When Charlie Bowden married Muriel Ching Finch in 1929, they lived initially in Ladywell House, Sticklepath, renting some furnished rooms from Miss Warne. As they saved money and were able to get some furniture together they moved into some unfurnished rooms in Foundry House. Then Auntie Kate, Muriel’s step-mother became ill, so Charlie and Muriel moved back to Cleave House to look after her and run the house. When Auntie Kate recovered baby Anne was on her way, so Charlie and Muriel didn’t move out again.
Katherine Anne Finch Bowden, was born on the 12th August 1931 in Okehampton, most likely in a little private nursing home run by an ex-district nurse. She lived with her parents, and grandparents (Albany Finch and Auntie Kate) in Cleave house, Sticklepath. Muriel recalled how Anne would cry at night and that Auntie Kate spent many hours walking up and down with her to calm her and allow all the other adults to sleep – this often included other family members as well as guests, as Cleave House was run as a guest house for people coming to take the Dartmoor air.
Soon a little brother, Roger, joined them. This was a time when home photography allowed a regular record of the children as they grew.
The 1939 census reminds us of the outbreak of war, as an evacuee Roy Young was staying. The children will have enjoyed playing with their new friend, here seen dressing up.
Anne attended the Sticklepath Council Primary School. Frank Richards, the village school headmaster, was a close neighbour and little Anne presented his 60th birthday retirement present.
PRESENTATION TO RETIRING STICKLEPATH SCHOOLMASTER On the occasion his 60th birthday, and on his retirement from the headmastership of Sticklepath Council School, Okehampton, opportunity was taken to present Mr. Fk. Richards with, two suitable mementoes recognition of his services. The ceremony took place in Sticklepath Village Hall last night. The gifts took the following form: A clock from the late scholars, which was handed to Mr. Richards by Miss V. Mallett, one of the recipient’s first pupils; and a smoking cabinet from the present scholars, this being presented by little Miss Anne Bowden.
Western Times – Friday 07 February 1936 Accessed via BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk August 2022 (A smoking cabinet was used to smoke fish, for example, to preserve it).
After attending senior school at Edgehill College, Methodist girl’s school in Bideford, Anne returned home to help with household duties. The Methodist Chapel and Village Hall formed the centres of family social activities, especially the very active Women’s Institute.
Music was part of that social life too, and Anne learned to play the organ, no doubt practising on the chapel harmonium and taught, at least in part, by Muriel.
Brought up before any mobile phones, microwaves or even TV, Anne learned all the skills required to be a model housewife. Flower arranging, baking, jam making and bottling to make the most of seasonal fruits and vegetables, catering for large family meals. Housework took a lot of time and effort before the luxuries of modern conveniences. No washing machine so, with old fashioned materials, clothes had to be soaked, washed clean, rinsed, starched, dried, ironed and aired. Cleaning too was more arduous, and with coal fires more dirt accumulated. Those fires had to be cleared and re-laid each day too. Without a fridge shopping was needed daily, but much had to be sourced from a well-tended garden.
All through her life she had a passion for cooking and baking. I remember a Kenwood Chef being a luxury prized possession. She entered many competitions, such as Sticklepath Flower Show, winning her first prize at the age of 7. Cakes, scones and marmalades, etc., etc., she used her cooking skills to supply innumerable coffee mornings and ‘bring and buy’ sales. For Church Harvest Suppers, her mousses were a favourite. Sugar craft and cake decoration were also on her list of accomplishments, as indeed was producing delicate Honiton lace.
She knew all those tricks of the trade used to remove stains or to iron fragile and awkward garments. She learned knitting and crochet and sewing. This was a time when village jumble sales were searched for hand knitted items that could be unpicked and the wool washed and re-used. Waste not want not. Left overs were knitted into squares to make colourful blankets. A time of making lavender bags, hankies transformed into tiny umbrellas, soap sewn into a fish-shaped foam to sell at local events and raise money for charities. Early on it was often the Methodist Missionary Society which was top priority as her Auntie, Phyllis Finch was a missionary in China and Ghana and later worked for the Society in International House, in Liverpool and London. War time must have been distressing when her father was at war and Auntie Phil was an internee throughout the war in Hong Kong, but there was very little communication to confirm or let the family know if they were safe. Anne would have been aware of many other relations and friends in the village suffering through war too.
A gentle lady Anne would do anything to help others, often found quietly busy in the background. She volunteered for the Devon Air Ambulance in Okehampton and Hospice Care in Crediton. She played the organ for services in North Tawton Methodist Chapel, helped at ‘Toddlers’ in North Tawton and volunteered with meals-on-wheels for many years. In later life she could be found in the back room of Okehampton Red Cross shop ironing the donated clothes, but it was her time as Tawny Owl with the South Zeal Brownies that is recorded, through their guard of honour in her wedding photos.
In 1954 at the age of 22 she married Gordon Gibbons, a partnership which would last almost 38 happy years.
They began their married life in North Tawton at 11 Exeter Street and lived there for 26 years, bringing up two daughters. In 1979 they moved to Moor View at the top of the town. Widowed in 1991, she stayed there for 41 years. Sadly, due to failing health, she had to move again, for her final few months. At the time of Covid, a difficult time to be in a care home, and very distressing for her family whose visits were greatly restricted.
Family was of utmost importance to Anne. She always visited her parents at least weekly. She supported her brother and his family in many ways, attending his concerts whenever possible (he was a tenor soloist and choir member), always interested and attentive to all the family members and supporting village events both in Sticklepath and North Tawton. In many different ways she was a part of Sticklepath life for almost 90 years.
Above all Anne made it her life ambition to be a loving and devoted Wife, Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother. A smile lit up her face whenever she spoke of them, but no photo can capture her characteristic cheeky chuckle that punctuated nearly every conversation.
Happy birthday Auntie Anne, you are greatly missed.