Pearl and George Rowland with their daughter Anne.

‘A great Showlady’: a tribute to Pearl Rowland

Showland said goodbye recently to a great West Country Showlady, Pearl Rowland, who passed away just short of her 102nd birthday.

Just two and a half weeks before her 102nd birthday, one of the West Country’s best known Showladies, Pearl Rowland, passed away peacefully on Wednesday 15 March, surrounded by her close family members.

Right up until the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in 2019, Pearl was still out on the road travelling with her daughter and son-in-law David and Anne Rowland’s funfair. Since her 100th birthday in April, 2021 Pearl had become more frail but she had a very active mind and still took a great interest in the fairground business, especially with what her grandchildren and great grandchildren were doing.

For the past 12 to 18 months Pearl was a resident at the Ivydene Residential and Nursing Home at Ivybridge, just a couple of miles away from the family winter quarters at Lee Mill, Plympton.

Early life

Pearl was born on 2 April, 1921 and was the daughter of Jack and Lavinia Pannell who travelled the West Country fairs, opening with various lessees such as WC&S Hancock, Anderton & Rowland, T Whitelegg & Sons and Rowland Brothers. Pearl and her sister Ruby enjoyed their childhood on the fairgrounds and as they grew older they were a great help to their parents.

Lavinia Pannell was the Rowland brothers’ sister, so much of the season was spent travelling with the Rowland family. At some stage during the 1920s a partnership was formed between Jack Pannell and the Rowland brothers and was advertised as Rowland & Pannell’s World’s Fair and Fun carnival.

The War

In the late 1930s Pearl met her future husband George Rowland, but their courtship was interrupted by World War II. George enlisted in the RAF and spent most of the war in the Middle East.

Pearl spent some of the war years working on the railways in Plymouth, the only time she spent away from the fairgrounds, apart from her last couple of years in the nursing home.

She sometimes had to work night shifts and, at the end of each shift, she would have to walk the two and a half miles back, in total darkness during the blackout, to where the family living wagons were parked up. This was also during the blitz of Plymouth when parts of the city were severely damaged by bombs.

George

Happier times returned in 1945 and George and Pearl renewed their courtship, eventually marrying on 9 November, 1946 in Plymouth, a happy marriage that was to last almost 70 years until George sadly passed away on 14 September, 2016 aged 96.

Pearl and George Rowland on their wedding day in 1946.
Pearl and George Rowland on their wedding day in 1946.

Travelling

In 1949 their daughter Anne was born, who later married David Rowland. Pearl and George travelled widely throughout Devon and Cornwall attending all the major fairs such as Redruth, Penzance, Barnstaple and Summercourt, plus the South Devon regatta run. They also spent parts of the season with Rowland Brothers, later to be known as J Rowland & Sons of St Blazey.

Pearl was very proud of her five great grandchildren.
Pearl and George Rowland with their daughter Anne.

For many years their attractions included a popular coconut shy and two hooplas which were always kept in pristine condition. Everywhere they opened they built up a good relationship with their customers, many of whom returned year after year.

Family

By the 1990s the shy and hooplas were becoming hard work for the couple to manage and they were put into storage but Pearl and George continued to travel with Anne and David along with their grandsons Shane and David Jnr.

George would sometimes mind the dodgem paybox whilst Pearl could be found minding Shane’s crooked cottage, which carried the name on the front Nanny Pearl’s Crooked Cottage, a job which she really seemed to enjoy right up until the Covid outbreak.

After George passed away Pearl continued to travel with her family which by now included Shane and David Jnr’s wives Maxine and Claire, plus five great grandchildren, Grace, Ruby, David Jnr, Jameson and Maxwell. She was proud of all of them and took a great interest in how their businesses were progressing.

Pearl was very proud of her five great grandchildren.
Pearl was very proud of her five great grandchildren.

A great Showlady

Pearl loved to have a bit of company and everywhere she went someone would drop in for a cup of tea and a chat.

She loved to talk about her life on the fairgrounds going back to her childhood and about many of the Showpeople who have long passed on. Her memory was fantastic and she could make you laugh with some of her stories.

Pearl’s funeral took place on Wednesday 22 March at the Parish Church of St Mary’s in Plympton witnessed by a large congregation of family and friends. Her son-in-law David read an emotional eulogy, saying what a fantastic life she had and how many things in life she had witnessed.

Pearl had seen the last of the horse and steam era, the arrival of petrol and diesel transport as well as numerous changes in the variety of attractions and how some fairs had sadly fallen by the wayside.

A great Showlady, Pearl will be missed by all her family and everyone who knew her at the numerous fairs she attended.

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