Anyone familiar with the history of the London & North Western Railway and familiar with the LNWR George the Fifth class would know the name, Charles John Bowen-Cooke. For those unfamiliar with either, briefly then Bowen-Cooke was the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LNWR – the largest joint-stock company in the British Empire and the largest railway company in Britain, directly or indirectly servicing most major centres in Britain – from 1909 until his untimely death at the age of just 62 in Cornwall in 1920.
During his stewardship through what proved to be immensely difficult and challenging times for the nation, for its people and for the company – a period of great upheaval, disruption and momentous change brought about not by the war but looming competition in the form of motorised road-transport, Bowen-Cooke unfailingly continued the work commenced by his predecessor, George Whales in transforming the LNWR from an essentially Victorian railway concern to one ready to meet the demands and challenges of the new century.
Of course his success and achievements were to some degree cruelled by the onset of The Great War – plans and designs were understandably shelved and the war took its toll on rolling-stock, infrastructure and not least, on its men and women. Many heeded the call and went off to war. Many didn’t return – slaughtered in the trenches on the western front and elsewhere. In commemoration to its fallen, the LNWR dedicated a one of Bowen-Cooke’s ‘Claughton’ class to their memory. The memorial engine was bored the name ‘Patriot’ and appropriately it sported the number, ‘1914’; the year that the first shots in the ‘war to end all wars’ had been fired. Inscribed beneath the name were the words:
‘In Memory of the Fallen L&NWR Employees. 1914 to 1918‘
The Great War had taken its toll on the railways of Britain and they never truly recovered – it could be argued that the great age of the railway was coming to an end. In the years following the war’s conclusion it was determined that the railways would be amalgamated into 4 great entities with the LNWR being the largest constituent of the largest of the post-grouping entities – The London, Midland and Scottish Railway, which came into being on January 1st, 1923.
Despite these odds, Bowen-Cooke achieved a great deal in his tenure. With your help, one of those achievements we intend to commemorate with a new-build of one of his and the LNWR’s most feted designs – a design that built on the successes of his predecessor and implemented the latest practice to meet the challenges of early 20th century. This new-build will be the singular representative of 20th century L&NWR engine engine practice, marking and commemorating an important, pivotal and yet under-represented epoch in Britain’s railway history.
It is with this in mind that we seek to make contact with surviving members of the Bowen-Cooke family and his descendants . Charles Bowen-Cooke was buried at St. Kust in Roseland, Cornwall. At the time of OS Nock’s book ‘The Locomotives of C J Bowen-Cooke’, published in 1977 there were four surviving children:
Victor R Bowen-Cooke who had been Assistant Road Motor Engineer of the LMS and three daughters about whom we know much less. His daughters were:
Mrs Faith Harris MBE
Mrs Erica Robinson
Mrs Eileen Tracy
Victor is believed to have died in the 1980s and at the time was living in Devon. It is also believed that one of his relations lived in Portsmouth at one time in a house called ‘St. Mawes’.
We welcome anyone of the family, or acquainted with it who might assist us in completing the picture or simply finding additional information. Any genealogists willing to take on this task are also welcome to do so. The Trust would be most interested in making contact with members of his family or at least fleshing out the story of the people connected to the LNWR George the Fifth class.