The Gowlland Family Return to Fairlight after 58 Years

The Gowlland family return to Fairlight after 58 years  by Paul Draper

Background:- During the early research for his book on Fairlight, Haydon Luke visited the Screen Archive Southeast to try and find any film footage of the area. He found several short films taken by the Gowlland family during and after the Second World War.

Nearly every year, from 1947 to 1957, the Gowlland family drove down to Fairlight from their home in Croydon to spend their holidays at a property in Sea Road. (see photo) We understand that the family were able to rent the property for £20 per year and treated the house as their second home. The owner, a family acquaintance, lived at Marsham Farm.

Fortunately, the father, Geoffrey Gowlland was a keen, amateur photographer, using both cine and still photography. As a result, he filmed their holidays in Fairlight, in both black and white and colour, and all of that material still exists today. After their parents died, their children John and Rosemary decided to donate all the cine film to Screen Archive Southeast. His archive of 41 cine films covered many varied subjects including footage from the Second World War and some early holidays in Europe. These films can all now be viewed at Screen Archive Southeast in Brighton, by prior arrangement. However, John and Rosemary kept the albums of still photographs.

In addition, John and Rosemary are both very interested in their family history and have created a website dedicated to the Gowlland story. At the end of the 19th century, William Gowlland (Geoffrey’s uncle) started a business manufacturing ophthalmic instruments from their base in Croydon. During the last one hundred years, the business grew and underwent many changes but the name still exists today although no longer under the Gowlland family control.

The 2015 visit:-

In the summer, after reviewing extracts from the films, we decided to try and contact Rosemary to ask if they have any stories or further information that they would be willing to share with us in Fairlight.

They were delighted to be contacted and immediately volunteered to drive down to see us and suggested bringing their photo albums covering the years 1947 to 1950.

We agreed but decided that we should first contact the present owner of the property in Sea Road. This was sorted out and after some discussions, we arranged to all meet up on the 28th September.

It was a lovely clear day when John, Rosemary and her husband, Peter arrived mid-morning. They brought in the five albums and, after a cup of tea and a cake started talking us though the photos and their memories of Fairlight. We then drove along to Sea Road and parked in the drive of ‘Windover’ where we were met by the present owner, Ken (see 1948 photo).

He showed them all over the house and around the gardens where John and Rosemary had played for so long as children. They were both delighted to be back at the scene of so many happy holidays but Rosemary could not believe how much the property had changed. However, she still recognised some of the rooms. We drove back and on the way showed them some of the sites they would have known, including Waites Old Farmhouse and Pixie Wood.

They spent their holidays down on the beach beneath the cliffs. As they are now, the cliffs were eroding then and they recall walking down temporary steps carved in the cliff-face below Cliff Way and sometimes having to use the rope. (see photo at the top of Cliff Way)

They remembered being sent for shopping from the Post Office and walking from Sea Road to St Andrew’s via the Firehills, to attend Sunday School. They did not remember the Village Hall or St Peter’s being constructed, both of which had happened during the time of their visits. They have a photo taken at the Fairlight Village fete 1948. They do not remember the location – we think it might be at the back of Waites Barn – does anyone recognise the setting or know where the fete was held in the late 1940s. (see photo)

We made copies of some of their photos. John and Rosemary are happy for anyone who is interested to view the photos, but they do not want them posted on the internet. Accordingly, we are able to show three of those photos here but if anyone wishes to see more, can they please contact me. Indeed, if anyone has any information, stories or photos of Sea Road, Waites Barn, Waites Old Farmhouse, Pixie Wood or any of the older bungalows with diamond shaped roof-tiles, can they contact us.

By Paul Draper.

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