The Story of Annie Bowler


This text is from an article by Barry Bourne, circa 1949

Mrs Bowler is probably related, in one way or another, to nearly half of the people of Eastbourne, said the Editor before sending me off on this assignment. And when, accompanied by a photographer, I visited her at her house at 52 Royal Sussex-crescent, the first comment my photographer made on seeing her was "Hello, Gran."

Such was my introduction to 84 year-old Mrs Annie Bowler, a great-grandmother, who was born in one of the long since demolished Holywell Cottages, and has vivid memories of old Eastbourne.
Sprightly, with a head of hair that, even now, is only just beginning to grey at the edges. Mrs Bowler is a striking example of how to grow old gracefully.
The cottage in which she spent her early life was built by her grandfather, Mr Boniface, from boulders and corrugated iron, and it was from there that he and her father used to ply their trade as lime burners.

The Boniface Cottages at Holywell

Among her earliest recollections are seeing the old chalk boats come round from Rye to be filled.
"We used to welcome them because the crews kept us children supplied with sea biscuits," she said.
In the latter part of the last century the rocks around Holywell took their toll of ships, and often it was to the Boniface cottage that the shipwrecked sailors were first taken for sustenance.
"We were probably the only children who could jump straight out of our garden into the sea," Mrs Bowler recalls. "We used to undress in our washhouse, and run down the garden straight into the water."
For her education, she went to Miss Brodies school at Meads - a tin shack - when she had the 2d. a week fee, but at the age of 1O she left.
Two years later she went into employment of Mr Francis, builder, of Lushington Road, as a nursemaid and received the princely sum of 2s. 6d. a week.
At about this time Eastbourne was beginning to expand, but still the Holywell Cottages were "in the wilderness." Then one morning after a storm Mrs Bowler went Into the garden, to find much of it had disappeared during the night. The family decided to move.
While in service Mrs Bowler met her husband, a riding master, and at the age of 17 she was married at Hailsham Church.

Hailsham Church

After a short spell in London they returned to Eastbourne and lived in Grange Road, and they were living there when the Town Hall was built.
To a background of growing Eastbourne Mrs Bowler settled down to married life and rearing a family. In all she had ten children, seven boys and three girls, and all but two are still living.


One son, a sailor, was killed in the first world war, and another, an army sergeant, died from fever in the last war shortly after being released from a Japanese prison camp.
Most of her children live In and around Eastbourne, and they have presented her with nine grand-children. She also has four great-grandchildren, three of whom live in Canada with their mother, an Eastbourne girl, who married a Canadian Serviceman during the war.
Mrs Bowler lost her husband 10 years ago, and her mother 10 years before that. *That old lady lived to be over a hundred, and on her 100th birthday was presented with that number of new shillings by Miss Alice Hudson, who was then Eastbourne's Mayor.

This is Sarah Jane (Hilton) Boniface (1833-1929)*,
Mother of Annie Bowler
and Great-Great-Grandmother of Pauline Mowbray.

*Sarah Jane Boniface nee Hilton, Died 21 Mar 1929 at 123 Church St, Eastbourne,
(Believed to be St Mary's Hospital) of 16 Leslie St, Eastbourne, Widow, aged 95.
Buried 26 Mar 1929 Grave T 551 Con, Ocklynge Cemetery, Eastbourne, Sussex.




I asked Mrs Bowler what struck her most about present day Eastbourne compared with the Eastbourne of her childhood days.
"The way its grown," she said. "If my dad were to come back now he wouldn't recognise the place."
Last summer she went for a holiday with a married daughter to Shoeburyness, and visited Southend. "What a place that is," she said, "an d what a beach. The place was all mud, sausages and chips, and whelks and cockles. Give me Eastbourne every time."
Now Mrs Bowler unassumingly goes about her daily round, helping with the shopping, assisting her daughters with the chores, and visiting the family.
"Every week I visit them all," she explained, "and its that that keeps me from feeling old. Believe me when you've got a family the size of mine you've got no time to think about getting old. But they're a good family, every one of them."
Talking to me later about Mrs Bowler a person referred to her as "Grandmother Eastbourne." It was, I think, an appropriate title.

-A special thank-you to Ann Foord for providing this article!-



To read a letter from Nora Potter
(Annie Bowler's daughter)
click below

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