Sunday, July 27, 2014

Daffodil roots

As Lydiard House closes its walled garden doors on another successful  NGS Open for Charity Sunday, SPL takes a trip to neighbouring Cirencester on the trail of a once lost daffodil.

The Bowly family roots are dug deep in Cirencester.  From millers and brewers to local politicians and a slavery abolionist, the Bowly’s have left their stamp on the town.  But one Bowly wife had family roots of a different kind – daffodil roots.

Born in 1851 Sarah Aldam Bowly nee Backhouse, like her husband, came from a Quaker family.  Her father, William Backhouse began work in the Newcastle branch of the family banking business, but his first love was horticulture and in particular, daffodils.

Sarah and her four brothers, the children of William’s second marriage to Catherine Aldam, grew up at St. John’s Hall, near Wolsingham Co. Durham where her father owned 669 acres, an ideal setting for William’s studies and where he wrote his major horticultural work, Narcissus about the development of new varieties of daffodil.

Sarah married Cirencester widower Christopher Bowly in Darlington in 1874.  She was 22 years old and he was fifteen years her senior. The couple began their married life at Christopher’s home at 1 Queens Hill where he was described as a Cheese Monger and Merchant in the 1881 census.  By 1891 Christopher, by then a Justice of the Peace, and Sarah had moved into Siddington House.

In Wolsingham Sarah’s brothers Charles, Henry and Robert carried on their father’s work.  Following William’s death in 1869 Peter Barr, a seedsman of Covent Garden, bought his collection comprising 192 new distinct varieties of daffodils.   William’s most famous daffodil, the Weardale Perfection flowered for the first time some three years after his death and was named by one of his sons.  

Like previous generations of his family, Christopher took a prominent role in his local community serving as a member of the Board of Guardians, chairman of the Cirencester Highway Board and President of the Cirencester Liberal party.

Christopher left £130,291 in his will when died at his home on May 23, 1922 aged 85, appointing Sarah and his nephew Edward Gibbons of Cheltenham, as executors. Among his bequests were £500 to the Friends’ Foreign Missionary Society, £100 each to the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Gloucester Infirmary, Cirencester Cottage Hospital and the YMCA Cirencester Branch, £50 to the Aborigines Protection Society and £50 to each of his indoor servants - his head gardener, and chauffeur if of twelve months’ service, and a further £2 for each additional completed year of service.  A further £10,000 was bequeathed to his wife to dispose of at her discretion in benevolent, charitable, or other purposes according to his known wishes.

Christopher and Sarah also left their mark on Cirencester.  Following her husband’s death, Sarah commissioned Norwich born architect Norman Jewson, a member of the Arts and Crafts movement based in the Cotswolds, to build a row of six almshouses on Watermoor Road.

Sarah died on September 24, 1931.  Her daffodil growing father also left a legacy that has only recently been rediscovered.  A solitary example of the Weardale Perfection, once thought to be extinct, was discovered in a Wolsingham cottage garden in 1998 and has since been revived by Dr. David Willis of the Daffodil Society.

Images: Sarah Bowly nee Blackhouse (top); Harry Backhouse (facing right); Aldham Backhouse (reading); Charles J. Backhouse; Weardale Perfection

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