The gateway to my investigation of the convoluted world of the Fowlers and the Beanlands was a picture postcard of Skipton Castle Gateway, which was part of my Great Uncle’s collection. The picture is pleasant enough and is typical of those hand-coloured photographs of the first decade of the twentieth century. As with so many postcards, it is the reverse of the card where all the interesting questions are posed.
The card contains a message, but no address or postmark. In itself, this is not too unusual, the postcard collectors of 120 years ago were interested in the pictures, and would often enclose postcards within letters. The message reads as follows:-
I wish you could spare a foto of yourself, I should very much like one as I have none of my fathers relations. Yours, F Fowler, 26 Westmorland Street, Middletown.
Yorkshire folk have a bit of a reputation for being “tight”, although I like to think that they were a bit ahead of the curve in disliking waste. If my family are anything to go by, this extends to an almost evangelistic desire to recycle names. Not only do they insist that every generation has an Albert or an Eliza, they are also more than happy to recycle a surname as a Christian name. My great uncle, the postcard collector, was a case in point: he was Fowler Beanland, Fowler being the maiden name of his grandmother (Eliza Fowler). This knowledge helped me to work out the connections within the postcard message: the sender was obviously a second cousin from the Fowler side of the family. And it didn’t take me long to identify the cousin in question – Fred Fowler, who, in 1911, was living at 26 Westmorland Street, in Skipton.
All that remained was to work out how Fred Fowler and Fowler Beanland connected up, so I started sketching family trees. And that is when things started getting complicated. Soon it became clear that not only had the Beanland family pinched the Fowler surname to use as a Christian name, the Fowlers had done the same thing to the Beanlands!
It was getting late, and, I have to confess, I had fortified my researches with a glass or two of malt. The Beanlands and the Fowlers were circulating around my brain, riding on a convoluted genealogical carousel. The Beanlands chased the Fowlers and then the Fowlers chased the Beanlands. Why couldn’t my ancestors splash out, choose a new name, be adventurous for a change? Why did they have to leave these dreadful puzzles for future generations to try to work out? (Note to my son: If at some stage you decide on a third child, try naming him/her Glenmorangie Burnett)