Master Signwriter

Family Man

Alfred’s family in WW2

Joy Gough

Life after Joy

Alfred, in loco parantis


Joy in sand castle

A sketch for one of the windows that Alfred Gough designed for Howard Congregational Church

Alfred. Life after Joy

Alfred, Rosie and Rosemary

Bringing up their daughter Rosemary, provided a focus for Alfred and Rosie after the traumatic death of daughter Joy in the London Blitz in 1940. For the next 10 years, they guided Rosemary through school until she left Bedford, aged 18, in 1951. Rosemary, like Alfred, was artistic and studied to be an art teacher at Bath Academy of Arts in Corsham for three years, and then went on to teach for a year at a boys' junior school near Lichfield. Meanwhile, Alfred continued signwriting and threw himself wholeheartedly into helping organise his church.

Bedford is famous for having raised (and imprisoned) John Bunyan, who became internationally famous for 'The Pilgrim's Progress', his work of stirring theological fiction. The town also helped shape the life of John Howard, the great prison reformer.

John Howard, initially attended the Bunyan Meeting Church in Mill Street, Bedford. When he disagreed with the strict way they were adopting Baptist theology, he helped establish a congregational church 200 yards along the road in the 1770s.

John Howard booklet

From left: Alfred Gough, Rev Douglas A Smith and Bedford Mayor at launch of the booklet 'The Story of John Howard'

John Howard went on to change the English prison system. He managed to get parliamentarians to stop gaolers charging prisoners and their families for food, and for allowing visits. Howard then went around Europe visiting prisons, meeting prisoners, and flagging injustices to great effect. He eventually died in Kherson, Ukraine, where he contracted jail fever (typhus). There have been several monuments established by his graveside in Kherson.

To honour his work, that led to the formation of the Howard League for Penal Reform, the Mill Street church renamed itself John Howard Congregational. My grandfather, Alfred, became a senior deacon there, working closely with the Rev Douglas A Smith during the 1940s and 1950s. He designed stained glass windows and furniture for the church. He also helped produce the booklet 'The Story of John Howard' published in 1957.

In the Summer of 1956, Rosemary left St Bede's Preparatory School in Staffordshire where she had taught for a year. She had met her first serious love, the French teacher Gerard Joyeux, and went holidaying around France with him on a motor bike. A few months' later she surprised her parents by inviting them to the couple's September wedding in Saumur, France. I was the reason for this marriage in haste - being just six months away from arriving in the world.

Rosie and Alfred Gough

Photo of Rosie (64) and Alfred (63) taken in 1956

We can only guess the reasons why Rosie and Alfred chose not to go to the wedding. Neither had a passport, Rosie was never well enough to travel far, neither of them spoke French, they didn't have much spare cash, and neither would have fancied a Catholic wedding!

Tiny record

This tiny record measures just over 5 inches across

Instead, to mark the event, this very English couple dressed up and went to a photographer for a formal portrait. They then went to a Bedford studio to create a disc - if you click here you'll be able to hear the message they recorded. The photo was meant to physically represent them at the wedding and the 78rpm record enabled Gerard and his parents to hear the in-laws' voices and their wishes - Rosie sounds as posh as the Queen Mother. Alfred says "I will celebrate in my own quiet way." He also adds the poignant comment "it gives me pleasure to havejoy brought back into the family again" - he perhaps meant the word to have two meanings including that of his daughter Joy.

Alfred and Dominic

The only photo showing Alfred's signwriting workshop/studio at the foot of the garden at 11 Grove Place. Also a rare pic of my grandfather (with me) outdoors without hat nor jacket, 1959

Alfred decided to semi-retire at 65, and trained Michael Marriot as his apprentice from 1960. In 1962, Rosie and Alfred were stunned to learn that my mother, Rosemary, was coming back to England with her two-year old son, Marc.

The marriage to Gerard had not worked out and I was left with my French grandparents for six months while Mum went ahead to find a job and work out a future in Bedford. Rosemary wanted to retain her independence and take pressure off her parents, so, she found a flat half a mile from her parents where she could live with her two boys.

My father drove me to Bedford in the winter of 1962 when I was 5. I had been living with my grandmother for six months in Le Mans. I remember the trip well. Leaving at the dead of night and escaping from the car when my father got out to deal with a donkey. It was pitch black and a stubborn donkey was standing in the middle of a country lane not wanting move. I recall my father's panic when he came back and saw me wandering me down the road.

I also remember the rocking of the boat as it crossed the Channel and then arriving at this new home. I was shown a bunk bed and my brother. I was no longer the centre of attention, as I had been with my grandmother, I didn't like it.

Florence Rose Gough Cox

Florence Rose Cox (1892-1964) pictured just before she married Alfred Gough

At this time, Alfred was busy looking after a second apprentice, John Bradford - see 'Astonishing email' section. His wife Rosie was weak with heart problems throughout 1963 and at the end of the year she was taken to Whittington Hospital in North London for specialist care. Unfortunately, she never made it back to Bedford, and at the age of 71, died in the January of 1964.

Alfred was bereft. His sweetheart of nearly 60 years had gone. He stayed on at Grove Place for a few years, helping out with the child minding and improving bits of the small house he had helped Rosemary buy in Dudley Street, Bedford. He moved in with us on a permanent basis in 1966.

Mum had found a good job at Westfield School and needed to travel two miles to work. She couldn't juggle everything, and so they decided that Alfred should join her at home, and help bring up his two grandsons, me and Marc. Our grandfather, had in effect, become our 'Dad'.

Stained glass

Figure 1 Alfred's design and colour palette instructions for Howard Congregational Church

Stained glass