The Joan Bowden Collection
Recently Cultural Collections in the University Library was privileged to receive a collection of sheet music, photographs, news clippings and theatre programs which had belonged to a local identity, Joan Bowden (1935-2013). We are very pleased to have been entrusted with this material by her family, especially her cousin, Gayle Brown. Here is Joan’s story, provided by her family.
The Joan Bowden Story
Joan Bowden was the elder, by twenty minutes of a set of twins born to Maud and Walter Bowden on June 11th 1935, in Hillcrest Salvation Army Hospital at Merewether. Joan’s mother Maud was unaware that she was having twins, so preparation had only been made for one baby – not two, what a surprise!
Warren James – Joan’s twin was very sickly, so he was given the proper baby’s cot whilst Joan’s bed was the washing basket. Warren died 6 months before his 21st birthday so Joan celebrated their 21st birthday alone.
Joan cutting her 21st birthday cake
Joan and Warren had an older sister – Gladys June, who died at 7 years of age during the Diphtheria epidemic of the 1930s when she was mistakenly given a
n adult injection instead of a child’s dose.
Joan and Warren were born 12 months later. Joan also had health problems because, at birth her eyelids refused to open, and it wasn’t until a relative – Mrs Walton of Lambton suggested heating lump Alum in boiling milk then bathing the eyelids in the “whey” it produced so that the eyes eventually opened.
Joan’s grandmother ran outside shouting with excitement, “Quick Maud, Joan’s eyes are open and they are blue”.
Joan lived in May Street, Islington till she was 5 years of age. During WWII the family moved to Northumberland Street, Maryville. Joan attended Islington and Tighes Hill Primary then finished her education at Wickham Home Science School.
Joan’s first job was as cashier and window dresser at McGavin’s Butcher shop in Hunter Street Newcastle and she worked there 13 years.
Joan’s musical talents were encouraged at an early age by her grandmother Walton, who was once organist at The Tabernacle Church in Sheldon England. Her grandmother taught her the scales on the piano.
Joan on stage
At 17 years Joan entered a Talent Show on Radio 2KO mimicking Johnny Ray singing “Broken Hearted”, Hazel Evans accompanied her on the piano. As Joan left the studio Matthew Tapp said “You have a great voice, why don’t you get it trained?”. “How could I do that?” Joan asked, his reply was “Colin Chapman Studios”.
Joan joined Colin Chapman and over the next 30 years was part of many productions and excelled in “Look Back in
My Fair Lady
Anger” by J.B. Priestley when, due to her performance she was recommended for a Dramatic Arts Award. Another production “They Came To A City” by J.B. Priestley was reported in the newspaper as follows……”The night’s best performance was that of Joan Bowden who played the titled woman’s daughter, assuredly”.
June 1962 saw Joan sailing for England on a 2½ year working holiday, which gave her the opportunity to study singing under the famous teacher Gwen Cately.
Joan’s love of singing and performing continued right through her life.
She regularly entertained in nursing homes and church meetings with the “Le Belle Dancers”.
From 1975 Joan became an Amway Distributor, becoming a very successful business woman marketing their products and left The Store in 1978 to do Amway full time going for the first of many trips with that company.
After a courageous, hard fought battle with illness, Joan passed away on 6 February 2013.
The following slide show features some photos which were kindly supplied by her family.