Founder member of Church Building Society, author, campaigner for moral reform
John Bowdler, the son of Thomas Bowdler and Elizabeth Cotton, married Henrietta Hanbury in 1778 and inherited a small fortune on the death of his father in 1785. He settled in Hayes at Pickhurst Manor in 1793 and for twenty years ‘fulfilled all the duties of that useful character in the community – a country gentleman’.
Pickhurst Manor was recorded as having 48 window and in 1795 he paid tax on three male servants, a carriage and five horses. There were also three daughters still living at home and four maid servants.
During the Napoleonic Wars John Bowdler was required to enlist special constables, aged 17 to 55, in case of a French invasion. He was one of the ten people chosen.
He was well known for his benevolence. When the government started to gather information about the poor and the practices in various parishes John Bowdler prepared the details for Hayes in 1801. It is a fascinating document providing an insight into the life of the poor in Hayes including their diet, their wages and support from the parish when sick, giving birth, or going into service. He made regular contributions to the village school of which he was a trustee and left £15 to charity in his will. His wife also helped, for instance, by giving the Rector a large bundle of boys’ clothes to be distributed to the needy.
John Bowdler’s family
Revd John Till was the Rector of Hayes at that time and he spoke highly of the Bowdler family and their strong religious views. Revd Till prepared Jane Bowdler (1788 -1870) for confirmation in 1803 when she was fifteen.
In the same year her elder brother Thomas (1782-1856) took a curacy in Essex and Revd Till wondered whether he would be able to withstand the fate of many clergymen of becoming ‘portly through eating and drinking too much; your turbots and your turtles are apt to betray their friends into a conspicuous rotundity of face.’ Thomas officiated at the marriage of his sister Jane to George Gipps of Lincoln’s Inn in Hayes Church in 1810.
Their eldest sister Elizabeth (1779- 1810) suffered from ill health and unable to bear the winters in Hayes went each year to the Isle of Wight. She died in Hastings in 1810 a few months after the bells of Hayes Church had rung at her sister Jane’s marriage .
Her younger brothers, John and Charles Bowdler, spent considerable time in Hayes and Revd Till followed their pursuits with interest. Writing to Lord Lewisham, Revd Till said: ‘there is no young man, whatever his rank and abilities may be, who can fail of receiving both pleasure and advantage from an intimacy with John Bowdler.’ He was called to the bar in 1807 but followed his father’s literary interests. He became a religious writer and after his early death in 1815 his father collected and published his ‘Select Pieces in Prose and Verse.’ His brother Charles later published ‘The Religion of the Heart as Exemplified in the life and writings of John Bowdler’.