Sheréll Cunningham

Stuffynwood was once the home of coal, iron&steel tycoon and MP for Mansfield, Sir Arthur Basil Markham, baronet and his wife Lady Lucy Bertram Markham (nee Cunningham) and their children. Arthur died suddenly of a heart attack in 1916 aged just 50 and Lucy died in 1960, subsequently the Cunningham - Markham tie was lost.

Until now that is. has reunited the Markhams and Cunninghams!....................Sheréll Cunningham-Swales found the website containing the photographs of the Markhams at Stuffynwood including her Great Aunt Lucy Markham that initiated a family lunch date with Arthur & Lucy's grandson, John Markham.

Its not surprising though that they hadn't met before as John Markham is based in Ontario, Canada and Sheréll was raised on a farm in South Africa. The power of the world wide web has overcome that gap and below are the pair enjoying their lunchdate.

Sheréll now lives in the Cotswolds but before she came to England her life bore an uncanny parallel with Beryl Markham who was also raised on a farm in Africa. Beryl Markham was a 1930's record breaking aviatrix piloting freight around the African continent and likewise Sheréll also made a career flying cargo & passengers around Africa. Sheréll has kindly supplied a few family photos of the Cunningham family and given a brief description of her life and career.............

From left: Bernie Mitton, 'ian' cunningham and Johan Kriek ranked #7 in the world in 1984.
Left centre: Sheréll's father , Douglas 'Ian' Cunningham, became a professional tennis coach to South Africa's tennis stars such as world #7 in 1984, Johan Kriek , right of picture. Subsequently, the job required her parents to travel the globe on the world tournament circuit but Sheréll preferred to remain on the sub-tropical farm in Enselsberg, where she had lived all her life with her great-uncle 'Jack' and great-aunt Maggie. She left Africa in her mid teens to complete her education in Switzerland and travel around Europe. Later, with 4 languages and a masters degree in French Literature under her belt, she moved to London where she began flying lessons at the London School of Flying at Elstree, Borehamwood.

Left: Sheréll pictured in the cockpit of one of her Douglas DC3's

After 10 years away from her beloved Africa, she returned and completed her flight training, subsequently gaining her license and taking a job at a flying school. After a couple of years , she seized an opportunity that arose and bought the school from the owner. After nine years of flight training experience, she started Africa Charter Airlines, flying DC3’s DC4’s B707’s and B747-100,200’s. Her flights carried cargo and passengers including Rugby teams and leisure-themed ‘Out of Africa’ DC3 parties into Victoria Falls, Kasane and the Serengeti just to name but a few places but she also flew into war zones getting food aid to famine regions and relief supplies to flood victims.

In 1997 she was interviewed by The Citizen that gives a great deal of insight into Sherell's busy life as CEO of her own African airline and single mother of two young daughters.

Left: This photo, taken before she left for the UK, is of the now derelict farmhouse where Sheréll grew up in Enselsberg near Zeerust, North West Province, South Africa. The farm was original purchased by Lady Lucy Markham for her daughter Joyous (born Stuffynwood 1902), however, Joyous died in childbirth in 1931. Lady Markham then sold the farm to her nephew, Ian (Jack) Cunningham, Sheréll's great-uncle. Lucy's brother-in-law, Charles Paxton Markham, was also busy in South Africa. In January 1926 he negotiated contracts to supply mine winding gear to the area's gold mines. Charles died just 6 months later of angina but in a 10 year period from 1927, during economic depression in England, he saved the jobs of the Markham engineering works by securing contracts to supply & fit the Markham winders & cages to 20 gold mines. Charles' brother, Arthur Markham, had conducted an extensive South African tour c.1897 studying the culture, laws and industrial opportunities for British engineers & entrepreneurs that had equipped his brother with the knowledge required to seek business thousands of miles from Chesterfield.

Left is pictured Capt. Calvert Gordon Cunningham, Lady Lucy Markham's brother and Sheréll's Great Grandfather who died in Cape Town in 1925. Calvert Cunningham was a member of the 'Society of Chemical Industry' specialising in alkali reduction. His father, Albert Berwick Cunningham, was a businessman working in the field of chemical extraction of precious metals from rock ore. He was involved in the Aluminium Alliance Co. set up in 1888 that patented a process for the chemical extraction of aluminium. In 1889 Albert Cunningham patented a process in Pretoria, South Africa called the 'Caustic Alkali Process of Gold Extraction'.

Evidently, it was the Cunningham's South African business interests and their chemical mineral extraction processes that brought them to the country. Captain Calvert Cunningham also served in the Royal Artillery during the Second Boer War . It is highly likely that it was South Africa where the Cunninghams met Arthur Markham who toured the country extensively after the divorce of his first wife, Mary Welstead, in 1895. He married Lucy Bertram Cunningham 17th September 1898.

"....the memories as a child that I want to remember and cherish are of our dusty, sub tropical farm in Enselsberg. Waking up in the early hours of the morning with the sun beating down on the tin roof, the coolness of my room, listening to the hustling and bustling of the farm waking up on the foothill of the beautiful Enselsberg hills. The Africans running around shouting orders to each other while getting ready to start their day, the voice of my aunt Maggie talking away in her calm, tender voice, while cooking breakfast at the old wood burning stove. Go outside and pump water  into the bucket and bring it inside she'd say to the maid. Uncle Colin and Jack sitting at the breakfast table planning the day ahead for the harvesting of the tobacco.  The chickens clucking, the old rooster crowing out back, the ting ting of the milk churn in the dairy.  Many a happy day had been spent on this loving farm and my character was formed in this wonderful colonial life....." Sheréll Cunningham-Swales

Left: seated Capt. Calvert Gordon Cunningham's wife, Louisa Maud and sons. right: Sheréll's great uncle Colin Gordon Cunningham and left: Great 'uncle' Ian 'Jack' Cunningham.

With thanks to Sheréll Cunningham-Swales.

Sheréll's website can be found here where you can learn more about her extraordinary life. From this site you can also arrange for Sheréll to be your guest speaker.....

"Sheréll Cunningham has a passion and zest for life which is truly inspiring. Feisty, unconventional and forthright, her story is a remarkable tale of ambition, adventure and triumph over adversity, told with down-to-earth realism and self-deprecating good humour. Listening to Sheréll is an uplifting, heart warming experience, and she is a fine example of what can be achieved with a single minded determination to succeed, and by refusing to take no for an answer." - John Simonett, Professional Speaker and Fellow of the Professional Speakers Association.