The Bowles Family
Prominent in Abingdon in the 18th and 19th centuries
The Bowles family was widespread in Berkshire and the branch centred in Longworth and Charney Basset seems to have been affluent. John Bowles, born there in 1700, married Mary Justice of Appleford in 1724. They lived at Charney, then moved to Long Wittenham near Mary’s family, and in around 1740 moved again to Abingdon. One incentive may have been Abingdon School, where two of the Bowles’ five sons were soon enrolled; another, the fact that Mary’s brother Thomas was a prominent citizen there – he would be mayor in 1753. Members of the three next generations of John Bowles’ family remained resident in Abingdon and were prominent in local affairs.
John died in 1754, and, following family tradition, was buried at Longworth. His will shows that he was active as a maltster and farmer, though it is not clear where he farmed. The two youngest sons, James and Thomas, made their careers as stationers in London with their elder brothers as shareholders. James died in 1782, Thomas in 1788, both unmarried. The three others, John, William and Richard, became prominent citizens of Abingdon in their turn.
The oldest, John jnr, became a lawyer and was Abingdon town clerk for a time. He did well financially and among his acquisitions was a 300-acre estate at Milton Hill, some five miles south of the town. The second, William, flourished as a maltster, brewer and farmer. He acquired, mostly on lease, the estates of Fitzharris and Lacies Court on the northern boundary, and resided at Fitzharris. He was mayor in 1786, and three times Master of Christ’s Hospital. Like his maternal uncle Thomas, he was an extreme Tory, and when the Corporation applied for a new charter that would effectively exclude Whigs from local influence, it was he who financed the project.
The third son, Richard, studied at Oxford and became vicar of Lechlade in Gloucestershire. When already middle-aged, he married a local lady, Kitty Bampton, no longer young, ‘but with a considerable fortune’. This enabled him to return to Abingdon about 1773 as rector of St Nicolas. It was nominally the vicar of St Helen’s who was responsible for St Nicolas and the rectory should have been a sinecure, but the system was not working well and he did have to support the church. In his will he endowed a ‘Sunday lectureship’ which would effectively provide the vicar that St Nicolas didn’t have. When he died in 1804, his wife returned to Lechlade and had him buried there, breaking with the Bowles family tradition.
As John and William approached their sixties, they must have worried about the lack of heirs for their considerable wealth. In 1786, William married Ann Woodley, a local woman half his age and of a lower social station. It seems to have been almost a clandestine affair; the marriage took place in London, not in Abingdon. William jnr was born a year later, and two daughters followed.
When William married, his housekeeper became redundant and moved over to John’s household. Their son Thomas was baptised at St Helen’s in 1789, bearing his father’s surname and identified as ‘born of the body of Martha Murrill’. John’s will regarded Thomas as a legitimate son and heir, and treated Martha generously. When ‘Martha Murrell, spinster’ died in 1834 she was a relatively wealthy woman.
Thus there were only two male Bowles in the third generation. Thomas preferred the life of a country gentleman to that of a townsman, and lived on the estate his father had bought, rebuilding Milton Hill House as a prestige residence. He married Hester Sophia, daughter of the lawyer Samuel Sellwood who had been one of his guardians after his father’s death. He divided his activities between the affairs of the county and of the town: he was high sheriff of Berkshire in 1830, and a prospective parliamentary candidate for the borough in 1832, but withdrew when it became plain he could not win the seat. He died in a flu epidemic in 1837, leaving a large and affluent family. His eldest son, John Samuel (1816-1884), remained active in town affairs, patronising local good causes and speaking for it in the county quarter sessions where, as a borough, it was not directly represented.
William junior’s life was less successful. In 1810, he bought an estate at West Malling, Kent, and went to live there. According to a Bowles family historian, he married a Miss Rowan and they had two daughters. There was a Rowan family with West Malling connections, but no trace has been found in the public records of this marriage or of its offspring. If there ever was such a marriage, the lady must have died young, for in 1819 William sold the estate and returned to Abingdon.
He continued in his father’s footsteps, being mayor in 1824 and becoming a governor of Christ’s Hospital. In 1824, he married Caroline Anne Stephenson of a legal family in London. There were seven children of whom six survived, but Caroline Anne does not seem to have taken to Abingdon. From 1828 the family was living elsewhere for much of the time, in Paris, Devon, and at various places in Hampshire. When in 1839 William sold up in Abingdon, including the leases and contents of Fitzharris and Lacies Court, it was probably no longer the family home.
Sadly, the money ran out and the marriage broke down. Evidence given in an 1829 lawsuit shows William to have ignored financial advice and made imprudent investments. He built a substantial house on his land at Lacies Court which he sold at a loss to the vicar of St Helen’s, Nathaniel Dodson. Rumour had it that this was to pay off a gambling debt. The 1841 census shows the wife and children in Clapham – they later moved to Ryde in the Isle of Wight – and those of 1851 and 1861 have William living alone as a lodger in London. He died in Tottenham in 1870.
Some of the descendants of Thomas Bowles remain in the Abingdon area, but the status of the Bowles family as members of Abingdon’s financial and social elite lasted only three generations.
The authors thank Caroline Cannon-Brookes for helpful discussions and for access to the Bowles family history notes made by Major-Gen H. Bowles in 1925.
© AAAHS and contributors 2022
The Bowles surname was common in the Vale and in Abingdon in the eighteenth century. A branch of the family that arrived in Abingdon about 1740 would be important and influential there through three generations, and some of its descendants still live in the area today.
John Bowles was born in Longworth in 1700. In 1724 he was living close by in Charney when he married Mary Justice of Appleford. They lived in Long Wittenham, close to Appleford, from about 1730 before moving on with their five sons to Abingdon. They had family in Abingdon; Mary ’s brother, Thomas Justice, was a prominent citizen and would be mayor in 1753. John was active as a maltster, but his will also shows evidence of agricultural activity. One reason for the move may have been educational, for two of the sons were soon after inscribed at Abingdon School, then enjoying a period of renown under its headmaster ‘Flogging Tom’ Woods. John Bowles died in 1754 and was buried at Longworth.
As adults, the three older sons, John, William and Richard, retained their Abingdon interests while the two youngest, James and Thomas, were apprenticed to London stationers and then made their careers together there, with premises in Newgate Street. James died in 1782 and Thomas in 1788. Both were buried in Longworth. Neither of them married. The business continued for many years under the name of Bowles and Gardiner with the surviving brothers as shareholders, and was eventually taken over by Joseph Gardiner and his sons.
John ‘the younger’, William and Richard all became significant figures in Abingdon.
John, the oldest, was an attorney. He had various partners over time, but one of them was Samuel Sellwood who would become closely connected with the Bowles family. They acted as estate agents and were secretaries to various local institutions. Between 1765 and 1770 John was Town Clerk and it was he who accompanied the cooper John Alder to London in 1767 to collect the lottery prize that would enrich the Alder family and, indirectly, the town community. He was a Governor of Christ’s Hospital from 1758 and three times Master. He was able to buy property in the neighbourhood of Abingdon, notably in 1777 a 300-acre farm at Milton Hill.
William, the second son, became a maltster and brewer. By 1754 he was residing at ‘The Barge’, which was probably on the north side of the Vineyard. Like his brothers, and like most of the Abingdon élite of the time, he was a strong Tory, and came to prominence in the politically fraught period when John Morton was both recorder of the borough and its MP. One of the complaints after the particularly corrupt parliamentary election of 1768 was that he had irregularly put two of his malt-shovellers on the voters’ list. In the aftermath, the corporation obtained a new charter designed to perpetuate Tory control of Abingdon. William was the chief financier of the project, providing at least £750. He was mayor in 1786, having earlier refused the position on the grounds that the salary was too high – the Tories wished the salary to be low so as to keep the mayoralty a preserve of the rich. He became a governor of Christ’s Hospital in 1770 and, like his brother, was Master three times. In the 1780s he worked closely with Samuel Sellwood, who had succeeded John as town clerk, in the interest of the MP, Loveden Loveden. In 1791, he took up the lease of Fitzharris House which became his residence, and soon after also recovered or renewed the lease of Lacies Court with its associated lands. He died in 1801.
The third son, Richard, was the only one of that generation who went to university. He matriculated at Trinity College Oxford in 1747, was ordained priest in 1759, and from 1761 was vicar of Lechlade, Gloucestershire. There in 1773 he married a Miss Kitty Bampton, no longer young but ‘a very agreeable lady with a considerable fortune’. He then moved back to Abingdon as rector of St Nicolas’, taking up residence at Waste Court (now part of Abingdon School and recently renamed Austin House) just across Boar Street (now Bath Street) from Fitzharris. It was the vicar of St Helen’s who was nominally responsible for the services at St Nicolas’ and the rectorship should have been a sinecure, but the system was not working well and Richard found himself working for and making financial contributions to the church. When he died in 1804, he left money to endow a Sunday lectureship at St Nicolas’. The lecturer was to be a fellow of Trinity who would lead prayers every Sunday morning, preach a sermon, and lead prayers again in the afternoon.
We can only speculate on the reasons for Miss Bampton, in spite of her fortune, remaining unmarried until well into her thirties. There were no children of the marriage. But she was evidently well able to look after the fortune which came back into her hands after Richard’s death. She returned to Lechlade, had Richard buried there, and her will of 1815 included legacies to many of the friends she had made in Abingdon.
As the two older brothers, John and William, aged, there must have been disquiet about the Bowles inheritance. Each of them fathered a son when already in his sixties. John never married, but had a relationship with his housekeeper, Martha Murrell. His younger brother James, who had returned to Abingdon to die in 1782, had left a legacy to Martha, then nominally a servant of William’s, so it seems likely that she had worked her way into the family by nursing him in his final illness. Thomas was baptised at St Helen’s in 1790 as Martha’s illegitimate son, but with his father’s surname. At John’s death in 1797, both the young Thomas and his mother were well provided for. Thomas was considered as his legitimate heir. Martha Murrell survived until 1834, always describing herself as a spinster.
William married in 1786 Ann Woodley, born in St Nicolas’ parish in 1756. Ann’s sister Mary was the wife of Benjamin Tramplett, landlord of the Crown and Thistle, so there may have been a disparity of social class as well as of age. The wedding was not made a great occasion; it was not in Abingdon but at St Mary Abchurch in London, which may have been convenient for his brother Thomas, still living there, but can hardly have been attended by many Abingdon people. Their first child, William jnr, was born a year later and was followed by Mary in 1790 and Eliza in 1793.
William followed the family custom: both he and Ann were buried in Longworth, respectively in 1801 and 1808.
Thus, in the next generation, there were still two of the Bowles clan active in Abingdon. One was John’s son, Thomas. The other was William’s son, also William.
The younger Thomas studied at Oriel College in Oxford and at Lincoln’s Inn, though it is not clear that he ever practiced law. He did not live in Abingdon, preferring the property his father had bought at Milton Hill where he expanded and rebuilt what became Milton Hill House. One of the executors of his father’s will had been Samuel Sellwood, his sometime legal colleague. Thomas married Sellwood’s daughter Hester Sophia in 1812, and divided his public activities between the county of Berkshire and the town of Abingdon. He was high sheriff of Berkshire in 1828. In 1830 Thomas was one of the visiting magistrates inspecting the Abingdon gaol. In 1832, he prepared to stand as a parliamentary candidate for the borough, favouring the great reform that was then under discussion, but withdrew when he realised he could not beat the Tory Thomas Duffield. Thomas died of influenza in 1837 aged only forty-seven.
The younger William, born in 1787, was still at Abingdon School when his father died. Whether by bad judgement or misfortune, he would in his lifetime dissipate the considerable fortune he inherited from his father. In 1810, he bought an estate at West Malling in Kent for £6000, which was said to be much more than it was worth.  In 1813, he was describing himself as ‘formerly of Abingdon’. According to the Bowles family historian, Henry Bowles, he married an Irish lady, a Miss Rowan, sister of a war hero whose wife was from Maidstone, and there were two daughters. However, nothing of this has been found in the records, and the story must be regarded as uncertain. The lady, if there was one, must have died young, for William sold the estate in 1819 and returned to Abingdon. The only lasting result of the West Malling interlude was that William’s younger sister, Eliza, married a local man, Robert Page, there in 1815.
William continued as a maltster and brewer, moving into Fitzharris House, and began to exert himself in local affairs. He joined the corporation in 1821 and was mayor in 1824; he became a governor of Christ’s Hospital in 1825, though he was never master; and he was steward of the Old Abingdonian club in 1822. He was a magistrate, entered horses at Abingdon races, and was of the party that carried out a formal inspection of Abingdon school in 1828. But there were questions and rumours about his financial status. He invested unsuccessfully in Cornish tin. He used money belonging to his sister Mary, for whom he seems to have acted as guardian. He built a house on his land at Lacies Court which he sold at a loss to the vicar, Nathaniel Dodson. Rumour had it that this was to cover gambling debts.
In 1824, William married or remarried. His bride was Caroline Anne Stephenson, born in or about 1800. She was of a legal family in London, which no doubt helped when, in 1829, he sued his financial advisor, Benjamin Morland, in Chancery. William complained that Morland had held his money as a banker, lending it out and taking the interest on it, when he should have kept it idle and instantly available if called for. The court remarkably agreed, and awarded him £300.
Caroline Anne does not seem to have taken to life at Abingdon. The couple lived for periods of years in Paris, in Devon, and at various places in Hampshire. There were seven children of whom six survived, but none after 1832 was born in Abingdon. When in 1839 William sold up in Abingdon, including the leases and contents of Fitzharris and Lacies Court, he had probably not been living there for some time.
The marriage broke down and the money ran out. Caroline Anne had some of her own, which she seems to have needed. By 1841, she with her three daughters was living at Clapham, the sons presumably away at school. She later moved to Ryde in the Isle of Wight, dying in 1887.  Censuses of 1851 and 1861 show William living as a lodger in modest households in London, and he died, allegedly in a fire, in Tottenham in 1870. 
William’s sisters did not remain in Abingdon. Mary did not marry, and lived with Eliza and her family in Sidmouth and later in Bath. Eliza died in 1858, Mary ten years later.
Thomas and Hester had (at least) six sons and seven daughters; all the sons were Oxford-educated. The heir was John Samuel Bowles, born 1816. He was active as one of the magistrates who ran the county in their quarter sessions, and in local politics he supported Liberal candidates. He was high sheriff in 1852. His involvement in Abingdon affairs largely followed that of his father; he was a trustee of the local savings bank, helped to set up a wool fair, supported the local bible society, and joined the part-time Rifle Corps which was set up in 1860. As a magistrate, he inspected the Abingdon gaol and strongly supported its maintenance against the magistrates from the Reading region who wanted to close it. But his main sphere of interest was the county of Berkshire, not the town. Some of his brothers and sisters and some of his ten children remained in the area but none took a leading part in local activities. With his death in 1884 the prominence of the Bowles name in Abingdon’s affairs comes to an end.
In the second half of the eighteenth century, three of the sons of John Bowles senior, John, William and Richard, had established themselves as members of Abingdon’s élite, positions maintained initially by Thomas and William in the next generation. But for John’s son Thomas and his grandson John Samuel, the prestige of the landed gentleman trumped that of the burgher. The younger William had finished poor and alone in London. The Bowles family’s position among the leaders of Abingdon society lasted no more than three generations.
The authors thank Caroline Cannon-Brookes for helpful discussions and access to the Bowles family history notes of 1925 by Major-Gen H. Bowles.
© AAAHS and contributors 2022
 Will of John Bowles, The National Archives (TNA), PROB 11/811/435
 Nigel Hammond, ‘A Register of Old Abingdonians 1563-1947’ (unpublishd typescript, 2007), p.23; Thomas Hinde and Michael St John Parker, The Martlet and the Griffin: an illustrated history of Abingdon School (Abingdon, 1997), pp. 55, 61.
 Bowles family notes by Major-Gen H. Bowles, (unpublished manuscript, 1925), p. 12a
 Will of James Bowles, TNA, PROB 11/1091/369; Will of Thomas Bowles, TNA, PROB 11/1166/286.
 Post Office Annual Directory 1808, p. 36; Will of Joseph Gardiner, TNA, PROB11/2178/87; W H Bowles, Records of the Bowles family (Derby, 1918), pp. 15-16
 Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Saturday 8 August 1777. p. 1
 Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Saturday 19 September 1767, p. 1; Reading Mercury, Monday 21 May 1770, p. 3; Reading Mercury, Monday 3 August 1772, p. 3 inter alia.
 B. Challenor, Selections from the records of the Borough of Abingdon (Abingdon, 1898), Appx p. LIII.
 De Vere Venues, ‘The History of the Estate of Milton Hill’ (https://www.sclhs.org.uk/milton-hill-house-history.pdf) accessed 25/11/2021; Milton Enclosure Map (1810), http://ww2.berkshirenclosure.org.uk/CalmView/getimage.ashx?app=Archive&db=Catalog&fname=MR1_387Map.jpg (accessed 25/11/2021).
 Abingdon Poll list 1754, Oxfordshire Record Office, SZ896; Jacqueline Smith and John Carter, Inns and Alehouses of Abingdon, (Abingdon, 1989) p. 120.
 Anon, A True Copy of the Poll … for the Borough of Abingdon … March the 16th 1768, Oxford, Weston Library, Ms Gough 3, 3/27
 Mieneke Cox, Abingdon, an 18th century country town (Abingdon 1999), p. 135; Abingdon Chamberlains Reports Vol 7, Berks Record Office, A/FAc 9.
A E Preston, St Nicholas and other papers (Oxford 1929), p. 471
 Loveden Papers, Berks Record Office, D/ELV O10/6,20,27.
 Caroline Cannon-Brookes, The Bowles Family of Abingdon’, Aspects of Abingdon Past Vol. 6 (St Nicolas’ Church, Abingdon, 2008), pp 23-37; Griffith-Boscawen, ‘Endowed Charities of the County of Berks’ (House of Commons Papers, HMSO, 1908) pp. 22-3.
 Preston, St Nicholas, p. 471; St Nicholas Churchwardens Registers sub Ann Bowles; Will of William Bowles, TNA, PROB11/1362/304,314.
 Hammond, ‘Register’, p. 23; https://theclergydatabase.org.uk/jsp/persons/index.jsp (accessed 22/11/2021).
 James Townsend. News of a Country Town (Oxford, 1914), p.75.
 Preston, St Nicholas, pp. 237-41.
 Preston, St Nicholas, pp. 160-2.
 St Nicholas Churchwardens Registers; Will of Catharine Bowles, PROB 11/1566/410.
 Will of James Bowles, TNA, PROB 11/1091/369
 Will of John Bowles, TNA, PROB 11/1284/207
 Will of Martha Murrell, TNA, PROB 11/1834/162
 St Nicholas Churchwardens Registers; Boyd’s Marriage Indexes (via FindmyPast.co.uk). FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NKGN-LY8 (accessed 14/05/2022).
 St Helen’s registers.
 Will (and codicil) of William Bowles, (TNA, PROB 11/1362/304); St Nicholas Churchwardens Registers..
 Geoffrey Tyack at al, The Buildings of England: Berkshire (Yale, 2010), p. 388.
 St Nicholas Churchwardens Registers.
 Berkshire Chronicle, Saturday 1 May 1830, p. 4.
 Berkshire Chronicle, Saturday 4 February 1832, p.1; Abingdon Buildings & People sub Thomas Duffield, https://www.abingdon.gov.uk/abingdon_people/thomas-duffield (accessed 25/11/2021).
 Bowes vs Morland, 1829, TNA C 13/2634/10
 Bowles family notes p. 20.
 Berkshire Chronicle, Saturday 6 August 1825 p. 1; Saturday 9 August 1828 p.3.
 Cannon-Brookes, ‘The Bowles Family of Abingdon’; Preston, St Nicholas, p. 472.
 https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=GBPRS%2FM%2F705270530%2F1 (accessed 14/05/2022).
 Bowes vs Morland, 1829, TNA, C 13/2634/10 (copy in Berks Record Office).
 Bowles family notes p. 21; Ancestry.
 Preston St Nicholas, p. 472.
 Will of Mildred Anne Glanville (TNA, PROB 11/2035).
 National Probate Calendar (accessed via Ancestry)
 Bowles family notes p. 21.
 Ancestry; censuses.
 Joseph Foster, Alumni oxonienses: the members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886 (Oxford, 1888), Vol 1 pp 143-4; Milton Churchwardens’ Registers.
 Obituary of John Samuel Bowles, Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette – Saturday 03 January 1885 p.7.
 Berkshire Chronicle – Saturday 10 March 1838 p.4; Reading Mercury – 06 July 1844 p.3, 15 April 1843 p. 3, 15 February 1860 p.6.
 Reading Chronicle – Saturday 09 January 1847 p. 2; Manfred Brod; ‘County versus Town: the Abingdon Gaol and the campaign for its closure, c.1840-1868’, Berkshire Old and New No 22, 2016, pp 14-25; Berkshire Chronicle – Saturday 02 July 1859 p. 6; Reading Mercury – Saturday 02 July 1859 pp 5,6.