Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry

John William Alcock

This page has only come about thanks to Peter Tily pointing out the connection between our Lowth family and Sir John William Alcock. Without Peter bringing it to my attention, I might eventually have added Alcocks to the family tree, but would probably not have realised that one of them was this remarkable man - John William Alcock. Alcock and his navigator Arthur Brown were the first aviators ever to fly non-stop across the Atlantic, completing the journey in June 1919.

Image D.C Thomson & Co. Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive ( Click: to see the full newspaper page.

The connection begins with Betsey Lowth the older sister of my 2xgreat grandmother Emma Lowth. Betsey was born in 1844 in Scredington, Lincolnshire; the third child of William Lowth & Mary Leak. At some point in her teens Betsey left the family home and by 1861 was working in nearby Corby as a house servant. Some years later she met and married Thomas Alcock, a coachman and a few years her junior. They were married in April 1869 in Bury, Lancashire.

Thomas & Betsey Alcock had 8 children. The last three of these were triplets, none of whom sadly survived infancy. The table below shows the information from the 1881 census for Heaton Norris.

The undermentioned Houses are situated within the Boundaries of theFolio 81Page 15
Civil Parish [or Township] of City or Municipal Borough of Municipal Ward of Parliamentary Borough ofTown or Village ofUrban Sanitary District of Ecclesiastical District of
Heaton Norris       Heaton Norris  
No. of Schedule Road, Street and Name of HouseName and Surname of each personRelation to Head of FamilyCondition AgeRank, Profession or OccupationWhere Born
67Manchester Old RdThomas AlcockHeadMarried 32CoachmanStaffs, Cheadle
   Betsy AlcockWifeMarried 37Coachman's WifeLincs, Scredington
   John AlcockSonUnmar11ScholarLancs, Manchester
   William AlcockSonUnmar7ScholarLancs, Withington
   Arthur AlcockSonUnmar 5scholarLancs, Withington
   Thomas AlcockSonUnmar 2 Lancs, Heaton Norris
   Emily AlcockDauUnmar7 mo Lancs, Heaton Norris

Thomas Alcock was a coachman and the family seemed to have moved around a bit, possibly as a result of his work. Heaton Norris seems to have been the area they finally settled in though and they stayed there until Thomas's death in 1908.

Their eldest son John Alcock was born in 1870 in the Hulme area of Manchester. By 1891 he was working in Stretford as a coachman like his father. Later that year he married Mary Whitelegg, who was also in domestic service. Their first son John William Alcock was born on 6th November 1892 in Stretford. By 1901 the family (with the addition of another child Elsie) had moved to St Anne's on Sea (Lytham St Anne's) where John senior was still working as a coachman. By 1911 the majority of the family were living at 6 Kingswood Road, Fallowfield, Manchester. Their eldest son's (John William Alcock) details had been initially filled in but then crossed out, presumably because he wasn't actually at home on the night of the census.

Although his census entry was crossed out he was described in 1911 as a mechanic but on his correct census entry (for Weybridge in Surrey where he was lodging) he was described as an Aviators mechanic. He had apparently got interested in flying by the age of 17 and by November 1912 he'd gained his pilot's licence. When WW1 broked out he joined the Royal Naval Air Service, initially as a flying instructor, but subsequently getting transferred to a squadron operating in the Mediterranean. On 30th September 1917 Alcock & his crew attacked enemy aircraft, forcing two to crash into the sea. Alcock and his 2 crewmen were awarded The Distinguished Service Cross for their action. Unfortunately by then they were prisoners of war. They had gone on a raid to Constantinople, but were forced to turn back when an engine failed near Gallipoli. They were eventually forced to ditch the aeroplane into the sea, when the second engine failed, and had to swim to the enemy-held shore, where they were taken prisoner by Turkish troops. The table below gives a transcription of his citation for the medal.

John W. Alcock
(Prisoner of War)
Flt. Lieut
British Aegean SqdrnR.A. Cmdg
British Aegean
For services in an engagement with enemy seaplanes
off Moudros on the 30th September 1917.
For great skill, judgment and dash displayed in
the successful attack on 3 German seaplanes, of
which two were brought down in the sea.
Lieut. Alcock has already rendered valuable service
as a pilot of a Handley Page machine, which has
since been shot down and Lieut Alcock taken
Gazette 19.12.17D.S.C.

Alcock remained a prisoner until the end of the war, after which he resigned from the Royal Air Force and became a test pilot for Vickers. Before the war, The Daily Mail had offered a prize of 10,000 for the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. Together with an experienced navigator, Arthur Whitten Brown, the Vickers team and Alcock decided to attempt the flight. Alcock & Brown took off from Newfoundland at about 1:45pm on 14th June 1919 and headed across the Atlantic. They landed in Galway, Ireland at about 08:40 on 15th June 1919, having flown nearly 1900 miles in about 16 hours. Unfortunately the green field they thought they were landing in, turned out to be an Irish bog, damaging the plane, but Alcock and Brown were unharmed. Their achievement was widely reported both sides of the Atlantic. The two newspaper cuttings below are taken from the Dundee Courier, but similar stories were run throughout the country. Images D.C Thomson & Co. Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive ( Click: to see the full newspaper page.

Besides winning the prize money, the men were treated as heroes and were both knighted a few days later by King George V becoming Sir John William Alcock and Sir Arthur Whitten Brown. They were honoured with both a reception at Windsor Castle and a civic reception in their home city of Manchester.

Sadly John Alcock did not have long to enjoy his success. In December 1919, just a few months after his triumphant flight, he was piloting a new plane to an aeronautical exhibition in Paris when he crashed at Cottevrard in Normandy. Although he wasn't killed immediately, his wounds were too severe and he died a few hours later. One newspaper report described him as "a daring and eccentrically skilful flier, and as genial and modest as he was recklessly brave". He was buried with a full military funeral in Manchester on 27th December 1919. His navigator Arthur Brown was luckier in that he married his sweetheart and survived Alcock by nearly 40 years, but he did have the heartbreak of his only son dying in a plane crash in WW2.

Today there are memorials to their achievements at both the landing site in Galway and the starting point in Newfoundland. There is also a statue of the two men at Heathrow Airport.

The family tree below summarises what I know about the Alcock family. It is hopefully reasonably accurate, but if you spot any errors, or any relatives, please feel free to E-mail me

Please click on one of the red links on the tree to move to a different page.

If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at:

Nicky Rowberry 2018

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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry