Crown on Shepherds’ Pie: A bit of lightheartedness from the King’s Cousin

Mope is an anagram of Poem, and often is moping found in poetry as writers drench their verse with troubles and tears.  Not so with Peter Howarth, the Castleisland poet who claims to be an untitled cousin-of-sorts to King Charles III of England.  His verse is laced with subtle humour, as this seasonal stanza from ‘Dear Santa’ shows in its plea for a tumble dryer:


Why doesn’t it shine

On my washing line?

It’s beginning to drive me insane

’Cause as soon as it’s out

The clouds start to spout

And my washing is drenched by the rain.


The poem appeared in a collection published in 1993, a copy of which has been donated to Castleisland District Heritage.[1]  Broken hearts and yearning will not be found in this book, but if you’re looking for an ode to the potato, ‘the king of vegetables,’ then look no further:


It starts its days a pomme-de-terre,
An apple of the mud,
But when we see it on our plate
We see it as the spud.


They can be fried or oven baked
Or boiled when first they’re new,
They are the crown on shepherds’ pie
And perfect in a stew.


The 1993 volume was fourth in a series that began to appear circa 1990.  The figure is now in the region of eleven.[2]


Royal Connections


Peter Howarth moved to Castleisland in 1978 where he still lives with his family.  His earlier address was Surrey.  He can trace his ancestry to Queen Victoria’s grandson, the Duke of Clarence (his great-grandfather).[3]  However, according to family lore, his grandmother’s birth was from a union out of wedlock and as such no title is attached.


Nevertheless, his lineage is impressive.  Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward of Wales, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, was born in 1864, eldest son of Edward VII (Albert Edward, ‘Bertie’) and Alexandra of Denmark.  Prince Albert had a number of love interests and was engaged to be married but died in 1892 at the age of 28.  A number of people have claimed to be his illegitimate offspring.


In the Breeding: Peter Howarth (centre) in company with the Duke of Clarence (left, image © National Portrait Gallery) and (right) King Charles III of England


Peter Howarth is the son of Marguerite Walmsley, a Yorkshire lady.  Marguerite, daughter of Thomas Walmsley of The Cottage, Hetton, Skipton, Yorkshire and Mary Wood of Bridge End, Grassington, Skipton, was born on 30 November 1908.  She married Harold William Howarth of London, son of Mr and Mrs John Howarth of Cracoe at St Peter’s Church, Rylstone on 29 March 1937.


Marguerite was given away by her uncle, journalist Thomas Edward Morgan JP (1878-1941) of Nelson, a native of Chorley – her father, Thomas, having died a few years earlier.  Marguerite always insisted her mother, who worked as a seamstress on the Duke of Devonshire’s Estate, spoke of a relationship to the Duke of Clarence, the result of a meeting during a shooting expedition.[4]


Marguerite Walmsley Howarth spent the last thirty years of her life in her beloved Grassington (North Yorkshire) before her passing in 2001.


The Royal Connection


Unfortunately, the dates do not quite lend to the story as it has come down to Peter’s family.  Mary, Marguerite’s mother, was born to Anthony Wood and Ellen Chapman circa 1864 at Starbotton, Yorkshire, and therefore could not have been a daughter of the Duke of Clarence.


Mary (Wood) Walmsley remarried on 8 June 1934, the year following her husband’s death, as third wife to William Edward Slading, a native of Clitheroe, who worked as a market gardener.  His address was ‘Wolfdene,’ a private bungalow situated at Clough Head Nursery, Barkerhouse Road, Nelson.


The marriage was short-lived; William died in September 1934 aged 69.  Wolfdene was up for sale the following month.[5]  Peter recalls that his grandmother, Mary Walmsley Slading, died at the home of her daughter, Marguerite, near Weybridge, Surrey circa 1950 /1951.


A New Royal Theory


Peter has a new theory on the royal story.  His grandfather, Thomas Walmsley, was married three times.  Indeed, he celebrated two silver wedding anniversaries.[6]  Peter has suggested that it may have been the second wife of Thomas Walmsley his grandmother alluded to as daughter of the Duke of Clarence.  It seems this second marriage lasted only about six months because she died.


Thomas Walmsley was born circa 1846 in the Wigan district.  His long career included headmaster of St John’s School, Nelson; accountant, architect and worker in the cotton industry.


He had five children from his first marriage to Alice (possibly Alker) in Wigan in 1866 who were Ellen Walmsley (1874) of Carr Road Nelson who married on 22 December 1897 at St Mary’s, Nelson, to William Arthur Clayton, widower, physician and surgeon, of Kippax Yorkshire;[7] James Walmsley (1876); Minnie Walmsley (1879); Thomas Walmsley (1881); Alice Alker Walmsley (1885).


Alice Walmsley, first wife of Thomas Walmsley, of Carr Road, St Mary’s, Nelson died in 1900 and was buried in the cemetery of St John the Evangelist, Great Marsden on 2 March 1900 at age 54 years.


The second, short-lived marriage took place between then and Thomas Walmsley’s third marriage to Mary Wood at St Paul’s Church Nelson on 5 October 1907.[8]


Thomas Walmsley, architect of the Church Army Hall, Nelson, died at Hetton near Skipton in March 1933.[9]  The following obituary was published in the Nelson Leader, 10 March 1933:


Old memories will be revived by the announcement we make today of the death of Mr Thomas Walmsley, formerly headmaster of St John’s School.  He belonged to the time when Mr Messenger was Vicar of St John’s, and Mr John Exley headmaster at St Philip’s, the old days when schools were paid on results and when the children did not enjoy the advantages they do now.  Possibly in those days there were more scholars who came under Shakespeare’s description than there are today:


The whining schoolboy, with his satchel,
And shining morning face, creeping like a snail,
Unwillingly to school.


The modern school is a much more attractive place than the old, but there was real solid work done in those old schools, and the foundations of many a firm character were laid there.  Mr Walmsley had a reputation for thoroughness, and whatever he undertook he did it with all his might.  The result was seen in the work at the school which under his charge won an enviable reputation in the town.  One of the first scholarships in the Burnley Grammar School was won at St John’s by Mr J Hartley, BA, the well-known traveller, who is now settled down in Nelson again.  Mr Walmsley kept in touch with many of his former pupils and they will regret to hear of his death.  For the past few years he has lived in retirement at Hetton, near Skipton.  He had reached the venerable age of 87, and passed peacefully away on Wednesday morning.


In order to determine details of Thomas Walmsley’s second marriage in the time frame given above, further detailed investigation is required.[10]  For now, the royal pronouncements in Walmsley family lore must remain open to research.


[1] IE CDH 150.  Poems and Verse, an A5 20-pg booklet published by Peter Howarth, 36 St Stephen’s Park, Castleisland in 1993.  The poem titles are given on the cover page as follows: Your Flexible Friend/The King of Vegetables/Old Pop’s Rap/A Poem for Peace/The Television Set/The Engineer of Blennerville/The Lure of Sport/Beds of Hope/The Boneshaker Bus Bound for Cork/The Crossword Puzzle/Grainne and Diarmuid/Noah and the Ark/Nathanael and Sue/Dear Santa/Skellig Rock.  The Engineer of Blennerville was included in the CD, You Mean So Much to Me (1999) by the late Charleville singer, Johnny Barrett.

[2] A Miscellany of Poetry was published in 1995; A Tree Full of Monkeys, his eighth volume, was launched in 2003 and his ninth, Poems to Enjoy in 2006.  A tribute to Fr Padraig Kennelly was published in the Kerryman, 11 July 2007, on the curate’s departure from Castleisland to Tralee.  A Compendium of Poems and Verse appeared in 2000.  Poems Just for You was launched at Jackie Reidy Menswear, Castleisland in March 2012.  A Megamix of Poetry and Poems with a Smile are available to purchase on his website

[3] George IV, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II, was the brother of the Duke of Clarence thus Queen Elizabeth was his mother’s second cousin.  

[4] In September 1888, a park on a nine-and-a-half acre site known as the Devonshire Park Estate, the gift of the Duke of Devonshire to the town of Keighley, Yorkshire on the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, was opened by Lady Edward Cavendish.  Lord Edward Cavendish (1838-1891) was also present and spoke of his pleasure in ‘being able to be of service to the people of the town’ (Derbyshire Courier, 11 September 1888).  Lord Edward Cavendish died from influenza on 18 May 1891, predeceasing his father, William Cavendish (1808-1891) the 7th Duke of Devonshire.  Edward’s brothers were Spencer Compton Cavendish (1833-1908) 8th Duke of Devonshire and Rt Hon Lord Frederick Charles Cavendish who was murdered in Phoenix Park, Dublin in 1882.

[5] William Edward Slading was first married to a lady who died at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on 17 May 1922 leaving a son and daughter.  At her funeral, Mrs Slading was described as ‘a native of Great Harwood, having been taken in infancy to Clitheroe.’  Her funeral cortege was impressive (funeral report, The Leader, 26 May 1922).  His second wife, Ellen, an active member of the Carr Road Wesleyan Church, died on 24 June 1933 aged 67 (funeral report, The Leader, 30 June 1933).

[6] ‘Mr Thomas Walmsley of Hetton, whose silver wedding is announced this week, has a unique distinction to his credit.  This is his second silver wedding’ (Nelson Leader, 7 October 1932).

[7] Dorothy Clayton was born on 28 October 1898 at Bamber Bridge.

[8] ‘When he married in 1907 he was 62 years old and had his 70th birthday when my mother [Marguerite] was 7’ (Peter Howarth by email to Castleisland District Heritage, 13 November 2023).

[9] ‘We regret to announce the death of Mr Thomas Walmsley of The Cottage, Hetton, near Skipton, which took place on Wednesday morning at the advanced age of 87.  Mr Walmsley had been in failing health for some time but his end came more quickly than was anticipated.  Mr Walmsley will be remembered as the headmaster of St John’s School for many years, where he did very valuable work.  He later entered the cotton industry, but during the latter part of his life he was in business as an accountant.  In his earlier years Mr Walmsley took an active part in the parochial life of St John’s Parish.  He taught in the Sunday school and held office in the church.  He was a native of the Wigan district.  Mr Walmsley leaves a widow, two sons and four daughters.  The funeral will take place at St John’s Churchyard, tomorrow at one o’clock’ (Nelson Leader, 10 March 1933).

[10] Genealogist Martine Brennan, to whom thanks are extended for genealogical research, writes: ‘There are too many Walmsley deaths in that time frame to do a proper 'negative inquiry' with only an index, going through them all and ruling them out one by one … other possibilities would be if the second wife was buried in the same grave as Thomas, the headstone might record her, or the older Walmsley children might know her name.’