An eclectic fishing guide called The Lakes of Wales was written by Frank Ward and published in 1931 by Herbert Jenkins. It is evident from the book that the author had an appreciation that went beyond fishing into history, legend and landscapes. So who was Frank Ward and why did he write a book on the lakes of Wales?
Our first set of clues was derived from two cardboard boxes held in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. They contained the galley proofs of his book, a scrapbook of book reviews, and various pieces of correspondence, including records of exchanging books about fishing, types of fishing flies to use and discussing Welsh lake names and literature. A telegram from the Milford Docks Company (August 4, 1955) asked for the loan or purchase of a toddy ladle for the Queen’s visit. There was also a tightly string-bound unpublished manuscript on Welsh folklore, which we did not venture to open.
The second smaller box contained a set of water colour sketches of lakes in Wales which were small enough to have been done in the field. You can imagine the pad of paper or clip board and box of water colours neatly tucked into the fishing gear. It is evident Frank Ward clearly valued time spent sitting and taking in the landscape while waiting for a fish.
From one of the letters we found out he lived in Torquay. Searches on the internet turned up an auction catalogue with a Chinese carved wood frame for sale and said to come from the renowned Torquay collector, Frank Ward. So we were pretty confident that we needed to focus on Torquay.
The next set of clues were associated with the copy of his will obtained from the Probate Office. This gave us enough information to investigate his life further using family genealogy databases. We were also able to make direct contact with members of his family who shared their information and recollections of the man they knew.
We established Frank Ward was born in 1874 in Gloucester. His father was Edwin Ward, an accountant from Derby, who died at the age of 41 in 1876 in Gloucester. His mother Emily Hobbins Wright was born in Tipton, Staffordshire, around 1845. She died two years after her husband, aged only 33, in Edgbaston, Warwickshire. Together they had four daughters, Elizabeth, Florence, Ethel and Maud, and three sons, Henry, Sydney and the youngest child Frank.
In 1881 the now orphaned Frank and his sisters, Florence and Elizabeth, were living with their cousin Elizabeth Constable. By 1891 he was in Brixton, London, working as a draper’s assistant at the Bon Marche Universal Supply Store. In the 1901 census he was found staying at a hotel in St. Alban as a visiting stockbroker. By 1911 he was in Edgbaston where he was managing director of a vacuum cleaner company. He had just married Alice Gwendoline Morgan, his third cousin. They divorced sometime in the early 1920s and had no children.
After publication of The Lakes of Wales he had settled at Briars Hey, Cedar Court Road in Torquay, Devon. By 1955 he had moved to 30 Vicarage Road. He died in Torquay on 20th October 1959 at the age of 85, after an accident on Torquay’s main street. His will executor was his friend Sir Alec Martin, chairman of Christie Auction House. He gave money to his brother Henry’s widow Florence, some of their children, and other nieces and nephews. His ashes were scattered in Paignton Cemetery, on the plot where his three spinster sisters, who all died in 1951, were buried, along with the cousin who raised them, Elizabeth Constable. Other cousins were buried nearby.
Frank Ward was also a frequent user of the Readers Room in the National Library of Wales and he gave a selection of his books to them, with the remainder going to the British Museum. You can tell a lot about a man from his books and he clearly had a wide range of interests with books on art, gold, coins, tapestry, needlework, Welsh and military history, folklore and legends, walks in Wales, and field guides for birds. Yes, he also owned a copy of The Compleat Angler by Issak Walton!
His nephew John T. Ward remembers meeting his uncle while on holiday in Torquay in 1951 – “He in Victorian style invited me to afternoon tea and cakes in a local restaurant giving me the once over I suspect, before inviting me to his home in Vicarage Rd.
His living room was a miniature museum with the walls covered with paintings on cloth where the personalities depicted had their clothes and accessories, shields, armour, etc embroidered, this was his specialty, embroidery in different forms. In viterinas were various objects….such as the seed pearl puritan cap of Cromwell’s mother, and an embroidered glove given to the King’s Falconer. He told me how he had come by this glove – he had read that some eastern Potentate visiting the King had had an excellent days hunting with falcons and in appreciation presented the embroidered glove to the King´s Falconer. He then traced the family of the falconer to present times, and found they still had the glove and also a falcon’s hood, he persuaded them to part with the relics which then were part of his collection, he also followed a similar line of investigation, reading ancient documents to find King Henry´s signet ring.”
Frank Ward’s will also refers to a small collection of gold and silver coins and stamps. All objets d’art and antiques were to be distributed amongst the museums and art galleries in England. Presumably Sir Martin thought it appropriate to send the watercolours of Welsh lakes to Aberystwyth. Colonel John Charles Wynne Finch of Voelas, Betws-y-Coed, was given £100 pounds to help fund the provision of a new village hall in Pentre Voelas and generally to benefit the inhabitants of the village. It was not surprising to discover Frank Ward was a member of the Royal Archaeological Institute.
In the course of his life Frank Ward was an orphan, draper’s assistant, stockbroker, fisherman, conservationist, art collector, artist, author, student of history and folklore, company director, husband and uncle. His passport described his occupation as “a gentleman”, while we established his brother Sydney was an adventurer often living under an alias. Ward’s life’s work The Lakes of Wales book consists of a collection of individual accounts of Welsh lakes and represents the first substantive contemporary account of the environmental condition of Welsh lakes and their fish populations. Frank Ward was a collector of Welsh lakes.
So now we know a lot more about the man Frank Ward but one mystery remains. How did his strong connection with Wales develop? Clearly he spent many hours of his life enjoying the art of fishing in Welsh lakes.
This blog was written and researched by Catherine Duigan and Warren Kovach. We are very grateful to the National Library of Wales and members of the Ward family (Brian Wooodward, Tom Gordon and Heather Rendall) for their assistance and cooperation. We would love to hear from anybody who knew Frank Ward, especially anyone who went fishing with him, and can add to this first attempt to compile his life story.
We would also like to find the photographic collection of Mr. Philip A. Cox, a well known amateur photographer from Birkenhead who was a fishing friend of Frank Ward and some of his photographs were used to illustrate The Lakes of Wales book.