. . . . . . . . Hough Mill open 2-5pm Sundays to end of September . . . . . . . . . .

Fowkes Family

Swannington Brothers Seafarers Of The World

We decided that the theme for our September 2020 outdoor exhibition would be “the extraordinary ordinary people of Swannington“.   A family of shoemakers, coal miners, bricklayer, librarian and other occupations that lived in Swannington’s terraced houses fitted the bill.

The story of three brothers Wright, Raymond and George (two in the navy and one who travelled by ship while in the army) who between them travelled the world by sea is fascinating and became the focus of our Hello Heritage – Heritage On Your Doorstep board for the Fowkes family.

Where The Fowkes Family Lived

1881 Swannington Common – Coal miner Newton 1853-1928, wife Mary and daughter Sarah Ann.  They were probably near what is today Peggs Green island.

1891, 1901 Moor Town, Coleorton – Coal miner Newton 1853-1928, wife Mary and children William, Kate, Newton and Wright.

1911 Stoney Lane, Coleorton – Coal miner Newton 1853-1928, wife Mary and children Newton, George and Gladys.

1911 Station Row, Swannington – Coal miner Wright 1888-1967 and his new wife Annie.

1939 Hough Hill Cottages, Hough Hill, Swannington – Coal miner Wright 1888-1967, wife Annie and their children Gladys, Wright, Raymond and a hidden name (George).


Swannington Brothers Seafarers Of The World - Fowkes Family
Board outside Hough Hill Cottages, 46 Hough Hill, Fowkes family lived at number 42 at least 1939-1967

Fowkes Family Tree

A simplified family tree is shown below, a more extensive tree is the Swannington – Hall + Fowkes Family Tree on the Ancestry website.  Interesting elements of the tree are:

  • George Fowkes 1823-1904 – In 1841 he was 18 and living with what are presumed to be his uncle and cousins.  His uncle Joseph was a shoemaker and George took up the trade when he moved to The Outwoods (between Coleorton and Newbold).
  • Newton – In George’s uncle Joseph lived in Newton Burgoland.  George must have had fond memories as he named his first son Joseph, his second son Thomas (the name of Joseph’s oldest son) and his third son Newton.
  • Wright – George married Sarah Ann Wright in Heather on Christmas Day 1848.  They named their youngest son Wright to keep Sarah’s maiden name in the family.
Fowkes Family Tree

Military Service

Brothers Raymond, Wright and George all served in the forces during the 1940s:

Raymond Fowkes 1920-2014 – As a library assistant Ray was the first brother to commence military service.  He joined the navy in 1940 and was demobbed in 1946.  The Soviet Union awarded him medals for his service on the Arctic convoys that delivered vital supplies.  After the war in Europe ended the conflict with Japan continued.  His ship was in the Pacific Ocean and stopped at San Francisco where Ray had an operation.  Post war Ray resumed his library career and ran a library in Sheffield, only returning to Leicestershire after he retired.  Ray wrote numerous articles for the Swannington Heritage Trust magazine “Now and Then”, including a description of King George VI’s visitation when Ray’s ship was at Scapa Flow.

Wright Fowkes 1917-2003 – Wright was a bricklayer, which is probably why he did not join the army until 1942.  He also travelled by sea as his service in the Royal Artillery took him to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India and Burma (now Myanmar).  After the war he resumed life as a bricklayer in a local colliery which after the 1947 nationalisation became part of the National Coal Board.

George Harold Fowkes 1923-2016 – During the Second World War George continued working as an engineer at the Brush factory in Loughborough, as his work would have been regarded as vital for the war effort.  His two years of post-war national service were in the navy 1946-1948.  He trained at Plymouth and unlike his long distance travelling brothers his service was confined to UK waters.  He then resumed his career at Brush.


Ray Fowkes navy 1940-1946
Wright Fowkes army 1942-1946
George Harold Fowkes navy 1946-1948
Navy training Plymouth 1946 - George Harold Fowkes top left

Wright Fowkes’ Sketchbook

Wright’s sketchbooks shed light on 1935 life and his interests.  Did he go and see the boxers and Gracie in Leicester?  Or just follow them in the newspapers and on radio?

George V – King George V was born in 1865 and succeeded his father Edward VII as King in 1910.  He died on the 20th January 1936.  His reign saw the first Labour Government in 1924, the general strike of 1926, the great depression 1929-1933 when the UK’s world trade fell by half and more self government in countries such as Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand.  Queen Elizabeth II is his granddaughter.

Stanley Baldwin – Stanley Baldwin 1867-1947 was a Conservative politician who was Prime Minister three times, May 1923-January 1924, November 1924-June1929 and June 1935-May 1937.  During the last eventful period Baldwin served three Kings – George V who died, Edward VIII who abdicated and George VI who reigned during the Second World War.

Obie Walker – Obie Dia Walker 1911-1989, a boxer from Georgie, USA, became World Coloured Heavyweight Championship in 1933.  He lost the title during a 15 round fight at the Tigers rugby ground in Leicester on the 20th July 1935.

Ben Foord – Ben Foord 1913-1942 was a boxer who won the South African, British and British Empire heavyweight titles.  During 1935 and 1936 he had several fights at Granby Hall in Leicester.  Foord attempted cowboy style gun spinning and accidentally fatally shot himself.

Gracie Fields – Rochdale born Grace Stansfield 1898-1979 was the highest paid British actress, film star and singer during the 1930s.  She sang “Sally” at every performance from 1931.  During the Second World War Gracie sang at fundraising concerts in the USA and during many forces entertainments.

Air Crash – On Tuesday 25th June 1935 a two seat Hawker Hart bi-plane crashed in Jack Walker’s field below Swannington station.  Flying Officer Reginald Morgan Smith had head injuries and concussion, he was attended by Dr Parker and sent to Leicester Royal Infirmary.  The passenger, Air Vice Marshall Charles Stuart Burnett, was being flown from Hendon to Digby in Lincolnshire.  He crawled back into the plane to free the pilot.

Wright Fowkes, Swannington
King George V
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
American boxer Obie Walker
South African boxer Ben Foord
Rochdale born entertainer Gracie Fields
Crashed Hawker Hart trainer plane