Genealogical Ponderings

the Professional Family History Blog

Professional Family History Blog
  1. The Cowlings of Cambridgeshire

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    It has been a while since I have written about my own family history. I am lucky enough to conduct professional research in the archives where some of my own ancestors are recorded (if only there was more “spare” time!) and thought I would share some of the treasures I have found.

    The photo below is my favourite family photo: the Cowling family. My Grandma, Joyce Cowling, is in the front row, second from the right. My great grandparents, Hubert John Cowling and Edith Dent are at the far left of the photo. The chap at the back with the magnificent moustache is my great grandfather, John Cowling.


    The Cowlings of Cambridgeshire


    Grandma and her two sisters were born in Birmingham but their father, Hubert, was from a long line of Cambridgeshire Cowlings. Hubert was born 30th April 1888 in Sawston, Cambridgeshire, the third of four children: Wilfred, Winifred, Hubert and Cyril. As well as tracing the family through online records such as certificates and census records, I have found a host of records at Cambridgeshire Archives and elsewhere.

    For example, all four children are recorded in the Sawston school log books. Hubert arrived at the infant school on 16th February 1892 “Have admitted two new pupils this week, Hubert Cowling & Bertie Woolley, both 4 yrs of age…”. Wilfred and Cyril both gained scholarships to attend schools in  Cambridge, Wilfred’s being to the prestigious Perse School. Winifred (pictured in the centre of the photo above) went on to become a teacher in Sawston. The infant school log book from 30th November 1900 reads “Miss Barker leaves to-day… I have every hope that Winnie Cowling will in time turn out to be a useful teacher & I should be glad if she could be appointed as monitress in this school.” Indeed, Winifred appears in the staff lists from 1900. The School Board Minutes from 5th November 1901 record “… The Indentures of Miss E Wilson and Miss W Cowling were read over in their presence with their fathers and duly sealed by all.”  On 2nd November 1906 Winifred was recorded in the log books as  “absent… for the day” and on 17th November 1906 she left the school. It seems likely that she was absent to attend a job interview. Certainly by 1911 she was working as a teacher in Fenny Stratford, Buckinghamshire. Winifred later married and moved to The Midlands like her brother, Hubert.

    The future for Hubert’s two brothers was not so bright. Wilfred died from pneumonia at only 16 years old. Cyril died in the First World War and is remembered on the Sawston War Memorial. My search for Cyril in a number of military records has been the subject of other blog posts.

    Hubert’s father, John Cowling, was a compositor and the foreman in the printing office at Cramptons of Sawston and can be seen at work in his suit in the photograph below.



    John Cowling at Cramptons, taken from T F Teversham’s The Story of a Country Printing House


    John was a man of standing in Sawston: the Cambridge Independent Press of 21st March 1913 reports that John Cowling was a member of the Parish Council who was re-elected at the AGM. John’s wife, Agnes, was probably the “Mrs Cowling” who came second place for her fern in the plant section in the Sawston Annual Show, reported in The Cambridge Independent Press, 8th August 1913.

    However, John was not born in Sawston; he was born a few miles down the road in Ickleton, Cambridgeshire, the middle of five children of Daniel Cowling. John came from a number of generations of agricultural labourers and was the third generation of Cowlings to have been born in Ickleton.


    Ickleton parish church


    The older generations of the Cowling family: Daniel (b. 1832), another John Cowling (b c.1804), and Sell Cowling (b. c.1775) all appear at various times in the Ickleton charity accounts, in receipt of “Chrisell Charity money”. This volume of accounts gives us lots of information. The very first payment found was in 1825 to “Cell (sic) Cowling, 6 children“, confirming the number of surviving children by this time. John Cowling (b. c.1804)’s death can be traced through these accounts as his payment then went to his widow. Birth certificates for Daniel Cowling’s children indicate that he left Ickleton for Saffron Walden, Essex between November 1861 and August 1865. The charity accounts narrow this window to between September 1864 and August 1865.

    The Cowling family can be traced back to Sell Cowling who was born in around 1775, but there the trail goes cold for now. Sell died in 1850, frustratingly the year before the 1851 census, and the 1841 census tells us only that he was born in Cambridgeshire. There is no baptism for him in the Cambridgeshire records. He may not have been baptised but I have a couple of hunches where there are gaps in the records. More research required! However, as the only evidence of Sell’s place of birth is essentially a single squiggle on the 1841 census, which could have been copied wrongly, my research is also taking me further out into the surrounding counties.

    Do you have Cowlings in your family tree? If so I would love to hear from you.

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