The funeral arrangements for both Levi Boswell in 1924 and Urania Boswell in 1933 were conducted by W.Owen and Son of Farnborough Village. This may not seem unreasonable as Wilfred Owen is recorded in the Bromley Directory as undertakers of Farnborough. In the 1940 Bromley Directory he is registered as Builder and Undertaker of Gladstone Road. A dual role he inherited from his father, William Owen (1854-1922) and utilised his skills as a carpenter.

William Owen lived with his parents, who were living in Brickfields in1871. The next registered address after the Woodman and three doors before the New Inn (now the Change of Horses). By 1871 William was 17 and engaged as a brick-maker. The same trade as his father, Charles Owen. Their neighbours at the time were Isaac Laslett and his family, followed by Robert Sessions and his family.

Both of these families were living in the Swiss Cottages (see photo, now numbers 81-85 High Street). By 1881, William Owen had married and described his occupation as a bricklayer. His father Charles was still a brick-maker and probably living in Brickfields, though it is interesting to note that his electoral address in 1887 and 1888 was Lasletts Cottages. Were these the same Swiss Cottages?

However, six years later William Owen’s fortune changed, when his father’s neighbour, Isaac Laslett passed away. Within two years William Owen is recorded in the Bromley Directory of 1889 as a builder and undertaker. Presumably he had bought the business from Isaac’s widow, Mary Ann Laslett. He probably even bought the property number 1 Swiss Cottage, as by 1891 census he is registered as living next door to Robert Sessions, who was next door to the New Inn.

William was commissioned to build the village hall, which was completed in 1897. A plaque commemorating the event is on the front of the building, see below.  By 1911 William and his wife, Ellen Elizabeth moved to The Briars, Farnborough, where they lived until their deaths, William in1922 and Ellen in 1923.

William Owen’s predecessor to this business was Isaac W Laslett (1830-1887). He was born in 1830 to Isaac and Hannah Laslett in Downe Village. In the census of 1841 his father’s occupation had been a bricklayer. Within ten years Isaac senior had developed the business and had become a brick-maker and builder with a team of 6 employees, increasing the team to 11 by the 1861 census. He passed away in 1866.

Although Isaac had followed his father in becoming a bricklayer, by 1861 he was working as a clerk, possibly for an uncle in Downe Village. By 1871 he had moved to Farnborough and was living at one of the two Swiss Cottages with his wife and two children, Henry and Edith. Henry was an apprentice carpenter, a necessary skill for the undertaker business as well as for the building industry, but unfortunately he died five years later in 1876. The Bromley Directories of 1875, 1876 and 1887 reflect how Isaac developed the business from brickmaker, to brick and tile-maker to builder. Therefore, with his clerking skills it is of no surprise that he is recorded in the 1871 census as builder, banker and undertaker. He made the bricks, built the houses and probably lent the money to assist the purchasing of the houses, before arranging the funeral upon the owners death.

The ultimate all-rounder.

Bob Donovan

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