Idris Bowen - Local Historian
Idris Bowen of Barn Farm Cottage died last December (2004), aged 87. Idris, as his name suggests, was a Welshman by birth but had lived in the village for many years.
Some will remember Idris as the husband of Mavis who kept the wool shop in Barn Farm courtyard, some as the father of Sian McLoughlin, who nipped in and out of the back of Steve’s Fruit and Veg shop in Chapel Lane. Longer term residents and those with their family origins in Rolleston will have had more direct acquaintance!
When he gave up his consultant engineering business in 1990 Idris announced to the Parish Council that he wished to write a village history in his retirement. In the absence of any offers he also proposed to fund the project himself and what might have seemed a hobby, to keep an active mind in a man already in his 70’s, became an all consuming passion for the last 15 years of his life.
Using the logic of an engineering mind and the persistence of a consultant, Idris left no stone unturned in his quest. If you had a village name, ancestors, or just old house deeds he would be in contact to see what he could glean.
Idris was an old-fashioned “manager” – he liked personal contact and in spite of all the material that he amassed, his only concessions to modern technology were Sellotape and a photocopier (on which he got a good deal from a man in the village). He would not type nor get a computer – as many helpful local ladies found out!
Although he liked playing the gruff engineer, Idris’s favourite study was the people of Rolleston (he wouldn’t use “on Dove” – historically inaccurate and yuppie gentrification!). With the growth of genealogy as a hobby, the village began to receive enquiries from researchers tracing their names through Rolleston, Mosley, Caldwell, Higgott and similar local family trees and these were often referred to Idris. Over the years, in this way, Idris built up a world-wide network of contacts and his cottage received many visitors searching for their roots.
Idris was so busy finding facts that he never did get round to writing a village history – and probably never would. What we do have is a series of monographs on aspects of the village, written by himself or with the help of collaborators such as Ken Rolston, the Burstons and others. In addition, we have more than 60 volumes of notes relating to his studies.
He was not a native, but Idris ended up as a “village character” he had a presence and a purpose. We should appreciate the foundation that he has laid and made available for future Rollestonians to enjoy and investigate their heritage.
The Idris Bowen Archive
Idris recognised, without acrimony or regret, that no one in the village was likely to pick up village history with the same extensive dedication, but he wished his unique historical archive to stay as one collection for the benefit of future village historians.
Although there was a case for keeping Idris’s papers in the village, the Staffordshire Record Office also wished to obtain them. After discussion with several of his collaborators Idris reached a compromise that pleased him greatly. It was agreed that the complete collection should be housed at the Lichfield branch of the Record Office where it would be more readily available to local residents. As a private donation it will receive priority cataloguing and be immediately available for consultation.
Before dispatch a copy will be taken of all material directly relevant to the village and this process is largely complete. This collection will be available through a general village archive to be established in St Mary’s Church as part of the planned building alterations. Through the generosity of the McLoughlins, assistance from several Rollestonians and support of the Parish Council this will be achieved at minimum cost.
It is intended that general enquiries concerning family history should be referred to Lichfield Record Office which will have the better facilities for studying and copying documents.
(this article appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of the Rollestonian)
* * * The major part of Idris Bowen's records have been catalogued by Lichfield Record Office and the list will be available shortly on their online catologue at www.archives.staffordshire.gov.uk. They are held under deposit no. 426. One example can be seen here.
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Last updated: 7 October 2006