The Shepperton of 1908 was a pretty quiet place, with little in the way of sensation to disturb village life. On December 8th 1908 however, it saw an event which made headlines all over the country, and indeed in countries as far away as New Zealand.
The event in question was the marriage of Captain Cecil Morgan to Emily Skerry, the widow of Fred Skerry of Thames Ditton. Capt. Morgan was the principal of the Imperial School of Colonial Instruction, which was based at a log cabin in Green Street, Shepperton, now the site of Duppa’s Close. The idea of the school was to teach young men the skills they would need in the more far flung parts of the British Empire, including riding, lassoing, managing cattle etc. Capt. Morgan was himself the patentee of the Morgan packsaddle, which had the unlikely property of being able to be converted into a small boat to cross any river encountered.
By all accounts the ‘students’ dressed for the part, with wide-brimmed hats, checked shirts, leather trousers and ‘chaps’, and armed with Bowie knives and revolvers.
It is hardly surprising that they became known as the ‘Shepperton Cowboys’. Amongst their number were two Texans, ‘Deadly Dillingham’ and ‘Lively Lynch’ as they were christened by the small boys of the village, who were especially skilled in roping and tying steers. According to press reports of the wedding, the Cowboys rode through the village at top speed, cracking their whips, until they arrived at the church, where they were joined by hundreds of people who had arrived by foot, bicycle, train, motor car and horseback to witness the spectacle. Perhaps thankfully, the Cowboys did not enter the church, but after the ceremony they galloped after the bridal car, spurring their horses and yelling loud whoops whilst firing their pistols in the air. Apparently someone even put fog detonators on the nearby railway line to add to the general noise and mayhem.
The wedding breakfast was held at ‘El Aparego’ (Spanish for ‘the harness’) which was the name of the school building, although the meal itself was served in a large marquee. This went off without a hitch, and without anyone lassoing the wedding cake, but at the conclusion of the bridegroom’s speech, the Cowboys broke into ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ and concluded with another volley of revolver shots. A memorable day in Shepperton’s history ended with a display of cowboy riding, shooting and lassoing in the school field.
The next meeting of the Sunbury and Shepperton Local History Society will be on Tuesday 18th April at Halliford School, Russell Road, Shepperton, when Marc Meltonville will be talking about the Chocolate Kitchen at Hampton Court. All welcome, admission £2 for non-members.