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The Bowles of Kent

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The Bolles of Kent are one of the earliest Bowles lines in England going right back to the 1200's.  As in some other counties the 'w' was only added to their surname in the 1600's.

W. H. Bowles, in his "Records of the Bowles Family" privately published in 1918, believed that the Bowles first appeared in Kent when a branch of the Lincolnshire family arrived in Chartham in the 15th century. We have since learned that the name appeared in Kent in the 1200's near both Ickham and in Westgate near Canterbury, quite possibly having originated in one of those two locations although it is not possible to tell yet which was earlier.  That is made even more difficult by the fact that family names were not in common usage prior to that. Henry Bolle of Westgate in 1274 and Simon Bolle of Ickham in 1230 may have had fathers and brothers that did not even use the Bolle name. That line appears to have been the origin of the Chartham branch which W.H.B. referred to.

Click on the Map to see a larger version

W.H.B.'s particular interest was to connect his own Bowles line to the Bowles of Chatham line which he believed to have been a branch of the Chartham Bowles (note the 'r').  So far the origin of the Chatham line has not been clearly established but there are no signs of a Chartham connection.  The very early origin of the Chartham line does not rule out the possibility of a direct connection between the Chatham Bowles and Lincolnshire.  However that connection would have to have been much earlier than W.H.B. thought if, as it now appears, the Bowles line at Chatham was connected to the St Margaret's at Cliff Bowles line and The Bolles of Deal lines which may have all come from an earlier line at Ringwold and before that from Sandwich.

The Earliest Bowles in Kent

East Coast

Bolles of Estrea 1200's-1500's

In the earliest references the Bowles ancestors were recorded as Bole or Bolle or occasionally as Boles or Bolles.  The 'w' didn't appear in these lines until the 1500's.  From the 1200's to the 1500's there were Bole, Boles, Bolle, Bolles, le Bole and de Bole throughout East Kent. The variety of names is due to this being the formative period for surnames in England.  Family names weren't yet in general use although the new Norman rulers were encouraging the practice to aid in record keeping.  Documents such as land leases referred to legal names such as Ivo son of Simon or as William the miller.  This makes it extremely hard to sort out the family lines with any confidence.

The Bolles appear in the 1200's in a few locations in Kent but most notably in the East Kent region of Estrea.  Prior to the Norman conquest this region, as throughout England, was divided into administrative groupings of approximately 100 households known as Hundreds which system was still in use long after the populations of these areas greatly increased past the 100 families.  Very early Bolles can be found in 5 of the 7 Hundreds of Estrea: in Wingham (at Ickham and Fleet), Sandwich, Estrei (at Eastry), Beusberg (at Dover and St Margaret at Cliffe) and Cornilai (later Cornhill) (at Great and Little Mongeham, Deal, Walmer and Ringwould).

A Hamo Bolle of an unknown part of Kent is listed in the Great Roll of the Pipe for 1259.  He received a small fine and received the mercy of the court using the unusual wording 'the mercy of a whale' which may be a biblical reference to the mercy shown Jonah after he was swallowed by a whale or it nay even be referring to Hamo's involvement in the early whaling industry of medieval England.  This wording does not seem to appear in any other transcription of a medieval document online.

Hundreds of Sandwich and Estrei

A very prominent and prosperous merchant and mariner family of Bolles in Sandwich date back into the 1300's with a John Bolle representing the town to Parliament in 1420-22 and as the Mayor of Sandwich in 1423.  This line held land at Felderland in Eastry and was probably still there when a Dutch speaking Bolle line, also prosperous merchants, amongst a group of 25 Protestant refugee families from Flanders, was settled in Sandwich by Queen Elizabeth in 1561.  Both Bolle lines seem to have still been resident in Sandwich well into the late 1600's but due to their common surnames and both family's use of common given names they are very hard to sort out.  Good arguments can be made for either of these families having been the origin of the Bolles of Deal.  See The Bolles in Sandwich and The Bolles from the Low Countries in England.

Hundred of Beusberg

The Mayor of Dover in 1539 was a John Bowles and there are a few Bowles entries from the 1500's in the St Mary the Virgin Dover parish register but this line has not yet been researched. See The Bowles of Dover, Kent

Hundred of Cornilai

The Bolles of Deal only appear there in the 1650's but they appear much earlier in nearby Ringwould and Great Mongeham within the Hundred of Cornilai.  The earliest reference would be in the Kent Lay Subsidy of 1334/35 for the Hundred of Cornilo which lists a Walter Bolle who was assessed a minor subsidy of 2s.  Of even more interest, the 'moneyers' (the ones given the responsibility to collect the subsidy fees from the landholders in Cornilo) were a Bart. (Bartholomew) Bolle and Rd. (Richard) Bolle.  Their assessments were amongst the largest in the Hundred.  Barth and Rd Bolle also appear in the 1334/35 Subsidy Roll as the moneyers for the Hundred of Westgate along with very large assessments there as well and as the moneyers for the Hundred of Whitstable with larger assessments.  Rd Bolle also appears in the Hundred of Boctone (Boughton) and Felbergh (Felborough).

Canterbury Region

Hundred of Wingham

The earliest Boles record in Kent I have found so far is for a Simon Bole of Ickham, Kent who is mentioned in a land agreement which has been dated from between 1222 and 1238.  His line can be traced there until about 1401 when they relocated to Chartham where their fortunes improved to the point where they could acquire Chartham Manor (in 1497) which is probably the great house they later renamed Bolle Hall.  This line includes the very prosperous John Bolle, a grocer of London.  See The Boles of Ickham and The Bolles of Chartham for more on this line.

Hundred of Westgate

The Kent Hundred Roll of 1274/75 only lists one Bolle, Henry Bolle of Westgate Hundred right on the SW edge of Canterbury.  He was almost certainly the ancestor of The Bolles of Chartham right next door to Westgate and so was somehow connected to the even earlier Boles of Ickham.

Later Lines

While W. H. Bowles was not correct about the Chatham line coming from Lincolnshire in the 15th century, some of the Bowles in Kent did descend from The Bolles of Swineshead, Lincolnshire. The Bolles of Chislehurst, Kent a branch of The Bowles of Bromley, Kent are accepted to have descended from that line.  Descendants of The Bolles of Deal have also long claimed that link but more recent research has suggested, but not proven, a local origin for this line.  I can say that I have found references for a very prominent merchant family of Bolles in the Sandwich area, just north of Deal, from as early as the 1300's and quite a few records in the 1400's and 1500's.  Deal was established in the late 1600's when it obtained its own charter and thus attained independence of Sandwich.  So the Deal line's origin with The Bowles of Sandwich  is not out of the question.

Another interesting event in Sandwich was the settlement there by Queen Elizabeth of about 25 families of Flemish refugees to assist Sandwich's economy by establishing a cloth industry there.  One of the master weavers was a Francis Bolle whose descendants settled in Sandwich well into the late 1600's.  See The Dutch Bolles of Sandwich

Charles Bowles of Chatham was clerk (1632) to Phineas Pett the master shipwright and became a prominent landowner in Kent.  His son Phineas was a Secretary of the Navy while his son John, founder of the  Bowles of Eltham line, established a major glass works in London. The Chatham Bowles line, the Deal Bowles line as well as the St Margarets at Cliffe Bowles line all used the relatively unusual given name 'Phineas' might indicate a common origin for them but that has not yet been proven.  The family's use of the name Phineas has been thought to be a reference honouring Charles' famous employer Phineas Pett but, although it was used by Charles for one of his children in 1647, a Phineas Bolle had earlier been baptized at St Margarets at Cliffe in 1639.

However, from my research, the Bowles of Kent story starts with The Boles of Ickham, leads to The Bolles of Chartham, who seem to have led to some of The Bowles of Chatham, with the possible exception of Charles, and has side roads off to The Boles of Canterbury, The Bowles of The Weald of Kent and of Ramsgate (see below) and to at least some of the Boles in Farnborough, Hythe, Sittingbourne, Herne, Reculver, Milton, Chislet, Whitstable, Manston, Fordwich, Boughton-under-Brean, Cranbrook, Woodchurch, Southwark, Seasalter, Appledore and Willesborough (for all of these see Misc. Bowles of Kent).  There are also links between the Bolles in Kent and The Early Bolles of London.

It appears that my own direct Bowles line which I traced to Ireland several years ago also originated in Kent as a land deed involving William Bowles of Wingfield, co. Wexford has recently (Nov. 2009) been found which establishes a link between between my own Bowles of Ballickmoyler, co. Laois, Ireland and Charles Bowles of Chatham.

Brenda Paternoster (nee Bowles), who currently lives in Kent has traced her branch of the Bowles family back to 1690 living in various villages south of Maidstone in the Weald of Kent as represented by the very general square on this map.  See Brenda's Family History site for information on her branch of the Bowles family.

I have just a little information on a boatman Thomas Bowles of Ramsgate, Kent


Unknown references:

The following references have not yet been connected to any particular location in Kent.  An examination of the original document may solve that eventually.

The Calendar of Patent Rolls for Jan. 4, 1318 at Westminster documents a complaint by the Abbot of St. Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury that a large list of men including a John Bolle had “attacked his dwelling place at Salmanston, placed fire against the door to burn the manor, broke his ploughs, carts and harnesses, cut up and felled his trees there and at Menstre in Thanet besieged Henry de Newenton, his fellow monk, in the Abbot’s dwelling place at Clyvesende, uproofed and wrecked his houses there and imprisoned the monk and later sold him for a sum of money as if he had been taken in time of war”.  I haven’t been able to discover what the issue of the time was or what faction John Bolle would have represented.  ref. 

In 1339 John Bolle of Kent signed a Certificate of Statute Merchant and Statute Staple with Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare before the Mayor of London.  ref.  This was basically an agreement under which Lady Clare invested some money in John Bolle's land and he repaid her over time from the profits of the land.  What is really interesting about this though is that Lady Clare was a first cousin of the King and one of the wealthiest women in England. On the same day in 1339, she signed nine of these certificates, all to men of Kent and these are the only ones which she was known to have signed as her household papers have been preserved.  ref.  That puts John Bolle in some pretty high society.  It's also interesting that her father, Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, had sent a Robert Bole over to Ireland to handle his interests there in 1291.  (ref. Patent Rolls of Edward I)

After The Great Rebellion in Kent of 1381 jurors in the Hundred of Faversham reported that a John Bolle had participated in the insurrection against the King: "they say that John Bolle came to the house of Richard de Eslynnge and with his companions carried off the goods and chattels of the said Richard."  ref.


There is one very unhelpful (so far) reference for a Chancery Pleading between Edward Culpeper, Esq. and William Bolle regarding a tenement in Kent.  ref. 


More to come, this page is still developing.



The single greatest online source for medieval Kent documents is the Canterbury Cathedral Archives whose searchable online catalogues contain a wealth of Boles references.  The Centre for Kentish Studies and the East Kent Archives Centre both have extensive archives catalogues which are searchable online using The Kent Archives site.   The Kent Archaeological Society also has a lot of source materials online.  The A2A site provides a central way to search those archives as well as other archives all over England.  The Here's History Kent site has valuable background information including a fantastic collection of very early maps.


This site was last updated 10/19/18