Yate’s Dowding connection

Yate Heritage Centre, with David Hardill

DURING the first half of September, I was privileged to meet Philippa Dowding, from Canada.

For aficionados of modern Sodbury history the name Dowding will immediately resonate.

Philippa was paying a visit to her family home. With support from the Canadian government, she is putting together histories of her father and grandfather to assist in her work as a children’s author.

Her grandfather was Murray Dowding, leading photographer in the Sodbury area through the early to mid-20th century.

Septimus Murrells Dowding (aka Murray Dowding, 1881-1966) was one of the most renowned figures in the modern history of Chipping Sodbury.

He was a notable civic figure and local historian. Yet, when most local people hear the name Dowding they immediately think of postcards and photographs.

During the first half of the 20th century, Dowding produced hundreds of images of street life, rural scenes and events including World War I. Without him, our history would be much the poorer.

Dowding was also a colourful character, eccentric and well read.

Customers were never certain of the reception they might get when visiting his ironmonger’s store. His humour was off-beat and he was reputedly curmudgeonly. 

He was also a keen historian, creating a number of talks which informed his photographic interests.

Much of his work centred on the ancient churches and historic sites to the east of Yate and Sodbury. Naturally, Yate Heritage Centre and local history groups have benefited from his work. 

In my own mind I had rather supposed I would have no future dealings with the Dowding clan.

The late Jim Elsworth, Sodbury’s most recent historian, informed me that the remaining family members were in Canada. Imagine my surprise when Philippa made contact with me and a number of Sodbury interested parties!

Philippa in Dowding Close

Philippa’s visit has filled in many gaps in our knowledge. From her own family history and research at Yate Heritage Centre, she has brought to life the history of her own father Marcus.

As a teenager working at Parnall Aircraft, he escaped injury in the main bombing raid on the factory in 1941, hiding under some heavy machinery.

Marcus was also in a local dance band and was a projectionist at the Chipping Sodbury cinema on Hounds Road. By the late 1940s, he had moved to Canada, where Philippa was brought up.

Philippa’s visit has sparked much interest. It has forged a modern day link between our area and an old family.

But Dowding will always be known as Sodbury’s man of postcards. How fitting, therefore, that our best-known photographer, Rich McD, was on hand to show Philippa around and square the circle.

Having made the connection, it is hoped we can share information in the future and improve the story of Yate and Sodbury’s 20th century history.   

Consultation on Yate’s heritage and arts

Yate Town Council, which runs Yate Heritage Centre, is holding a public consultation on the future vision for heritage, arts and culture at the centre.

The council is inviting people to help by completing an online survey to say what events, activities and exhibitions they want to see in the town.

The survey can be found on the town council’s website.

People who are not online can call 01454 862200 for more information.

Diary dates

October 4-19: Yate Academy Autumn Display

October 10, 7.30pm: Yate Lecture Series – Mark Steeds on the British tour of African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass. £2 admission, free for Friends of YHC. Booking essential.

October 21-December 5: On and Off the Rails – the history of railways in South Gloucestershire.

October 23, 10am and 1pm: Autumn Craft workshops, for children aged 5-12. 

October 24, 7.30pm: Yate Lecture Series – Chosen Trio, the Gloucestershire poets of the First World War, with Tony Conder. £2 admission, free for Friends of YHC. Booking essential.