Ian Cowan: threads and tangents. Reader, traveller, protester.

“One of our most fundamental rights is to protest. It is the essence of our democracy”[1]

0 2-0-Colorized-Enhanced 2Ian Cowan, aged about 2

Anyone driving through Trimley St. Martin in the last year cannot have failed to notice the new housing springing up along the High Road. People appear surprised and ask, “What is going on?” in bemused accents, although both sites, ‘The Lilacs’ and ‘Poppyfield Green’ have been a long time in the planning pot, their proposition easily dating back to at least 2002, if not before. It was a couple of years before this that Ian Cowan, a  proud Scot from Paisley, moved to Trimley.  Not too long afterwards he became a significant member of the local  protest group, S. T. A. G [2], which was formed to fight local development. As many of you may be aware, he continued to play an active role in fighting housing developments through K. A. T. C. A. G.[3] , whose aims are similar. He is now an independent protester. The Protest Route can appear a hard road to travel with little respite or comfort along the way for those who to do so, regardless of the issue but as Amnesty International clearly states on its website[4],

“Your voice matters. You have the right to say what you think, share information and demand a better world. You also have the right to agree or disagree with those in power, and to express these opinions in peaceful protests. Exercising these rights – without fear or unlawful interference – is central to living in an open and fair society; one in which people can access justice and enjoy their human rights.”

It might be argued that now more than ever, we should pay attention to this right as, ‘The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill[5]’ enters its final stages before becoming law. Whatever the cause, the Police will be able to restrict protest if there is the prospect of,

‘…serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community.’

With these thoughts in mind it seemed appropriate to talk to Ian, who is very much a focused local Campaigner. Consequently, last October I stepped out into a glowing autumnal morning anticipating a stimulating interview. I was not disappointed.

In a warm room containing books, CDs and mugs of tea, we embarked on a conversation encompassing music, especially jazz, reading, Coats Thread Mill, the streets of Istanbul, travel and housing developments, amongst many other subjects. If there was a conversational by-way to wander down, we stepped briskly along it in a spritely manner, discussing the prospects with verve and zest, regardless of their relevance. Books were liberally sprinkled into the conversation.  The diversity of our conversation meant we didn’t conduct  a proper  interview as we had only reached  the year 1921 by the end of the morning.  A second and then a third visit became a necessity. It is doubtful if the full range of the exchange will be covered here but to start at the beginning…

Ian’s musical preferences include jazz and World. (I specifically noted Jan Garbarek amongst shared enthusiasms.)


It was quickly established we shared an enthusiasm for genealogy. Ian is very much his own person of course but in this instance it is clear his family background helped to shape his thoughts and actions. Generations of Ian’s family were centred around Paisley, a town with a rich textile history, which gave its name to the gorgeously patterned shawls favoured  by the well-to-do for much of the nineteenth century.  If you are a needle worker, you have probably used either Clarks or Coats thread, manufactured by the two companies who dominated Paisley textile mills throughout the nineteenth century: theirs was a symbiotic relationship with the weaving processes. During the 19th century the town was one of Scotland’s industrial heartlands with a predominately Working Class population. Ian explained how the threads of the mills wove through his family and impacted on their lives.

PaisleyMap showing Glasgow, Paisley and surrounding towns.


Clark Cotton reels 2Examples  of Coats cotton reels

Clark Cotton Reels

Examples of Clark’s cotton reels.  At one time just about every household would have one cotton reel made by Coats or Clark.

Clark Mercerisd cottonClark and Co. Mercerised cotton. For use when doing fine tatting or crochet.

Ian can claim a maternal Great Grandfather who worked as Shawl weaver, an occupation now completely removed from the Paisley landscape. The production of Paisley shawls[6] lasted little more than seventy years, although the iconic pattern continues to appear on a huge range of fashion items. The familiar design is stated to be prehistoric. It would take a shawl weaver perhaps a week or a fortnight to make a shawl using a Jacquard loom whilst the design, pattern setting and loom construction could take up to five months. It is unsurprising the shawls were regarded as luxurious and necessary items in any young bride’s trousseau, although the pay for the weavers was lowly.

Paislye 3An example of the teardrop Paisley pattern.

 George Wilson, on his paternal Grandmother’s side was employed as a Mill Wright[7] . This group of people often lived in close proximity to the Mill weavers and in many ways, appear to have had a strong Trades Union protecting their interests and concerns. Then as now, Union membership helped protect workers from exploitation, poor working conditions and unfair treatment.[8]

One of Ian’s Great, Great, Grandfathers had been a coal miner in Overton, Ayrshire.  In fact there were three generations of miners, all called Rober Duncan. During the nineteenth century this hazardous occupation saw many disaster and fatalities. Men and children were at risk from fire and explosions which were common causes of death for the Miners[9].  Air in mines may be contaminated by other gases such as methane, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide. In a confined space these may easily combust and it was not until the invention of the Davy lamp in 1816 and its subsequent introduction into most mines the danger was diminished.

OvertonRow01-ColorizedOverton, Ayrshire

 Ian’s paternal Great Grandfather, John Cowan worked as a boiler maker[10], a further form of skilled employment involving sheet and tubular metal working. Long hours demanding hard and gritty work were part of his family’s ethos.  Involvement in the textile industries didn’t stop with at the end of the 19th century and Ian’s mother had been a Mill Worker[11] before she became mother and housewife after the birth of her children.

Ian told me it was the second James Cowan, Ian’s grandfather, who initiated the first major change to his family. Born in 1879, he worked as a carpenter and emigrated to Canada where his three children were born in Toronto. He joined the Canadian Infantry and operated in the Flanders’ theatre of war. One of his children, a third John was born in 1914. Following the death of John’s mother and baby brother in 1922, he and the family returned to Paisley where his father re-married. The second wife wasn’t involved in the upbringing of the children from the first marriage and they lived with different relatives.

It was Ian’s father, who helped to shape Ian’s moral probity and who broke the working class chain of a family of manual and skilled workers. During the Second World War he was based at Scapa Flow and served on SS Archangel which sank in 1941. Ian told me,

My father survived this sinking: “On the night of May 16th/17th, 1941, the vessel was off the coast of Aberdeenshire when she was attacked by German bombers which scored several hits. The ship was beached and broke in 4 pieces. Capt. Sutton was among the survivors but 17 of the crew were killed and 15 wounded.”

SS Archangel-Enhanced-Colorized

SS Archangel . Constructed by J. Brown & Co., Ltd., Clydebank, Glasgow in 1910.  Bombed and sank 16 May 1941

At the end of the Second World War, John came out of the Army unqualified but the times favoured him.  It was already recognised there was a national shortage of Teachers and in June 1945 a recruiting scheme was established, open to men and women who had served in the Forces or in a wartime industry. The criteria was stringent and Ian’s father was one of those who was selected, trained and subsequently employed as a Teacher. The move into a professional occupation almost invariably changes perception and expectations. John went on to stand as Town Councillor on the Socialist ticket and later became a J.P. in Paisley.  His maxim was,

“Outside the Chamber, mutual respect. Inside the Chamber, debate.”

Ian has adopted this view and believes we should always discuss issues which aren’t comfortable. This stance informs his approach to politics, local and national.

Ian’s career.

His father’s move into  professional occupation was a tacit influence on young Ian. He was and doubtless still is, a straight ‘A’ student. One way or the other, his school career left him with a substantial clutch of Scottish Highers. (Seven, all bar one were ‘A’ grades.) Prior to going  to Strathclyde University where he studied Chartered Accountancy, he had a temporary job as a  labourer in a Wool warehouse. At University ‘… I fell into bad company…!”, living a life of snooker playing, drinking, playing cards and sometimes attending lectures. After  three dissipated years he graduated and it emerged his undergraduate lifestyle hadn’t affected his academic life. He obtained an apprenticeship with McLeland and Moore, who were affiliated to Arthur Young’s Accountancy Company and there he qualified as a Chartered Account.  Young’s later merged to become Ernst and Young.

There is a slight difference concerning the terminology of C.As. in Scotland as Ian explained:

“Members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales are A.C.As or F.C.As, depending on their level of qualification. All Members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland are C.As. This means that the lowliest C.A. is as highly qualified as the most exalted F.C.A. or so C.As claim. I was a C.A. (I can no longer call myself this because I stopped paying the exorbitant subscription fees when I retired, preferring to spend my money on books and CDs…)”

Ian spent ten years with Young’s climbing the career ladder and then left to join Allied Suppliers owned by Jimmy Goldsmith, who built the third largest food company in Europe. The early 1980s found Ian working for James Gulliver, the founder of Argyll Foods. After Gulliver’s death, the company was taken over by Safeway and later became Morrison’s. After a spell there he joined Kooltech, a leading distributor for the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration industry, who were based in Glasgow. He stayed there until about 1995 when he decided to become self-employed. As this proved an very effective way to earn a living, he was able to take early retirement.

In 1989, Ian met his wife Wendy in old Istanbul when they were both travelling. Their normal homes were miles apart: Ian in Paisley; Wendy in London.  Theirs was a successful romance and after a while they decided to stop commuting between Scotland and London when Wendy moved to Paisley. They were married on a canal boat, ‘The Lady Margaret’, on the Kirkintilloch Canal. It managed to accommodate  twenty eight guests included a three piece orchestra.  Ian didn’t wear tartan. I asked.

They continued to live in Paisley but following the death of Ian’s mother, they decided to move southwards to be closer to Wendy’s family; her parents lived in Diss. Initially they rented in Ipswich but then moved to Trimley.

Screenshot 2022-04-21 at 14.55.31 2The Lady Margaret canal boat.

Travel continued and continues to be an enthusiasm they both share. Ian reeled off a list of places they had visited together: Finland, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Syria. Jordan. Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.  They return to Singapore and New Zealand  in  2020  but Covid intervened and they returned home early just in time for Lockdown.

In about 2002, Ian became involved in S.T.A.G., as he explains later in this article. As a by product of this course of action, in 2006 Ian stood in the Parish Council Election as prospective Parish Councillor against unnecessary new housing. This seemed a natural progression from his stance in S.T.A.G with its objections to local developments.

Ian p1Front of Ian’s election flyer in 2006

He was successfully elected[12] and remained on the council until  2015. There was then a gap in his public activity of perhaps two years until the Felixstowe Peninsula Action Plan was published.

Ian’s protesting career



S.T.A.G publicity

My question to Ian was simple: why is protest so important to him? He explained.

“ At the start of the new century, we moved  from Scotland into a quirky house in the Trimley countryside which was close to Ipswich and Felixstowe with all the necessary facilities. In 2002 Trinity announced their vision for Trimley, which was going to be three thousand  houses, a surprise to us all. We spoke informally  about this to our neighbour Keith Slaughter, who was then a Parish Councillor and also to Nigel Smith, then Chair of the Parish Council. There were many in the village who  viewed  the proposed developments negatively and the protest group S.T.A.G. was formed. I wasn’t a founder member but joined fairly early on.

(Other members included Rosemary Gitsham, Barbara Shout and Kitty Moss.)

As a  sound and knowledgeable researcher, Ian’s skills in this area were valued. He remained with the Group although active membership was in decline by about 2012.

In 2012 the first Public Enquiry[13] was led by Mike Moore into the Local Plan. I wrote a lengthy response,  which was adopted by St. Martin’s Parish Council and endorsed by that of Trimley St. Mary. I appeared at the Enquiry representing S.T.A.G, Trimley St. Martin Parish Council, Trimley St. Mary Parish Council and Save Felixstowe Countryside. Over a period of time, S.T.A.G.  numbers dropped off until only a handful of people remained. 

But then K.A.T.C.A.G. came into being. You could say that every protest group is born out of self-interest. The founder members:  Stephen Wrinch; Jane McCarthy; Becca Atherstone;  Ian Irvine and Gerry Bremner, somehow discovered that I had been involved in S.T.A.G. and Stephen came to me looking for advice, which I gave. In 2019 I was then invited to join the group, although I stayed beneath the radar. One of the principle reasons I was brought into K.A.T.C.A.G. was because of my knowledge of past proposals.”

IMG_8562 2Ian Cowan 2021

What are Ian’s motivations?

 It’s about community. We moved from a very nice place in Paisley to a very nice place here.  When  S.T.A.G. started we had a meeting with Stephen Brown and Andy Smith. Our naivety was such that we believed if we put forward reasonable arguments we would have an impact. That wasn’t the case.

 It’s also about protection, preservation and injustice. Protection is important but not to the extent of having no progress. The more I became involved the more I realised that our politicians are, ‘nodding donkeys without a brain between them[14]’. 

People don’t always question what is put in front of them. Very few people have been protesting for nearly twenty years about local growth.  It’s not a lack of intelligence or interest. People have busy lives and most of the population are not interested in politics and most of us respect authority. Of course, people’s priorities are their homes, families and jobs and there is not always time for anything else.

 People have to have the time to protest, which may depend upon different factors such as being middle class or retired. Having a supportive partner is also important. A sense of injustice is also a motivating factor.

Where I live in the village, we are protected from the physical impact of new houses but not from the impact on the infrastructure. The loss of this deprives everyone in the village of something  they have come to depend on. It’s is detrimental to local needs. The existence of Dentists, Doctors, the emergency services are all based on the needs of a smaller population database.

At the time of the St Martin’s Green development, jobs existed  at industrial  manufactures such as Crane and Ransomes.  New people will come to live in the village but commute perhaps forty or fifty miles, which is against counter productive to the expressed policies of East Suffolk District Council concerning new developments.”

In 2021 Ian compiled a Traffic and Parking provision Report[15]  for K.A.T.C.A.G. explaining in detail the difficulties facing the Trimley villages as housing development expands across the Felixstowe Peninsula. The new developments have limited parking facilities and this will impact adversely on the village

Ian recently left K.A.T.C.A.G.  and but continues to use his not inconsiderable research skills  in an independent capacity. The Trimleys can list  string of organisations which have fought to keep the local  fields, roads and village infrastructure free from development.  These include Trimley Preservation Society founded back in the 1980s, S.T.A.G. in the 2000s and  latterly K.A.T.C.A.G.  

The best summary of Ian’s motivation comes from his wife Wendy, who said:

” He is a very honourable man, who believes in telling the truth and pulling up people who try to deceive us. He always wants to be fair. It comes back to his father’s words, “Outside the Chamber, mutual respect. Inside the Chamber, debate.”

IMG_8558 2Ian Cowan 

If you have any comments or would like to be part of this Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:


LR  22/04/2022



[1] https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/93/human-rights-joint-committee/news/156037/government-plans-to-change-law-to-restrict-demonstrations-breach-human-right-to-protest-says-jchr/

[2] (Save Trimley against Growth)

[3] (Kirton and Trimley Campaign Against Growth)

[4] https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/freedom-of-expression/

[5] https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/2839

[6] http://www.tartansauthority.com/resources/archives/the-archives/harrison/the-paisley-shawl/

[7] Scottish Society for the preservation of historical Machinery  Scottish Industrial History. Vol 6.2  1983   https://busarchscot.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Scottish-Industrial-History-Vol-6.2-1984-compressed.pdf

[8] https://www.tuc.org.uk/about-the-tuc/our-history

[9] https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/19th-century-mining-disaster/

[10] https://www.wcml.org.uk/wcml/en/our-collections/working-lives/boilermakers/

[11] Coats and Clarke Thread manufacture in Paisley. https://paisleythreadmill.co.uk

[12] https://www.ipswichstar.co.uk/news/win-for-anti-development-candidate-7482706

[13] https://www.ipswichstar.co.uk/news/felixstowe-trimley-homes-campaigners-prepare-for-public-inquiry-2724586

[14]  A ‘Nodding Donkey’ is the name given to the machines used to pump oil.

[15] https://www.dropbox.com/s/lh26z8vcfi0wyvg/ParkingStandards.pdf?dl=0&fbclid=IwAR1eeU4QTkcSU0PEdrp3PsauNfavykShTiUHlgX1RhXDLpyzRGpDASCfi4Q












2 thoughts on “Ian Cowan: threads and tangents. Reader, traveller, protester.

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