The Revd Henry Bowles (1859-1943)

Vicar of Christ Church, Epsom Common, 1912-20

The Revd Henry Bowles
The Revd Henry Bowles
(at a family wedding some 17 years after he left Christ Church)
Image courtesy of Libby Hall © 2016

Henry Albany Bowles was born in 1859, the second child (and only son) of - confusingly - another Henry Albany Bowles, Rector of Merrow, and his wife Caroline (née Barlow). After a boarding education and graduation from St John's College Oxford, Henry junior followed in his father's footsteps and was ordained in 1868.

His first Curacy - in an unusually nomadic career - was in Andover, at the end of which, in 1884, he married Louisa Alethea Yonge, daughter of Julian and Emma Yonge of the grand Otterbourne House, just south of Winchester. (Louisa's sister was the prolific and highly-regarded - though now largely forgotten - novelist and writer Charlotte Mary Yonge.)

Henry and his new bride moved to Arlington in Devon for him to take up the Rectorship of St James's. In 1889, the couple moved north for Henry to take up appointment as Curate of St Matthew's, Burnley. It was here that their first two children (the second being their only son, Reginald - of whom more below) were born. In 1892, the family moved south again, to Louisa's home village of Otterbourne, for Henry to take up his appointment as Vicar of St Matthew's. It was here that their final four daughters were born. In 1909, the family moved north again for Henry to take up his appointment as Rector of St Michael's, Cardeston, Shropshire.

They stayed there barely two years: in 1910, the family moved to Epsom for Henry to take up his appointment as Curate at Christ Church, but effectively Priest in Charge of the fast-growing St Barnabas. (This had been established by Christ Church in 1899 as a Chapel of Ease for the developing north of Epsom, and had just moved from its initial temporary building in Hook Road into the newly-built church in Temple Road. It became a free-standing parish in 1917.)

After 30 years as Vicar of Christ Church and aged 61, Canon Archer Hunter retired at the end of 1911. Henry took over as Vicar from the beginning of 1912, moving into the Vicarage with his family and their four servants.

Henry led the people of Christ Church through the increasingly dark times of what was then called the Great War. Indeed, he had early experience of the carnage: his former gardener Arthur Walliker was the first Epsom casualty, being killed in action at Mons on 23 August 1914 in the very first British battle of the War.

Almost Henry's last act in the parish was the October 1920 dedication of the war memorial in the new chapel he had been instrumental in creating from Christ Church's North Transept. Sadly, one of the names on the memorial was that of his only son, Reginald (a lieutenant in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers), who had died in France on 20 July 1916 of wounds sustained in an enemy attack earlier in the day. Percy Risbridger recalled that the death of Henry's son "didn't stop him coming over to Church to say Evensong and it wasn't until the Intercessions, when he prayed for the repose of the soul of his son, that we learnt the tragic news."

In the booklet published to mark Christ Church's Centenary in 1976, Percy Risbridger (who was Verger and Sacristan for much of Henry's incumbency) remembered him as "a great Priest of God" and that many owed much to his ministry. Percy said that Henry had taught him to appreciate the "mysteries of sacramental worship", and that it was Henry who instituted the continuing practice of ringing the Christ Church bell when the bread and wine is consecrated "to remind the people on the Common that the Holy Mysteries were being offered on their behalf."

Henry resigned from Christ Church for unspecified reasons of health and took the less onerous post of Curate at St Mary the Virgin in Bramshott, just over the Surrey border into Hampshire. He served there from 1921 to 1924, in the last year also serving as Chaplain to the 80-bed King George Sanatorium for Seamen that had recently been established in the nearby Bramshott Grange.

In 1924, aged 65, Henry retired from parish life (although remained active with "permission to officiate" for many subsequent years), moving with Louisa to nearby Liphook. He died there in 1943, aged 83 - a couple of years after his wife's death.

Christ Church has no explicit memorial to Henry's service as its third Vicar. However, given his only son's fate, what is now Christ Church's Peace & Reconciliation Chapel is an evocative substitute.

Roger Morgan © 2015