James Owen of Penrhos

and his descendants

The later months of 1908 were to prove difficult for the Owen family. On 24 September, Edith's brother Herbert, who, in the 1901 census, had been living in Berwick and studying music, died, aged only thirty-five. Soon after Herbert’s death, the vicar’s daughter Stella unwittingly put Os in an invidious position. She had been one of Edith’s attendants at her marriage and Noel’s biography reveals that Stella “was close to the senior curate Oswald Owen and his wife, and helped with the regular massage prescribed for their little girl, who had difficulty walking”. Bernard Tower had become the junior curate and Stella and Bernard had fallen in love. She was seventeen and had just left school when Bernard proposed. Henry was shocked when Stella told him about their relationship and hurt when he discovered that Bernard had confided in Os rather than speak to him. Os had the misfortune to have to keep such an important secret from Henry, who was not only his “boss” but also his close friend. Fortunately, it appears to have had no long term ill-effect on their relationship and Stella and Bernard married four years later [Berwick, 1912, 3rd qt].

Noel’s biography states: “This was his [Noel’s] family’s life: gas-lit, homespun, played out in a close-knit community where the same families shared church, good work and recreation, in events they organised for themselves. Their world could be narrow and insular and it was very sharply divided. Clergy families counted as minor gentry, ranking alongside other professionals and the better-off and better-connected people in the area. [“Before Action”, p 20]. Os’s family life would have been similar and, at times, would have been shared with the Hodgsons. It is true that their parishioners would have looked on Henry and Os as ‘gentry’, though a curate’s stipend was not commensurate with an extravagant lifestyle, but both vicar and curate, in practice, crossed the class divide in reaching out to the community, as did the members of their family.

Os left Berwick in February 1909. Henry, his vicar, caused laughter in his farewell address: “He is not only robbing us of the services of our Senior Curate, but also of one who was a most indefatigable Church worker and Sunday School teacher. He will be able to say, like the patriarch of old, ‘I crossed over the Tweed with nothing but a bachelor’s portmanteau and I am going out with a wife and three children and goodness knows how much baggage besides.’” It was noted that an extraordinary number of the poor had contributed to the congregation’s parting gift for Os “brought about by the fact that Mr. Owen had been known for many years to be a great worker among the poor”. There were also parting gifts from the local Church Lads’ Brigade as well as from the Berwick girls’ and boys’ schools and from Berwick C.E. Infants’ School.    >>