Life story retold by Linda Champion (granddaughter)
I was visiting my family grave in Reading Old Cemetery a few weeks ago, when I bumped into Nick Cooksey who is a member of the group who are buying the gatehouse. He was fascinated to hear that my grandfather was the Cemetery Superintendent throughout the 1930s and suggested that I write down the story so it could be shared on the #ROCuP website.
My grandfather Edward Henry Gower was the cemetery superintendent all through the 1930s and lived in the gatehouse with my grandma.
I am, by far, his youngest grandchild, and as I was only two years old when he passed away. My stories are from memories of family conversations together with information I have found researching my family history.
Grandfather was born in Smeeth Kent in January 1871, when 70% of the local population on the census that year had the surname Gower. The were mainly agricultural labourers. He moved to Hartley Wintney, Hampshire, where he married my grandma Frances.
They worked in service in a large house and between 1892 and 1905 had nine children. When the family they worked for bought cars, around 1906, grandfather was made redundant from the stables and travelled to Reading to find work. Once he had employment and accommodation, he sent for the family. My father’s earliest memory was walking to Reading with their possessions on a cart and sleeping under the hedgerows .
I find this very humbling, as it took several days for my grandma to travel with a cart and her eight surviving children, aged between a newborn baby and 14 years old, and yet I can now travel from Leicestershire to San Diego USA in a day!
They lived in Mount Street, Reading for a while and on the 1911 census they were in Hill Street. I cannot say when they moved to the cemetery, but they were there in 1928 when grandfather purchased a grave as his eldest son, Edward, had been killed in an accident. He was a passenger in a lorry that was crushed by a tree in a storm.
That grave, on the back wall, became the family grave. It is five persons deep and now there rests Edward, grandma, grandfather and both my parents.
I know that grandfather sold plots, dealt with the paperwork, employed the grave diggers and arranged funerals and services in the chapel, which no longer exists, but was on the Wokingham Road side of the cemetery.
One side of the gatehouse arch was an office downstairs. It had a huge table which was used for business and for family meals when there was a large gathering, but it filled the room, so the children had to sit under it and have food passed to them. This table was stored in the attic of the house where I grew up after grandfather passed away. The family lived in the rest of the building and I understand that the younger family members could scramble from one side to the other upstairs. I cannot verify this as I have not been inside the building.
[PHOTO OF THE TABLE?]
My grandma played her part, and would have to take over when grandfather disappeared, sometimes without telling her, as he liked to go to Windsor to beat pheasant and grouse when the royal family were in residence. She loved to walk around the graveyard in the evenings when a posse of cats would follow her.
She appears to have been the power behind the throne, as when she passed away in November 1941, grandfather had what appears to be a breakdown.I was told that people arrived for funerals to find that the graves were not dug, so he was asked to leave. He was 70 years old by then. My father and his youngest brother found him a house in Blenheim Gardens, Reading ,where he lived with a housekeeper until he passed away in October 1956. He was moving bricks when he had a heart attack. My father inherited the table, probably because we had the room to store it, his old bike, wall clock violin and grandma’s sewing machine. I still have the violin and sewing machine!
[PHOTO OF VIOLIN AND SEWING MACHINE?]
One last note. When my mother passed away I inherited a grave deed for a grave that my mother’s grandmother purchased when my mother’s granddad, John Waite, died in March 1928. It is signed by my grandfather Gower! He would not have known then that in 1950 his son would marry John’s granddaughter!
Section 82, Row A, Plot 54