The Howe family were Chapel people and regularly attended the services. His mother was in the choir and no doubt Bryan went to Sunday School – his sister Sheila certainly did.
Bryan married Daphne in the 1950s in the Free Church in St Ives and they started their married life in Haverhill. Sadly his wife died in 1984 at the relatively young age of 47 after a battle with cancer. He leaves his sister Sheila, a son Martin, a daughter Kath (Katherine), and seven grandchildren.
Bryan was born in cottages at the end of Mill Lane where his mother planted a pear tree. The family moved to West Moor Avenue when the Wimpy Estate was being built. He was educated at the Junior School (John Falkner) and then the Village College and always spoke highly of the teaching staff. One of the masters was George Ewart Evans, a physical ‘training’ teacher, who later moved to Suffolk and became a historian and author. SVC is mentioned in his book Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay.
When he left school his first job was as a five year engineering apprentice at Spicer’s. Then he did two years National Service. Later Bryan went on to form his own building company, Devana Engineering Ltd, at one time employing up to eight people.
In his earlier life Bryan was a lay preacher at Linton Congregational Church. He also played the organ and spent some time volunteering for the Samaritans.
It was not long after his return to Sawston that Bryan became a member of Sawston Village History Society, first as Programme Secretary and then as a very valued Archivist later ably assisted by fellow committee member Andrew Little. It’s thanks to Bryan’s sterling efforts, following on from David Dockerill and Tony Cartwright, that the Society has such an extensive collection of artefacts and documents.
Also in the early years of his return, Bryan was a collator for Sawston Scene when volunteers walked round a table picking up pages of the magazine ready for stapling together by two people wielding large stapling machines, and doing their best to keep up with the growing piles. This all took place in the cottage at the side of the Free Church. He was one of the volunteer deliverers of the magazine.
Bryan also renewed his acquaintance with Mary Challis, a staunch chapel lady, and from this friendship he was wholly instrumental in forming the A M Challis Trust, the property and garden which Mary left in Trust ‘to promote the permanent preservation for the benefit of the inhabitants of the village of Sawston and neighbourhood of its natural flora and wildlife’ and ‘to establish a museum devoted to the history of Sawston village’.
Without Bryan’s dedicated efforts this amazing gift would not have come to fruition. He single handedly set up the charity, formed a committee of Trustees, and called the first meeting in December 2006 although the Trust did not have a formal Charity Registration Number till June 2007.
During the first few years of the Trust changing circumstances led to Bryan no longer being an active Trustee. Nonetheless he continued as a volunteer and to fight for what Mary Challis had left, in Trust, to the village. He promised her before she died that he would ensure a museum would be set up in her name as she had requested in her Will. This prompted him to gain knowledge of the data recording principles for museum accreditation.
In the last few weeks of Bryan’s life he was able to rest assured that his promise would be fulfilled, albeit at an unspecified date in the future, and discussions are now in the very early stages of setting up a comprehensive archive within the Challis house.
When Sawston Village College formed an after school Cinema Club Bryan was one of the first volunteers to tell the students his memories of the original Spicer’s Theatre. The students filmed several senior citizens who each had a different tale to tell. From this early beginning Bryan was later able to help with their WWI film and other projects. His support was much appreciated by the staff and students at SVC.
Bryan liked putting pen to paper and produced several small books relating to the history of Sawston, and a novel for children. He also had a publication accepted by Amazon and was proud to say he’d sold one digital copy.
He was a CALH (Cambridge Association for Local History) finalist in 2004 with his book The Dufaycolour Story, a comprehensive history of one of the first companies to produce colour film. Unfortunately other companies invented less complicated methods and the company, based on the Spicer’s site, was eventually wound up.
Bryan was a member of the management team at the ‘Tech Museum’ and spent many a Wednesday volunteering. One of his duties was to take visitors on a tour of the items on display. This included the Hedley engine, a machine from the old Thomas Evans’ leather works, (the Old Yard), in Sawston. John Little, Chairman of the Trustees, said Bryan was a stalwart volunteer of the museum.
Another project started by Bryan was researching the evacuees and Barnardo’s boys who came to live with host families in Sawston and then stayed here when they reached adulthood. Hopefully someone else will continue this venture.
Bryan was well regarded by many Sawston residents, and in the wider area, and thanks to him, his dedication and enthusiasm, much more of our village history has been saved and recorded for future generations.
He was a member of SVHS programme committee and showed a great interest in the paranormal including arranging a ghost watch at Sawston Hall. However, the various apparitions said to haunt the Hall were not present during our visit. Bruce gave a presentation to SVHS members earlier this year entitled ‘John Neville – Sawston’s Warlord of the Roses?’ in which he related John’s life in much detail.
He was also point of contact for enquiries through the SVHS website and he enthusiastically researched information to answer the varied questions he received, many from overseas. After receiving an email from Tony Hsu, Bruce researched the links of Xu Zhimo, Tony’s Grandfather and one of China’s famous poets who had studied at King’s College while residing at Prince’s Terrace in Sawston in the early 1920s. This resulted in a visit to Sawston by Tony Hsu and a Chinese film crew and recently this part of their film was shown on Chinese television.
Bruce was a founder member of Sawston’s Twinning Association with Selsingen in Germany and took an active part in arranging visits for both adults and students. His interest in Landscape Archaeology led him to become an enthusiastic member of Archaeology Rheesearch, a local amateur group who carry out resistivity and magnetometer surveys at many locations including Wimpole Hall, Ely Cathedral and Sawston Hall, as well as other sites in the area.
He was a volunteer with the local Scout movement and also spent time volunteering in Challis Garden. Some people will remember him cycling round Sawston with the football pools. Bruce was a member of the U3A and enjoyed his sessions of Mah‑Jong.
We shall miss Bruce very much for his enthusiasm, for the very active part he played in SVHS, his questioning manner, for writing up reports on our speakers and ensuring they were published in Sawston Scene and on the website. He was straightforward in his manner and fought for what he believed was right.
Bruce was a proud family man and we send our condolences to Renate, his children and his grandchildren.