Surname Histories

Note: Below is an unconfirmed history and should not be accepted until proven. If anyone has any proof that the following is true, please let me know so I can place the confirmation here.

The ancient name Bower is one of the oldest surnames in Scottish history, and is believed to be of Strathclyde Briton origin. One of the first records of the name was of Lawrence Bower, holding lands in the county of Peebles in the year 1296. In the same year William Bower rendered homage to King Edward I of England. The family branched northward to Aberdeen in 1317. John Bower was a monk in Arbroath in 1387. During the religious conflicts of the middle ages, many of the family moved to Ireland, and they were granted land in County Sligo, but later migrated across the Atlantic to the New World.

The following was submitted by Lynda L. True [31Aug98]

Source: A Dictionary of British Surnames by P.H. Reaney. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961, pg. 42.

Bower, Bowers, Bour: (i) Matthew de Labur' 1194 Cur (Sr); Mayfflin Attebur' 1280 AssSo; Henry del Boure 1287 AssCh; Gilbert atte Boure 1296 SRSx; Lorence atte Bure 1296 Black (Peebles); Peter ate Boures 1327 SRC. From minor places called Bower (Som, Sussex, Peebleshire, etc.) or equivalent to CHAMBERS 'chamber-servant', from OE bur 'cottage, chamber'. (ii) Teodricus Bouer 1187 P (He); Peter le Bouer 1296 SRSx; John Bour 'bowyer' 1325 Pat; Robert le Bowyere, le Bower' 1327, 1332 SRSt. A form of ME Bowyere, identical with BOWYER.

The following was submitted by Andrea Fitzgerald [25Dec99]

There is a generally accepted belief that the name Bower in the Purbeck area of Dorset in England was originally spelt BOWYER, and that people who initially carried the name were bowmen in service to the King of England.

Purbeck was, and still is, a strategic position to the English military. There have been a number of sea battles fought off the Purbeck coast dating back to mediaeval times, and a number of invasions have occurred in this area. Corfe Castle, which is located in the Purbeck area, was one of the most impregnable strongholds in England, and was used more than once to hold royal prisoners who were politically sensitive, and as a defense and refuge in times of invasion. It was also a royalist stronghold during the English Civil war and was eventually torn down by the parliamentarians in retribution for the defiance of its owners.

If the Bowers were archers in the Kings army, they were apparently permanently stationed in the area, and held a position of some importance. Another possible reason for archers living in the Purbeck area is that they may have been there as royal gamekeepers or huntsmen. From Norman times, at least, the Purbeck area was a royal chase, or warren. The English kings used the area to hunt and to provide game for them to hunt as well as food for the royal table. Because Purbeck is bounded by sea, it provided much seafood to the king's table as well. Hence it was a very valuable area to the king.

Purbeck is also bounded on the landward side by rivers which run from the Lulworth area in the east and empty into Poole Harbour. Most of the area surrounding the streams and rivers was marshland which was, for most of the year, impassable. So for centuries the only access to the area was via Lulworth. Purbeck has always been called the "Isle of Purbeck" because it was, to all intents and purposes, almost completely surrounded by water. This may be one reason it was designated as a royal chase. In order to catch game for the king's table, and to prevent poaching in the area, it would have been inevitable that there would have been a number of gamekeepers who were bowman.

Certainly there were rigorous controls and harsh laws imposed on the area and those people living in it. The people themselves were vetted, and none of the inhabitants of the area could marry their daughters to outsiders without permission. This, and their geographical isolation, led to the people of Purbeck becoming an insular lot, and it isn't until more recent times that the genealogist would have to look much further than the local area to trace their family back. Although there is the possibility that the Bowers were originally Bowmen, it is traditionally accepted that the Bowers generally followed that trade of either quarriers or fishermen. Purbeck is an area rich in stone that was much sought after for building. Purbeck marble was prized and has been used in great buildings from mediaeval times. The stone has been quarried and worked since the Bronze Age. It is also a source of highly valued white clay which is used in the finest bone china. As a result, a large majority of the inhabitants, over the centuries, have worked in the stone trade.

Many of the Bowers, including mine, would have belonged to the Purbeck Marblers and Stonecutters Guild. Apparently anyone belonging to the guild who married a woman of someone not belonging to the guild had to pay a fine of one shilling. That doesn't seem to be a great penalty by today's incomes but it once would have been a significant deterrent to anyone in the guild when it came to choosing a wife. Hence, for genealogists, the magnitude of the search would have been narrowed considerably. The quarriers from the Langton area, however, did apparently have a tendency, in most recent times, to import their wives from London or Liverpool.

The fact that many of the Bowers of Purbeck were fishermen may indicate that at some stage some of them were also involved in the common practice of smuggling, salvaging the cargo of wrecked ships (sometimes illegally), and, on a more sinister note, wrecking deliberately unsuspecting ships by luring them onto the reefs just offshore.

The Bowers of the Purbeck area must have been pretty numerous, as they found it necessary to distinguish one clan from the other. They sometime used either their wives maiden names, or nicknames to identify themselves. Hence they might have belonged to the Sugar, Razorback, Gad, Whistler, Short, Ball, Frenchy, Chinchen, Brownsea, Corben, Ivamy, Trink or Brown-Bowers. Some of the identifying names are actually mining terms [eg., a gad is a wedge that is driven into stone in order to split it in a desired way].