Arthur Charles Mainwaring Bowen was the founder in 1947 of the British Rheumatic Association, a charity known since 1980 as Arthritis Care and recently amalgamated with Arthritis Research. Its reach is worldwide and has given support and advice to millions.
Born at Pentrebach Farm outside Pontyberem in Carmarthenshire, Waring as he was known to his family, was the son of Arthur Pendragon Bowen [a] and Helena Stephenson who met in Newark, Warwickshire, during the 1914-18 war. At the end of the war the couple settled on the Bowen family farm at Pontyberem. Waring was their first child, born in 1922, followed by two sisters, Mavis and Eleanor. The family later moved into the village, to Newark House built for them alongside a saw mill and builders’ supplies store on land at Cook’s Bridge owned and developed by Waring’s father.
Between the wars, the family at Pentrebach were Waring’s uncle (a mining engineer) and his wife, while Waring’s aunt was the one who actually farmed the land.
Growing up either on or near the farm, Waring developed a good knowledge of animal and crop husbandry, including expertise in scything. They kept a goat to avoid the danger of tuberculosis infection from cow’s milk, and Waring was quite proud of his ability to milk the animal.
One of his stories was how, when he was quite small he went off with their dog having no idea of where they were going, but fortunately the dog did know and decided to bring him home again. It may be that Waring and the dog followed the Pedlar’s Way which would have taken them ‘over the hills and faraway’ without crossing any roads. As he grew older, he used to love going for long walks over the Carmarthenshire hills with his great friend, Myrddin Evans, planning their futures and philosophising. Myrddin was intent on becoming a doctor, and Waring was hoping to go into the Church: he particularly admired his maternal uncle, Edgar, a Methodist minister.
After attending the local primary school, Waring’s father arranged for him to attend the Gwendraeth Valley secondary school. Attendance at secondary school was not obligatory at the time, nor was it state-funded. Although his mother spoke English, several of his close relatives could speak only Welsh and so he grew up fully bi-lingual. He had to be kept back a year at secondary school so that his Welsh literacy skills could be improved.
Waring studied history at Aberystwyth University, but a diagnosis at age nineteen of ankylosing spondylitis precipitated by a serious fall brought an end to his studies there after only two terms. He was treated at Cardiff and Bath [b] hospitals and was sent for radiation therapy at the Charterhouse Clinic in London under Dr. Horowitz. This new treatment slowed the progress of the disease but caused damage to the kidneys which probably contributed to his death in 1980.
While he was in London for treatment Waring tried without success to get assistance from the Empire Rheumatism Council [c]. They were unable to help because they felt their funds were intended solely for research, not for welfare. A charity focussed on the needs of the sufferer, was clearly required. Waring, who by this time was in articles at Heald Johnson and Co., a firm of solicitors in Soho and Westminster, decided to take on the task. In 1946 he sent a letter to the Picture Post, co-signed by several prominent people, and positive replies came flooding in. Helped by his friend and landlady in Barnet, Mrs. Johnson, the legal requirements were fulfilled and the British Rheumatism Association was publicly launched in 1947. [d]
Arthritis Care became the largest voluntary organisation in the country offering free advice, information and support working with and for people with arthritis. Waring continued to work with the society and was a continual source of ideas and suggestions for the charity’s improvement. Not content with just one charity Waring went on to found the Rehabilitation Loan Society which assisted arthritis sufferers who had lost their livelihoods as a result of the disease. In Torquay where he finally settled with his family, he founded the Torbay Arthritis Project which raised funds for a hydrotherapy pool and rheumatology unit which subsequently became part of Torbay Hospital.
Throughout his life Waring gave time and attention to others and set himself at an early age to improve the lives of others. He had a deep religious conviction partly arising from his mother’s Methodist beliefs and partly from his own generous character. “Waring spent his whole life trying to ensure that others could have a better one.” [e]
Today Arthritis Care, having amalgamated with Arthritis Research, continues the work which Waring set in train so many years ago. The charity operates across the United Kingdom, and in Wales Arthritis Care Wales runs a number of different services for people of all ages with arthritis, ranging from activity sessions for young people to the practical support and information needed to live with the condition, while ensuring that the needs of people with arthritis are a priority with policymakers in Wales.
Notes and Citations
[a] Arthur Pendragon Bowen was unexpectedly called up for service in North Africa in 1940 because of his specialist knowledge of the area acquired during the First World War (the photograph was taken just before he was sent abroad which perhaps explains the serious expressions )** Note: A.P. Bowen died on active service in 1942 as a result of heart failure.
[b] The Almoner at Bath Hospital encouraged Waring to continue his degree by correspondence course. In spite of continuing ill health and periods of serious relapse, he did in fact earn two degrees, eventually as an external student at London University, and qualified as a solicitor in 1950.
[c] The Empire Rheumatism Council eventually became known as Arthritis Research and has now amalgamated with Arthritis Care.
[d] The British Rheumatism Association was renamed Arthritis Care in 1980.
[e] Mrs. Helen Barbour, Waring’s widow.