Geoff - 25th February 1942
Thank you so much for returning the seal - I feel certain that you must, by now, have given up all hope of ever seeing your letters again; but I am sure you will forgive the delay when, having read the letter enclosed, you will see that it was not entirely my fault.
I wrote to Charlie six weeks ago, and you know how it is – one feels it’s a waste of time and energy to write again - the next post may bring the expected letter, and so the weeks drift by. I suppose I ought to apologise for allowing Charlie to read Richard’s letter, without just asking your permission - but then I didn’t want to waste time with unnecessary correspondence - so I hope that I am forgiven. The letters I am returning definitely tomorrow - cannot find a large envelope.
I don’t know whether Charlie’s information is of any value. It seems the Gowllands spend most of their time correcting one another, e.g. the two “L’s” etc. The copies from the register of St Leonard’s Shoreditch sound interesting. I was very amused to read that Charlie had sent my father his birth date. I’m afraid that the sight of his brother’s handwriting may bring on a seizure, and I dare not ring up today for fear of a violent outburst - in any case, why the mystery, why not send it to me? I find it very irritating, to say the last, that he should have in his possession all these relics, Bible and what-nots.
You will send me a copy of the notes you are compiling? I suspect I shall want to correct them! Re the crest - do you still want me to have an impression made? Unfortunately the engraver has been away ill, but should be resuming work soon. I haven’t forgotten the drawing, but perhaps you will not require it now. I haven’t forgotten the drawing, but perhaps you will not require it now. I don’t know whether you are interested in the heraldic [illegible] but it goes something like this.
Durham A bezant charged with a mount tent, thereon a stag Trippant p.p.n. (p.p.n – proper).
Tent Green, represented when engraved by diagonal lines to the sinister base.
Bezant A flat circular piece of gold supposed to represent the gold coin of the [illegible].
I hope that you have [illegible] received some information from the Church. I am truly disgusted with their casual treatment! Do let me know if you have discovered anything definite. I am not going to follow Charlie’s advice re crankiness - on the contrary, I am just warming up and enjoying the hunt. What a pity we didn’t start all this in the year preceding the War! I find it most intriguing. By the way, if you have an odd snap of the children, should very much like to see it, or, rather, them. In the meantime, good hunting. Should send the Church a prepaid [illegible]. One more thing, who is Richard anyway?
Yours . . . . . .
Melissa to Geoff - 5th April 1942
How do you do it? All this unearthing of old relatives - and how did you discover S. L Gowlland? You will, by now, have discovered some Awful Truth from him - I only hope he is reliable and not too imaginative! I really was thrilled with the John Johnson [?] affair - I don’t know whether you are interested in sailing, but we are down here, my brother possessing quite a nice affair at present in Shoreham Harbour, so I felt I had quite a lot in common with J.J! I must say, though, and think you’ll agree, that he rather overdid the Gowlland this, that and the other! Poor Captain Richards appears to have been somewhat overruled - maybe I’m wrong there, this may of course be Richard’s this and that.
You will have noticed that I have not included the photo of the crest you so kindly sent, reason being that my father was anxious to have it photographed, and I was unable yesterday to call for the thing, which will mean waiting over till Tuesday, being holiday time. But I will return it on Tuesday without fail, and before I proceed, I really must apologise for not returning the two letters of Gladys Gowlland, the letter from Richard (you haven’t yet disclosed his identity) and the report on J.J.S., and I must thank you for the snap of the family - the children look sweet.
Re the portrait I have of Grandfather George, do you mean that you would like a photograph taken from the painting, or do you want the portrait painted in colour? I am afraid it is quite beyond me - portrait painting was never one of my accomplishments; but I can quite easily get an estimate. It’s rather a large affair, else I’d drag it along to Croydon one day, it’s worth looking at if you’ve not seen a photo of him. It belonged to Margaret, and Charlie being a younger brother could hardly refuse to let me have it when she died. I suppose you can’t find time to rush down one afternoon? The ban on visiting [i.e. of the coastal areas] which is resumed (Thank God!) on the 16th April, when the Invasion Season begins, needn’t affect you - business reasons etc!
I thought the Colonel’s papa must have been the Richard on the Tree, because I remember that he called himself Edward Lane Gowlland. Is he still living at Richmond? You say his house is sold - is he then in the Star and Garter [Home]? And did you see his wife - so much I want to ask you. You ask if there is any chance of getting any copies out of Charles - copies of what? Do you mean registers?
I don’t know the title of Rose Baring’s book re Doctor Peter [Yeames Gowlland - this book appears to be out of print, and no copies exist anywhere, in June 2005]. I have not read it, but no doubt Charlie will know. I have written to him about the [illegible], but he is even worse than I at answering letters. Actually, I am usually quick; but when your letter arrived last I was completely lad low with a gastric ‘do’, some germ rushing around here, the doctor was worked with death - was [illegible] ill in bed for five days, then Charles left on the 19th, then I was asked, in fact instructed, to billet a Naval cadet, and having a soft spot for the Navy, said “yes”; but it means quite a lot of extra work. We have a large school nearby, where these young men are being trained as officers. Everyone goes through the ranks nowadays, and in the Navy one must spend at least three months at sea, which usually means nine, before becoming commission-worthy. They stay with one for two weeks during which they go before a formidable [illegible] of gold braid for examination, before proceeding to Lancing College. They are really awfully nice and most domesticated. Our present one is a builder in civilian life, and has already re-hung the gate and done several odd jobs in the house. I am hoping for a sweep next week! They are almost non-existent here. The billeting officer was almost in tears when he arrived, and assured me that I shall be doing a real service to the Navy if I would look after one. People around here are very selfish and won’t be bothered. The servant question is naturally an acute one, but these men have been told to make as little work as possible, and all make their own beds - after a fashion! I fear that quite a number of people haven’t yet realised that we are at war - and just what [illegible] the Navy are doing for them - I seem to have wondered far from the Family.
I feel certain we are on the right track re Richard’s Tree: we might be certain if I can get down to Charlie. I will find out the train arrangements, and have no desire to stay the night there - seem to go in for land mines down there! I prefer my one particular variety of bomb - he is rather a hopeless person to write to - doesn’t answer the question. I really ought to inspect the Bible he has.
I shall expect to hear great things of the visit of yours, not to mention the terrific correspondence you must have indulged in with was it Arthur’s or Alfred’s children?
Do, when you have a moment to spare, let me have all details, and I promise to return the crest on Tuesday.
Yours . . . .
Enclosed snap of the house. Can’t find one of me. Charlie can just be seen at one end!
Melissa to Geoff - 5th May 1942
Please forgive the rather plebian [Sic] looking envelope. It’s all I could find [Melissa was writing from the Bull’s Head Hotel in Macclesfield, and using the stationery provided]. I am staying here for a few days visiting Charles, who is in hospital, poor thing. I fear his Army career is to be a brief one, but how long he will have to remain in this spot, I know not..
I received a reply from Charlie, only two days ago. Why he takes a month or so to answer one’s letter, I know not. Most odd – the business of the instruments.
Who is Stephen, and how did you discover him? What is he like - very ancient? (Why do women talk in writing rooms?). Everyone staying here is on the wrong side of 80. The men very grim, hard-boiled and thoroughly grumpy looking business men.
Returning to Stephen, I think, and I’m sure you’ll agree, that he is quite wrong in assuming that our name is derived from Cowland. Why not the other way round? You’ll remember that I looked it up in the book of Surnames. Re the crest - he may be right. I’m not so interested in that part.
If Stephen is correct regarding the father of George Castle, you are to be congratulated in running him, and the Tree, to earth. How, and where, did you find him? Do let me know. Thank God they’ve gone, the women, I mean. What a [illegible] this War is - it would have been fun going to have gone around looking up old records.
My job of “Looking After the Navy” is a great success, and I’m looked upon now as the No: 1 billet, apparently! I do spoil them, it must be the gold braid! We’ve had a succession of Beards, I insist on it. We find them so much jollier than plain-faced ones, besides being more decorative.
I can’t quite follow what it was you wanted me to do re the Grandfather picture - it’s no trouble at all and could get an estimate for copying or photographing if you wish.
Looking forward to your notes and the New Tree.
Yours . . . . . .
Melissa to Geoff - 15th May 1942
Thank you so much for your very interesting letter - I feel that I already know Stephen, thanks to your marvellous description, in fact I have no desire to meet him - [illegible].
The Tree I should very much like to have, but please to do not go to all the trouble of writing it out for me - if you will send me yours, I will do that, and return the original without fail.
I should very much like to break my return journey at Croydon and have lunch with you all. But I have arranged to visit some friends near Rustlake Green, and take the Eastbourne line. But what I should like is this - to come up one day to see you all, and [illegible] after lunch (in these difficult days of rationing, shouldn’t dream of arriving before) bringing with me the picture of the Grandfather, which I propose to leave with you in order that you can decide whether you’d rather have a photo copy [Sic] or painting made. I think that that would be more satisfactory.
I cannot give a definite date until I return home, as at the moment Confusion prevails. This morning I received a letter from the companion have living with me to say that she will have to leave home for good in two weeks’ time, as her mother is unable to manage without her, and it’s the Devil’s own job to get any sort of help these days.
As soon as I’ve arranged matters, I will definitely journey to Croydon accompanied by George Gowlland!
Melissa to Geoff - 1st July 1942
Thank you so much for the further invitation, should I say Command, to lunch! Of course, I’d love to accept. I ought to have written before. I really don’t know how the Time goes. Charles is home - was discharge from the Army a few days after I returned from Macclesfield. He was quite unfit to travel, so [illegible] arriving in a state of collapse – he remained prone in bed for three weeks – complete, of course, with a nice fat foot [?]. My companion-help left - it’s quite impossible to obtain any maids, but we manage with relays of evil-smelling chars [Sic] - these ladies can only work in the afternoons, which is just as well: we can retire (weather permitting) to the sweeter atmosphere of the garden!
At the moment I am having an Agonising Time [Sic] at the dentist’s and as soon as I can, possibly last week in July, I will dash up to see you all - complete of course with the grandfather.
Life has been a little more exciting of late, the Germans having resumed their Dashing-in-Raids again at sunset. I do light duty at the A.R.P. [Air Raid Precautions] Control on Sundays, and we’ve had to get up for bombs the last few weeks - how we curse them too!
Herewith a snap of me, in case I am struck down in my prime - before the lunch - taken this March, watching a [illegible], wondering whether I ought to get up or not.
Are you having a holiday this year? I’m sure with the combined [illegible] of War and Tree you must need one. Have you completed the latter, by the way? Am still very interested, but perhaps you are waiting till I arrive. I am looking forward to meeting you both.
Yours . . . . . .
Melissa to GPG - 22nd July 1942
You’ve really started something now! I’ve loads of questions for you to answer, and know you hate writing letters; but first of all I must apologise for the great delay, remembering that I did promise the crest for last weekend, actually I have been so busy, my brother Bill has jaundice and looks perfectly revolting, and my father has had a chill which has necessitated much dashing to and fro, odd errands and so forth; and as I live on the Downs, practically, at the back of the town, my father due East, and brother West, it takes me hours to reach both, and, being soft, I haven’t the heart to refuse their various S.O.S’s - all this to explain the delay and, as you’ll probably have noticed, the abscence [Sic] of crest, which, however, I definitely will send this weekend without fail. To satisfy your curiosity, I have enclose ad seal: it’s rather minute, but it will give you an idea of the thing - the drawing will be a trifle larger! Will you please return it some time?
It was nice of you to send Gladys’s and Richard’s letters for me to read. I am returning them with the crest. I was really very thrilled and terribly interested in the geographical part of the family and am much intrigued at the idea of the old map. If you are sent a copy, I’d very much like to copy it. Wonder whether it will be ornamented with dolphins and such, as were old maps showing the coast line.
My father, to whom I showed the letters, was very interested and the effect was such as to bring forth a flow of memories. He appears to have a great respect for brother Henry, said he was the cleverest man in Britain at the time (coming from him, Praise indeed!). Brother George appears to be the mysterious one of the family – have you heard the story of his voyage to Brazil with a gunboat from Thorneycrofts to be sold secretly to the leader of the Revolution, only to discover on arrival that the leader had that day met his Waterloo, with the result that brother George had to battle his way (with the boat), against great odds, to Boston, where he managed to do a deal with the American Government?
My father doesn’t believe the story of the salting of the Gold Mine (which, by the way, I should love to hear in detail) as brother George was apparently the biggest liar (and that’s saying something!) in the family. But then my father will always reject anything unpleasant - for instance, in one of your letters to me you mentioned that my father recollected the family living in Ratcliffe Highway, or hearing it mentioned - since I informed him of its true character and Awfulness, he denies its existence as far as the family is concerned. He remembers his grandfather [George Castle Gowlland] calling periodically in a four-wheeler, looking very dapper in a silk top hat, beaver cloth coat, and buttonhole. My father was quite small, and would stand holding the old bloke’s hand overcome with awe. All information from this source must be treated with reserve. The story of Janet Gowlland and the plaque is definitely true, a friend motoring in that part of England made a copy of the inscription and I remember the letter they wrote mentioning the find - it was no pipe dream! During this conversation with my father, unfortunately mentioned brother [Uncle, actually] Charlie, which brought forth a stream of Dreadful Oaths [Sic] and had to hear again the story of the Measuring Gauge which my father sweated at for weeks, and which brother Charlie presented to the Science Museum at Kensington as his Own Work, and to add insult to injury, never paid for it!
I am anxious to know what records old Charlie has in his possession (stolen, of course!) and I have written requesting details of all sorts of things. He must have the Family Bible, as he mentioned in his letter to me ‘from records I have’. Charlie is quite correct in assuming that we came down from Durham - Gowlland is not a French name, but Scandinavian. If you look up Harrison’s “Surnames of the United Kingdom”, you will see “Gowlland” (which is the same family at the beginning) “a variation of Gulland (Scand:) Dweller at Gulls Land”. The Colonel who spells his name with two “L’s” [Colonel Edward Lake Gowlland] uses the crest enclosed, although in Fairburn’s the name is spelt with one “L” – but that makes no difference - the family, as we know, originally spelt the name so. The Colonel is very proud of the fact that one of our ancestors was hanged for sheep stealing. Hardly a matter for rejoicing, I thought - seems to run in the family, one of the many bad traits, I fear!
I never went into the Durham business with him, never saw him alone, always his wife, or my husband were present, or other people, and one can hardly talk family under such conditions. If I get anything constructive from Charlie, I do think it would be a good idea if you visited him [i.e. the Colonel] - especially if you tell him the nice things mentioned in Gladys’s letter re his son. I am certain that it must be, although I never knew his name (one of twins) and is in the Navy on an Aircraft Carrier. The Colonel’s brother was called Geoffrey, so he was probably named after him.
Now for the questions:
1 Who is the mysterious Gertrude mentioned in Gladys’s letters (not our Aunt Gertie) [Gertrude was Gladys’s older half-sister] – which reminds me that I must tell you some time of the visit we made when very young to Aunt Margaret [her father’s older sister] and of the Really Awful Wild Scene that followed.
2 Who is Grandpa, and why the crest on his face - tattooed? [“Grandpa” was Gladys’s affectionate name for the long-case clock, the subject of many letters and a lengthy entry in the Glossary].
3 Is Gladys sometimes called Mary, or is that a mistake on brother Charlie’s part - observe Tree he sent [Gladys’s second name was Mary]?
4 Would she be a contemporary or older? She sounds very nice and breezy! [Interestingly, Gladys, in her letters to Geoff, was as curious about Melissa as Melissa was curious about Gladys]
5 Do you correspond with George [presumably she means Gladys’s brother] and what Does He Do [Sic] (profession!)?
Sorry about the cross-examination, but I really am interested. And will really send copy of Crest, all wording attached and odd letters back this weekend. Also hope to hear from Charlie by then. If you have gleaned anything from the Clergy (dirty dogs!), please let me know.
Charles asks me to thank you for your kind wishes re the Army [her husband, despite his poor health, had been called up for military service - he was invalided out after a few months]. Apart from leaving home, he is most anxious to have a go at the devils, and hopes that his mighty endeavours will help to shorten the War!
Yours . . . .
Melissa to Geoff - 25th August 1942
So sorry about tomorrow, really very disappointed; but if some time next week will be convenient, I should love to come along then.
Most extraordinary thing happened to Charles two evenings ago, whilst travelling home in a ‘bus, he closed the window and the whole thing splintered, cutting his hand - quite a small but rather deep cut. We were home within ten minutes, bathed the thing and crammed loads of iodine, but next morning it was pretty painful so went along to the doctor’s - yesterday the arm began to swell and during the night apparently it was just pulsating. The thing’s septic, and the poor man has to stay in bed for two days - he just can’t move anyway - doctor seems to think it will be cleared up in a few days.
Has been quite exciting down here - quite a lot of bombs. I think I preferred it when we were undefended - don’t believe in annoying the devils - but suppose one mustn’t be selfish. They must be prevented from proceeding inland to important targets.
Had quite a good view of the ships proceeding to Dieppe [the first raid on Continental Europe of the war - militarily a disaster] and watched them being bombed with the aid of glass [binoculars, presumably].
I have George [portrait of] all ready packed to bring along! If I let you know two days before, will that do?
Looking forward to meeting you all …. Yours
Melissa to Geoff - 16th September 1942
Many thanks for letter and Tree – just imagine anyone writing that out with toothache - sincerely hope it is better now. I certainly did enjoy my visit [for a photograph taken on this occasion, click here] and I think your family, all of them, charming. We’d just love to have Rosemary to stay here, when things are brighter, if it could be arranged. Charles would love her. Having described her colouring to my father, he appears to think that she must be just like the Prices - do you agree? My father, on Sunday, gave me a cutting from “The Times” re Peter to send to you, and I fully intended writing whilst sitting up till 4 o’clock at Control [A R P - Air Raid Precautions - Control Centre] but my head felt just like cotton wool, so sat and stared into space. My friend was busy knitting and couldn’t talk - rather reminded me of a mortuary down there. We were surrounded by recumbent men snatching cat naps. When things are quiet, we attend to the phones every half hour, just to see the lines are working etc.
But to continue with the Family! I felt sure that I’d see the initials J.L.S before, so looked up a Gowlland I knew to be living not far from us, in Cromwell Road, Hove, and discovered it to be the same. For years I had been contemplating calling on these people, but you know how it is, one puts things off - or perhaps you wouldn’t! However, these Gowllands once rang my brother up a few years ago, some fuss over a letter arriving at the wrong address; and were curious to know whether Bill was related to the people at Croydon, as they were [illegible] said Groyden [Sic] Gowllands. My brother, horrified at the idea of strange relatives bothering him, denied all knowledge of the Croydon Gowllands, and so the matter ended! I believe they ran a hotel here.
Did you know that George of the portrait was a super cricketer? Daddy told me that the old boy could smash a ball, which I gather is a good effort. He won many silver cups, which incidentally our good uncle Charlie possesses. I have seen them, and have asked for inscriptions thereon, and hope he will not be so long answering this time. Daddy is very indignant re the death verdict you gave the old boy, according to his bladder trouble was the cause of death. Possibly aggravated by the whiskey. It will be interesting to hear Charlie’s views on this subject.
By the way, don’t bother to have a print made for me. If the old boy is blown up down here, I can always have one copied from yours. Are you sending Gladys one? You are quite right [that] it is a grand piece of work.
M brother (whose divorce, by the way, was made absolute yesterday) discovered in a friend’s library a book on clocks. He has promised to look again and note name, publishers etc. Therein was mentioned one Clement Gowlland 1775, and [also] Thomas Gowlland of 16 Bishopsgate Without 1834.
These two were mentioned as having done much to improve clocks and so on. Cannot find Clement in the Tree. This week next Charles and I are going to the Swan Inn [Pulborough] and will try to find some information re the Revenue thing.
Re George again - don’t bother to send him, possibly at the end of October or early November I shall be journeying to Town once a week for a month or so, in order to have injections for neuritis. I have all these years understood there was no cure; but the specialist creature whom Charlie has visited, swears he can cure me, so am going to have to have a shot at it - it would be nice if I could resume my work again - all caused by too much drawing, too. I seem to have wandered a little; but what I really wanted to say was this - I shall be passing through Croydon on my way back some time in the afternoon. I can call for George then - as the factory is more convenient, could perhaps see your father.
Will send on C’s information as soon as it arrives.
Love to the family . . . . . Yours . . . .
Melissa to Peggy - 22nd October 1942
My dear Peggy
Thank you so much for your letter. You really needn’t have bothered as I’m sure you have quite enough to do - all the same, it was nice to hear from you and to know that the children liked the books. Also that you had now some help in the house, especially for the winter.
Since I last wrote, Charles has been awfully ill; but is better again. We journeyed up to Wimpole Street last Thursday and the doctor man appeared to be satisfied - apparently one has to get worse in order to get better. ? overcharged with vaccines etc the…. . I was very intrigued to find that 50 Wimpole Street was the home of Elizabeth Barrett and visualized, before the door was opened to us, a large dark hallway reeking with Papa Barrett’s soul killing personality. But to my annoyance (having prepared myself to be thoroughly scared) everything had been modernised, and all was pale pine panelling and steel.
Later we saw “Fine and Dandy” – quite amusing – but there’s something cramping about going in to a show at 5:15 without the usual spot or two - actually we did manage something by looking rather pathetic, near the Bar! And then coming out was rather depressing, if you wanted to eat, and I was positively starving, it meant catching the last train, which is really quite an early one, 10 something or other, and walking home, no small distance, and maybe in the rain. Taxis are few and far between late, so we managed with a few sandwiches near Victoria, and caught the next but last [train]. Certainly no fun unless one can stay the night in Town. One thinks back to the days when we used to leave London about 3 or 4 in the morning and [illegitimate] to Hampton Court, in less than no time, and so to bed.
Received what I thought was a nasty blow re the domestic a few weeks ago. She had gone to Warwick + 5 children for a holiday, and after three weeks absence decided to stay for the duration! However, it’s an ill wind etc for we now have a “gem”. I’m wondering when the snags will begin. And comes in every morning but Sundays.
We’ve had one or two raids, mostly morning ones – near enough! Otherwise no news. Anyway, they’ll keep the visitors away, I hope. The ban [on people visiting the coastal areas] has been removed until 1st March, much to our disgust - positively nothing to eat here at weekends.
Tell Geoffrey, please, that I have heard from Charlie - a really snotty letters, too, and will send it on. My brother was so amused with the contents that he insisted upon writing a reply for me, Bill being something of a wit! Will send it on tomorrow.
Love to the children . . . . . Yours . . . . . .
Melissa to Geoff - 23rd November 1942
Sorry to have been so long in in answering your letter - many thanks for same - excuse being that I have only just returned home from a nursing home, where I have been for the last 3 weeks for "op".
Will definitely write this week.
Yours . . . .
Melissa to Peggy - incomplete - dated probably early January 1943
I could write pages and pages of life here, and probably bore you to tears, but it has been a real change for me - it’s all so far away from the War. One never hears a . . . . . .
Pages 4 - 6
. . . .
. . . . . . Roberta’s
husband had taken of the proceedings and was very proud of the fact that he had
caught his young sister-in-law putting in what he called “Heavy Work” with a
rather mean, I thought; but apparently he couldn’t resist the
temptation to make a film of the said piece of work.
Her tactics evidently had results as she became engaged to the gentleman.
He is now a prisoner of war in Italy, poor thing.
There was no-one to entertain this year,
all trains [?] having gone. And as for friends,
it was impossible for them to arrange transport; and one cannot bicycle in the
snow, and at night, too! However,
we had a grand time together and danced till 5:30 in the morning and
drank all the time. I can only
wonder what Uncle George would have thought of me!
Boxing Day was a repetition of Xmas Day. And so it went on through the week. Party spent [?] one day:
hangover the next. And all a
very delightful change for me.
I am completing my cure by continuing my
holiday with friends near Heathfield. I
shall spend a week at home in order to put things in order. Poor Charles is quite alone. He feeds out, which helps, of
course. Our very good Mrs
George just disappeared like Barrie’s Mary Rose
- I always knew there was a
snag. It was all too good to be
true. I am most anxious to see this
friend of mine; but I am not at all keen to stay alone in the house.
Charles unfortunately can’t come along. You see there is a ghost in
this place. It’s called
”The Chantry”, which is a church house or something.
Actually there is still in the dining room the remains [of]
a place where the altar has been; and my friends say they have seen the ghost of
a monk. But he is very pleasant and they are not at all afraid!
I’m wondering whether ghosts can sense “those that like ‘em”, as
dogs and bees can. It’s
rather bothering me.
Enough about myself.
When is No 3 expected? And
have you decided on a name? Do
let me know when the event is due. I
wonder how Rosemary and John will react.
My friend of the haunted house has a daughter of 3, Susan, and a new son,
Richard, aged 8 months. I think I
shall [illegible] the latter for protection!
I hope Geoffrey is not working too hard. Take care of yourself. Give my love to the children.
Yours ever ….
Melissa to Geoff - 8th March 1943
Many thanks for your letter – and George - will send off the case at once. So glad to hear of the son’s arrival [Mark, presumably] and that Peggy is “doing fine”. I’m sure you are both glad, and she especially, that everything is over. Should love to see the youngest Gowlland some time: wonder what you have decided on in the way of a name. My father saw the announcement in the paper but couldn’t remember whether a name was mentioned, and he queries did you receive the maps etc safely? Sent some time ago.
I returned from Warbleton two weeks ago, having put on 2lbs during my stay there - despite the ghost and the bombing! The ghost was laid easily, simply process of keeping the light on All Night! The bombs were not so easily disposed of, and I was really glad to return to my own variety of Tip & Run.
Warbleton is very near to a large camp and just north of Eastbourne, so we came in for full measure of everything. I’d never seen the Junkers SS, or whatever the swine are called, hedge-hopping before, and it’s no exaggeration when I say that we often went for a walked accompanied by the Luftwaffe parallel with one. These occassions [Sic] [illegible] a concussion cap - what a life!
Charles is very much better. I really think a cure has been achieved. I am rather “up and down”. This business has been a long time coming, and will apparently be some time going; but I do feel very much better for my two vacations. Things are very lively just now re Tip & Run but, like most things, one gets used to it.
Have you heard from Gladys recently? Give Peggy my love, tell her I think she is very clever - maybe she’s the sort of person who gets what she most wants!
Love to Rosemary and John …. Yours . . .
Melissa to Geoff - 25th May 1943
Please forgive the delay in answering your letter - I just don’t know how Time goes by, but go it does.
The scribbled note in my father’s hand is for you [see below - in pencil and very difficult to read - text is "Ask Geof [Sic] to ask his father what years we lived at Highbury Hill. I want to look up an old patent of mine that has nothing to do with optical matters"]. I discovered today via my brother why etc nothing of any importance happened in this war - e.g. the bombing of the Dam etc – but that he thought of the idea 40 years ago! He actually invented the type of mine used in the raid, and he therefore is claiming £10,000 - quite mad, of course. Even supposing it were true, the patent would have expired! [Two patents seems to have survived, one published in his sole name in 1897 for "Improved Method of Obtaining Motive Power from Gaseous Pressure and Apparatus therefor " - click here for text; and the other published in the two names of William and his youngest brother Charles Septimus in 1897 for "Improvements in and connected with Means for the Utilization of Acetylene Gas in Motors and Ordnance, and for Producing Explosions, and for Other Purposes" - click here for text]. [An interesting postscript - Charles Septimus was born in 1878 and was therefore only eighteen years of age at the time the patent was applied for - was he really so precocious?]
But to return to the Tree. The chapel mentioned by the “cycling workman” [Sic] was the Lady Chapel, Castle Coombe; and was dedicated to the memory of Janet Gowlland, wife of Sir Thomas something, or something Thomas, Governor of Jamaica. Can you understand the rector of St Nicholas allowing the records to be subjected to fire and blitz? Truly most annoying. One would have thought that their safe removal would have been his first consideration.
Re Charles [Uncle Charles Septimus, that is, not her husband Charles] - I think the girls [his three daughters] would be quite willing to allow one to inspect the relics. I can’t see how they could refuse. When I saw them, ten years or so ago, they appeared to be very amiable, pleasant creatures. I’m wondering whether the old boy has been blown up - a vengeance on him for writing rude letters. I haven’t yet answered it and now I’ve forgotten [illegible] administer a squashing rebuke. Charles is very good at that type of letter: he has a ready wit, whereas I am mainly rude! Talking of raids, we have quite a ‘do’ here today. I believe I am psychic. I always know letters are on the way and from whom; and today I went one better. I just knew there would be a raid. We haven’t had one for a month. I told our good woman, Mme George, how I felt we ought to remain at home today. We live on the outskirts, and Tip and Runs rarely come this way. However, the thought of a good lunch down town proved too strong, and off I went just in time to get muddled up with everything, there never [being] any time to take shelter. The most one can do is to fall flat, or get in a doorway. Bill had bombs all around and no damage to them. Daddy of course was terribly thrilled. He’s a terrific bomb snob, and tells the most awful lies about them! But to return to the Gowllands. Stephen appears to be the only hope. What a pity one must wait till the end of the War before one can consult his records.
Re “Brother George” [her uncle George, actually] I could see my father was highly amused reading your account of the way he “spoofed” his way through life. Some people might have a word for it. But to my father, who won’t admit, even if it’s true, anything sordid, George was an awful liar, and probably invented his adventures. And, if true, just denoted an irresponsible, carefree nature - just couldn’t grow up, in other words!
Daddy won’t admit that George died in poverty (sordid, again), and as for your story of Gertrude dying at your father’s house, having been ill-treated by her husband. [Illegible] is quite ridiculous - he would have heard, had it been true - I asked, “from whom?” - oh, he’d have heard - futile arguing - sordid again, you see. He just runs from it. Something not to be talked about.
I’ve not returned Frank’s letter, as re-reading it, it may help Daddy to remember a few things.
Is there any way of obtaining his birth date? Would they be registered at Somerset House, or is that a fairly recent innovation? Afraid I’m quite ignorant in these matters.
You mentioned the Gowllands who lived in Hove. I did know of their existence, as10 years or so ago they rang my brother up (something to do with a letter sent to them by mistake) to do with a letter sent to them by mistake; and asked him whether he was related to the Gowllands at Croydon, and my brother, who didn’t want to be bothered, said he’d never even heard of the lot at Croydon. Actually I wish now that he’d got in touch with them.
By the way didn’t you tell me that the Papa was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis? When you write to Stephen again, and if you think it worthwhile, you can tell him that Charles has been cured of the ghastly complaint by these people in Town, and several patients of our doctor here have been sent by him, following C’s recovering, with good results.
Yes, it was a great pity that the Colonel [Col Edward Lake Gowlland] had to die. We seem to have just missed the bus every time, what with Death, Blitz and Fire - awkward relatives etc!
Don’t bother to answer all this. But Daddy I know would like those dates [asked for in his pencilled note, see below], if your father can remember them. A postcard will do very well, as the matter is most urgent.
How are the infants and Peggy? I do want to see Mark, and will endeavour to [illegible] up, perhaps some time next month, one day.
My ”op” do has been rather troublesome, and am still having treatment to a chronic affair, and will take some time, I gather. However, Charles is very fit, which is a great relief.
Hope you are not working too hard. You and Peggy ought to take a day off and come down here. You can inhale the sea, and see it from a distance.
Love to the family . … Yours . . . .
Melissa's father's scribbled note to Geoff
192 Highbury Hill, referred to above by William Gowlland, the home of the Gowlland family in the 1890s
Melissa to Geoff - undated but possibly c October or November 1943
A hurried note to thank you for your very interesting letter. Should have answered before now, but have been ill with ‘flu and a queer kind of whooping cough; and now feel very languid in consequence. I should very much like to have any information regarding the Family. Should very much like to see the youngest member, but shall have to leave it till after Xmas, as all my plans have been upset through being ill. I wanted to get away to the country, but now we have Alerts every night feel I can’t contend with a Ghost and bombs - one at a time!
Charles and I are going down to Wdmi [???] in Somerset for Xmas, he for five days, but I shall stay ten – to fatten up for the bad months!
Shall look forward to hearing from you.
Love to the family . …
Melissa to Peggy 16th January 1944
Many thanks for your letter and good wishes for 1944 - so sorry about the [ illegible ] of the books! Remembered when too late, and hoped you’d recognize the writing!
Charles and I spent Xmas at Wedmere [?] in Somerset with friends. Charles returning on the Tuesday following, and I was able to remain until the 11th, which made a nice break. Much Feasting and Drinking, and all a delightful change.
Have enclosed a cutting sent to me from Johannesburg by my sister-in-law. I thought it might interest Geoffrey and you. You might remind him that he promised to send some odds and ends he’d gleaned from ‘can’t remember where’ now, but they never arrived. I believe I sent a card to jog his memory but with no result!
Today has been simply marvellous, a perfect spring day in fact. So Charles and I “bussed” to Rottingdean, watching the Flying Fortresses going over – a truly superb sight.
You didn’t mention the health of the Family, so take it it’s good. I sincerely hope you managed to avoid the ‘flu epidemic.
I’m longing to see the baby, but it won’t be yet, I fear. Anyway, I [illegible] to be at least 6 months to the newborn variety [illegible] to catch hold of.
Very best wishes for 1944 and to the family ….
Melissa to Geoff - 12th March 1944
Many thanks for your letter written, I note with some horror, two months ago, and thanks also for letting me seen the snaps of Gladys and George – the latter very Gowllandish, he reminds me of my father when younger. How nice to be Gladys “stepping out” as they say so often, makes one feel very Cinderellarish [Sic] – mustn’t forget to tell you about my Ball – first time I’ve worn evening dress since 1940.
Re my libellous remarks - my conscience also is clear. I sent a postcard asking for details of the Tree, but no doubt it went astray, was probably blown up en route, and talking of bombs and things, I’ve been thinking of you all and hoping the enemy gave you a wide berth.
My father is a bomb snob and was most elated because his back door was blown in some nights ago. We have a very good barrage here now. I think I preferred the place without. I don’t believe in tantalising the devils, but that of course is a purely selfish point of view.
To return to the Gowllands, I too wish that one could find the Naval chap. 1st June and all that. I can quite see now it’s rather harder in war-time. In the usual way I suppose it would be fairly easy to look up records of that kind. It would be very interesting to go through the late Colonel’s [Edward Lake Gowlland - died 1942] papers. I remember in one of your letters you said you thought him (the son) to be very much a snob. I don’t’ see why he should be - at least, if he is, he might be reminded that we all share the same great grandfather (?) – not certain of that. Maybe I influenced you when I mentioned that the old boy was a money snob - which he was - more’s the pity! It was the only thing that spoilt, in my opinion, a very likeable person. I do not think the sons are well off, I know the old boy was somewhat disheartened because the family, his part of it, was dying out - one son having no children, and the other with a daughter, unable to afford a second child! Probably a great exasperation [?]. And talking of the Navy reminds me we celebrated last week in town the appointment of Charles’ first cousin Stewart Nicholson as Flag Officer Ceylon. He is now a Rear Admiral and still quite young. We had dinner with his brother who is at the Admiralty. Apart from that little treat [?], life is very tame. I haven’t grumbled once since the war began, but I find it becoming a little tedious now. But I’ve only to begin thinking of the plight of Occupied Europe to realise how lucky we are - I wish the Second Front would hurry along.
I suppose you are still terribly busy like most people - and Peggy with the new baby, too. I suppose I shall see him one day before he is quite grown up. Is he as handsome as the other two? The weather has been perfectly wretched recently - that’s one of the reasons why I’ve not been out travelling, even a short journey; but directly it breaks I’ll certainly come along. I’m most anxious to see him. I [illegible] to enclose the snaps. Charles went all “home-sick” at the picture of the lambs [possible the photo of Gladys and George in Canada], reminded him of his farm in Rhodesia, same sun-blind, steps and everything.
My great event, social that is, of the month (Charles not invited!) was a dance given by the officers of the Toronto Scottish. We found the kilts very devastating, drink as you can imagine flowed very freely. It was a delightful change; and fortunately for me the Pipers had gone to a rugger match so we were spared their barbaric [illegible] and things, so ruinous to the face!
If you hear any more facts [regarding family history], please let me have them. It’s a pity Charlie took umbrage at my letter, which was only intended to be humorous: he always had a suburban mind. I’m working up a hate so that I can reply in acid [?] – he’ll be so surprised after all this time! I’m afraid he’s suffering from a Guilty Conscience [Sic] – all those cups and things!
Love to Peggy and the family . .. . Yours
Melissa to GPG (Postcard) - 3rd April 1944
Many thanks for your letter - sorry about the P.C. – but as I must be brief, having little time for writing this week, I dare not start on a long epistle! Charles has been quite ill, bronchial ‘flu – great temp[erature] and M & B [precursor to present-day antibiotics] etc - he’s better today, but looking “very near the angels”. I shall be delighted to do what I can re the Tree - fortunately my printing is not in the least like my writing. After the War, I’ll do something really elaborate, illuminated etc - but I’ll do something reasonably simple any time now .. [illegible].
My kind regards …. Yours ….
Melissa to Geoff - 24th July 1944
Thank you for your letter - can’t find it at the moment and cannot remember whether there is anything I ought to answer - the reason for writing so soon is to ask a favour - could you let me have the address of the Gowllands now living, I believe, at Cheam? The people who once resided in Cromwell Road, Brighton, or rather Hove, and whose son was killed whilst on exercise.
Bill has received a most pathetic letter from some woman writing from Prague to her friend ‘Irene’ in London, asking her to get in touch with the “good family Gowlland” in Hove, to whom she had sent for safety just before the war a chest full of clothing, silver and rugs and things - this letter has been sent to Bill instead of John Gowlland for whom it is obviously intended - or rather the “good family Gowlland” is that of John. The letter is really horrific. The poor soul has been in a concentration camp, her husband murdered by the Germans, her two sons done to death in a camp (on of whom was the friend of J. Gowlland), her mother murdered, and herself a wreck after her experiences. She now wishes the chest to be returned to her etc. So if you would be so kind as to just put the address on a card – don’t bother to write – an awful thought, did you correspond with him or was it Stephen? - however, I suppose the letter would give you the address – sorry if it’s going to be a fuss. Hope the family had a good time away - Mark sounds a typical Gowlland - wish I’d seen him new born.
Sorry about all this. I know you are very busy, but feel it’s the least I can do for the poor soul.
Melissa to GPG - undated - presumably about autumn 1945
It was nice of you to send along the snaps of Gladys’s clock – they are very fine photos - I’m so sorry I have been unable to discover anything re the date. I feel now an appeal to our pompous Uncle [Charles Septimus Gowlland, no doubt], after our “exchange of words”, would be a waste of time. Shouldn’t be surprised if S… [?] was up to some crooked business - passing it off as antique! – what he would doubtless have called “boyish fun” or something.
I sent away for the old man’s [her father, William] birth certificate. I really wanted to know his birth month - which group of stars he was born under! 30th January 1971 was the date. 31 Ashburton Grove, Islington. Under “Sex” they’d written “Boy” – to use an Americanism – “they’re telling us!”. They recently at the works [The Capstan Gauge Company, in Brighton – manufacturers of dial indicators – Geoff in a 1942 letter to Gladys bemoaned William’s dilatory response to incoming letters etc] had some changeover in lighting or something which necessitated taking up of cables in the road. The chief cable creature came to Bill [Melissa’s brother, and “the old man’s” older child] one day, very hot and bothered, and demanded to know who the old man was who kept interfering with her, giving everyone the sack, telling them they didn’t know their job, and making himself very unpleasant generally!
He’s very fit – a little too much for Bill – he’d like him to start getting old, with a spot of resting on his laurels. As soon as the cruises start again, he’ll be off – 3 times a year, which helps. We had a drinking session with him on V night [presumably VE Day – this reference was used for the above dating of the letter] - he’s damn good fun too – one doesn’t want to live and work with him, that’s all.
My brother has just had his appendix out - very tricky one, ready to burst and all that. He married a year ago. D-day week, very charming little girl, then in the W.R.E.N.S. on Combined Ops at Admiralty House – much younger than Bill - twenty-one. The wedding was quite sercet [Sic – presumably she means “secret”] no-one knowing except Charles el… [?] (he seems to run to secret weddings – his first was too) for two reasons - (1) her uncle being the then First Lord, old Alexander the Socialist creature, would have meant crowds of odd people, relatives and service things being asked, and (2) frankly I don’t think Bill would have turned up with a crowd! My father was told a week later and was obviously tremendously relieved at not having had to participate. Eunice rang her Mother upon their arrival in town, asking whether she had any objection to her marrying Bill. The Furness replied: “none at all; but he’s not the marrying kind – you’re wasting your time!”. She took it all very calmly – but I think the father who was in Washington (he represents Lord Woolton there [the much-admired Minister for Food during the war], buys all the wheat and stuff for Britain) had rather a shock. Poor man had just received a cable announcing his daughter had broken off her engagement to a Naval man, followed by one a few days later announcing her marriage to a man he’d never seen!
That’s the sort of thing you have in store! I told Eunice she was a B.F. [no editorial explanation required for this abbreviation] to marry Bill. It won’t last – his marriages never could. He can’t stand women around his place after a while - maybe if he had a separate residence, it might work out - well, she was most determined so she’ll have only herself to blame. She’s dying to have a baby, but so far no small William is on the way. In some ways I hope there won’t be, because it will make no difference to Bill if and when he wants a change - and it’s so hard on the poor little devil.
Charles said the wedding “do” was typically Gowllandish - meaning our part of the family, so don’t take umbrage. At the Registry Office, the old boy asked Bill his age, and Bill, obviously quite forgetting where he was, said: “Oh Christ, I can’t remember!”, and when asked if his father was alive, said: “Well - just”, which sent me off into hysterics. I had a vision of our father, very hale and hearty, just then finishing a tremendous lunch at the Irish House in East Street, quite unaware that his one and only son was getting married.
[As a follow-up to this story, it was always said that this marriage, embarked upon so impetuously, lasted no more than a year or two. There is a record - click here - of Eunice arriving in New York on 28th June 1946. Perhaps this marked the end of the marriage]
Your letter arrived whilst Charles was recovering from a serious attack of bronchial pneumonia - a most harassing time. I ought to have had a night nurse, couldn’t get one, and, what with missing queuing for food, a little help in the house. I passed out later with Nervous Exhaustion which I hope never to have again. I fell as old as Sod [?], also tired.
I just can’t explain how tired I …[?] after 2 weeks. I couldn’t go to bed, of course. Charles had been advised by the doctor to return to South Africa. You see, he had three attacks of bronchitis last year - it’s the dampness of the winters here. He thought somewhere south, e.g. Cape Town, not to Southern Rhodesia where he spent fourteen years farming, and, incidentally, ruined his health. However, I fear that idea is financially impossible just now, unless he had something to go out to. And having no profession other than that of farmer didn’t help. The doctor is going to give injections against this residual germ; and with that, and less w…… [?], and no “out after dark” when the winter comes, he hope he may pull through all right. We had another blow that month - a Rocket [V2, presumably] fell on our polish factory at Barking. I say “our”, actually we have only an interest, really belongs to a friend of Charles. It was a damn nuisance as naturally dwelling houses have priority for repairs, and factories engaged on war work must also. It wasn’t until this month that they were able to get some labour and a permit to start.
I have been quite fit other than the bout of N.E. and quite enjoyed the cold winter and snow. We both went down to Somerset after Christmas when Charles was better after his second bout of bronchitis. He was ill over Christmas and just hadn’t time to write or anything, then just let anything Christmassy go.
I knew of course how you all were, during the flying bomb period. I have a friend whose Mother has a friend living near you. She knows the children. I’m always hearing from my friends “what lovely children etc” - as though I did it [Sic – presumably she means “didn’t”] know!
It must be a great relief to have peace and quiet once again, and I hope Peggy has more help in the house now. I must try and see the new baby [Mark – born February 1943] some time this year. Perhaps later in the autumn, else he won’t be so new if I leave it too long.
I hope soon to starting and [Sic] work again. I’ve missed the Sussex Exhibition this year. The next one will be two years hence. So shall have plenty of time to get something ready. I was . . . . . [?] as this Neuritis business which had put a stop to all new work, e.g. a psychologist - it’s a very long story and most amusing, and will have to wait - far too long for a letter.
Do you want the photos back? I’ve wanted time to show them to the old man. I propose to do so this week: his remarks will not be reliable but I’ll drop a card if it sound sensible, likewise will return the photos.
Have you been in touch with Stephen? Did he not promise to get out his papers on the termination of the War? And I wish something could be discovered re the 1st of June.
Don’t believe I’ve apologised for not having answered your letter before. But what with the various illnesses and that, I could do nothing re that fool Charlie [her Uncle, not her Husband!] - well, you know how one puts things off. My love to Peggy and the children - do hope you are all fit - and shall look forward to any news re the Tree.
Yours ever …..
Melissa to Geoff - 29th July 1950
[For an enlarged facsimile of this letter, click here]
Thank you so much for your letter to Bill - I am so sorry that the one to me was returned to you – I am more than annoyed about it, as the person to whom we sold our house knew perfectly well where we are living. What makes it all the more exasperating is the fact that I put myself out to an absurd degree when these people moved in, arranging this and that for them. Also something I have never recovered from – we had an offer for the house £200 more a few hours after we had sold to these people - we had only a gentleman’s agreement with them - nothing had even been deposited. But we kept strictly to our word – they also knew of the larger offer, too – this has happened to a number of other letters too – but enough of the Fury.
It was hard luck on the old man dying as he did. He was so strong, never ill. … I quite thought he would live to be 100. …Briefly what happened to him was this – he had a black-out, or just fainted, about 7 one evening walking up the hill to his house – it wasn’t a stroke and he certainly didn’t stumble over anything, so no bones were broken – but his head hit the kerb and he was unconscious for some hours. A man found him, and he was rushed by the police to the Hospital nearby, where he was X-rayed, as they feared a fractured skull. It was hours before we were found [?], my brother was abroad and he couldn’t remember where I lived (we took a furnished flat on the front . . . ?? ). The hospital doctor refused to let him go home: he was to either go to the Municipal Hospital, or a nursing home. We had great difficulty, as you can doubtless imagine – as soon as the doctor’s back was turned, he announced he would do nothing of the sort etc etc! Eventually the ambulance men . . . ed in and he was carried . . . on a bier [?], protesting loudly. But having arrived at the nursing home (by this time it was past eleven [o’clock], he seemed quite pleased to be fussed over. For a week he was very jolly, smoking, receiving visitors. Fortunately Bill came back before he became worse. Then he began to deteriorate. He was suffering from delayed concussion and shock, and we could see he’d be there for some time. The doctor said he was very strong and might last months: on the other hand, no one can tell with concussion what effect it might have on an ancient/anxious [?] mind. Also, he began to wander, and then became a nuisance, would keep getting out of bed and going downstairs, said he was looking for his son. Sometimes he would be quite normal, and then, pointing out of the window to a couple of chimney pots, ask me if I could see those two men crouching on the roof – he said they had been filming al day and now there had been 40,000 horsemen/housemen [?] in the grounds! He spoke so normally that at first I thought it was true. It was when he said the two men could crouch on the roof because they hadn’t any legs that I began to wonder!
Later he just went unconscious and remained so for a week, and died at 12:30 in the morning. The day before he looked very well and pink and much younger. But the day he died I noticed his temps [?] was 104 [?] and he looked like something out of Belsen. It was rather pathetic when his mind was wandering and I hope he didn’t know he was being frustrated about getting out of bed. He was so strong he had to be drugged and even then I heard him shaking the cot sides in an endeavour to get out. It was hard luck falling like that.
The house had to be seen to be believed – cobwebs, ceilings hanging down. Having disposed of the furniture, we had to get the Rag & Bone [Man], and, by mid-day, having been there since 9:00, he had weighed up 1 ton[ne] of paper. He’d . . . . . from . . . . moss-covered shoes, suits fretworked with moss holes – it was incredible. The garden like a jungle, with furniture buried beneath the grass Hardly a Christian act, but one that highly amused us. There were eggs hoarded in cupboards that dissolved in dust as soon as they were touched. Charles had to spend four days on all this. Bill had to go abroad on business.
He had a daily maid. She had become rather slack but in recent years, especially the last two, he had been rather difficult - wouldn’t let her have more than half a jug of water to make tea for breakfast, clean the house, wash up – could hear rushing water all the time (obviously in his head!) [nowadays one might diagnose tinnitus]. Bill had relays of plumbers up there all the time, had to bribe them to say they’d found the leak etc – only to start all over again with another firm. The Corporation installed a stop-cock or whatever it’s called outside the front door, and he was seen late at night, sometimes in mid-winter, clad only in pyjamas, turning it off! Bitterly cold, nothing on his feet - he was certainly a character. And although he was … the most selfish father in some ways that ever lived and a real bastard to my brother at times, one just couldn’t help liking him, especially in his old age when his [illegible]…ing had mellowed. All my girl friends adored him. He was very good company and I had many a jolly evening with him during the war. I shall never forget overhearing a remark made to a friend of ours, a very jolly Captain in the Engineers: “They laugh at my house, but I’m very happy up there – no bloody women!”. [It might be appropriate to add at this juncture that his son William married and separated twice, and Melissa felt that his wives had a raw deal].
I can’t remember whether I told you about the house. Having put it in order, we may a very nice garden. We bought some extra land, painted the whole house white, made it look larger and cottagey [sic], pulled the inside to pieces. I seem to remember mountains [?] and fireplaces when you came to see us. We then decided to sell .. and make a terrific profit. You may remember we bought at an absurd figure as there was a tenant in it … “Invasion next” only – it was a gamble that paid off – the idea was to have a small cottage near Brighton. In this we were unfortunate as we came up against Town & County Planning all the time, who might, in 5 years’ time, want to knock us down, giving a pittance in return. So, in desperation, we took a furnished flat at an awful road on the front [the Sea-Front, presumably] for a year, and now have moved to another, where we have come to an arrangement with the landlord to store, in a cellar under the road, his stuff, and we’ve our own, and we are making do for the moment.
In March this year I went alone to Austria for a month’s holiday: unfortunately I choose [sic] a place in the American Zone [Austria, like Germany, was divided into zones administered by the victorious powers – America, Russia, Great Britain and France]. . , and moved later into the mountains. The Americans were a nice .. . – but I managed to find a little place called Scelbach [?] in the South were there were only Austrians and French people. There was plenty of snow; but unfortunately I had to have ‘flu rather badly and travelled home and . . on the …- Orient Express, spending one night at Fell-am-See, another at St Anton, where I stayed at the famous Post Hotel (all the royalties go there), gorgeous food and . . . and lots of atmosphere for £1 a day. And the service! Last night at Zurich in Switzerland [and] so home. The train was the best part: met some interesting people, avoided the few English like the plague – sat next to the man who took the part of the Roumanian [sic], or was it Hungarian, in “The Third Man” - made a change! I didn’t want to come home – could have gone on for ever. Unfortunately was not able to got to Vienna, as I had only a military pass for all the Zones other than the Soviet, and I needed another pass for the railway beyond Timmering [?] which is controlled by the Russians, which takes a month to obtain. One can fly in, but that means going to Salzburg - very expensive. I exceeded my £50 basic [yes – British people travelling abroad were allowed no more than £50 for all their needs once out of the country!] through having ‘flu and having to remain longer there, so went to the Consul in Zurich and demaned [sic] a few more pounds to spend the night in Paris, and he, wretched creature, refused me [?]. I threatened to sell my passport on the Black Market (I had read of this racket in the Continental Daily Mail) and it worked. They asked me how I thought I’d get home, and I said: “Easy, just sign a form to say it had been stolen!” – that shattered them! I was there for four hours, and they could so easily have rung my bank [or] the doctor in Scelbach if they really thought I was swindling them out of a paltry couple of pounds. I have since been told never to go to one’s own Consul in difficulty – always be away the country [?]. I received more help from my late enemies. I hope that you, Peggy and the children are all well. The latter quite grown up, I suppose.
Love to you all . . . Yours …. Melissa
Melissa to GPG - 12th December 1952 [?]
So sorry about the Xmas card! - I had one ready - a black and white drawing of the cottage at Rottingdean which I had taken for the winter. Nothing was sent off, most remiss on my part; but we were all so busy cleaning and painting the place that cards and such were quite forgotten.
Your wife would have loved the place. I seem to remember she had a ‘thing’ about antiques. I should have loved to have carried on through the summer. Unfortunately it had been let at 2 weekly intervals from the middle of May until October. I couldn’t afford it alone, and Bill returned to his old place in the summer. He and I had the cottage between us. We were quite mad really. An architect friend and I distempered the place entirely [?]. We intended to do the living room only, but the rest, after we had finished, looked so dirty, we were forced to continue and finished Christmas Eve morning. Bill went off to the winter sports eff[illegible] so I had the place to myself. He went again at the end of January, so we didn’t see a great deal of one another.
I have been homeless since the end of May, staying with friends in Brighton whilst I get my affairs in order, and am staying just at present with friends in the countryside – a 14th Century farm house, previously a monastery, haunted by a monk for years. I refused to sleep here, even needing a holiday badly. Circumstances drove me here, as it were. It is a delightful home, and so far, thank heaven, I’ve seen nothing; but the family have on occasions and think nothing of it!
The family have just had staying with them cousins and things from Calgary [Western Canada]. They probably know George Gowlland [Gladys’s brother], but I couldn’t remember where he lived. I remember you showed me some snaps once of the ranch.
Little news. Charles [her husband] went off to S Africa eighteen months ago. His brother died at the age of 56, and left a farm and a Vauxhall car etc to C. We had the car sent home and sold it here for three times as much as it would have fetched in Rhodesia. Charles went up there and met a lot of old friends. He was farming there before I met him. He came home because of bad health. He eventually returned to Johannesburg, which is more go-ahead. He has a sister and a brother-in-law there. I was to have gone out last September, but after a series of misunderstandings in letters –it’s rather a long story – we’ve decided to part. I was very upset; but maybe it’s for the best.
You know of course that my brother is about to be ‘liberated’ as he calls it! [Her brother Williams was divorcing his second wife]. He should never be married; but I suppose there’ll be another one in his old age, and then we’ll start all over again.
How are the family? Children grow so quickly, they must be almost grown up. And do you still hear from Gladys in Montreal? I sent her a card from Austria, where I went alone for a holiday 2 years ago in the winter. She didn’t reply, probably her address is quite different from the one I used.
I wondered whether she’d come over after the war. Have you discovered more ‘family tree’? What of the old boy who had lots of records hidden away during the war - have you succeeded in seeing them? I shall be very interested to hear of anything new. And, by the way, if you’d care to have the painting of the grandfather [George Gowlland, father of the fathers of Melissa and Geoff], please do. I seem to have so many bits and pieces in store now – it seems a pity to hoard things.
I won’t forget the card this time, and here’s wishing you all a Happy Christmas etc.
Yours . . . .
To return to the Gowlland Family home page, click here.
To return to the Index of letters, click here.