William Edmund Bowles


Rottingdean High Street looking north with the Post Office in mid distance, just before Steyning Road

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Blacksmith and verger, Rottingdean. Bowles was born in 1854 at Rottingdean. His father, Edmund Bowles, had been born in the village in about 1833 and was the blacksmith. His mother, Sarah Bowles, had been born at Ringmer in about 1828. Edmund and Sarah lived in Rottingdean High Street and William Bowles was their first child. They went on to have eight more children: James Bowles (born 1855), Charles Bowles (born 1857), Sarah Ann Bowles (born 1858), Mary Bowles (born 1859), Alice Bowles (born 1861), George Bowles (born 1863), Walter Bowles (born 1865) and Robert Spencer Bowles (born 1869).

When the 1881 census was held, Edmund Bowles was employing five men to help him run the smithy, including his sons William, Charles, George and Walter. In 1884 William married Jane Copper, who had been born at Rottingdean in about 1853 and was working as a dressmaker. Her mother was Susanna Copper, who had been born about 1826 at Telscombe. By the time the 1891 census was held, William Bowles had taken over running the smithy from his father, but by 1901 he gave up the smithy to work as the Church verger. Soon afterwards he became parish clerk. He and his wife, Jane, lived for many years at Pekin Cottage in the High Street and let out rooms to lodgers. They had two daughters: Mabel Lilian Bowles (born in 1885) and May Hilda Bowles (born in 1891).

Bowles published real photographic cards of Rottingdean, Telscombe and Falmer. The photographs on many cards are sepia tinted, though black and whites are also found. Many cards are badly faded and were probably not developed correctly. Bowles used a simple, probably hand-held, printing device to add captions to prints of his photographs, which he then re-photographed, using the new negatives to make the cards. He also hand-stamped his name and address on the front of some cards, even though the same information was already printed on the reverse!

Postmarks and a dated card of a military camp establish that Bowles was issuing cards of Rottingdean as early as 1904. Two fine cards show Steve Barrow, a local shepherd, guarding his flock. A third records the shepherd at the age of 70 leaping over a hurdle (see Gallery)! At least 20-30 cards of St Aubyn's School at Rottingdean are known, including views of the buildings, grounds, football matches and ambitious outdoor plays. Bowles also photographed the winners of the Rottingdean sheep dog trials of 1905. Unlike many publishers, he included snow scenes in his range of cards. The majority of postmarks date from 1905 to 1907, but Bowles was still active as a publisher around the end of World War 1. One card that has been found with a 1918 postmark is captioned "Rottingdean is thinking of you this Christmas and praying for your safe return".

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