Some of the older residents of the village will doubtless remember the late Mrs Louisa Cowley. Along with her husband Maurice, she lived in Eastington for most of her long and interesting life, a life than spanned three centuries!
Louisa was born in 1898 in the village of Berry Hill, a mile or so from Coleford in the Forest on Dean, one of no less than thirteen children. Times were doubtless hard, with her father and brothers working as miners in a nearby coal mine. Like many other youngsters at the time, at the age of 13, she left home, going to work as a domestic servant in Bristol. A year later, she was in service for the Capel family who lived at Oldbury House (now the Grange nursing home) in Eastington – the village was to become her home for almost the rest of her life.
On 23rd March 1918, she married Maurice Cowley in Eastington church. They continued to live in the village and subsequently had five children. Sadly, Maurice later lost his sight, an event that triggered Louisa‘s long-running involvement in helping others who had also become blind. For example, she often helped with fund raising and related activities, and each week, shepherded a party of blind people (including her husband) to a handicraft class in Stroud.
This was just one of her many undertakings and over the years, she became involved with numerous activities and organisations that included the British Legion, Infant Welfare, Womens’ Institute, and the Methodist Church. For some years, she also held the post of school governor at Maidenhill School. She was a skilled needle worker and at home, made soft toys, crocheted, and embroidered. She was a regular prize winner at the Eastington Art & Handicrafts Show.
Louisa also had firm political beliefs, and for much of her life, was an active member of the Labour Party. In fact, she was a founder member of the Eastington branch in 1922, and carried on working as treasurer up to 1985 when the branch finally merged with Frampton. Remarkably, along with two friends, at the tender age of 91, she was invited to the House of Commons to view Prime Minister’s Question Time and to meet David Blunkett and Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. She had tea with the latter and they chatted for about 40 minutes. He later described Louisa and her two companions as “wonderful”, saying that they represented the true values of the Party.
A faded newspaper cutting showing Louisa with Neil Kinnock at the House of Commons in 1989.
Louise (front left) was accompanied by Gwen Bishop (80) and Dorothy Aldridge (69), all long standing members of the Labour Party.
As her health began to suffer, in 1998, she eventually moved to the Cotswold House Care Home at Cainscross, where in 2000, a celebration was held for her 102nd birthday. She passed away later in the same year.
I was fortunate to meet Louisa, albeit briefly. About 35 years ago, we had a small history group in the village, and I was put in touch with her as someone with a long association with Eastington.
She had two volumes of the village magazine, covering the period June 1883 to December 1902 – these were originally her husband’s.
They had been carefully bound by someone, an act that undoubtedly saved them from the bonfire.
The magazine was produced monthly by the local Temperance Association and unsurprisingly, filled many of its pages with reports on church and charitable events.
It also constantly warned the working man about the dangers of alcohol, the ‘demon drink’, and its potential consequences on working and family life.
Louisa showed me the two volumes and kindly allowed me to borrow them, but only for a day! As a result, I was only able to dip into a few of the magazines, but they provided many interesting snippets of village history that have since proved invaluable.
Remarkably, these two volumes resurfaced recently, when Louisa’s granddaughter, Carol Sheppard of Tetbury, contacted Mike Naylor about another matter. She mentioned the volumes and asked if anyone would be interested in them – Mike kindly directed her to me and during our subsequent phone call, I realised that these were the same volumes that I had briefly examined all those years ago!
So, they are now back in the village, and I’m sure they will continue to provide some interesting insights on how our forefathers lived around the turn of the last century.
Many thanks to Mike for arranging the initial contact, and Carol for kindly donating the volumes. I’ve no doubt that they will be a rich source of material for future ECN articles.