One of the most interesting aspects of the Past on Glass project is tracking down and researching some of the many thousands of sitters depicted in the glass plates. We assume that most were local characters, from Sutton or Epsom, but it’s proving hard to find a large number of matches in the census records – especially when in many cases all we have to go by is a barely legible surname on an envelope. While we are able to consult local directories, newspapers and other documents for information, online resources are our main ports of call when researching these plates and principally we make use of family history sites to consult census, birth, marriage & death records. Because of the nature of many of the plates, military history sites such as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission can also be of great help.
Among our few early success stories is that of the Bowles family – tracked down by Archives & Local Studies Assistant Susan Giddings. Having worked in the Archives for many years Susan is very experienced in using online family & local history resources and was able to trace the family to Epsom. Here she describes the process of researching the name.
Susan explains: “I picked the names Miss C Bowles, for which we had one plate, and Miss M Bowles, for which we had two plates, from among those Glass Plates we had already digitised as I thought that they were possibly sisters and I might have a better chance of finding a match.
I first went online to Ancestry and searched the 1911 census for a family of the name Bowles living in the Sutton, Cheam or Carshalton area. On not finding a match I looked at the Epsom area as David Knights-Whittome also had a shop in Epsom.
I found a possible match with the family of Henry Albany Bowles, Vicar of Christ Church, Epsom. He and his wife Louisa Alethea were listed with five daughters and one son.
Three of his daughters, one called Cicely Gertrude, born 21 January 1890 in Burnley, Lancashire, another Margaret Ernestine, baptised 16 August 1894 in Otterbourne, Hampshire, and the other Majorie Joan Georgina, baptised 29 July 1896 also in Otterbourne, were a possible match. We realised that the two plates named ‘Miss M Bowles’ could actually be of the two different sisters Margaret and Marjorie. I Googled Cicely’s name and discovered she was the great niece of Charlotte Mary Yonge, the Victorian author. I also found Cicely and her siblings listed on the Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal through the Yonge family on their mother’s side.
I tried to see if there were photographs online to really pinpoint if these were the right people but I have not been able to find any.
I then discovered that we also had two glass plates for a R J A Bowles and on looking at the scanned images could see that he resembled the the scans of the Misses Bowles. On the census I could also see that Cicely’s only brother was Reginald Julian Albany – cracked it….!
Cicely married Harry F Saunders on 21 December 1915 and Margaret married Henry F Bond on 16 April 1918 – both girls were married by their father at Christ Church, Epsom. Marjorie married George St. John Rands on 18 April 1925 at St. Mary’s, Bramshott, Hampshire.
The only son of Henry and Louisa, Reginald Julian Albany, was born on 30 May 1891 in Burnley, Lancashire. He was educated at Haileybury School and at the beginning of the war was an employee of the Western Railway, Quiroga, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina. He returned to Britain and joined the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Lieutenant Reginald Julian Albany Bowles was killed in action on the 20 July 1916 aged 23 and is buried in La Neuville British Cemetery, Corbie, France.
Many Argentinan Railways employees joined Welsh Regiments because of their connections with the Welsh community in Patagonia. This could be why Reginald joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.”
The process of uncovering the real people behind these wonderful images is not only proving to be a fascinating one but one which is incredibly gratifying for the team working on this material. Sadly it is not always easy to locate information for sitters – we simply do not have enough to go on, but we hope that by making the images available online via sites like Flickr, that we may uncover a little more about the kinds of lives these people led.
We will post more of these success stories as we uncover them, so please check back – and get in touch if you recognise anyone featured here.
Since this article was posted we have been fortunate enough to be directed by a reader to a wealth of new information about Reginald and the Bowles family. Our thanks to Andrew Arnold for pointing us in the direction of the Epsom & Ewell History Explorer website which contains information about all names listed on the Epsom and Ewell war memorials.