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Donald Jack Gowing was born at 17 Harrison Street, St Pancras, London on 21st August 1920. I have a feeling we may never know how his mother came to be living there, it may have been her place of work as a housekeeper or it may have been an anonymous address for an unmarried mother to give birth to her child, such places were not uncommon. Donald's birth certificate records his father as being John Arthur Gowing, a married man with four children of his own who lived across the River Lea in Upper Clapton and worked in at the A.E.C. factory in Walthamstow. For many years we knew nothing of the man, where he lived or even if the name actually represented a real person. As a name it seemed too unique to have been contrived for the sake of the birth certificate so it was always our belief that there must be an element of truth. What this meant to us, his children, was that as far as our branch of the Gowing family was concerned, it began with our father, Donald Jack Gowing, but now we know our roots are to be found in Bristol, but beyond that who knows, that is for someone else to discover.
Sarah was the first born of seven children, her mother was the daughter of a Baptist minister and a formidable looking woman. Sarah herself as the photograph shows had natural beauty and the appearance of elegance and grace. She was born in Hervey Park Road, Walthamstow, in 1889. At that time it was being turned from an Essex country village into another outlying London suburb. Her father, George Carsten Hollings was one of many builders helping this to take place. Rows upon rows of two-up two-downs were springing up street by street. As the fields disappeared under bricks and mortar her family grew, each brother or sister born at a different address as the family followed the builders across what had now become a town. At the age of 22 she and her sisters Florence and Violet were factory girls making blouses, and her brother, George Albert, was a bricklayer. They were living at 206 St John's Road Walthamstow, with their other brother Raymond and sisters Daisy Ivy and Lily.
George Albert was the first to marry in 1916, to Maud Lillian Bremer. Two years later, the same year that Florence married Thomas Copeland a Scottish toolmaker, Daisy Ivy died of heart disease age 18 years. We can find no record of Sarah Ethel marrying John Gowing, but Donald Jack Gowing was born in August 1920. It was the custom for an unmarried girl who fell pregnant to be "sent away" somewhere for the child to be born, we believe this could be the reason Donald was born in Harrison Street, St Pancras. However, it is also possible she was living and/or working there. We know from the memories of Donald that his mother spent some time working as housekeeper, a house such as this, though well past its prime in the photograph alongside, could well have required a full time housekeeper. Two years after Donald's birth his grandmother Sarah Jemima died, the address was 23 Exeter Road Walthamstow. We assume that Donald and Sarah Ethel had returned home by this time, if not the loss of her mother would have surely bought her back. Her sister Violet, now 27 years of age, married John Crossland Kaye in 1923, the marriage took place in Darton, near Barnsley, Yorkshire.
"I have a vivid memory of Uncle Ray (Raymond Hollings) going in to hospital; it was the Wingfield Morris Hospital in Headington, Oxford. This was whilst we were living in Exeter road, Walthamstow (1925/6) I can remember very well going to visit him, he was in traction, there were cables and weights all over the place and I can remember being quite scared for him. I suppose this would have been something to do with the Polio he suffered as a child, at the time he would have been 15 or 16 years old and I was ten years younger at 5 or 6 years old. We used to travel to Oxford by car although I do not remember whose car it was or how we came to be in it."
This picture of Harrison Street, where Donald Jack was born, was taken in 1950. It clearly shows the type of house that Sarah Ethel could have worked in. Soon after this picture was taken the houses, way passed their best, were razed to the ground. In earlier times they would have been a much sought after address.
We know very little about Sarah Ethel's early life but we have some of Donald's early memories. Growing up in Walthamstow living with his mother, her brother Raymond Leslie Hollings and her father George Carsten Hollings. His early memories as a child were mixed. He clearly remembered his grandfather, George Carsten and his second marriage to Maud Edith Barber in 1928, at the Spruce Hill Baptist Church, Brookscroft Road, Walthamstow. He remembered vividly George's involvement in the building of bungalows in Laindon Essex, and the board outside the building site proudly displaying the builders name of "George Hollings". Donald also remembered being taken by his grandfather down to the Old Kent Road where there used to be a market for horse trading. He remembered George buying sick or neglected animals, nursing them back to health and reselling them. It's not clear whether these activities were over and above his main occupation, or instead of. Their paths finally separated in 1929, when Donald's Mother, Sarah Ethel had to move. It is possible, of course that, less than one year after George's second marriage it could be regarded as a convenient solution to what may have been a difficult situation.
On 24 August 1925 Donald Jack started school, firstly attending Queens Road Infants School, then two years later 19 July 1927 changing to Edinburgh Junior School. Both schools were right on his doorstep and both schools listed his parent/guardian's name as Jack. However, soon after starting at Edinburgh Junior Sarah Ethel found it necessary to move house. She was taken on as a live-in housekeeper as her employers were off to foreign parts for a year. For young Donald Jack this meant another school and this time it was over the other side of Walthamstow almost to the border of Leyton, in Gamuel Road (see photograph) Both school and road have long since given way to a housing estate. The house his mother was "keeping" I believe was in Grove Road (to be confirmed). This resulted in rather a long journey and Donald used to do this every day on skates. At the end of the year the owners returned and another move for the family, this time it was to Chapel End, as lodgers with friends of Sarah Ethel, and another new school for Donald, Chapel End School. With the Housekeeping job finished Sarah Ethel found herself new employment with the local company, "Murex." In late 1929, when he was nine years old, they moved again, and this time it was out of Walthamstow, northward to Chingford.
"Inglebourne" Low Street Chingford. The first house in Chingford the young family moved to. Pictured outside are Donald Jack Gowing (unmistakable) and two neighbours children. (Low Street was later renamed Sewardstone Road.) The new address was "Inglebourne," Low Street, Chingford, Essex. For Donald Jack a new address meant another new school and this time it was Kings Road Junior School. Even with her new job the rent on the house was high, and to make ends meet they took in lodgers to occupy the top floor of the house, Sarah Ethel and her young son stayed downstairs. Things were comfortable for them and Sarah had regular paid work at Murex. She had to walk from Chingford up the Lea Valley Road to the station in Ponders End every day to catch the train back to Walthamstow. (It all changed again when Murex moved out of Walthamstow to Waltham Cross in 1938).
another new school for Donald Jack and this was to be his last.
Chingford Senior School was brand new and again it was a long walk.
This time it was over the fields on foot and a whole new world away
from the industry of Walthamstow. He recalls making new friends, in
particular a farmer who kept chickens, whom he used to visit on a
regular basis. The farmer gave him wood to build a chicken run and six
chickens to put in it! It was also the year the family moved
again, this time it was a stone's throw away to 103 Sewardstone Road,
Chingford. The picture on the left was taken circa 1927 and shows
a young Donald Jack with his mother Sarah Ethel.
Donald Jack recalls about this time Raymond Leslie Hollings came to live with them. Raymond had been in hospital with partial paralysis and had recovered sufficiently to be released. The year would have been around 1932/3 Donald Jack would have been 12-13 years old and Raymond Leslie was ten years his senior at 22-23. Sarah Ethel would have been 43 years old and her father George Carsten Hollings 73 years old. Having Raymond Leslie living with them was a great help to Donald Jack. To earn his keep Raymond started a shoe repair business. He also helped young Donald rebuild a bicycle from an old frame he had found. (Something that stayed with him for many, many years because Donald Jack repeated the exercise for Keith and again for me in 1965 when I was 10 years old.) The bicycle presented the chance of new boundaries to be explored, and also the opportunity for Raymond Leslie to offer a delivery service for his fledgling business.
Donald Jack continued his schooling until he left in 1934, it was customary for the youngsters of the area all met up at the Mission in Sewardstone Street (now Sewardstone Road) and Donald, now a young man, was well thought of:
"...Joan Wingrove (from Wingrove's General Store) was the prettiest girl and Donald Gowing a good, polite boy, by far the best looking with beautiful blonde hair....we were in a play once called Cinderella and Joan quite rightly played the lead and Don was in it too but I don't remember what part he played..."
It was at the Mission he met Winifred Deacon, Win and her sister Lilian were Sunday School teachers and obviously took part in the other activities that went on during the weekdays, the Mission was a social centre for the area as well as a place of worship on a Sunday. The picture on the right is from the private collection of John and June Chapman.1 They remember Low Hall Farm as it was and as a young man John would collect acorns and take them to the farm for the animals to eat, sometimes he would be given sixpence for his trouble, he also remembers being allowed to ride the huge plough horses around the farm as they were working. Memories of this rural idyll should be treasured and remembered, farms these days are out of bounds to most people, weighed down with automation and throttled by red tape. This outlying part of Chingford was itself beginning to be built up - an inevitable result of the railway coming to town.
Chingford itself is the perfect example of the High Street /Low Street theory of road name origins. With two routes running alongside one-another, one on high ground and one on low-lying valley area. The Low road or street (Sewardstone Road, formerly Low Street) being the low lying road that may sometimes be a shorter, quicker route but became water logged and impassable during the winter months, whilst the High road or street (The Ridgeway, Station Road, Bury Road, Daws Hill) could be used all the year round. Consequently traders, smiths, craftsman and the like would set up shop on the High roads or streets, so were able trade all the year round.
Donald started work immediately after leaving school, briefly for a local greengrocer, and then for a local farmer, James Soper, of Low Hall Farm, Low Street (now called Sewardstone Road) Chingford, where he learned how to handle a horse and the merits of being a milk rounds-man. The picture below was taken outside 103, Sewardstone Road, Chingford. circa 1936. It shows Donald Jack with "Queenie" pulling the Low Farm Dairy cart. His fellow workers he remembers as Dick Jessop, Jack Cannon and a Mr Fitch whose Christian name does escape the memory. In 1938, at the age of seventeen years, he sent off for his provisional driving licence (at a cost five shillings), but never once did he mention owning a car. After learning how to drive his prospects grew and back at the Low Hall Farm he was taught the rudiments of milk processing.
At this time his grandfather was still alive and well but was never mentioned, we wonder if there were visits from George or to George during this time, if Sarah and Donald visited it would have been a long journey by train and tram to 23 Exeter Road, and for George at the age of 75 years plus, any walking would have been out of the question.
The basic problem of making ends meet had obviously been affecting George Carsten in his later years, from 1933 onward there were lodgers at 23 Exeter Road. Nellie Baynham was a virtual family member with others coming and going on a regular basis. In 1938 George Carsten Hollings died, his second wife, Maud Edith, left the house in Exeter Road, moved out to the Essex coast and re-married later the following year. George was buried in the family grave at Queens Road cemetery, sharing the grave with his first wife and two youngest daughters Daisy Ivy and Lily Maud. Donald Jack has no recollection of ever being told his grandfather had died. The same year he joined the Enfield Highway Cooperative Society Dairy, his employer for the vast majority of his life.
The next page is entitled "Win and Don Gowing" and tells the story of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the living family. here.
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