Frank Howcutt (1911-2001)


Early life

Francis Harold ("Frank") Howcutt was born at 7 Waterworks Road, Brixton Hill on 16 July 1911. He was the third of the five children of Mark and Emma Eliza (Bott) Howcutt. His grandfather was Mark Michael Howcutt.

Only one of Frank's grandparents was still alive when he was born - his maternal grandmother. Her maiden name was Alice Crisp (1854-1938) and her first husband was Frank's grandfather Jesse Bott (1850-1891). After Jesse's death, Alice married Arthur Burdett (1859-1942). Alice and Arthur lived at Naseby. Frank's family kept in regular contact with them and with his mother's four sisters. The following pictures show Frank as a child and also his parents.

Frank's parents had married at his mother's home village, Naseby, Northamptonshire in 1903. They first set up home at Harlestone, also in Northamptonshire, where their first child Ernest Mark ("Mick") was born. By 1908, the family were living at Gwyn House, 4 Acre Lane, Brixton, across the road from the site where Lambeth Town Hall was constructed [1]. 

The family's home at the time Frank was born was a cottage at the end of a terrace of seven similar dwellings, all of which were owned by Mr Gyatt. Upstairs were two rooms, one of which was only just large enough to be filled by a double bed. Downstairs was a living room and small scullery. The outside toilet was next to the gate leading from the road into the front garden. There was no back garden at all. The cottages were situated at the end of a road that led off the west side of Brixton Hill next to the “George IV” public house and originally called “George Place”. Frank’s home was in due course renamed as 7 Waterworks Road.

Frank's father had started his working life as a groom. By about 1911, he was employed at Ball's animal hospital, which was a short way up on the west side of Brixton Hill from its junction with Waterworks Road. In about 1914, Mark Howcutt began work as a tram driver, which he continued until his retirement in 1945. He enlisted in the Army in May 1915, spending a total of 3 years and 9 months as a driver in France [2].

In 1913, a fourth child of the family, Leslie Arthur, was born at Lincoln Street, Kingsthorpe.

In 1914, Frank's older sister Dorothy Alice joined her brother Ernest Mark (“Mick”) as pupils at a little school in Somers Place, which is a short distance beyond the other side of Brixton Hill from Waterworks Road; in due course, they both moved on to New Park Road school (now Richard Atkins school), which is near the top of Brixton Hill – see the picture to the left.

Zeppelin airships had been spotted over Streatham as early as 1914. By 1916, air raids were taking place in London and it was decided that Frank and his brothers and sister would go to live at the home of their mother's sister "Aunty Kate" [3] and her husband Ernest Wadsworth at the house now known as 4 Welford Road at Chapel Brampton, which is a village some four miles north of the centre of Northampton. This house was owned by Lord Spencer, whose estate included much of the land in the area. Frank's cousin, Mabel Florence Wadsworth (1901-1993) and her husband Albert Parker Dartnell (1897-1987) lived in the house for over 60 years after they married in 1923. Its distinctive lattice windows are to be seen in the background of many family photographs. 

Mabel started work at the Co-op in Northampton and went to live with "Aunty Min" and her family at Kingsthorpe [4]. For the two years when the Howcutt children lived at Chapel Brampton, their mother and aunt took turns to stay at home or go away to work. For some of the time, Aunty Kate worked as the cook at the house of a doctor at Northampton Hospital. At other times, Frank's mother was in service as a maid at Teeton Hall, about four miles from Chapel Brampton. Her afternoon off was on Thursday, when she would walk to and fro to visit her children, returning in winter by the light of a lantern. It was at Chapel Brampton that Frank started school. 

The following pictures were taken at Mabel and Albert's wedding on 18 August 1923 and  show the wedding breakfast, which was held at Chapel Brampton school, and Leslie (left) and Frank (right) outside 4 Welford Road.

After his family returned to Waterworks Road, Frank attended New Park Road school, where he was in the top class for the last two years before leaving on 22 July 1925, at the age of 14 [5]. In December 1924, he won a trade scholarship to continue his education at the School of Engineering and Navigation at Woolwich but was not able to take it up because of the cost of fares. 

Between leaving school and enrolling in the RAF at the start of the Second World War, Frank had a number of different jobs. In January 1926, he started work with S C Boyle, a bookseller at 284 Brixton Hill and remained there for over three years, moving on in July 1930 to the role of collector for Simpkin Marshall Limited, who were wholesale booksellers based at Stationers Hall Court in the City of London. After seven years with that firm, Frank obtained a post travelling for Stower & Dubinski, a cosmetics supplier of 8 Park Street, Baker Street. From March 1938 until he was called up for military service, Frank worked as a storekeeper for the British & Foreign Bible Society at Queen Victoria Street.

In his youth, he was a member of a scouting group and also sang in the choir at St Matthias church, Upper Tulse Hill. An accomplished dancer, there was a stage at which he attended as many as eight events in a single week. His other interests included football, hockey, squash cricket, tennis and golf; on 10 July 1937 he won the W E Williams medal at St Mellons Golf Club, Cardiff.

The 1933 electoral register records Frank as living with his parents at 7 Waterworks Place. By 1936 he had moved to 36 Holmewood Road, where he lived in the same house as his sister and brother-in-law Dorothy and Charles Edison. They were still registered there in 1938 but by the following year had moved to 30 Felsberg Road. All these addresses were within a few minutes' walk of each other.

Early in the Second World War, Frank enlisted in the Royal Air Force, his date of calling up being 23 October 1940. For much of the time, he was stationed at RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire, where his duties included training staff in safety equipment and air sea rescue techniques. He was promoted to Corporal on 14 April 1943. For two years, he served on the Airmen's Welfare Committee at Binbrook and spent much of his spare time in organising entertainments and station functions. Frank was demobilised in 1945, with his release leave coming to an end on 26 December. Frank was mentioned in dispatches, as reported in the "London Gazette" on 1 January 1946.

After his return to civilian life, Frank lived at 19 Hartington Court, Stockwell and at 36 Gracefield Gardens, Streatham. From 1946 to 1948, he was employed as house manager and club secretary at the Embassy Theatre, Swiss Cottage.

Marriage and family

Frank and Eileen, 1948

On 13 September 1947, he married Eileen Gladwys Dalby at Lambeth registry office. She was the daughter of Ernest Edwin (1890-1947) and Amelia Mary Annie (Read) Dalby (1889-1971) of West Norwood. Frank and Eileen had three children - Francis, who was born when they were in Africa, and Felicity and Nigel who arrived after their return to London.


In October 1948, Frank took up a post with the Overseas Food Corporation, which ran the "ground nuts scheme" in East Africa. This government project aimed to develop the economy of the area and provide Britain with new sources of raw material for margarine and other edible fats. The headquarters of the scheme was Kongwa, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), which is about 60 miles from Dodoma and 240 miles inland from Dar es Salaam. At first, the staff at Kongwa were housed in tents.

Vickers aircraft G-AHPI

The Overseas Food Corporation had a contract with Hunting Air Travel under which the company ran a “London (Bovington) to Dar es Salaam” service. The plane illustrated was acquired new by Hunting in 1946 and would have been the one on which Frank travelled out to Africa. Eileen went out from England to join Frank in October 1949. By that time, Hunting Air Services had bought an additional four Vickers aircraft, so it is not certain precisely which plane Eileen travelled on but the picture shows its appearance in any case. In a letter home sent to her mother and brother after her arrival Eileen provided a detailed account of her journey out to Africa.

Frank and Eileen initially lived in one of a row of bungalows at Kongwa known as "the flats", which were served by communal eating facilities. During 1950, they moved to a bungalow at Biergarten, about 17 miles by a "trace" dirt road from Kongwa itself.

Frank was in charge of the Regional Workshops Stores at Kongwa. However, the ground nuts scheme as a whole was not a success and the family returned to England early in 1951, flying to Dar es Salaam and then travelling on the "Warwick Castle" around the coast of southern Africa with stops at Beira, Lorenzo Marques (now Maputo), Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, St Helena and Las Palmas before arriving at Southampton on 12 March 1951.

Later Life

Frank with brothers Len (left) & Leslie (right)

During the 1950s, Frank ran his own toy shop at Wimbledon. For the remainder of his working life, he was engaged as an industrial textile fibre consultant.

His mother had passed away at Dulwich Hospital in 1943 and his father remained at 7 Waterworks Road until it was demolished in about 1953. Mark survived until the age of 85, dying at Tooting Bec Hospital in 1965. Both of Frank's parents are buried at Lambeth Cemetery, Blackshaw Road, Tooting.

An enthusiastic Rotarian for many years, Frank was president of West Norwood Rotary Club in 1979-80. He was a trustee of the Portal Trust alms houses at Royal Circus, West Norwood and also of West Norwood Rotary Housing Association which ran a sheltered housing scheme at Chatsworth Way.

For the last 50 years of his life, Frank lived in West Norwood. Through most of his nine decades he enjoyed good health, although the last few years were clouded by Alzheimer's disease. He died at Kings College Hospital, London on 15 August 2001. His ashes were buried at Brixworth churchyard on 9 December 2001, close to the tombstones of his three times great grandfather, William Howcutt (1726-1782) and of his five times great grandfather, Thomas Ward (1670-1731).

All Saints church, Brixworth


This address was delivered by his son-in-law, Robin Gaff, at Frank's funeral which was held on 23 August 2001 at West Norwood Crematorium.

"Unlike many of you, I had, as his son-in-law, only known Frank for nearly 30 years – the last third of his life. However, in many ways, I felt I had known him forever.

Frank was, to all appearances, an ordinary man, in the sense that he was an unassuming person who never thrust himself forward. He was by no means an intellectual – he was a very practical man, whose gifts, which have been inherited by at least some of his descendants, were very much of that order.

He was however a very intelligent man. Like many of his generation, despite passing the necessary exams, his family circumstances prevented him from taking advantage of secondary or higher education. He belonged to the generation which, in the words of Neil Kinnock, “built the platform” on which my generation and subsequent ones were able to stand, and he was immensely proud that his son and later his grandson went to Cambridge University and were successful there.


Frank had a wide range of abilities and interests, including “putting things right” (I would rather call it that than “DIY” which conjures up the wrong sort of image), sport in his youth as a player and organiser of junior football leagues, dancing (almost throughout his life), the theatre – he was a founding member of the South London Theatre Centre, where he was followed both by two of his children and one of his grandchildren – and, of course, Rotary. He gave distinguished service to his local club, serving as Secretary and as President, and helping to administer Rotary Lodge, which as many of you will know provides sheltered accommodation for the elderly of this locality.


He also pursued a variety of careers, including a spell of business on his own account – but Frank was not a businessman: he was far too concerned to help others rather than himself to be very successful in business. His main skill was his ability to get on with other people, from whatever nationality or background they might be – which made him such a valuable employee to his last company that he continued working for them into his eighties.


No one I have ever met personified the Rotary ideal of “Service before self” more than Frank. He loved to help other people: nothing ever seemed to be too much trouble for him, and he derived enormous satisfaction from giving others a helping hand when it was most needed.


He lives on, of course, and will continue to do so – in his three children, his eight grandchildren, one of whom I cannot look at without seeing Frank, and his two great-grandchildren; one of whom, Frank, who was specifically named for and after him, and whom he lived long enough to begin to get to know.


I said to begin with that Frank was an ordinary man – but his selflessness, and his kindness to others made him truly extraordinary. He was a fine English gentleman, the salt of the earth, and I am deeply honoured to be able to celebrate, with you here today, his life."




[1]    A card posted in Leicester on 21 January 1908 was sent to Emma Howcutt at that address.

[2]    From "London County Council Record of Service in the Great War 1914-18 by Members of the Council's Staff" (London, 1922).

[3]    Catherine Florence Bott (1874-1965) was married to Ernest Wadsworth (1876-1956), who worked for Lord Spencer.

[4]    Minnie Agnes Bott (1881-1971) was married to Arthur Clipstone (1882-1952).

[5]    Admission and discharge register for New Park Road school (London Metropolitan Archives film X095/477).


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