the bonifaces


St. Mary's, the parish church of the Bonifaces for several centuries.
built circa 1150 a.d.

Our family of Boniface is one of the oldest in the Eastbourne district, and has been recorded as far back as the early 1500's. Very few of the common people could read or write then. The Boniface family lived on a large tract of downland, which they believed was their own.


They farmed and later quarried chalk and lime, fished and brought up their families in the 'Chalk Pit Cottages', built on the downs, near the sea, at Holywell. By the 1700's they began a business of lime burning and chalk digging at Holywell.
Taking the output to the port of London in sailing ships on long and dangerous journeys and developing their fishing skills on the return voyage, eventually becoming the renowned fishing family of Eastbourne. One day (so the story goes - handed down from father to son) when the men were away at work, a document was brought to the women at the cottages by a bailiff who asked them to put a cross or thumbprint on this paper; (very few of the "common" people could read or write in those days) and in their ignorance they complied. Later it was discovered they signed away all their precious rights and claim to their land.


A typical lime kiln of the early 1800's


The Boniface family, with many others in England of that era had become landless. Confirmation of this can be found in 'The Book of Eastbourne' (1931).

Two views of the famous Chalk Cliff Cottages of Holywell

Once they had been forced off their land they moved into Eastbourne and continued to work at the sea, still fishing and also operating pleasure boats, running a fishing net shop near the sea front, and an inn.

The Eastbourne fishing boats of the 1800's


Eventually, since each generation of Bonifaces seemed to have so many children, and as the decades passed by and there being so many descendants, different branches of the Boniface tree, gradually drifted apart. Family reunions didn't seem to be the thing of the day. With the advent of the Internet, we have been given the opportunity to 'make up for lost time'.

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