My Sussex Attree Family History


Emily Bowles nee Attree was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1847 and died in Brighton in 1925.  She was my maternal great grandmother.

My Uncle Geoffrey recalled a very special moment concerning her in 1917.

“Grandma’s portrait has a very nostalgic appeal for me. It was a gift from all the then Bowles family and their respective husbands, wives, and children (I remember that my contribution was two weeks pocket money – sixpence). It was painted by Harry Mileham, the artist who did all the pictures in St. Thomas’s Church in Hove.

The presentation was made on grandparents’ Golden Wedding anniversary when a big party was held in Brighton at Ditchling Rise. I can only just remember it. Grandma died two years later; and Grandpa outlived her for only another two years and he left the portrait to my mother in his will.”

My uncle may have got the date slightly off.  The painting, commissioned by the family to Harry Mileham, was done in 1924.

Attrees in Sussex

These Attrees were in fact an old Sussex family.  The name occurred from the 13th century onward in a number of Sussex townships, mostly in East Sussex.  A family of that name possessed land at Wivelsfield and at one time held the Otehall manor there.  The Atte Ree spelling became Attree about 1500.

The earliest Attree of our line was a John Attree who was born in Horsted Keynes in 1530 and settled in Barcombe.  Over the next two hundred and fifty years we can track his descendants in the wealden and downland villages of East Sussex – from Barcombe to Wivelsfield, Ditchling, Street, Newick, and – in the late 1700’s – to West Firle.

We don’t know what these Attrees did, but they were probably engaged in some kind of farming.  The one occupation we do know was that of John Attree in West Firle, a blacksmith.

There was, curiously, a geographic connection between this Attree family and my own Shelley family which had also been at West Firle.  Jesse Attree was the son of John Attree of West Firle.

Jesse was transported to Australia in 1815 for stealing pigeons from Lord Gage of Firle Place.  Lord Gage graciously allowed him to return to West Firle in 1822 on the expiration of his sentence and he lived out the remaining thirty years of his life there.

Reader Feedback:  Apparently the comment that Jesse Attree was transported to Australia in 1815 may not be correct. He was certainly sentenced to be deported to Australia but there are no records in Australia to show that he ever arrived there. It appears that his sentence was changed at the last minute, possibly serving a term of imprisonment in England.  But I have no evidence to support this.  Michael Dray (

John Attree – to India and Back

We don’t know how things stood between Jesse and his oldest son John.  John had been born in West Firle in 1805 and would have been seventeen at the time that Jesse might have returned from Australia.

But some years later John left with the British army for India where he married.  He and his wife Eleanor had one daughter Sarah and one son George, both born in India.  Eleanor died in 1834 and John remarried in India to Sophia Thorley three years later.

John and Sophia returned to England in the early 1840’s, but not to West Firle.  He was a schoolmaster in Lancashire and Yorkshire before retiring back in Sussex.  Two of their daughters, Emily and Lucy, were born in Yorkshire.

Uncle Geoff painted an endearing picture of how Emily Attree met her husband Henry John Bowles.

“My grandfather Bowles was the amateur conductor of the Brighton Sacred Harmonic Society, which, apart from other occasional concerts, did an annual show of Handel’s Messiah in the Dome during Holy Week.  One year the committee were recommended a soprano soloist from Wakefield, our Emily Attree. She was invited down for an audition, duly sang at the performance and married Grandpa six weeks later.  Who said that the Victorians were stuffy!”

Emily, aged 20, and Henry, aged 22, were in fact married in Brighton in 1867. There is a beautifully preserved photograph from this time of Emily in a long black evening gown with music in hand as if about to sing.

The Attrees, Bowles and Uruguay

Henry and Emily became the patriarchal late Victorian family. They moved to Athelstan House, 157 Ditchling Rise, a large house on the hill rising to Ditchling Road in Brighton. There were nine children to bring up, four boys and five girls.  In addition, Emily’s younger sister Lucy came to live with Henry and Emily before marrying in Brighton in 1890.  She and her husband later settled in Berkshire.

Meanwhile Emily’s elder step-sister Sarah had married John Oldham in Lancashire.  They departed for Montevideo in South America in 1864, John going out there to supervise the laying of the telegraph cable between Buenos Aires and Montevideo.  He remained there as manager of the Eastern Telegraph Company until his death in 1910.  His presence paved the way for Emily’s  elder married sister Mary and her eldest son Stanley also to leave for Montevideo.

By the late 1800’s there were many English companies in Uruguay, in telegraph, waterworks, trains, banks etc.  There was a substantial English community and they were all ‘friends.’  Many of the English families – and these included the related Bowles, Oldham and Macadam families – were buried in the British cemetery on Rivera Avenue in Montevideo.  They also sent their children to the British school in Montevideo which opened in 1908.

Attree Family History

  • John Attree (1530-1610) of Horsted Keynes married Margaret Hill (b. 1540) in Barcombe
  • – James Attree (1566-1606)
  • – Richard Attree (1568-1629)
  • – Jane Attree (1573-1625)
  • – Thomas Attree (1576-1642)
  • – William Attree (1583-1654) m. Anna Patcham
  • Thomas Attree married Joan Lockstrood in Wivelsfield around 1605
  • – John Attree (1608-1684) m. Anne
  • – William Attree (1611-1659)
  • – Jane Attree (1617-1690)
  • William Attree of Wivelsfield and Ditchling married Ann  Hayward (1611-1662) in 1642
  • – John Attree (1643-1700) m. Joan Luxford
  • – William Attree (1646-1725) m. Alice Hart
  • – Eleanor Attree (1649-1713)
  • – Thomas Attree (1654-1741)
  • – Jesse Attree (1656-1688)
  • Thomas Attree of Ditchling married Mary Bennett (1654-1691) in 1677
  • – Thomas Attree (1685-1713)
  • – Jesse Attree (1688-1763)
  • Jesse Attree married Elizabeth Shoulder (1692-1788) in Street
  • – Elizabeth Attree (1721-1773) m. William Gibson
  • – Thomas Attree (1723-1793)
  • – Jesse Attree (1725-1785) m. Catherine Jenner
  • – Sarah Adkins nee Attree (1727-1781)
  • – John Attree (1730-1781)
  • – William Attree (1733-1784) m. Mary Harding
  • Thomas Attree married Mary Simons (1725-1789) in Newick in 1745
  • – Jesse Attree (1748-1826)
  • – Jane Attree (1753-1800)
  • – Thomas Attree (1754-1793)
  • – John Attree (1757-1795)
  • – Sarah Attree (1762-1831) m. John Weston
  • John Attree married Mary Gladman (1755-1821) in West Firle in 1779
  • – George Attree (1779-1846) m. Sarah Piper
  • – Jesse Attree (1780-1852)
  • – William Attree (1781-1835) m. Ann Jane
  • – Harriet Diplock nee Attree (1783-1861)
  • – Allen Attree (1785-1831) m. Elizabeth Reeves
  • – Thomas Attree (1792-1871)
  • Jesse Attree of West Firle married Mary Holman (1775-1853) in Seaford in 1804 and was reportedly transported to  Australia in 1815
  • – John Attree (1805-1865)
  • – Jesse Attree (1807-1877) m. Barbara Burfield
  • – Charles Attree (1810-1862) m. Frances Smith
  • John Attree of West Firle married Eleanor Glynn (1805-1834) in India in 1829
  • – Sarah Attree (1830-1898) m. John Oldham in Lancashire and departed for Montevideo in 1864
  • – George Attree (1833-1915) also returned to Lancashire, m. Ellen Barraclough
  • John remarried Sophia Thorley (1818-1889) in India in 1837 and they later returned to England
  • – John Attree (1842-1901)
  • – Mary Ann Attree (1844-1913) m. William Drever in Lancashire and they were living in Montevideo in 1896
  • – Emily Attree (1847-1925), born in Yorkshire
  • – Jesse Attree (1850-1915), born in Yorkshire, m. Lillee Williams
  • – Henry Attree (b. 1852), born in Yorkshire, m. Sarah Ann Lloyd
  • – Thomas Attree (b. 1856), born in Yorkshire, m. Elizabeth Wrigley
  • – Lucy Attree (1861-1934), born in Yorkshire, m. Charles Walls
  • Emily Attree from Wakefield in Yorkshire married Henry John Bowles (1845-1922) in Brighton in 1867
  • – Stanley Bowles (1871-1899) m. Adelina Brooks in Montevideo




Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *