For family historians, the devil is in the detail; but the challenge is in the broad sweep. My father’s cousin Anthony Gibbs was a master of this. His skeleton family tree had us related, via the Domvilles to King Henry II on the wrong side of the blanket, mentioned the scandals of the 4th Lord Santry in the 18th century, the invention of Rowland’s Macassar Oil in the 19th century and the public spirited bacteriologist, Sydney Rowland who died in the First World war administering his vaccines; (of course he left out his mother’s aunt, Dame Henrietta Barnett, probably because she was a do-gooding social reformer), he queried whether my grand-parents were married bigamously and finished with a Second World war romance which sadly really did end in a bigamous marriage. Here was a true novelist milking his art; but as the detail emerges, often the facts surpass the fiction, as I will try to show.

Simplified Rowland male line

Simplified Roland male line.

Simplified Rowland male line.

From my simplified male line, we have journeyed through a solid background in trade; Robert Rowland was a skilled chandelier maker, Alexander Rowland was the most expensive barber in St James’ and his son Alexander was one of the best known tradesmen in Britain through his brand marketing of Rowland’s Macassar Oil; by the mid 19th century the business was spending £10,000 per annum (equivalent to £750,000 now) on advertising their brand, light years ahead of Richard Branson. Then followed two generations devoted to dissipating the inheritance, the first in the church but involving an expensive divorce, and the second via my grandfather Willie, who “would stick at no job”.

My father always considered himself a low brow, pointing to his low forehead and luxuriant dark Celtic hair, and viewed his career in publishing as being in trade, although by then the distinction between trade and the professions was becoming blurred. For myself I was lucky to be in commercial law in the City of London at a time of exponential growth; my firm growing from 20 partners in 1967 to currently some 500 with over 20 offices world-wide. The global marketing of English commercial law has been a trading phenomenon of this period. And my children play to their strengths; Ben with natural hand/eye co-ordination as a TV cameraman/director, Philip with his facility for numbers as a financial consultant, and Tessa as a solicitor (not my genes surely?)

As to names over these generations, William, Alexander and John are the most numerous. William was passed down the chain (excluding the two Alexanders) in each generation to my father, although he never used it. Cherry and I chose Ben’s second name Alexander from Cherry’s father’s Kenneth’s second name rather than as a Rowland family name, and Ben and Cassie chose Johnnie Alexander for their first born identical twin, certainly with no thought of their Rowland forbears.

The occurrence of twins in two consecutive generations is complete chance, and indeed the only twins in the whole tree. Mine were fraternal (two egg) coming from Cherry’s genes, whilst Ben and Cassie’s were identical (one egg), a chance event without genetic antecedence of one in 260 births.

We average about 3.5 children per generation, with a preponderance of 20 boys to 15 girls, and an average life span of 72 years. Notwithstanding this we enter the 21st century with at present just Johnnie and Arthur to carry on the London Rowland male line; we also have fifth cousins from the Sussex Rowland male line. This is the total I have been able to uncover of this particular Rowland line. I will leave the job of uncovering previous generations and their progeny to computers, which will I am sure entrap us all.

So really the super-size families of the 19th century have left little to show for it.

(I shall of course be delighted if this book encourages any closet member of the family to clamber out of the woodwork) We average thirty years as the age of first marriage, and have had three second marriages, two as widowers (Alexander I and myself) and one after the only divorce in the tree, following the dramatic elopement of the wife of the Rev William John with an Indian Army officer. The expense of this, and his resulting lack of preferment in the Church of England, where these things mattered then, turned him against his family. The story goes that at every breakfast, he would go round the table, bashing each of his six children on the head with his bible and admonishing them to “ have nothing to do with your relations”.

Our family has its roots in London and apart from Rev William John and his son Willie, my side of the family has continued the London connection. I have spent my working life in Cheapside, just a stone’s throw from Gracechurch Street where Robert made his chandeliers, Snow Hill where Alexander trained as a barber and the premises of Rowland’s Macassar Oil in Hatton Garden. In the 19th century Alexander William’s brother John Henry started a Sussex connection which continues.


Click to see full PDF file

Click to see full PDF file

In researching and writing this, I think I have had rather more to do with my relations than anyone else for some time. Certainly they would be amazed at the information publicly available, and that many of the nooks and crannies of privacy are no more. These will, I hope, keep your interest from flagging as we journey through fifteen generations of Rowlands.