The Bowles Lines

There were many early variants of Bowles, Bolle, Bolles, Bowls, Boals, Bowle, Boles, and finally Bowles. Some Bowles were once Bould and Boulds, names which have remained as a separate regional form. Boles and Bowles both continued into the nineteenth century. But now Bowles is generally the standard spelling.

The recognized forebear of the Bowles line is Alleyne Bolle who resided in the 1200’s in Bolle Hall on the head of the Swine river in Lincolnshire. He is possibly of Norman descent and the name originating from Bouelles in Normandy. Other suggestions are that the name is of Saxon origin, Boll meaning steward, or comes from a Viking named Bolla.

The line continues until Elizabethan times when Sir John Bolle was the dashing captain at the capture of Cadiz. His son John was killed in the Civil War supporting King Charles. The direct line seems to have ended with his other son Charles and the name has continued through different branches elsewhere. Little evidence remains of the Bolle’s presence in Lincolnshire.

Various Branches

Three branches that are said to derive from the original Bolles are Gosberton, Osberton, and Bromley/Chislehurst.

Gosberton. The Gosberton country seat was Scampton Hall in Lincolnshire. There is early evidence, in the 1450’s, of their presence in Kent, at Chartham near Canterbury. The draw of London and its trade opportunities appeared to be the reason. Sir George Bolles was a merchant in London and Lord Mayor of the city in 1617. He was a member of the Virginia Company and, under his auspices, John Bowles set sail for Virginia in 1621 for a life as a plantation owner.

Sir George’s son, Robert Bolles, was too closely associated with the Royalist cause and only survived with difficulty the Commonwealth period. But he returned to favor with the Restoration. From his house in Covent Garden he became an enthusiastic patron of the arts and artistic life in the capital. His descendents fared less well. The estate was saddled with debts and Sir John Bolle was committed to a lunatic asylum in 1709. The line petered out soon after.

Osberton. William Bolles from Suffolk was one of the commissioners executing the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and, out of these profits, acquired property at Osberton near Worksop in Nottinghamshire in the 1520’s. From this line came Joseph Bolles who sailed for America in 1623 on the Prester John and settled in Wells, Maine. His brother John, who stayed in London, was active in colonization plans for the Bahamas.

Bromley and Chislehurst. This branch seems to have come from the Gosberton line. They settled in Bromley in Kent in the late 1500’s. Proximity to political power in London enabled William Bowle and his successors, including Francis Bowles, to secure and hold onto the oddly named “Groom of the Tents and Pavilions,” in essence an exclusive license to supply the army with tents. The family dispersed to Oxfordshire in the late 1600’s after the death of Sir William Bowles.

Some of these Bowles had been active in Cromwell’s subjugation of Ireland in the 1650’s and a number, it would appear, took up the opportunity to seize confiscated land and become landowners there. They settled in and around Cork.

A separate line from Chatham, probably related, included Charles Bowles who had good Government connections in Commonwealth times. One of his sons Phineas Bowles was Secretary to the Navy for a year in the late 1680’s. He had a certain disrespect for his job if the following comment of his is anything to go by: “I drudge day and night to give satisfaction to my patroons.” Another son John Bowles was more energetic. Through his trade and Government contacts, he was able to set up a factory in Southwark in the 1670's for the manufacture of crown glass, the type of glass being used for the new fashion of sash windows.

Later Bowles

While the original Bowles lines may have faded away, they left many Bowles well placed in London to take advantage of their position at the onset of the eighteenth century.

A new Bowles line, of unknown origin, began with Thomas Bowles, a printer and publisher of engraved pictures who set up shop near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in the 1690’s. The business continued over four generations and produced some of the most famous prints of portraits, political cartoons, London landscapes, and world maps, all of which were much in demand. Through a propitious marriage secured in 1799, Henry Carrington Bowles built a family estate at Myddleton Hall in Enfield, Hertfordshire.

Some Bowles went into soldiering. Colonel Phineas Bowles saw service under Marlborough in his European campaigns. After 1715, he was active in raising troops to suppress uprisings in Ireland. Later generations of Bowles also served the armed forces in various capacities.

Others stuck to trade. John Bowles' glass business prospered through four generations and another hundred years. William Bowles owned a related glass factory in Vauxhall from whose profits he was able to buy a country seat in Worcestershire, Burford House, and become a local MP. And Phineas Bowles was a prominent London broker and stock-jobber who was active in the hype and promotion of the newly created London stock market.

Many sought adventures abroad. These were the places where the younger sons, denied inheritance, could come to seek their fortunes. Enterprising Bowles had headed for Virginia and Maryland from the 1620’s. Some Bowles also went to the Caribbean. Bowles’ merchants can be found in Barbados from the 1650’s.