The long forgotten memories of two people I had not to considered to exist seemed to take back their shape, almost by accident, whilst I was attempting a family history project of putting names to faces in boxes of unknown family photographs that had belonged to my late grandfather. The secrets of which he had taken to the grave with him.
Joseph and Clara Scott-Cowell were a married couple from Blackburn who, during the 1930s, became the first ever husband and wife to be elected and to serve on the old Borough Council of Hartlepool in its history. Clara would also be forever linked to the town by becoming its first female representative. By all accounts, the pair became very active and popular in that particular community. They were applauded for their 'open house' attitude towards meeting with and allowing time for their constituents.
Joseph & Clara Scott-Cowel
Joseph Cowell (as he was known at first) was the eldest son of my great, great grandmother’s sister. Confused? Don't be – all that is important is that Margaret Scott (my Great Great Grandmother) and her sister, Mary Jane, (Joseph's mother) left the general Hartlepool area at the turn of the century in the search for work, which they found in Blackburn. Both sisters found employment as domestic servants.
In 1893, Mary Jane Scott was working for a family on Feilden Street when she met and married widower James Henry Cowell who was a postman. James Henry was almost 20 years his bride’s senior and already had four sons of school age from his previous marriage. In January of 1895 his fifth son, Joseph Scott Cowell, was born at 43, Whalley Range which was then a Post Office; in fact it was still a functioning Post Office 120 years later, sadly, closing its doors during 2015. It would turn out to be the perfect setting for Joseph's birth.
Post Office, 43, Whalley Range, Blackburn
Fast forward a decade and a half and the family are recorded living at 25, Penny Street. James Henry was working as a rural Postman and was joined in the service by two of his older sons at the General Post Office on Darwen Street. Fresh faced, 14 year old Joseph was also on the payroll of the family employer as a telegraph messenger or 'Telegram Boy' in the Telegraph Engineer's office at 40, Victoria Street.
Telegram Boy, Joseph Cowell (c.1910)
Telegraph Messenger Militia
In January 1913, Joseph can be found starting out as a Postman from the small village of Cononley near Bradford. This is possibly how he came into contact with the photography pioneer and famous printer Percy Lund. As, 4 years later, while fighting on the frontline as part of the 62nd Signals of the West Riding Regiment – Joseph Scott Cowell was responsible for editing a Lund-Humphries publication by the name of 'Pelican Pie' (taking its name from the Pelican logo of the regiment). Pelican Pie was a light hearted, morale boosting magazine that had a circulation of 100,000 copies amongst front line troo
After the war, Cowell stayed on in Germany as part of the 'Army of Occupation' writing as a journalist for the Provincial Press which brought him to attention, in particular for his reporting on the ongoing dispute over the industrial Ruhr region of Germany and under whose control it should fall under. He was a media merchant, an advertiser, a propagandist at the birth of mass media and global communications. If he were alive today then he'd probably be working as a 'spin doctor'. Naturally then, there was only one way his career was heading – into politics.
In 1919, Joseph returned home to Blackburn, the same year in which his mother Mary passed away. Although only an unproven theory, I believe this was a time when he became closer to his Aunt (my great, great grandmother) and used her address as his Blackburn base when he would, later on, move away from the town. It would explain why I have come into possession of so much of his material and things relating to him.
The following year, Joseph, of 45 Balaclava Street, would marry Clara Bradshaw, of 3 Poplar Street. Clara was a former cotton weaver turned saleswoman and the daughter of Mary and brick-maker George Bradshaw. In a service at Holy Trinity Church, Blackburn, Clara’s only brother Thomas would be a witness. From that day, 31st January 1920, the couple would now be known as Joseph and Clara Scott-Cowell. This new double barrelled surname displayed a fine example of their self-marketing expertise.
Following the footsteps of his two uncles, Joseph and Alexander (Mary's brothers), Joseph Scott-Cowell would briefly set up as a publisher and freelance journalist in Richmond Chambers. A later newspaper article in the Northern Daily Mail, October 26th 1935 recorded,
“He was formally in business at Blackburn as a publisher and freelance journalist... he is also the author of numerous boys stories and character sketches”
I have yet to find any of his work in regards to this though; his pen name is still a mystery to me, although I have searched and searched. Another article from February 1928 in the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald gives further mention of some of the publishing work,
“We are pleased to announce that a brochure of verse-”Youth” and other Poems-by J. W. Slator, residing at 73 Selwyn Street, Hillstown, Bolsover, has just been published. The publishers are Scott-Cowell, Richmond Chambers, Blackburn. Mr Slator is 21 years of age and is employed at the Bolsover Colliery.”
Richmond Chambers faced number 6, Richmond Terrace which at the time was the headquarters of the Blackburn Liberal Association and both Joseph and Clara became members. The sliding Liberals would have been glad of Scott-Cowells skill set given it was a mere shadow of the powerhouse it once was. Though even Joseph couldn't do much about the miserable 4th place Viscount Erleigh received in the general election of 1929. Though to be fair, Scott-Cowell had already left the Viscount’s campaign team to take up the position of Liberal Association Secretary for the Hartlepools in 1928. On April 5th he was officially welcomed by the Hartlepool Liberals at a meeting at Brougham Hall.
Election Card for Viscount Erleigh found amongst photographs Front
Councillor Mrs Scott-Cowell at a foundation stone laying ceremony
Joseph would keep the position of Secretary for seven years until the Scott-Cowells made history and both successfully stood in the council elections of 1934 in the Throston Ward. Just 18 months later and the pair were focussing on Joseph's campaign for the General Election of 1935 in which he chose to stand as an Independent Liberal. It is fair to say that everything was thrown into the effort. It was quite obvious though that he was a much more dangerous of an opponent using the written word rather than the spoken. He did, however have some very interesting and very public battles with his rival William Howard Gritten and used some very clever PR tricks in the local press (with whom I'm sure he had some extremely good contacts). The campaign ultimately failed though and the results were as follows:
General Election 1935: The Hartlespools
|Party||Candidate || Votes||%||-/+ %|
|Conservative||William G. H.Gritten||21,828||47.8||-20.3|
|Liberal||Cllr. J. Scott-Cowell||6,939||15.2||n/a|
|Turnout|| || ||83.0||-12.7|
|Conservative Hold|| ||Swing||-12.7|
Front Page Campaign Advert 1935
The Councillors handed in a double resignation and moved to London where Joseph took up an unknown posting. At the young age of just 43 years old, Joseph would fall victim to pneumonia and at Charring Cross hospital 14th June 1938 he breathed his last communication. A service was held 5 days later at Golders Green Crematorium and front page tributes were paid in the local press.
After the death of her husband, Clara continued the work they had both set out to achieve and carried on a career in serving the public, this time taking a role for the London County Council as a welfare officer. It wasn't long before the war her late husband had feared and had so passionately spoken against broke out and with it Clara volunteered herself for a similar position in welfare with the armed forces and their families, and those affected by the Nazi bombing campaign, seeing out World War 2 in Blitz torn London.
In 1945 Clara found herself (like Joseph in the first world war) in a post war, defeated Germany and throughout ravaged Europe working in a humanitarian capacity for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Authority. Her work with those displaced by the war was roundly applauded, leading one newspaper headline to announce her the 'Florence Nightingale of Welfare'. In a letter to Councillor T. H. Pailor, Mrs Scott-Cowell wrote,
“I have just finished a week of setting up committees in the camp, which is run on democratic lines. It is just like organizing a small town. Here we have 3,000 Ukrainians, and they are building up their and economic life in the camp. We have a kindergarten, elementary and secondary schools, a church and a theatre, both built by our own engineers and workers, and almost every kind of occupational workshop. All this in the face of obstacles!
I am rather proud of this town, which has sprung up in less than four months in what was once a German ammunition dump.”
In November 1946 disaster struck when Clara was involved in a horrific car crash in Hamburg that almost took her life, she would spend many months of recovery in the British Military Hospital there. Eventually ,a full recovery was made and Clara was able to return to work, with a transfer to the International Relief Organisation before returning 'home' to see out the rest of her working life in London. Clara Scott-Cowell died at Doncaster in September, 1976.
Back 2nd Left – My great, great grandmother Margaret Wright (nee. Scott)
Front Left to Right – Mrs Clara Scott-Cowell (nee. Bradshaw) and my great grandmother Annie Wright.
It is not the story I was looking to find when I started out, but as there is nothing to suggest it has been told before, and, in the memory of some distant, long ago relatives, I am almost obligated to tell it so that at least then it exists.
Article and photographs by Brian Slater, 2015.
Radio Blackburn's 'Off the Cuff' programme interviewer Jack Thompson talks to Blackburn Alderman George Eddie on the 9th June 1971. Sir George first came to Blackburn as a Labour Party agent during the 1920s. During the interview, Sir George strongly asserts his credentials as a democrat in local politics, and says his Socialism is rooted in Christian Evangelism. When asked whether there was a contradiction between his Socialism and acceptance of a Knighthood, Sir George said it took quite a bit of persuasion by the Party before he agreed to do so. The final rally of the 1945 General Election was held in the old market square where, according to Sir George, a crowd of 10,000 sang Jerusalem. DW 2018
20 min 52 sec
This recording appears on Cotton Town by kind permission of Radio Lancashire.
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