ALL ABOUT
TUNBRIDGE WELLS

Page 3

 

LUKE AND CECIL PEARCE -PRINTERS AND MOTOR ENGINEERS

Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: August 18,2018

This article reports on the life and business career of Luke Pearce (1846-1940) who operated a printers and publishers business in Tunbridge Wells on Crescent Road under the name of Pearce & Co. Luke had been born in Westbury, Wiltshire, one of several children born to cloth worker John Pearce and his wife Elizabeth.

Luke was living with his parents and siblings in Westbury at the time of the 1851 census and 1861 census. He had attended a local school until the age of 13 and by 1861 he and his father were both working as cloth workers.

Sometime before 1871 Luke went into the printing business, having learned the trade in Westbury as a printer’s apprentice. By the time the 1871 census was taken in Westbury Luke’s father was a widower and had retired and Luke lived with his father and two lodgers.

Luke’s first wife was Sarah Elizabeth Stapleton who he had married in Wiltshire in 1874. With her he had three children between 1876 and 1882

At the time of the 1881 census Luke and his wife and two children were living in Somerset where Luke ran a printers and stationers business. Luke’s wife Sarah died sometime before 1888.

In 1888 Luke married Susan (1852-1928) who was born in Cheltenham and with her had just one child namely Cecil Bright Pearse (1889-1942) who became a mechanical engineer and founded Pearce’s Garage on Crescent Road in Tunbridge Wells.

The 1901 census, taken in London gave Luke as a letter press printer employing others. With him was his wife Susan and their son Cecil. Sometime before 1911 Luke and his wife and son moved to Tunbridge Wells where Luke started his printers and publishers business under the name of Pearce & Co. on Crescent Road. The Pearce family lived in a 10 room residence at 13 Calverley Park Crescent and at the time of the 1911 census Luke was a letter press printer and his son Cecil was an electrical engineer (sometimes given as a mechanical engineer). Shown opposite is a view of Calverley Park Cresent. In the early 1830’s when this building was constructed No. 13 was the premises of Mr Davis  who had his tailors shop there. Later in the history of this building all the shops were closed and the entire building came into residential use. Shown above is a drawing of Calverley Park Crescent. Shown below is an advertisement for Pearce & Co. that appeared in a 1912 guide, which guide was also printed by them.

Directories of 1913  to 1938 gave “Luke Pearce, printer, Holly Bank, Crescent Road. Although the partnership in the firm of Pearce & Co was dissolved in 1926 the company name continued under the proprietorship of Luke Pearce. Directories of 1934 and 1938 for example listed “ Pearce & Co, printers, Holly Bank, Crescent Road.

Luke Pearce died in Tunbridge Wells in the 3rd qtr of 1940 and was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery near his wife Susan who had died in the 2nd qtr of 1928.

Luke’s son Cecil Bright Pearce had been born 1889 in Putney, London and came to Tunbridge Wells with his parents sometime after 1901 and before 1911. He received his early education in London and became an electrical engineer, an occupation he was listed under at the time the 1911 census was taken at 13 Calverley Park Crescent, Tunbridge Wells, where he lived with his parents.

In the 4th qtr of 1912 Cecil married Daisy May Eyles (1891-1971) who had been born in Snodland, Kent and was one of at least five children to grocer Sidney Eyles and his wife Bertha. At the time of the 1911 census Daisy was living with her father Sidney, a grocer on own account, and her mother and sister Ada at 155 Silverdale Road, Tunbridge Wells. Shown here  is a photograph of Silverdale Road from the 1920’s showing flooding after a heavy storm.

A directory of 1930 gave Cecil as a mechanical engineer living at 4 Calverley Park Crescent. In my article ‘ The Holly Bank Motor & Carriage Works’ dated August 18,2018 I reported on the life and career of Ernest James Broad who operated this business from premises at 23 and 28 Crescent Road until he left the motor trade business sometime after 1918 and before 1922 and went on to run a furniture business from premises at 28 Crescent Road. When Ernest James Broad left the business Cecil Bright Pearson took it over but did not take over Mr Broads premises.The Courier in 1926 reported that Pearce’s Garage at Holly Bank, Crescent Road was opposite the Calverley Hotel and offered for hire motor cars and also sold used motor cars. He offered motor cars for hire “night or day for 6d per mile”. In one advertisement was offered for sale an Essex saloon; a 1921 ford Saloon and a 1922 Citreon 4 seater and stated “ No reasonable offer refused”. Directories of 1934 and 1938 gave the listing “Cecil Bright Pearce, engineer, 4 Calverley Park Crescent” and “ Cecil B. Pearce, motor engineer, Holly Bank, Crescent Road. It appears that this business ended before WW II. Presented opposite is a modern photograph showing 4 Calverley Park Crescent, one of several units is John Ward’s early 1830’s developments, which was also known originally as the Calverley Promenade which consisted of 17 shops with residences above Cecil Bright Pearce died in Tunbridge Wells March 8,1942 while a resident of 4 Calverley Park Crescent and was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery. A directory of 1939 gave him and  his wife Daisy, along with two boarders, at this same address  and that Cecil was a motor engineer. The executors of his 923 pound estate was his solicitor. His wife Dairy died in London at the age of 79  (born December 22,1891) in the 2nd qtr of 1971. It appears that Cecil and his wife never had any children.

THE HOLLY BANK MOTOR & CARRIAGE WORKS

Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: August 18,2018

OVERVIEW

The Holly Bank Motor & Carriage Works was a business established at 28 Crescent Road, Tunbridge Wells in the early 1900’s . Initially the principles of the business were Messrs Smith and Broad, as noted in various newspaper advertisments for the business in 1910. By 1912 the business operated as the sole proprietorship of Ernest James Broad (1869-1940), one of the founding partners. The Smith family before this time had a long history in the town as carriage manufacturers. Pelton’s 1896 guide for example listed G & J Smith operating as the Kent & Sussex Carriage Works in Tunbridge Wells.

The name “Holly Bank” has a long history in the town on Crescent Road, for at one time Holy Bank was a mansion set on large grounds on the north side of Crescent Road, once occupied by Lady Louisa Cadogan. This part of Crescent Road underwent redevelopment and although most of the original buildings are gone the name still survives today as Holly Bank Cottages , Holly Bank Terrace, and Holly Bank Crescent. The old Holly Bank mansion was demolished  to make way for the car park in the 20th century that was erected opposite the Calverley Hotel.

Ernest James Broad was born in Tunbridge Wells in 1869 and was one at least five children born to coach trimmer James Broad (1823-1885) and his wife Martha (1837-1916), both of whom died in Tunbridge Wells. During the 1870’s and 1880’s Ernest lived with his parents and sibling at 14 William Street, Tunbridge Wells. At the time of the 1891 census, taken at 14 William Street, Ernest was working as a vice man and living with his widowed mother Martha (a laundress) and two of his siblings, one a wheelwright, and one a laundress maid.

As noted in a 1939 directory and by the 1901 census, Ernest entered the military and at the time of the 1901 census was one of hundreds of men located at the Royal Garrison Artillery at Sheerness, Kent, where on March 31,1901 he was a gunner.  His wife Annie Maria Broad, nee Elliott (1865-1931), who he had married in Tunbridge Wells in the 2nd qtr of 1900 was living with her son Percy at her mother in laws residence at 14 William Street, Tunbridge Wells. Annie had been born in Hastings,Sussex and was one of at least five children born to Robert and Sarah Elizabeth Elliott.

At the time of the 1911 census Ernest was living with his wife Annie and son Percy Ernest James Broad (1900-1957) in a 4 room residence at 3 Richardson Road, Tunbridge Wells. Ernest at that time was a motor engineer on own account.

An advertisement for the business (shown above) from 1912 notes that Ernest was the sole proprietor of his motor and carriage business and that the office was located across from the Calverley Hotel at 23 Crescent Road and that his garage premises were located beside and just east of the Calverley Hotel at 28 Crescent Road,  in a building believed by the researcher to have that had its origins as the stable block of the Calverley Hotel.

Directories of 1913-1918 gave the listing “ Ernest James Broad, 28 Crescent Road, and Holly Bank Crescent Road, motor engineer”. Local newspapers from 1912 to 1918 refer variously to the “Holly Bank Motor Works’, the Holly Bank Motor & Carriage Works; and the “ Holly Bank Motor, Carriage and Cycle Works” on Crescent Road.

Ernest’s son  Percy Ernest James Broad (1900-1957) served with the RAF during WW 1. After the war he went into the furniture business and was found in a 1939 directory working as a furniture auctioneer and auction sale foreman, living with his wife Edith R. Broad (born 1900) at 45 William Street, Tunbridge Wells. Percy was of 45 William Street when he died July 13,1957 . His widow, Edith Ruth Broad, was the executor of his estate. Percy had married Edith Ruth Snelling in Tunbridge Wells in the 2nd qtr of 1926.

Newspaper articles from 1922 made reference to “Pearce’s Garage, Holly Bank, Crescent Road (opposite the Calverley Hotel) indicating that Ernest James Broad had sold out his business. Pearce’s Garage ran articles in the local newspaper advertising the hiring and sale of motor cars from the premises, the same type of  business that Ernest had been in. When Pearce’s Garage ended business was not investigated. It was noted from the 1912 advertisement opposite that there was a printing company on Crescent Road  under the name of Pearce & Co  the principal of whom was Luke Pearce (1846-1940) and it was his son Cecil Bright Pearce (1889-1942) who was a mechanical engineer and ran Pearson’s Garage.A notice in the Courier of August 27,1926 reported that the partnership of printers and publishers at Holly Bank Crescent Road under the name of Pearce and Co. had been dissolved.

Directories of 1922 to 1938 gave the listing “ E.J. Broad, 28 Crescent Road, Furniture Dealers and Brokers”. This  confirms that Mr Broad retained his premises at 28 Crescent Road after ending his motor car business. Newspaper articles from 1926 to 1932 refer to the Holly Bank Joinery Works on Crescent road of which company Alexander Findley was give as the managing director. The Courier of June 27,1930 reported that the Holly Bank Works Ltd, were well-known joiners and manufacturers who had been in business for 56 years and that in 1930 the staff of the company made a 120 mile motor tour through Kent to Margate. It appears that Ernest Percy Broad was not connected to the joinery company but his furniture business must have been located nearby.

As I noted above Ernest’s son Percy, in 1939 was living at 45 William Street and was working as a furniture auctioneer and auction sale foreman. It appears that Percy before this time had been working for his father in his father’s furniture business. Another directory of 1939 gave Ernest James Broad as a retired second hand furniture dealer and that in 1939 he was at 28 Crescent Road and was a widower. Ernest James Broad died in the 3rd qtr of 1940 in Tunbridge Wells. He was predeceased by his wife Annie who had died in Tunbridge Wells in the 1st qtr of 1931. Both of them were buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery. Ernest’s parents and his son Percy were also buried there.

Related articles worth reading as it pertains to Holly Bank and to the garage of A.A Cundell on Crescent Road are ‘ A.A. Cundell’s Garage’ dated January 15,2018 (updated March 24,2018) and ‘The History of Holly Bank’ dated May 18,2014.  Information about the printing and motor garage business of the Pearce family on Crescent Road can be found in my article “ Luke and Cecil Pearce-Printers and Motor Engineers’ dated August 18,2018.

THE BROAD FAMILY

For the purposes of this article the patriarch of the Broad family was James Broad (1823-1916) who had been born in St Pancras, London.

The 1871 census, taken at 14 William Street, Tunbridge Wells, gave James Broad as a coach trimmer. With him was his wife Martha Broad (1837-1916) who was born in Barnwell, Cambridgeshire. Also present in the home were their children (1) Florence J, born 1859 in Barnwell (2) Martha L. , born 1861 in Barnwell ( 4) Gertrude, born 1863 in Lambeth, London (5) Percy William, born 1867 in Tunbridge Wells. Percy died in Tunbridge Wells in the 4th qtr of 1896 and was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on November 4,1896. (6) Ernest James Broad born in the 1st qtr of 1869 in Tunbridge Wells.

The 1881 census, taken at 14 William Street, Tunbridge Wells, gave James Broad as a coach trimmer. Living with him was his wife Martha, a laundress and their children (1) Martha, an ironer (2) Gertrude, an ironer (3) Percy William, an errand boy (4) Ernest James Broad, a scholar.

James Broad died in Tunbridge Wells, while a resident of 14 William Street in the 2nd qtr of 1885 and was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on April 22,1885.

The 1891 census, taken at 14 William Street gave Martha Broad as a widow and working as a laundress. With her was her daughter Gertrude (a laundress maid) ; her son Percy (a wheelwright) and her son Ernest James Broad, a viceman smith.

In the 2nd qtr of 1900 in Tunbridge Wells Ernest James Broad married Annie Maria Elliott. Annie had been born in Hastings, Sussex  and was baptised there January 1,1865. She was given as the daughter of Robert and Sarah Elizabeth Elliott. At the time of the 1881 census, taken at 17 Middle Street, Hastings, Annie was given as a house assistant and living with her parents Robert (a grainer born 1821 in Hastings) and Sarah Elizabeth (born 1829 in Hastings). Also present were Annie’s five siblings born in Hastings between 1863 and 1870. The 1891 census, taken at 50 Emmanuel Road in Hastings gave Robert Elliott living on own means and a widower. Living with him was his daughter Annie Maria (housekeeper) ; his son Alfred,age 23, a painter worker: and his son Robert, age 21, a railway porter.

The 1901 census, taken at 14 William Street gave Martha as a laundress on own account at home. With her was her daughter Gertrude (a laundress on own account at home); her daughter in law Annie Maria Broad, born 1865 in Hastings  and Martha’s grandson Percy Ernest James Broad, born 1900 in Tunbridge Wells.

The 1901 census, taken at the Royal Garrison Artillery in Sheerness ,Kent, gave Ernest James Broad as a gunner. With him were several hundred other military men. Ernest’s service with the Royal Garrison Artillery is confirmed by a 1939 directory listing for him which is presented later.

The 1911 census taken in premises of 4 rooms at 3 Richardson Road, Tunbridge Wells, gave Ernest James Broad as a motor engineer on own account, indicating that he had started his motor and carriage business on Crescent Road by this time. Living with him was his wife Annie and his son Percy Ernest James Broad, born August 21,1900 in Tunbridge Wells. The census noted that the couple had been married in 1900 and that although they had three children only two of them were still living.

Ernest’s mother Martha Broad, died in the 4th qtr of 1916 and was buried near her husband in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery.

Ernest’s wife Annie Maria Broad died in Tunbridge Wells in the 1st qtr of 1931 and was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery March 2,1931.

A directory of 1939 gave Ernest James Broad of 28 Crescent Road, Tunbridge Wells as a widow and a retired second hand furniture dealer. Ernest James Broad died in Tunbridge Wells  in the 3rd qtr of 1940 and was buried near his wife in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery.

PERCY ERNEST JAMES BROAD

Percy Ernest James Broad was  born August 21,1901 in Tunbridge Wells, the son of Ernest James Broad and Annie Maria Broad.

He was living with his mother at his grandmother’s home at 14 William Street, Tunbridge Wells, at the time of the 1901 census.

When the 1911 census was taken at 3 Richardson Road, Tunbridge Wells  Percy was living with his parents and attending school.

Records of the RAF show that Percy Ernest James Broad had enlisted for service with the RAF during WW1. His service date was given as August 12,1918 and his service number was 181621. His next of kin was given as his mother Mrs Broad and since she died in 1916 this record suggests that he had enlisted for service sometime before 1916.

Percy married Edith Ruth Snelling in the 2nd qtr of 1926 in Tunbridge Wells. Edith Ruth Snelling had been born 1900 in Tunbridge Wells and at the time of the 1911 census she was living at 11 Golding Street, Tunbridge Wells, in premises of 3 rooms, with her parents Charles John Snelling (a town postman born 1860 in Shoreham, Sussex) and Caroline Snelling (born 1858 in Bromley). Also present in the home were Edith’s sister Rose Florence, a general domestic servant born 1893 in Peakham and her brother Albert James Snelling, a shop boy for a tailors, born 1896 in Peakham. The census recorded that Charles and his wife had been married 31 years and that only seven of their ten children were still living.  Edith’s birth was registered in the 4th qtr of 1900 in Tunbridge Wells.

A directory of 1939 gave Percy Ernest James Broad as a furniture auctioneer/auction sale foreman. Prior to this he had worked for his father in the used furniture business at 28 Crescent Road, Tunbridge Wells. Living with him in 1939 was his wife Edith Ruth Broad given as born November 13,1900 with the occupation of “ unpaid domestic duties”.

Probate records gave Percy Ernest James Broad of 45 William Street, Tunbridge Wells when he died July 13,1957. The executor of his 5,360 pound estate was his widow Edith Ruth Broad. Percy was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery July 20,1957.

His siblings were Archibald Alfred R. Broad, born in Tunbridge Wells in the 3rd qtr of 1903 but he died in infancy and Dorothy May Broad, born in Tunbridge Wells April 25,1907 and who died as a spinster in the 3rd qtr of 1992 in Tunbridge Wells.

THE BUSINESS

Ernest James Broad became interested in the motor car and carriage business at an early age, as his father James Broad was working as a coach trimmer in Tunbridge Wells while a resident of 14 William Street throughout the years of at least 1871 to 1881. At the time of the 1881 census Ernest was attending school, but left school at the age of 13.

At the time of the 1891 census, taken at 14 William Street, Ernest was widowed mother and two siblings and working in as a viceman smith, no doubt in the motor car trade from which he later became a motor engineer. His brother Percy in 1891 was working as a wheelwright in the carriage trade.

At the time of the 1901 census Ernest was in the military as a gunner with the Royal Garrison Artillery in Sheeness, ,Kent where several members of the Royal Engineers were present. No doubt he continued in this service for a few years while maintaining his interest in mechanical work.

It was not established when Ernest began his motor car and carriage business in Tunbridge Wells at 28 Crescent Road but newspaper advertisments appeared in the Courier in 1910 making reference to him being in this business. For example, the Courier of March 16,1910 advertised “ second hand motor cars for sale all at bargain prices. Apply to Smith and Broad, Holly Bank Motor Works, Crescent Road. The Courier of December 30,1910 ran an advertisement for motor cars for sale at the Holly Bank Motor and Cycle Works. An advertisement in the Courier of November 18,1910 advertised a De Dion motor car for sale at the Holly Bank Motor and Carriage Works on Crescent Road. The Courier of March 25,1910 advertised for sale items related to carriages by “Smith and Broad Holly Bank Motor and Carriage Works”.

The Smith referred to was a member of the well-known Smith family who had long been associated with the manufacture of carriages in Tunbridge Wells. Shown opposite is an advertisement of the Smith business from Pelton’s 1896 guide.  The principles of this business were George and his brother James Smith. Details about their business was given in my article ‘ G & J Smith Tunbridge Wells Carriage Manufacturers’ dated August 24,2011. In that article I noted from the 1903 Kelly directory that “W.H.Smith was a coach and carriage builder on Crescent Road,one of the same street locations given for George Smiths business in 1882 and 1891. It is most likely that the Smith in Smith and Broad was William Henry Smith.

Sometime before 1912 the partnership between Messrs Smith and Broad ended as  the 1912 advertismement for the business (given in the Overview) clearly gave E.J Broad as the sole proprietor of the business at that time. 

The motor car featured in the aforementioned advertisement was a R.C.H. motor car. A colour image of a 1911 RCH Four that was sold at Sotherby’s auctions is shown opposite. From the auction catalogue the following information was given “ The R.C.H. Company was introduced in August of 1911. They produced small vehicles that were powered by a four-cylinder, 22 hp engine and were priced at under $1,000. Production would continue until 1915. The acronym R.C.H. represented 'Robert C. Hupp' and officially had no connection with the Hupp Motor Car Company. This was because Robert Hupp had left the Hupp Motor Company due to a disagreement with the board of directors, and was court ordered not to build vehicles with his name. The Hupp Motor Company feared that a lesser-priced vehicle with a similar name to theirs, would damage the reputation of their company.During the first year of production, seven thousand R.C.H vehicles were sold. Over 15,000 examples were sold the following year. The business had expanded so quickly, that it was difficult to cope with the success. In January of 1913, Hupp gave J.F. Hartz presidency of the company, while Hupp took the vice-president position. Even with strong sales, the company fell into receivership on July 25, 1913. In an attempt to meet the demand, quality suffered. After just a few short years, the decision was made to cease production of vehicles. The  R.C.H. English-style Roadster shown above is powered by a 165.9 cubic-inch L-head four-cylinder engine delivering 22 horsepower. It has a three-speed manual transmission and two-wheel mechanical brakes. In 1972, it was an AACA National Award winner and the recipient of a VMCCA award. In 2010, this car was offered for sale at the Vintage Motor Cars of Hershey presented by RM Auctions. It was estimated to sell for $20,000-$25,000 and offered without reserve. As bidding came to a close, the car had been sold for the sum of $24,200 including buyer's premium  by Southerby’s”.

Local directories of 1913  and 1918 gave “ Ernest James Broad, motor engineer, 28 Crescent Road and Holly Bank Crescent Road”. No directory listings for his business as a Motor and Carriage Works were found for 1922 or beyond indicating that this business under his control had come to an end by then.

A  number of newspaper advertisments appeared in the Kent & Sussex Courier and the Folkestone, Hythe,Sandgate & Cherton Herald throughout 1912. From the latter newspaper was “ Old motor cars taken in part payment, any mode car on the market, all kinds of motor bodies, carriages and vans built to order; repairs, painting and re-trimming a specialty. Cheapest garage in Tunbridge Wells, E.J. Broad, Holly Bank Motor & Carriage Works Crescent Road, Tunbridge Wells. Advertisments by E.J. Broad also appeared during this time announcing “ Apprentice for motor and carriage line; good opening for smart lad. Small premium. Apply Holly Bank Motor & Carriage Works, Crescent Road”. Other advertisments in 1912 sometimes referred to the business as The Holly Bank Motor, Carriage and Cycle Works, indicating that motor cycles were made and repaired at his premises also.

The Courier of June 28,1912 and at other dates noted that in addition to the sale and repair of motor cars that the business also had vehicles of different makes for hire, such as a 20HP Fiat 5 seater touring car which could be hired at a fee of” 7d per mile , 4d return.”

The Courier of March 28,1913 advertised that Mr Broad was looking for an apprentice to work in the business.

In the 1920’s advertisments began to appear in the Courier such as one which stated “ Pearce’s Garage, Holly Bank ,Crescent Road(opposite the Calverley Hotel). For hire day or night from 6d per miles phone 1667. For sale Essex Saloon; 1921 Ford Saloon; 1922 Citreon 4 seater. No reasonable offer refused”. Since Mr Broad advertised previously that his business was opposite the Calverley Hotel it appears that perhaps Pearce took over or established this business following Mr Broad leaving the trade and going into the furniture business. Directories of 1922 to 1938 gave “ E.J. Broad, furniture dealers and brokers, 28 Crescent Road.  Ernest’s son Percy joined his father’s business as noted in a 1939 directory in which Percy was given as living at 45 William Street with his wife and working as a “furniture auctioneer, auction sale foreman”.

Another 1939 directory gave Ernest James Broad as a widower and a retired second hand furniture dealer at 28 Crescent Road. As noted earlier Ernest died in Tunbridge Wells in 1940. It was not established if his son Percy continued the business.

 

THE McCOWAN FAMILY OF TUNBRIDGE WELLS

Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: August 11,2018

OVERVIEW

My interest in the McCowan family stems largely in connection with McCowans Music Centre of 10 Monson Road, Tunbridge Wells, which business was established by James Duncan McCowan (1872-1948) in the early 20th century.

James Duncan McCowan (1872-1948) had been born in Hastings and was one of at least eight children born to James and Maria McCowan, who at the time of the 1881 census were living at 11 Norman Road in Hastings, Sussex, where James senior ran an ironmongers shop where he employed 3 men and 4 boys. At the time of the 1881 census, James Duncan McCowan was attending school while living with his parents and siblings.

In the 2nd qtr of 1897,at Hastings, James Duncan McCowan married Hester Mary Greenhill and soon after the marriage the couple moved to Tunbridge Wells where he worked as a commercial traveller.

The 1901 census, taken at 212 Upper Grosvenor Road,Tunbridge Wells gave James Duncan McCowan as a commercial traveller. With him was his wife Hester and two children, born in Tunbridge Wells in 1898 and 1900, among which was their son Duncan Matheson McCowan (1900-1969). Duncan Matheson McCowan went on to wed Mary Walkden in the 1st qtr of 1925 in Hastings. Mary was a soubrette and dancer and Duncan went into business in Tunbridge Wells as the proprietor of a pram shop on Monson Road. Among the children of Duncan Matheson McCowan and his wife was Alexander Duncan McCowan(1925-2017) who was born in Tunbridge Wells and went on to become a noted actor in the British film industry.

The 1911 census, taken at 9 Park Road, Tunbridge Wells, gave James Duncan McCowan as a commission agent. With him was his wife Herster and four of their children, including their son Duncan Matheson McCowan who was attending school.

In this article I present two 78rpm record sleeves for McCowans Music Centre located at 10 Monson Road. The record sleeves provide details about the nature of this business which included the sale of gramophones, wireless sets, radio-grams, records and musical instruments.  A 1918 directory listed James Duncan McCowan of 13 Calverley Road and 14 Monson Road, Tunbridge Wells as a dealer in domestic machinery and house furnishers.

A 1930 directory gave the listing J.D.M. McCowan, music dealer, 10 Monson Road. A directory for 1934 gave James Duncan McCowan, house furnisher Central Hall, High Street, Tonbridge.

Directories of 1939 also record that Duncan Matheson McCowan was a shop keeper and dealer in baby carriages from premises at Red Tiles in the town of Tonbridge.

Probate records gave James Duncan McCowan of 7 Priory Avenue, Hastings, Sussex, when he died July 6,1948. The executors of his 11,135 pound estate were his son Duncan Matheson McCowan, shop proprietor and his widowed daughter Olivia Mary Blackman.

Although information is proved in this article about the McCowan family in general its emphasis is on the live and career of James Duncan McCowan, his son Duncan Matheson McCowan, and Jame’s grandson and British actor Alexander Duncan McCowan, as all three have a connection to Tunbridge Wells.

JAMES DUNCAN McCOWAN (1872-1948)  

James was born 1872 in Hastings and was one of at least eight children born to James and Maria McCowan.

The 1881 census, taken at 11 Norman Road in Hastings (image opposite) gave James McCowan, age 40, as an ironmonger employing 3 men and 4 boys. With him was his wife Maria J. McCowan,age 38. Also there were their children (1) Maria, age 16, a milliners apprentice (2) Elizabeth, age 14, a photographers apprentice (3) James Duncan,age 9, a scholar born in Hastings in 1872 and one of the central figures in this article (4) Florence, age 11, in school (5) Eleanor, age 8 , in school (6) Mary Elizabeth,age 6 (7) Jessie,age 3 (8) Grace C. age 1. Also present was one domestic servant. The family were still living in Hastings at the time of the 1891 census.

In the 2nd qtr of 1897, in Hastings, James Duncan McCowan married Hester Mary Greenhill

After the marriage in 1897 James Duncan McCowan and his wife moved to Tunbridge Wells . The 1901 census taken at 212 Upper Grosvenor Road (image opposite) gave James Duncan McCowan as a commercial traveller. With him was his wife Hester M. McCowan, born 1872 at Nine Elms, London. Also there was their daughter Olivia M. McCowan born 1898 in Tunbridge Wells  and their son Duncan Matheson McCowan, born April 20,1900 in Tunbridge Wells. Also there was one domestic servant and one niece. In the photo opposite No. 212 is the residence with the yellow door, which home is located on the south east side of Upper Grosvenor Road just north of Silverdale Ln.

The 1911 census, taken at 9 Park Road, Tunbridge Wells (image opposite), a 11 room home, gave James Duncan McCowan as a commission agent on own account. With him was his wife Hester and their children (1) Olivia M, age 13, at school (2) Duncan Matheson,age 10, at school (3) Marjorie I,age 8, at school (4) Gladys I, age 5, at school. All three of the youngest children were born in Tunbridge Wells. Also there were five others (mostly domestic servants). No. 9 Park Road is located on the west side of Park Road about half way between Upper Grosvenor Road and Woodbury Park Road.

A directory of 1918 gave “ James Duncan McCowan, 13 Calverley Road and 14 Monson Road, Tunbridge Wells, domestic machinery dealers and house furnishers. Shown below left is a postcard view of Calverley Road and to the right of it is a view of Monson Road in which his shop in the Monson Colonnade was located.












At some point in time , most likely at the end of WW 1 James Duncan McCowan took up premises at 10 Monson Road. Shown below are two 78rpm record sleeves bearing the name and address of his business with details about the products sold at his shop.

A directory for 1930 gave the listing “ J.D.M. McCowan, music dealer, 10 Monson Road, Tunbridge Wells. The “J.D.M” referred to identified his full correct name as James Duncan Matheson McCowan, but other records only give his name as James Duncan McCowan.

A directory for 1934 gave “ James Duncan McCowan, house furnisher, Central Hall, High Street, Tonbridge.

















This business appears to have continued for many years as the Kent & Sussex Courier of February 6,1942 gave an advertisement for “ McCowan’s Music Centre’.

Probate records gave James Duncan McCowan of 7 Priory Avenue, Hastings, Sussex when he died July 6,1948. The  executors of his 11,135 pound estate were his son Duncan Matheson McCowan, shop proprietor and his widowed daughter Olivia Mary Blackman.

DUNCAN MATHESON McCOWAN (1900-1969)

Duncan Matheson McCowan was born in Tunbridge Wells April 20,1900 and was one of several children born to James Duncan McCowan(1872-1948) and his wife Hester Mary McCowan (born 1872.

In the previous section I noted that Duncan was living with his parents and sister Olivia at 212 Upper Grosvenor Road at the time of the 1901 census.

At the time of the 1911 census, taken at 9 Park Road, Tunbridge Wells Duncan was attending school and living with his parents and three sisters.

In the 1st qtr of 1925, in Hastings, Sussex, Duncan married Mary Walkden. Mary was a noted soubrette and dancer and Duncan went on to operate a pram shop in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Among their children was the noted British actor Alexander Duncan McCowan (1925-2017) who had been born in Tunbridge Wells on May 26,1925. Details about him are given in the next section of this article.

A directory of 1939 gave the listing “ Duncan M. McCowan, age 39, born April 20,1900. Residing at Red Tiles, Tonbridge, a shop keeper and dealer in baby carriages. With him was his wife Mary, age 32 who was born April 14,1907.

Directories of 1961 to 1963 gave “ Duncan McCowan, The Walled Cottage, Old Pembury”.

A directory of 1968 gave Duncan McCowan, 10 Hazelwood Crescent, Elburton, Plymouth, Devon. 

Duncan Matheson McCowan died in the 3rd qtr of 1969 in Plymouth, Devon.

In the next section you will read what his son Alexander said about him, who described his father as “eccentric”.

ALEXANDER DUNCAN McCOWAN 

Alexander was the son of Duncan Metheson McCowan (1900-1969), a dealer in baby prams, and Mary McCowan, nee Walkden, a soubrette and dancer. Alexander was born in Tunbridge Wells May 26,1925.

Alexander became a well-known British actor and appeared in many films and stage productions during his career. As expected there are several websites providing information about his career and for that reason I have not elaborated on it in this article.  A photograph of him is shown opposite from Wikipedia.

He attended The Skinners' School in Tunbridge Wells and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he made his professional debut in 1942.

Alexander was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1972 Queen's New Year’s Honours and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1986 Queen's New Year’s Honours for his services to drama.

Alexander McCowen published his first volume of autobiography, Young Gemini in 1979, followed a year later by Double Bill (Elm Tree Books).

His partner, the actor Geoffrey Burridge, died in 1987 from AIDS complications and Alexander died February 6, 2017 in London.  

An obituary published in the Guardian gave the following. “He was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and gave a vivid account of his early years in his book Young Gemini (1979). His father, Duncan, whom he grew to adore, was a pram-shop owner and natural exhibitionist with a rare capacity to fart God Save the King at the dinner table. Even in the Kentish bourgeoisie, the strain of performance seemed to run in the family: McCowen’s mother, Mary (nee Walkden), was a teenage soubrette and his paternal grandfather a Christian evangelist. Acting, however, was still regarded with suspicion and McCowen, although a passionate cinema-goer, learned to disguise his ambition by posing as an average schoolboy at the Skinners’ school.”

Comments made by Alexander regarding his father’s eccentricities can be found in his book ‘Young Gemini’ (1979).

 

 

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