The Bowles of Canada and their Roots in Ireland and England 



From Sussex County Magazine Volume 3 1929


In the number for March, 1928, when dealing with the will of the Rev. Sir Henry Bull, of Tortington, I promised to tell readers something of another Sussex priest who, I believe, belonged to the same family. At any rate I have collected all I can find about him. According to the Rev. Henry Barber, the name Bull was originally spelt Bolle—Bul—Bolli, and it certainly occurs in Domesday Book, where a certain Saxon named Bolle, in the days of Edward the Confessor, had half a hide of land at Gritnam, a small estate a mile and a half beyond Lyndhurst Church on the road through the New Forest to Bournemouth.

The family, through the centuries, gradually spread eastwards through Sussex, their favourite places being the villages that nestle behind the South Downs, like Albourne, Shermanbury, Cowfold, Bolney, Twineham, Wivelsfield and so on to Lewes.

The Rev. William Bolle was appointed to the Rectory of St. Leonards, at Aldryngton, near Hove, as it was then called, some time before 1397, when Bishop Rede's valuable Lists of Advowsons to Livings begins.

It helps one, I think, better to realise the period by saying this was in the reign of the unfortunate Richard II, the son of the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III. We do not know how long before 1397 the Rector was appointed, but it is believed that he was there for some years.

He was evidently a man of piety and learning. He was a chaplain and possibly a chantry priest attached to Chichester Cathedral before he became rector, and was addressed as Dominus or " Sir."

You can imagine, then, the surprise of the countryside when he suddenly announced that he had decided to give up his comfortable living and in future live the life of an anchorite.


An anchorite is a recluse or hermit—one who seeks to live in solitude, meditation and prayer and with as little intercourse as possible with his fellow men. The term is specifically applied to the Christian ascetics of the third century. who established themselves in caves and lonely places in Egypt and in the adjacent deserts. St. Anthony was perhaps the most illustrious. However, to return to our anchorite.

The Rector set about making this tremendous change in his life by petitioning the Bishop for leave to resign his living. Here follows a rough translation of the two deeds recording the trans-action in tolerable Latin written five hundred and twenty-seven years ago. What strikes one first, is how modern it sounds. Secondly, you do not often find an authentic contemporary ac-count of a reclusion such as his, where he was to be interned for the term of his natural life in his own churchyard. All the records show an extreme reluctance on the part of the Bishop to grant his request which was made twice.

"Likewise on the 20th day of the month of December, in the Cathedral Church of Chichester. the Lord (Bishop) secluded Master William Bolle, his Chaplain, rector of the Parochial Church of Aldrington in his Diocese into a certain dwelling place in the cemetery to the north of the said church; to exercise and live therein the life of an anchorite to the end of his life."

He gave up the title deeds of the dwelling therein that had been formerly granted him by the Dean and Chapter of the house that was built for his own use and received fresh title deeds from the Lord (Bishop) of the building made for his seclusion to the end of his life
the tenor of which documents is described below. He also wrote a formal resignation from his own church under the seal of a public notary, one Richard Swetappall (of whom more anon).

This having been drawn up elsewhere, and exhibited by the drawer to the Bishop, the Bishop admitted forthwith; it declares that he (Bolle) had acted voluntarily and without fear or compulsion. The tenor of the title deed conceded to him by the Dean and Chapter and (formally) revoked by the Lord (Bishop) is as follows : —

" John Maydenhithe, Dean of the Chapter of the Cathedral Church of Chichester, to our beloved in the Lord Christ, William Bolle, priest greeting in Him who is the true salvation of all. Thy devotion which experience has commended unto us and its persistence for which we give God thanks have induced us to grant the prayers which we believe the most high God has inspired in thee, we being thy helpers and moved by favour and affectation for thee as far as with God's help we may. Being therefore favourably inclined to thy petitions in this matter we concede unto thee by these presents the space of that area which is in the cemetery of the said church on the northern side thereof, containing in itself twenty-six feet near a certain empty corner spot for the purpose of building a dwelling in which having left behind all secular cares, they desirest the life of a solitary and an anchorite together with egress and ingress to the Chapel of the Blessed Mary near to the same place that thou mayest celebrate the divine mysteries therein to the end of thy life being purposed to fight perfectly for God inspired by God and charity. In witness whereof our common seal was affixed in our Caoitular House the second day of the month of June in the year of our Lord 1402," being the 3rd year of the reign of Henry IV, i.e., from 30th September 1401 to 29 September 1402.

The wonderful part of the story is that the anchorite's cell, which was comparatively roomy, was constructed or carved out of the churchyard and adjoined the church, and here he lived for a great number of years, and apparently acquired fame as a holy and devout man.

Here is an extract from a conveyance : —
" We have given conceded and concede, and by these presents have confirmed to Mr. William Bolle aforesaid a place in the cemetery near the north part of the church aforesaid, twenty-four feet wide and twenty-nine feet long to hold, to build and maintain the said place with its appurtenances after the building of the same at his own charges and expense, to dwell therein and live and exercise in the same the life of an anchorite and recluse to the end of his life in the place and in the abode to be built there by himself. Moreover, after the retirement or decease of the said William Bolle the said place is to revert with the dwelling-place and its appurtenances to our disposal or that of our successors wholly and freely."

We learn from Bishop Rede's register that there was a ceremony on the 20th December, 1403, when the rector took his vows at Chichester Cathedral before the Bishop as a recluse, and his successor—one Richard Lumbard by John Blownham his proctor—was admitted in his place at Aldryngton on 30th January. Richard Lumbard is described as clericus—here apparently one who has studied at a university. The patron of the living was the noble Lord Thomas la Warre Clerk (sic) Lord la Warre. He was installed by the Archdeacon of Lewes, but apparently not in person, for the register adds, to induct the said proctor Richard Fervour as his substitute.

It must have been curious for the villagers to have obtained occasional glimpses of their old rector immured in his cell, living on the plainest
food and dressed in the simplest clothing

And yet we have a hint that Bolle still looked after his old church. On 3rd October, 1405, the new incumbent, the Rev. Richard Lumbard, resigned and Lord de la Warr appointed the Rev. William Yerdeburgh (by Richard Ferrs, or Fervour, proctor) in his place,

On 26th March, 1406, the new vicar obtained the Bishop's leave or licence to be absent for two years from his church of Aldryngton " for the purposes of study," and Prebendary Deedes shrewdly conjectured that the anchorite continued to say the daily Mass in the church while he was away.

Mr. Gordon P. G. Hills, son of the late Gordon M, Hills, a well-known member of the Sussex Archaeological Society, has thrown some doubt on our rector remaining at Aldryngton, and that later he was " included " in a cell attached to the north side of the Cathedral Church of Chichester.

This is probably due to the fact that he is described in Bishop Rede's Register, vol. I, xx, as " a recluse in the Church of Chichester."
Now "Church " here may be used to mean diocese, in which case it would include the cell at Aldryngton, but Prebendary Deedes thought that rendering would be unusual.

Then again the extremely lonely situation of Aldryngton might have been held sufficient reason for the Bishop and Dean and Chapter, who were all evidently very fond of Bolle, approving of a change of cell, as sufficient alms could have been hardly obtainable from the former, whilst the attraction of St. Richard's shrine must have brought multitudes to the Cathedral who would naturally give to the hermit in his cell.

The Bishop also may have found the recluse's presence valuable for the spiritual bettering of the close and its occupants who, by the general evidence of the Register, needed it rather badly in those days.

Swetappall, the public notary mentioned above, lived in the close, and was with others ` quarrelsome and pugnacious." The poor recluse, if he moved there, must have found it different from his quiet cell by the sea at Aldryngton. He must have heard from his cell at Chichester "sounds of revelry by night " unless they mended their ways after 1403. An easy-going Dean seems to have allowed rather lax ways in the Cathedral body, especially among the lay clerks and minor officials attached to a great cathedral.

The " Ingoldsby Legends " are historically correct in many details.

The rector, in any case, lived for many years after his resignation, for we find in 1415 good Bishop Rede left a bequest in his will to seven priests, and one was his old friend William Bolle.

That is all we know of William Bolle, but we catch glimpses of members of the same family through the centuries. In the same year on the 25th October, John Bolle fought as a man-at-arms under Sir Thomas Hoo, and was killed at Agincourt.

Thomas Bolle, of Ashburnham, was among those pardoned after Jack Cade's rising, and a John Bolle was a churchwarden of Cowfold in 1470, where the family were yeomen at Brook Farm and Homelands Farm for over 300 years, and as I have already described, Henry Bull was a " curate " at Tortington in 1545.

Aldrington is now part of Hove and Brighton, and St. Leonard's is a populous parish, but for some centuries after our hermit passed away the parish went steadily downhill. Repeated encroachments by the sea lessened the inhabitants to less than 200 in 1700; and in 1703 the great storm swept away nearly all the cottages on the shore. In 1831, according to the Census, the population was reduced to two—the old man who kept the toll house on the high road and his wife. The man had lost a leg, and shortly after lost his wife, so accounting for the physical deficiency the actual population at that time was three quarters of an inhabitant.

The accompanying woodcut is by Nibbs, and shows the ruins of the church as they appeared to him in 1859. I picked up the earlier print by Sparrow.

Sussex Archaeological Collections, vol. xii, pp. 117, 139; xxviii, p. 53; xxix, pp. 33, 34; xxxiii, p. 265;
Compend, Hist. Sussex, vol. i, p. 5;
Sussex Record Society, vol. xi;
Bishop Rede's Register, vol. ii, pp. 19, 267, 277, 282, 287, edited by Prebendary Cecil Deedes, M.A., to whom I am indebted for much information in this article and for other kindnesses.

From Sussex County Magazine Volume 3 1929


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See  The Bowles of Ireland

See The Bowles of Great Britain

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