William Walter Dowding

In December 2022, Tom Steanson, from the Newcastle area, pictured below, chose the SMHC for the loan of a 1930s tunny fishing rod. The rod has the initials WWD and when we checked the Scarborough Tunny Club records we found this rod belonged to William Walter Dowding who caught a 429, 505, 511, 581 & 587lb tunny fish in 1937 and 1938.  The rod is a Zane Grey saltwater rod capable of pulling in such a big fish. The reel is a Zane Grey stainless steel reel made by Hardys of Alnwick. Zane Grey was an American writer and best selling western author in the early 20th century.  He held many deep-sea angling records for tuna, swordfish, dolphin, shark and marlin, see image below.

With help from Keith Johnston, Ancestory.com and Mark Dowding (very distantly related) we managed to find more information about William Dowding, including photographs of him, his wife and children (see below). William was born in Simga, Chattisgarh, India, on 23/08/1903. His father was Walter Kingsbury Dowding (Sheriff of Calcutta) and his mother Frederica Grace (nee Pooley).  He was baptised in Calcutta on 12/11/1903.  You will see from the family tree below that Walter was the son of the Rev. Townley Ward Downing (Downton & Brixton) whose brother was the Rev. Benjamin Charles. Benjamin fathered Arthur whose sons included the famous Sir Hugh Caswell Tremenhere Dowding, Air Chief Marshall in WW2, who is generally credited with playing a crucial role in Britain's defence, and hence, the defeat of Adolf Hitler's plan to invade Britain. His other son was Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Ninian Dowding. He gained the rank of Captain in 1926 in the Royal Navy and held the office of Aide-de-Camp to HM King George VI in 1936. He was appointed Companion, Order of the Bath (C.B.) in 1938. He was Admiral Superintendant of the Devonport Dockyard between 1938 and 1945. He gained the rank of Vice-Admiral in 1940. He was awarded the Officer, Legion of Merit U.S. He was appointed Knight Commander, Order of the British Empire (K.B.E.) in 1945.

You can see from the ancestory list at the bottom of this page that the male Dowding family line stretches back to the 16th century where they were Yeoman. In the 18th century John Dowding was a bookseller, owner of the Salisbury & Winchester Journal, stationer, printer and banker. 

William married Francesca Elizabeth Waller Shaw (born 29/6/1909 in St Leonards on Sea, Hastings) on 15th December 1927. He was age 24, she was just 18. We found a photograph of Mrs W W Dowding on ebay, see below, of her and their 2 children Caroline, born April 1938, and Camilla, born in 1941.  On the back of the photograph is the typed information: Mrs. Dowding with her children Caroline and Camilla. She is the wife of Captain W.W. Dowding, Welsh Guards. Before the war she and her husband travelled a great deal abroad shooting and fishing. Their home Weston House (of Queen Anne period) is at Weston Corbett Basingstoke. Mrs. Dowding was Miss Frances Shaw and she works for the Red Cross.‚Äč

We then found on a New Zealand fishing website a photograph, see below, of William who caught the record, 922lb Thresher shark in in the Bay of Islands in 1937.  The Internet has a few listings of William as a Lieutenant, then Captain, then Major in the Welsh Guards leading upto and into WW2. As the photograph text stated, he and his wife enjoyed shooting and they had some very expensive guns made for them by Wilkes of London. They attended the shooting event 'Tir Au Pigeon' in France in 1935. 

The gun auction website also gave more information about William saying he raced cars at Brooklands in the 1920s and put money into the Henry Seagrave World Land Speed record car 'The Golden Arrow'. Walter and his wife are said to have been 'renowned' gun collectors paying £240 in 1935 but sold recently for £25,000 - £30,000. A 16-bore sidelock ejector gun, made by John Wilkes for Mrs Dowding on 24/8/1935, sold recently for £9188. William is often quoted as a 'great collector and sportsman'. Sadly, we also know he shot porpoises for 'sport' whilst fishing.

WWD - William Walter Dowding in New Zealand 1937
Francesca Elizabeth Waller Dowding with Camiila and Caroline.
Tom Steanson who loaned the Zane Grey rod and reel to SMHC.
The famous Zane Grey fishing with an 8 inch rod and harness.
Mr & Mrs Dowding's grave in St Peter's churchyard, Mannigford, Wiltshire.
He died 19/9/1980 age 76, she died July 1991 age 82.
Walter and Francesca's marriage certificate with W W Dowding signature. Married in Wellington Barracks Royal Military Chapel.
Dowding family tree showing Sir Hugh connection. Kindly supplied by Mark Dowding. Further ancestors listed below.

 Big fish could often take a few hours to reel in and tunny fishermen wore a harness to help them pull against the fish with their bodyweight. They were strapped into a special chair, see below. The reel could be used on the topside or on the underside of the rod. Tom has kindly given us a life-sized cut-out of an 831lb tunny fish that he had made up to go with the rod and reel.

W W Dowding listed by the famous Hardy's of Alnwick fishing equipment supplier.
Harness for use when 'big game' fishing.
'Big game' fishing support chair.

The tunny fishermen who came to Scarborough were rich men with time for 'sport'. After tracing and speaking to his daughter Caroline we understand that William inherited some wealth from his father and also invested in Thorn Electricals. This allowed him to travel the world and buy expensive guns and hunting trips. Caroline said he taught them how to shoot and fish. It appears William was the only son of Walter, his mother died when he was 2 and he was raised by his aunt back in England. 

DOWDING ANCESTORY

Robert (1540 – 1597) Yeoman in Dorset, Yeomen were constables of a parish or district, bailiffs, bridge wardens, overseers and often owned 100 acres of land.

Robert (1576 – 1597) Kington Magna, Dorset

Robert (1590 – 1653) Kington Magna

Robert (1616 – 1662) Yeoman

Nicholas (1648 – 1694)

Robert (1676 – 1761)

Nicholas (1717 – 1793) Surveyor of roads

John (1747 – 1784) Kington Magna, married in Evercreech, Somerset.

John Biss (1774 – 1828) Bookseller, Sherbourne Dorset.  Death Notice reads: Salisbury, J. B. Dowding, Esq., banker, and joint-proprietor of the Salisbury and Winchester Journal. The Will of John Dowding, Carrying on the Trade and Business of Stationer, Printer and Banker of Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Rev Townley ward (1817 – 1881) Clerk of Downton in Wiltshire. The Rectory, Brixton Deverill. Vicar of the Parish for 10 years and Rector of St Peter's Marlborough for 16 years, of Brixton Deverill

Walter Kingsbury (1869 – 1924) Sheriff of Calcutta 1910 (Bengal)

William Walter (1903 – 1980) 

Dowding family crest
William Walter Dowding in Scarborough
W W Dowding

Walter sold the rod after he had children and the war was approaching to George Moray Stephenson, see more details about him here.

Tom Steanson donated a replica tunnny to go with the rod and reel.

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