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In memory of
Edmund Alfred Cunningham Boycott
(1873 - 1946)
by Jean Ellis

The story of Alfred Boycot which I wrote for my family album .....

This is a photo of my grandparents Lillian and Sidney Broomfield with two of their children Violet and Eddie, my great grandmother Emily, great aunt Hebe and Uncle Alf. It was taken at the end of 1912 when my grandmother was pregnant with my mother and just after they had moved from Great Windsor to Spa Farm in Shelfanger.

Before they moved to Shelfanger, Diss my grandfather was a court gardener at Windsor Castle and my grandmother was a seamstress to Queen Victoria. They had moved from Great Windsor to Spa farm so my grandfather and Uncle Alf could set up a market garden. This was not a successful business so they turned to poultry farming.

As a small child I was aware that there was something different about uncle Alf’s relationship within the family, which was probably fostered by my grandmother who always called him Mr Boycott and he was treated with great respect. As I grew older I came to understand how the partnership had been established.

My mother wrote the following as part of an article for Diss Museum local family collection:

“I often wonder what my life would have been like if my parents had not made a close friend of ‘Uncle’, Mr Boycott, when they lived in Windsor. He was a younger son of a wealthy family and was destined for the church but sad for them he refused to be so and was shunned by his family who were not pleased that he wanted to go in partnership with my parents and start a garden centre in Norfolk. Uncle Boycott was a very gentle man, happy only with his books and garden. Unhappily for mum and dad he made friends in the village with the local gardener and refused to take any trade from the said gardener. Uncle tended his front garden, read his books and wandered happily around the countryside, liked by all for his gentle and friendly manner.”

My mother used to tell me stories of how she loved his gentleness and how proud she felt when he took her to and from the village school. She had very fond memories of holding his large and warm hand and feeling very safe with him. Uncle Alf didn’t talk much at all to us children but would smile gently and would always find time to show us his collection of butterflies. I remember him coming home from the fields with his dog, rabbits or pheasants hanging from a belt round his waist and a shotgun under his arm. I would sit down with my granddad and Uncle Alf watching how the game was prepared for the pot.

Uncle Alf died in 1946 and was buried in Shelfanger church yard, his headstone is inscribed with the words “everyone’s friend”. Some time after his death I remember my grandparents being very upset because ‘the family’ came to see her to arrange for his body to be exhumed in order for him to be put in the family tomb. My grandparents refused this saying “you didn’t want him in life and you’re not having him in death”.

As I got older I learned about Uncle Alf’s history and was told that he came from a rich family who were at Court. He ‘did the world cruise’, loved sailing on the Broads and was due to follow on in the family tradition and become the rector of Burgh-St-Peter. I was told he had a breakdown and ‘within court circles’ was not considered fit and able to take up this role. In 1947 when I was about 11 years old a film called “Captain Boycott” was released and we were taken to see it so that we could learn how their name came synonymous with the term “to Boycott”. It gave us a very poor view of the family which coloured my feelings against them for what I saw as a rejection of a family member who had a mental health condition and the image remained with me until I read a book called Boycott published in 1997 and written by Charles Arthur Boycott.

I assume the Boycott family at the time did not want anyone to know that Edmund Alfred Cunningham (uncle Alf) had a breakdown of his mental health. In the above mentioned book his birth and death are not registered on the family tree and it is stated that “he suffered from some ‘physical imbalance’ which prevented him from becoming the fifth Boycott Rector”. His name is engraved on the list of rectors in St. Mary's Church, Burgh St. Peter.

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Page last updated: 13 Jul 2022
© Diss Family History Group & Nigel Peacock 2022