Canned rice pudding was invented and manufactured in Lapford and the name of the village was exported around the world on the side of a tin. Remarkably, for such a small community, Lapford can boast many other fascinating connections with change and development in the late C19 and early C20. Quite uncanny!
1. Welfare reform
As Minister of Insurance, Lapford-born Edwin Cornwall was responsible for the implementation of the National Insurance scheme that we still enjoy today. He was part of David Lloyd George’s famous reformist cabinet. Prior to National Insurance a family could rapidly descend into poverty if sickness, pregnancy or injury made it impossible to work.
2. First high street food chain
It was also Edwin who established The Aerated Bread Company (ABC), a chain of 250 cafés and 150 shops—the Starbuck’s of its day—said to be the first social establishment that women could visit alone and keep their reputation intact. Profits were invested in building luxury houses in Kensington. So, the wealthy “Sloane Ranger” may not have existed were it not for a once-impoverished boy from Lapford!
3. Nelson Mandela
Of course we can’t claim Nelson Mandela as one of our own! But it can be said that he was born near to Lapford—”Farm Lapford” on the outskirts of Johannesburg! The farm was established by Lapford-born George Croote from the profits he made selling his large stake in the village at a sale in The Malt Scoop in 1910. 4/5 homes in Lapford today are built on the land that George sold that day. George sold Farm Lapford to enable the formation of a racially-segregated zone—Soweto. It became one of the most impoverished and violent places on the planet but gave rise to one of the world’s most inspirational leaders.
4. Banana republics
Fred Lavis was a pupil at Lapford Academy school who became a swashbuckling, larger-than-life railway engineer. His rapport with some of the world’s most difficult political regimes enabled him to construct railways in Cuba, China, Columbia and the republics of Central America where his railway company gained a monopoly on the transport of bananas to the US. Thousands of people across the so-called “Banana Republics” became impoverished at the hands of plantation barons who ruled with the gun. Fred Lavis played a part in the political instability of Central America which remains a feature of the region even today.
5. Women’s rights
When Harriet Carrington became editor of the Gloucester Chronicle in 1902 she was the only female news-paper editor in the country. Her success was even more remarkable as she was almost totally deaf. Harriet grew up at Lapford Station where her father was station master. She became a key figure in one of the UKs first organisations to campaign for women’s equality in the workplace…a cause that continues today.
6. Largest energy supplier
Lapford’s Cornwall brothers were known as the “Coal Kings of London”. Cornwall Coal became the largest energy supplier in London, then the “mother city of the British Empire”. It fuelled homes, businesses and the ships that enabled trading links worldwide. It might be said that Lapfordian’s helped cause London’s notorious Smog!
7. Pioneering flight
Alec Ogilvie was the son of a Lapfordian and a pioneer of flight. His experiments with Alcock and Brown at Kitty Hawk led to the first glided flight of more that 30secs—a record held for 10 years. In the image above Alec is seen flying at Kitty Hawk. He developed the first British airplane engine, a field in which the UK are still world leaders. He also invented the first air speed indicator.
8. Youngest wireless operator
In 1908, 16-year old Charles Sanders from Heathfield, Lapford became the youngest person to pass Marconi’s Wireless Operator exams and was amongst the first to get a position on a wireless fitted ship.
9. Youngest army officer
Athelstan Sylvester Webb, whose name appears on Lapford War Memorial, was once the youngest officer in the British Army.
10. Modern London
Lapford-born Edwin Cornwall became the youngest chairman of London City Council and set about a programme of modernisation. He oversaw massive slum clearances , built new wide roads to accommodate the first motor vehicles, opened the Bakerloo line and, to the bewilderment of many, he developed the South Bank (now the city’s biggest tourist destination)
11. UKs biggest bank
Ernest Cornwall (Edwin’s brother) entered the National Provincial Bank as a tea boy and worked his way up to become its head, giving 74 years of service. It became the UKs largest bank before merging to become NatWest. So, Lapford brothers not only controlled London’s energy but also its money!
12. World’s first superhighway
Lapford scholar, Fred Lavis, built railways around the world (see 4), but was responsible in later life for designing the world’s first automobile “super highway” taking traffic to/from New York via the Holland tunnel. He pioneered systems for calculating traffic flow. He put down his successful career to his love of algebra and geometry learnt at school in Lapford.
13. Building of the Panama Canal
After leaving school, Fred attempted to cross Central America by dug out canoe. He was not successful, but years later he enabled millions to successfully make the trip—he was consulting engineer for the building of the Panama canal!
14. Easter Rising
Walter Binney, a Lapford resident for nearly 50 years, disappeared from the village during WW1. He was engaged in secretly intercepting German messages at Valencia Island on the West Coast of Ireland. A government record shows that “thousands of lives were saved” by one of Walter’s interceptions although details were never disclosed. The island was involved in the smuggling in of German arms to support the Irish Republican Movement. Walter survived an attempt to storm the wireless station under his command, but he was unable to prevent a message being broadcast calling for rebellion. It was the start of the historic Easter uprising—whose cause eventually led to an independent Ireland.
15. The boy who turned Devon green.
When Lapford-born Campbell Ogilvie arrived in Argentina he found a sparsely populated, barren, landscape of little commercial value. Experimentation with local plants led to the discovery that Alfalfa could be used in a crop rotation system to replenish nutrients. Within 20 years he had converted hundreds of acres of almost worthless land into rich cornfields. Immigrants from around the world came in their thousands to work the new farmlands of the Argentine plains. By 1910 30% of all grain used in the UK was imported from Argentina forcing the closure of many English mills. The cornfields of Devon were given over to grazing land turning the landscape from yellow to green!
For some 7 years before WW1 Lapford-born Janet Jarret, and her husband George, campaigned around the country for compulsory National Service. They formed the National Service League which promoted the view Britain needed to prepare for a war in Europe. The notion was generally ridiculed. In 1914 Britain went to war with only 85,000 trained men. George and Janet switched their attention to developing recruiting schemes aimed at helping men form their own opinion about signing up without pressure. They persuaded industrial leaders to guarantee men’s jobs if they signed up, they started a scheme to provide free transport to recruitment officers and they convinced some of the country’s top football teams to release their players so that fans might follow their example. The schemes were copied throughout the country. It took another Lapfordian, Ernest Cornwall, to convince MPs to introduce conscription. Ernest’s Liberal party were originally strongly against the idea. Ernest organised 1:1 meetings with MPs and slowly, but surely, won them around. Without the work of Ernest Cornwall and the Jarret’s, a finely balanced war could, perhaps, have taken a different turn.
17. The world’s biggest club
John and Janet were supporters of The Primrose League, a social organisation for Tory supporters. John became it’s secretary. The organisation grew to 2-3 million members—the largest club in the world. The Jarret’s wanted the Conservatives to be a party for working class people. They saw that the league could help achieve this through local social events. But others in the party still saw governance as the birth right of the gentry classes. The league’s membership declined rapidly with the rise of the Labour Party and Trade Unionism.
18. Life expectancy
One-time Lapford resident Alexander Ogilvie was the chief engineer on the project to build the Mid-London sewer system and also Bazalgette’s London Embankment. Up to a thousand Londoners per month had died water-borne disease. Deaths declined sharply of the completion of Alexander’s work. Years later Edwin Cornwall authored a government Bill that tackled child mortality rates and saved thousands of lives. He also authored a Bill to bring all health services under one Ministry—an essential step to the founding of the NHS. Both Bills were written in his London Home, “Lapford“!
19. A national hero
When Major Charles Grant came to live in Lapford 100 years ago he was a national celebrity. With just 80 men he had fended off the 20,000 strong army of Manipur. Had it not been for this action India today may be without it’s annexed regions to the east of Bangladesh. Major Grant was an early recipient of the Victoria Cross and his image appeared everywhere from
cigarette cards to biscuit tins.
20. Telegraph pioneer
India was the “Jewel in the Crown” of the British Empire. But how could communities with such diverse cultures be united as one colony. The British answer was to build thousands of miles of railway and alongside it a telegraph system. Pioneer, and later an authority, on the Indian Telegraph system was Charles Adley of Highfield, Lapford. The system operated until 6 years ago and provide 163 years of service.
21. Sinking of the Titantic
The coal strike of 1917 is said to have killed thousands through the effects of unheated homes. A breakthrough came when John Jarret talked with coal miners in Newcastle. He was a man they trusted and they revealed that the strike was the want of the union not the workers. He quickly returned to London to tell the prime minister. And it was “coal king” Edwin Cornwall who persuaded the unions to call off the strike. Bizarrely the fact that both men had Lapford connections seems entirely coincidental. News that the strike had been halted was great news to the Captain Smith of the Titanic. A speed ban was lifted just in time for the ship’s maiden voyage. Had speed restrictions still be in place the ship would almost certainly not have sunk. So, Lapfordians inadvertently played a hand in one of histories most tragic stories (but we’ll keep that to ourselves shall we?)