Gemma Handy

Obituary – Frank Latham

By Gemma Handy

It wasn’t so much the words he wrote but the lives they touched that helped forge the remarkable legacy left by one Cheshire historian who died this week aged 89.

Frank Latham – who chronicled the vibrant history of almost two dozen of the county’s villages – passed away in his sleep on his birthday on January 3. A “true countryman”, a “gentle, erudite man” and a “talented writer” with a sharp sense of humour are just some of the words used to describe him.

Spital-born Mr Latham, a timber merchant by trade, was also a long-standing chairman of Alpraham Parish Council, an active committee member of the Country Landowners’ Association (CLA) and a former chairman of the Grosvenor Club.

He’d lived in Alpraham since 1965, with wife of 62 years, Ann, before Alzheimer’s saw him confined to Old Hall Residential Home in Malpas in 2009 where he died. Mr Latham’s meticulous work to ensure the colourful past of 22 of Cheshire’s villages – publishedbetween 1969 and 2007–were preserved for posterity earned him recognition at the highest level. An MBE for services to heritage bestowed in 2004 paid tribute to his selfless endeavours: he shunned all profits made fromhis books, preferring instead to redirect the money back to charitable organisations and community groups in the individual villages.

A modest and laconic gentleman – affectionately nicknamed ‘F’ – he was also a keen bird watcher, violinist, fisherman and hunter who rode his mare Bonnie twice a week until his mid 80s.

He may have been a man of few words but he made up for that in those he wrote from the study of his Hilbre Bank home where he spent the majority of each day.

His writing was a labour of love. And he devoted his days to documenting details, not just of Cheshire villages but also the careful transcription of 300 years’ worth of his own family history.

As a boy, Mr Latham attended Mostyn House preparatory school in Parkgate, Wirral, and, later, Uppingham in Rutland.

A devout Christian, a keen desire to serve the community ran in his veins; his father and grandfather before him were both erstwhile chairmen of the Chester Waterworks Company.

When Britain found itself in the throes of war in the 1940s, Mr Latham wasted no time in signing up to the Home Guard. He joined the Gordon Highlanders in 1942 which was then suffering from a multitude of casualties. Three years later, he answered a call for volunteers in the Far East which heralded the onset of a two-year spell in – and an ensuing love affair with – India. Thoseyears were spent doing reconnaissance work, as well as indulging his hobby for photographing and studying the local bird population.

Upon his return to the UK in 1947, Mr Latham entered the timber trade working for Musgraves of Chester and the Summit Manufacturing Co Ltd in Speke, before forming F. Kearney & Latham in 1960.

The timber industry began to suffer a slump in the 1980s and by the end of the decade small family-run firms had all but disappeared. Latham’s merged with a couple of other companies before Mr Latham eventually retired in 1991. But he continued to lecture on the intrinsics of the industry at Liverpool College of Commerce for a total of three decades. He also wrote a number of books on the trade and was heavily involved with various industry organisations.

In addition to forming several local history groups and appearing regularly as a guest speaker in and around Cheshire in a bid to keep the county’s bygone days alive, Mr Latham was also a local scoutmaster, a committee member of the Alpraham Youth Club and a church warden at St Jude’s in Tilstone Fearnall.His Alpraham home hosted the village fete for more than15 years.

Wife Ann, 84, described him as a “loyal and loving husband who loved the country life, loved his horses and his dogs, and his country pursuits”.

Family friend John Richards said: “Frank was a good, gentle, erudite man of great standing and much loved and admired. We and all his friends in Cheshire will miss him very much.”

Daughter Janet Edwards, 57, remembered her father for his “contentment” with life.

“He always used to say he was completely at peace with the world when he was sitting out on a lake with a fishing rod in hand – and that’s how I will think of him.”

Mr Latham also leaves a son Michael, 60, a barrister in London, two sisters and two grandchildren.

The funeral will take place at St Jude’s Church in Tilstone Fearnall on January 14 at 12 noon.