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  • Writer's pictureRichard Edmunds

Bob Marley, Stained Glass, Architects, War Time Code Breakers, Authors, Inventors and Spies.

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

2021 marked forty years since the death of Jamaican singer, songwriter, and musician Bob Marley.

In my 2018 book Paths of Freedom I trace Bob's family history back to the 18th century examining ancestors in Jamaica and England including African slaves, farmers, labourers, planters, shopkeepers, carpenters, tailors, engineers, clerks, soldiers, prison constables, marshalls and justices of the peace.

One of Bob's first UK gigs took place in July 1972 at the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea, a little seaside town in East Sussex. Ironically, his paternal line traces back to the small neighbouring town of Rye in the same Southern English county, located about two miles inland from the sea. The parish registers there record the marriage on 24th January 1844 of Bob's great grandparents, twenty three year old Frederick Marley, and nineteen year old Hannah Jane Tiltman.

Hannah's father Richard Tiltman, like many Rye residents, found his employment on the seas as a ship's pilot. Her mother Mary was a glove maker.

One of the most beautiful features of the 12th century parish church of Rye is the stained glass window designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, (1833-1898) star of the late Victorian New Aesthitic Movement, erected in 1891 by Richard and Mary Tiltman's grandson, Alfred Hessell Tiltman, in memory of his late mother, Mary Tiltman, nee Hessell.

The Tiltman Window, Rye, Sussex, dedicated to Bob Marley's great-grand aunt Mary Tiltman.

Alfred, the cousin of Bob's grandfather who emigrated as a young man to Jamaica, was a succesful architect living in central London at the time he commissioned the window. His biggest design project was the Eastern District Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland, built in 1900.

The Eastern District Hospital, Glasgow, designed by Alfred Hessel Tiltman (1855-1910)

His sons include Alfred Hessell Tiltman, Junior, FRAeS (1891 – 28 October 1975), a notable and talented British aircraft designer, co-founder of Airspeed Ltd, and Brigadier John Hessell Tiltman, CMG,CBE,MC (25 May 1894 – 10 August 1982) a British Army officer awarded the Military Cross for bravery during World War One, after the capture of two German machine gun nests.

Arguably the greatest code breaker of his generation, John cracked intercepted secret messages of many countries including Nazi Germany, the U.S.S.R and Japan, and during the Second World War was a key figure in the intelligence code breaking team located at Bletchly Park, where his exceptional skill at cryptanalysis lead directly to the development of Colossus, the first digital programmable electronic computer.

Bob Marley's second cousin, key war time code breaker, John Hessell Tiltman.

Also relatives of Jamaican musician Bob Marley on this line are the sons of Frank Tiltman (1858-1935), younger brother of the architect Alfred Hessell Tiltman.

These include the authors Ronald Frank Tiltman (1901-1986) and Hubert Hessell Tiltman (1897-1976) who found fame in the late 1920's, Hubert, a socialist, penning Labour's Man of Destiny, a popular biography of the first Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain, James Ramsey MacDonald (1866-1937), and Ronald acting as biographer for John Logie Baird (1888-1946), widely credited as the inventor of television.

Author Ronald Frank Tiltman, second cousin of Reggae star Bob Marley, pictured with Scottish inventor John Logie Baird and his pioneering creation the Televisor, in 1927.

In the 1930s Hubert travelled widely including in Eastern Europe, Soviet Russia, and the Far East, writing extensively on the subjects of global economics and politics, both as an independent author and as a journalist for the London Daily News.

During the Second World War he was based in the United States as a correspondent for the Daily Herald, and after the war ended he took up semi-permanent residence in Japan acting as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian and the Washington Post. This was despite the fact the Japanese secret police, the Kempeitai, had once arrested him for spying on the rather bizarre charge of “taking a photograph without a camera' during his time as a war correspondent in Manchuria in 1937. He died still resident in Tokyo, in August 1976, and was buried in Japan at Yokohama Aliens Cemetery.

The Terror in Europe 1931 book on European Economics and Politics by author, journalist and alleged war time spy Hubert Hessell Tiltman.

Hubert's wife Marjorie Hessell-Tiltman was also a successful author from the 1930s onwards, and in her honour since 1999 the Hessell-Tiltman History Prize has been awarded annually in the U.K to the best work of non-fiction of historical content covering a period up to and including World War II.

David Olusoga's Black and British winner of the 2017 Hessell-Tiltman Prize and Simon Schama's Rough Crossings shortlisted for the 2006 Prize.

Blue Plaque commemorating Bob Marley's first visit to England, in 1972, touring with US soul singer Johnny Nash.

To learn more about Bob Marley's Family Tree the 2018 book Paths of Freedom is available to Purchase at the link below:

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