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Why can volunteering at the Heritage Centre be an enjoyable and rewarding experience?

by Norman Gibson, aided and abetted by Graham Maxwell.

We were on duty at the Centre on Thursday, 18th April 2013, and a very interesting story unfolded, which I will relate but first I must refer you to a theory:

‘Six degrees of Separation’ is the theory that everyone and everything is six, or fewer, steps away from any other person in the world, so that a chain of ‘a friend of a friend’ statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. It was originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy (whoever he was!).

Now that Thursday morning was very windy and we had thoughts of a miserable two and a half hours and no visitors. How wrong we were to be. A gentleman was waiting at the door, with a sheaf of papers in hand; he came in and was browsing while we set up, welcome board out, lights on etc. He had travelled, via a visit to Manchester, from East Dulwich in London. (He filled in the Visitor’s Book.) His visit was to continue for the next hour and a half, and pleased we were that no other visitors arrived to break the continuity of an enthralling story.

He was Gavin Bowyer and, working with his brother, had been researching their family tree; they had established that in 1879, one of their great grandmothers was a resident of Heysham from her marriage certificate. She had been n  m
arried in St Peter’s Church in 1879, the ceremony conducted by none other than Rev. Charles Twemlow Royds. Her husband was John Garner, Head Gardener at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, though originally from Cheshire. The fate of Mary was regrettably tragic as she died in 1880 from complications two days after childbirth, but the baby boy, another John, was Gavin’s maternal grandfather.  The only other information Gavin had on Mary was that his family believed she was originally from Dublin and had been in domestic service. He has since sent us copies of photographs of Mary, taken at a Morecambe studio and of John at a Stratford upon Avon studio, probably taken at the time of their marriage

Mary Black

John Garner

Intriguingly, John’s younger brother, George Garner, is recorded in  the 1881 census as a gardener/domestic at  Heysham Hall now demollshed. Heysham Old Hall one of the oldest buildings in Heysham is nearby.  In 1885, George married Jane Wilson of  Heysham by which time he was living at Birkdale, but their service was conducted by A R Tomlinson not Twemlow Royds.

Now we come back to the six steps theory. Having picked up on my accent, Gavin related that he had, for a short while as a child, lived in Northern Ireland; he had in fact returned there ‘for old times sake’ in 1971. I had to ask him, nosey as I am, where he had lived. He said County Down, Bangor, and he was quite surprised when I told him that it was there I was brought up. Continuing I asked him whereabouts in Bangor. He said he could not remember the town very well but he did recall they had lived in Osborne Drive. A little bit more amazement for him as the end of that drive was exactly opposite the avenue where I lived at the same period of time.

He gave us a little profile of his father, that he worked for an English company and was sent over there to set up a new manufacturing plant in Belfast. He could not remember where it was but we may have heard of the company who made punch card machines - Hollerith. Yeah! I said it was at Castlereagh, I know it well, I worked there in the early 50s. Apparently his father was posted back to England after a disagreement with the management as to how they were dealing with a strike. Another surprise, I had to come out on strike with the rest and do my picket duty, even though I did not really know what it was all about. There must really be something in that ‘theory’.

Gavin had a cup of coffee with us and said his brother would have difficulty believing the story when he got back home. He browsed through some of our local history books (Heysham Peninsula etc), spotted much relevant information, and promptly bought the lot, together with other cards and gifts. I have a feeling we may not have the seen the last of Gavin Bowyer in Heysham. He has my e-mail address so it is a case of ‘watch this space’.
I showed him the photograph above the door, at the bottom of the stairs, as Heysham Old Hall would have looked when Mary Black and George Garner were living in Heysham. On my way home I took him to see and photograph the Old Hall and what is left of Heysham Hall, finally leaving him getting print-outs of Old Hall history from a very helpful barman. He was well pleased and we were privileged to share our time with him.

So volunteering at the Centre can be most rewarding. More people should be doing it.

The above story has been checked by Gavin Bowyer and he has also contributed additions to it. He has further added “We are pleased to think that despite her young death, at least Mary was married at  such a beautiful and amazing Church and village”.

HHA would be interested if anyone can provide further information on Mary Black pictured above. If so please contact