Anne Gibbons 1931-2021 Skilled housewife and loving mother

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. 

Charlie and Muriel Bowden with baby Anne ~1932

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.


Anne at the seaside
Toddler Anne with a parasole

Soon a little brother, Roger, joined them. This was a time when home photography allowed a regular record of the children as they grew.   

Roger and Anne Bowden
Anne and Roger ar Cleave House gate
Roger and Anne (note the wrinkled woolen stockings)
Anne and Roger
Roger and Anne at Cleave House

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.  

Brother and sister either side of Roy Young evacuee, c.1939, dressed up (as per first world war).

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.

Sticklepath School 1937 Can you spot Anne? 2nd row third from the right.

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 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. 

Anne, the young WI member on front row

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.

1950s Anne preparing the harvest celebration. The harmonium can be seen behind her.

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.

Village Hall Christmas Party 1950s, Anne stood back corner, serving her neighbours.

 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.

Leaving Cleave House with father Charlie
Leaving Sticklepath Chapel with Brownie guard of honour. 1954
Anne and Gordon walk across the road to their reception, Guides guard of honour
The bride and groom, I love the delicate open bouquet.
Leaving on honeymoon

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.

Anne with brother Roger, husband Gordon and father Charlie at Sticklepath Village Hall 1986

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.

Anne with her girls and Granny Gibbons

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. 

Katherine Anne Finch (Bowden) Gibbons 1931-1921

An Enumerator and a List of Houses – 1939 Register

As family historians we usually think of the census records and 1939 England and Wales Register as lists of people. However, several censuses and the 1939 register also give us a list of farms and houses – very useful for One-Place Studies and indeed house histories. The 1939 register is an unusual source in that changes have been made at a later date, usually to show a married name, as it was a working document for National Health Service registration. The enumerators varied in their knowledge of the local area and accuracy, so it can be useful to know a little more about them. Accuracy in terms of coverage can be considered by comparing the registers across the years and trying to explain any discrepancies.

1939 Register image accessed July 2022

Sticklepath in 1939 was part of 3 Parishes, this focuses on the Sampford Courtenay enumerator district. The man in charge on 5th October was Ralph Finch (1891-1979).

Ralph the middle of 3 sons to James and Ellen Finch, had two older sisters. Photo c1905 by Lugg & sons of Okehampton.

He was born and brought up in the village, spent most of his life here, and was the last ‘Finch’ to work at the Finch Foundry.

Finch Foundry Workers, Ralph with hand on hip, 4th from the left.

Ralph was the sort of person who was called upon to be the Presiding Officer in the Polling station for Parliamentary Elections too. Here seen in Sticklepath School polling station alongside the younger Roger Bowden his first cousin once removed.

Polling station at Sticklepath County Primary School 1950s or 60s? Who is casting their vote? (Do let me know!)

There were some new residents at the time of the 1939 Register, evacuees, and I think Ralph, who always had a twinkle in his eye and a kind word, will have used the opportunity to say hello and ask both the children and their host families how things were going. With so many families to visit in one day I don’t think he will have accepted many cups of tea on his was around though!

Ralph with Lynette (Violet) his first wife. ‘Tea’ in the 1960’s always included a saucer with the bone china cup and a teaspoon each with lumps (cubes)of sugar. Thinly sliced bread and butter too. I associate this gold hostess trolley with Auntie Lynette.

Whilst there are redactions in the 1939 register for people who may still be living, most heads of households in 1939 would be over 100 today, so it is likely the vast majority of house names will not be redacted. The Schedule helpfully numbers the houses and subjects (people) within so it is clear if a house is fully redacted or not legible. Note may have less redactions than

Example from Sticklepath village 1939 Register accessed via July 2022

Some houses have changed name (or numbering in areas elsewhere), and quite a few small houses have been incorporated into larger ones either with extensions, or two or more houses later made into one. Several of the larger houses in the 1911 census and 1939 register were split into several households. Unfortunately there is nothing about numbers of rooms like 1911 census, but together and alongside random addresses from records of life events, wills, directories, newspapers etc, we can start to create a database, a useful list of houses and their occupiers at various points in time. Deeds and newspaper reports of auctions etc. can help with names of owners.

The database of Sticklepath Houses is in its early stages, starting with a list created in 1983 from people’s memories (especially Muriel Ching Bowden nee Finch) now slowly adding the 1939 register houses to the database and the occupants to the SticklepathOne ‘forest’.

If anyone is willing to share any photographs or information about their Sticklepath house with the Sticklepath Heritage Group or on the website please contact us. Similarly if anyone would like to know if I have information about their sticklepath house, do ask.

Miss E. A. Seward – A valuable obituary?

Elizabeth Ann Seward is not a direct ancestor of anyone. She never married. Yet we can learn so much diverse information from the newspaper report of her funeral, a transcription of which you can find below.

She was well respected, and at the grand old age of 87 years, many attended her funeral. Nowadays, sadly, many of us will spend our last months in a care facility, often many miles from our friends, associates and neighbours (FANS). Perhaps by virtue of being ‘out of sight’, and perhaps because those FANS don’t know about the funeral until too late, perhaps because families are much more spread out geographically and tend to be smaller, funerals may be poorly attended. Covid of course adds another level to that, with many social activities being curtailed, and numbers attending funerals restricted in recent times.

The newspaper gives useful genealogical details including her full name, age, address, and a number of relationships such as nieces and nephews. Often, particularly for men, occupation is included. In fact we learn here that her cousin John was church warden for many years.

Hints at character are often included – ‘A prominent member of the Women’s Institute’ (WI) she was ‘closely associated with the social activity of the village’ somehow implies lady-like activities, not that she was down the pub every evening or a loose woman!

Church was clearly important, to her cousin if not Miss Seward herself, since she donated a stained-glass church window in his honour.

I was aware of the WI, though we now know it was already going strong in the village in 1939. However, I learn of the ‘Belstone, Sticklepath and Sampford Courtenay Nursing Association’, of which she was President for many years. Their floral tribute tells of her ‘generosity and kindness’ to the nurses and association. We also find the secretary is called Miss Reynolds. Further research shows 156 donors to the association and that Albany Finch took over as the President (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Friday 04 August 1939).

I spot another floral tribute was sent by my great grandmother, widow of an Ag Lab, and wonder what the connection there was. Perhaps consider which of your ancestors was a contemporary too.

There is mention of the vicar being Rector of ‘Belstone with Sticklepath’, which might alert us to the fact that responsibility for the Sticklepath residents was passed from one vicar to another in different parishes over time.

There is also a hint about funerary customs – the bearers are listed, which is not surprising, but mention is also made of ‘A number of neighbours’ who ‘acted as relief bearers’. The coffin must have been carried a reasonable distance to require one or more teams of relief bearers. Her house, Sunnyside, pictured above, lies about mid-way between the church and cemetery, which are about 100 yards apart. Even a fairly wealthy woman was carried then, not taken by hearse.

My point? It is worth reading about funerals and other events taking place where your relatives lived, even if they were not themselves present. You may just pick up something that helps to put their life in context. Like any source, information should be confirmed where possible and often many new research questions arise – why, for instance, did she come to the village as a child? Where did her money come from to allow such generosity? Who benefitted after her death?

(Although I have used the tribute below, a fuller account can be found on her memorial on Findagrave using the Western Times 3 February 1939 report).

Western Morning News – Tuesday 31 January 1939 accessed via

STICKLEPATH FUNERAL Last Tributes To Miss E. A. Seward.

Many mourners attended the funeral at Sticklepath Church yesterday of Miss Elizabeth Ann Seward, of Sunnyside. Sticklepath, aged 87. Miss Seward went to Sticklepath to live in her early childhood, and during her life had been closely associated with the social activity of the village. She was president for many years of the Belstone, Sticklepath, and Sampford Courtenay Nursing Association, and a prominent member of the Women’s Institute. Some time ago she was the donor of a stained-glass window to Sticklepath Church, in memory of Mr. John Cook, her cousin, who was a churchwarden for many years.

The service was conducted by Rev. C. Lister James (rector of Belstone-with-Sticklepath). Family mourners were Miss B. W. Seward and Miss M. W. Seward, nieces; Mr. and Mrs. Jack Tucker (Crook-Burnell), Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Hawkins (Waterslade), Misses Ada and Elsie Colwill (Hatherleigh), and Mr. Ashley Hopper (North Tawton). Mr. Frank Seward (nephew) was unable to attend.

Bearers were Messrs. J. Cooper, G. Brooks, J. Newcombe. A. Bowden. T. Holman, and G. W. Hellier. A number of neighbours acted as relief bearers.

THE MOURNERS. Among the mourners were Com G. Aldwell R.N., Mr J J. Newcombe (clerk to Okehampton Town Council) and Mrs. B. B. Newcombe (Okehampton). Messrs. C. Counter. Wright, Sleeman. J Cook. Harvey. Bowden. Wonnacott. Brook, R. Finch. E. Heggador,. C. Bowden. J. Newcombe, E. Hull. R. Bennett. A. Hopper. F Richards and A. G. French Mesdames E. C. Maynard. E. Heggarion, Simpson-Grey. M A Bowden. E. Tucker, F. Wonnacott. Cooke. Lethbridge, E Bowden. E Tucker. A. Bowden. S. Bowden. Jones E. Jones. Mr. and Mrs A. J Crews (Plymouth), ard Mrs. S. Yeo, Mr. and Mrs. F Fielder. Misses Alder Brown, Stewart. Mesney. E. Ireson. Warn. H. Heggadon. E. Cobbledick. Reynolds (secretary of the District Nursing Association). Littlejohns. and Nurse Gator.

Floral tributes were sent by Frank and May, Bessie and Mary; Margaret and Cary: Annie: Mrs Sloman and Miss Hockaday (Honeychurch); Mrs. Minnie Tucker and Lena (Mitcham. Surrey); Mrs M A. Bowden; Miss A. C. Watson (Plymouth); Dr. and Mrs Maynard: Elderton ar.d Miss Stewart: Mrs and Miss Miss A. C. Hastie, Mr. and Mrs Freeman (Berryfield. Mrs. and the Misses Colwill Hatherleigh; Mr and Mrs. Edgar Hawkins (Waterslade). Com. and Mrs Metherell (New Milton): Miss Reynolds: “In grateful memory of much generosity and kindness to the Nursing Association”: members of the Women’s Institute.